Some 3,000 Palestinian runners and foreign rivals turned out for the third Palestine Marathon on Friday, with the race won by Nader al-Masri of Gaza, who said he normally trains “between the rubble of destroyed homes.”
This year 46 runners from the Gaza Strip took part in the race in the Bethlehem area. The athletes ran two laps of the same route because the organizers couldn’t find 42 kilometers (26 miles) of uninterrupted road under the control of the Palestinian Authority, they said.
There was also a half-marathon and a 10-kilometer race. After winning the full marathon, Masri told Haaretz he was very excited just to receive a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter the West Bank for the competition. Still, his athletic future is unclear.
“I can’t talk about my plans for the future, training and competitions because I don’t know when they’ll let me go out again,” he said.
The group Gisha, which follows matters involving movement of Palestinians from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, said policy on the movement of athletes was neither consistent nor clear. Israel recently refused to let the Palestinian beach soccer team leave for the Asian championships in Qatar, which just ended.
Regarding the marathon, the Palestine Olympic Committee reportedly asked the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories for exit permits for 55 runners to enter the West Bank. In the middle of last week COGAT approved the permits.
Since April 2008, the military authorities have let Masri leave via the Allenby Bridge to Jordan a number of times. He has set off for training abroad and to represent the Palestinians in international competitions such as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The marathon was held under the auspices of the Palestine Olympic Committee and the Right to Movement collective, which promotes the right to movement of Palestinians living under the occupation.
“I think people are tired of hearing about our conflict ... but we still need people to understand how we’re suffering. The idea is to use a different way to transmit our message,” said George Zeidan, a marathon organizer from East Jerusalem. “People start questioning why. What’s this wall? What are these refugee camps? We want to give people awareness — it’s the most important thing in Palestine.”
Last year Gisha submitted an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice after Israel refused to let any runners from Gaza enter for the race. “Approval of the application depends on the state of relations between Israel and the PA, not on relations between the individual and the State of Israel,” the state told the court.
The hearing was adjourned so that the state could confirm, as required by the court, that the defense minister himself had denied Masri’s application for an exit permit. The court rejected Gisha’s petition but proposed that in the future the criteria be eased for approval of exit permits from Gaza for sporting events.
In the event, these criteria were eased, apparently as part of the improving of conditions following the destruction caused during Israel’s war last summer against Hamas and its allies. According to Gisha, over the past two months Israel has apparently granted exit permits for all athletes belonging to a Palestinian national team in any sport for competitions and training. “Maybe Israel understood that it cannot prohibit athletes who have no security violations from taking part in such a key event,” Gisha said.
Regarding Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinian beach soccer team to attend the Asian games, coach Imad al-Din Hashem told a Gisha researcher: “We trained hard and enthusiastically to get to the championship. We dreamed of winning and heading for the finals in Portugal, but under the circumstances we won’t be able to play in the finals and FIFA won’t be able to classify us as a team.”