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Palestinians urge runners and sponsors to shun Jerusalem marathon

The Palestine Liberation Organisation pressures companies and athletes to pull out of an event they see as an extension of Israel's illegal occupation. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

Israeli border policemen stand guard as runners take part in the Jerusalem Winner Marathon last year. Ronen Zvulun / AFP
Israeli border policemen stand guard as runners take part in the Jerusalem Winner Marathon last year. Ronen Zvulun / AFP

RAMALLAH // Palestinians have called on athletes and sponsors to boycott an Israeli marathon that runs through East Jerusalem, saying that competing implies recognising Israel's illegal annexation of the city.

At least one sponsor, the InterContinental Hotel Group, yesterday said it was considering withdrawing "marketing activities" related to tomorrow's third annual International Jerusalem Winner Marathon.

In the event, about 20,000 runners will wind through East Jerusalem and the walled Old City.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and several groups linked to it have put pressure on companies and athletes to pull out of an event they see as an extension of Israel's illegal occupation.

"Sponsoring or participating in the marathon implies recognition and active participation by the individual or company in Israel's illegal annexation and racist policies in Jerusalem," the PLO said yesterday.

Palestinian sporting agencies had warned the InterContinental Hotel Group and US sports clothing company New Balance of legal consequences if they supported the race.

A lawyer representing the PLO-linked Higher Council of Youth and Sports in Palestine, the Palestine Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Athletics Federation wrote a letter to the two corporations.

"As the marathon neither caters to the needs of Palestinian civilians nor serves any genuine military purpose, the marathon constitutes an illegal activity in occupied East Jerusalem under international humanitarian law," the letter read.

German sportswear company adidas sponsored the event last year to much protest, including a call by the Arab League to boycott its products.

Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, then annexed the city, holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The international community has never recognised that annexation and Palestinians still want the city as the capital of their future state.

Pro-Palestinian activists linked to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, also have threatened the companies with a "worldwide" campaign involving consumer boycotts.

Activists from the movement this week criticised New Balance and InterContinental Hotel Group.

They said the companies were lending support to the "ongoing colonisation, ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians at the hands of the municipality and the Israeli government" in Jerusalem.

That was partly a reference to the Israeli-run municipality's policies towards the city's estimated 300,000 Palestinian residents, who form about a third of its population.

Many Palestinians have been forced to relocate because of government restrictions, home demolitions and poor public services.

The InterContinental Hotel Group yesterday said the decision to sponsor the marathon was made independently by the owner of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, Africa Israel Hotels, which operates the hotel under a franchise deal.

"In view of the sensitivity of this issue we have contacted the owners to ask for a full explanation of their decision," the statement said, referring to the Crowne Plaza. "Pending such a full response we have asked them to withdraw the hotel from any marketing activities in connection with the Jerusalem marathon."

New Balance could not be reached for comment.

Barak Cohen, a Jerusalem Municipality spokesman, defended the marathon as "a symbol of coexistence and of the unique power of sport to bridge social, ethnic, and political divides".

Mr Cohen said that about 20,000 participants, including Muslims, from 54 countries "will cross through many neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, on all sides of the city".

But Meir Margalit, a liberal member of Jerusalem's city council and critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, said the run would block Palestinian movement in the city.

"During the run, the Palestinian neighbourhoods are practically closed down and life for them will be forced to a near standstill," Mr Margalit said.

hnaylor@thenational.ae