High Court to Debate Gaza Runner's Petition to Race in Bethlehem Marathon

Olympian Nader al-Masri files petition against the state's refusal to allow him to travel to the marathon in Bethlehem.

Nader al-Masri runs in the first Gaza marathon.
Nader al-Masri, left, runs in the first Gaza marathon, in 2011. Will he be allowed to run in Bethlehem? AP

Israel’s High Court of Justice is slated to deliberate Tuesday on a Gazan Olympic athlete’s petition against the state’s refusal to allow him to pass through Israel to participate in a marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The state, in its response to Nader al-Masri’s petition, said its refusal was based on political and foreign-policy considerations.

Gisha: Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement filed the petition on Masri’s behalf. In it, the petitioners refer to a clause in the Defense Ministry’s policy paper on movement between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which stipulates that Gazan Palestinians may be allowed into Israel to participate in conferences or special events sponsored by the Palestinian Authority. Permission in these cases requires a detailed request from PA officials in the West Bank and the approval of Israel’s defense minister.

In its response to the court, the state points out that “political and foreign-relations considerations between Israel and the PA are embodied in the criteria” stipulated in the policy paper and that each case is to be judged separately.

Rejected due to ‘noncompliance’

Masri, 34, has been running for 14 years and has participated in international competitions abroad, including the 2008 Olympic Games. He sought to take part in the second annual Palestine Marathon, which will be held in Bethlehem on Friday, April 11.

On March 20, Gisha applied on his behalf to the coordinator of government activities in the Gaza Strip, which about a week later issued a rejection “due to noncompliance with current policy.” Gisha then turned to the High Court.

Israel allowed Masri to leave Gaza in 2008 for the Summer Olympics in China and in 2009 for a track competition.

In its response to the High Court, the state said its decision was based on a policy of permitting Gazans transit through Israel and into the West Bank only in exceptional humanitarian cases, most notably for urgently needed medical care. The state said taking part in a marathon does not qualify as a humanitarian case. “In light of this policy, in the absence of a legal duty and in consideration of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza, the passage of Gaza residents to the West Bank is not permitted,” it said.

The state also cited the need to preserve Israel’s policy of making a distinction between Gaza and the West Bank.

“The authorities do not intend to permit the entry of Gazans to any athletic, or other, event the PA has helped to organize,” it said, adding that the Palestine Marathon, in contrast to the Olympic Games, is partly political in nature due to its theme of support for the right of free movement and the involvement of various private and local organizations, in addition to the Palestinian Olympic Committee.