Israeli Marathon Body Accuses International Organization of Playing Politics After Excluding West Bank Race

Running from Israeli town Rosh Ha'ayin to the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, the race cites biblical passages and calls itself the oldest recorded marathon in history

Runners in the West Bank
Runners in the West Bank An illustrative photo from a Palestinian race in Bethlehem in 2015. Ammar Awad

The Israel Marathon Association said on Thursday that the international organization overseeing marathon races was injecting politics into sport by not recognizing an Israeli race that passes through the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Israeli organization said the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races had displayed "discriminatory nature" against the Bible Marathon that "will certainly result in great anger" among runners around the world. The Bible Marathon, scheduled for October 6, stretches from central Israel to the settlement of Shiloh, tracing a path described in the Book of Samuel. Organizers call the route the oldest recorded marathon in history.

The 42.2 kilometer (26.2 mile) marathon starts in Rosh Ha'ayin, northeast of Tel Aviv, just inside Israel's border with the West Bank. It ends at the settlement of Shiloh in the northern West Bank, according to the race website, which cites a passage from the First Book of Samuel as evidence of an ancient long-distance race along the route.

"And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head," the Bible notes. 

"At the end of the war between the Israelites and the Philistines, the “man of Benjamin” runs from the battlefield at Eben Ezer (modern day Rosh Ha’ayin) to Shiloh, city of the Tabernacle," the Bible Marathon website adds.

The Greek-based organization said it had to exclude the Israeli marathon to comply with "international public law." The Israeli association asked it to reconsider, saying that its decision was "prompted by a campaign organized by political activists" and was based on false legal premises. It also noted that the international organization has long recognized the Laayoune Marathon in the disputed Western Sahara region controlled by Morocco.

In its letter, the Israel Marathon Association asked for the Bible Marathon's inclusion in the international body to be restored. Should it not, the Israeli group vowed to resist "the unjust and politicized denial of membership to the world's oldest running event in every forum available to us."