Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Participants in the Right to Movement Palestinian Marathon pass an Israeli guard tower and 'separation barrier,' as they run in Bethlehem.
Participants in the Right to Movement Palestinian Marathon pass an Israeli guard tower and  'separation barrier,' as they run in Bethlehem.

Israel's refusal to allow Gazans to compete in West Bank's first marathon 'tainted event with politics'

Twenty-six Palestinians – including an Olympian – were preventing from entering Bethlehem, which hosted some 500 runners from more than 30 countries for the competition.

RAMALLAH // Israel's refusal to allow Gazans to participate in the first marathon held in the West Bank yesterday tinged the event with politics that organisers sought to avoid.

Twenty-six Palestinians were informed last week that they could not exit the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip for Bethlehem, which hosted some 500 runners from more than 30 countries for the competition.

The Right to Movement Palestine Marathon, organised by two Danish women runners, was planned as an alternative to a United Nations-sponsored marathon in Gaza that was cancelled last month because the territory's Islamist Hamas rulers refused to allow women to participate.

Among the Gazans denied entry was the Olympian Nader Al Masri and Sanaa Abu Bahit, 29, a woman who planned on running in the UN event.

"This isn't supposed to be political," said Signe Fischer, one of the organisers. "It's just people encouraging other people to put on their shoes and run."

Several runners showed their solidarity with the Gazan athletes before the race with an announcement expressing regret about their inability to participate, she said, adding that a "lot of Palestinians and internationals today are running with their Gaza counterparts in mind".

Braving a cold rain, Abdel Nasser Awajneh, a Palestinian from Jericho, was first in the men's full marathon with a time of 3:09:47. He was followed by two other Palestinians, Moataz Almasalmi in second place and Vehia Al Jamal, in third.

In the women's race, Christine Gebler, from the Palestinian Territories, was first with a time of 3:36:37, followed by Emily Sargent-Beasely, from the US , and Alison Smith, from Britain, in third.

The event also included a half marathon as well as 10km and 5km runs.

Marathon runners had to do two laps of the course after organisers were not able to find an uninterrupted 42-kilometre stretch within Area A, the small portion of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is under full Palestinian control.

The race was held the same day as the London Marathon. More than 35,000 runners observed 30 seconds of silence on the start line to remember those killed and injured by the blasts near the finish of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The Palestinian Olympic Committee requested permission to travel to the West Bank from Israel on behalf of the 22 runners and four trainers.

Israel's defence ministry said it denied the request because the marathon "does not meet the criteria set in order to transfer from Gaza to the West Bank".

Israel has the right to deny such travel because Gaza is run by the Hamas "terror organisation [that] wages war against the state of Israel and its civilians", the defence ministry said.

Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 when Gaza came under the control of Hamas, which has a history of attacking Israelis.

Israel controls all crossings connecting Gaza and the West Bank and routinely forbids Palestinian travel between the two, denying them access to universities and family in the respective territories.

Officials from the West Bank's Palestinian Authority condemned Israel's decision to deny Gazans entry to the marathon, calling it discriminatory and a violation of international law. Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem are wanted for a Palestinian state but have remained under Israeli occupation since 1967.

"Israel cannot treat Gaza as if it's a separate entity," said Nour Odeh, spokeswoman for the PA. "It is not, and international law is clear about that."

In a memorandum dated May 2011, Israel's defence ministry laid out 16 conditions, such as medical treatment, for permitting travel from Gaza. Another permits travel to the West Bank and abroad for members of the Palestinian national football team.

Mr Masri, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Games, said he had not the faintest idea why marathon runners were excluded from that list. "We're not political but the occupation is blind to that," said the 33-year-old runner, who had been training for three months by running on Gaza's beach road.

"All I can say is that I'm sad."

hnaylor@thenational.ae

twitter: For breaking news from the Gulf, the Middle East and around the globe follow The National World. Follow us

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National