Italian 'love runner' stopped at Gaza border

Italian Max Calderan wanted to "run for love" from Ramallah to Mount Sinai.

italian runner Max Calderan ap (photo credit: )
italian runner Max Calderan ap
(photo credit: )
Long distance Italian runner Max Calderan was looking for love in all the wrong places when officials from the Defense Ministry banned him on Saturday from entering northern Gaza through the Erez crossing. Wearing a red running suit and cap, Calderan told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday how he had arrived at Erez after completing 100 km. of his 540-km. personal marathon event, named "Running for Love." Calderan, who is known for doing extreme marathons in deserts around the world, started in Ramallah on Friday, went through Jerusalem and was on his way to Mount Sinai. He had hoped to travel through Gaza. But as he arrived in Erez on Saturday morning and held up his Italian passport, he was told that he could not enter. "I was on foot. [I said], 'I am Italian. I am here for the run for love. I only ask to cross," Calderan said. But his amore was not reciprocated. "The military stopped me with weapons," he said. As an Italian in Israel, a week after a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, Calderan said he saw himself as following in the pontiff's footsteps by promoting a message of spiritual love, albeit with a different instrument, his feet. His message of love, he said, "is the same message [as that] of the pope," and added that that had he managed to shake the pope's hand in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In his press kit for the event he said, "My run aims at filing this soul emptiness with the love for God, because God has always stated: In my name, in the name of God, we have to love, not kill." Calderan added by that by crossing the border into Gaza, where he had hoped he would be joined by Palestinian children runners, he had wanted to underscore the point that "we should not stop the love just because there is a border." He said he sought permission to enter Gaza as early as February, but it was only when he arrived in Israel that he understood that it had been denied. He then began the process again and headed for Gaza only after receiving verbal assurances that he could enter, but he did not say who had given him that approval. A spokesman for Calderan later told The Jerusalem Post that he had not been given permission to enter the Strip but had headed there anyway. Spokesmen for the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry's coordinator for government activities in the territories said they had not heard of Calderan prior to media queries on Sunday regarding his attempts to enter Gaza. As far as he understood it, Calderan showed up at the Gaza border and said that he was there to run for peace, the coordinator's spokesman said. Spokesman Chris Guness of the UN Relief and Works Agency, which had planned to sponsor the Gaza leg of his trip, said it had left the issue of permits to Calderan. Still, Guness had harsh words against Israel for not letting Calderan in, adding that this long distance runner had now been added to the "lunatic list" of items banned from Gaza. Calderan now plans to continue his run to Mount Sinai from Taba, just over the Sinai border from Eilat. In the near future he hopes to stage a second run in the region, with stops in Jerusalem, Beirut and Damascus.