IDF prevents Gaza runners from taking part in West Bank marathon

Last month the Israeli army pointed to the cancellation of the Gaza marathon as proof of the lack of freedom under Hamas rule. Now the IDF is denying the same runners travel permits to run in the Bethlehem Marathon

The first official Palestinian marathon is set to take place this Sunday, April 21, in Bethlehem. There will be races for 10 km, a half Marathon and full Marathon (42.2 km), all within area A. The start and finish lines are at the Church of Nativity.

Twenty-five runners – 24 men and a woman – from Gaza were planning to take part in the Marathon, but currently they are not being issued travel permits by Israel. Among them is Nader Masri, who represented Palestine in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Gaza runners were planning to take run the Gaza UNRWA Marathon last month, but a ban by Hamas on the participation of women in the race led UNRWA to cancel the event. Therefore, the Bethlehem Marathon presents a rare opportunity for the runners to take part in such a race.

According to the Israeli NGO Gisha, which deals with Palestinian freedom of movement, the Gaza runners were denied travel permits as a group, without even conducting individual security background checks, which is standard in such cases. In other words, it was not security concerns that prevented the runners from traveling, but a decision that the marathon is not part of the cases in which Israel allows Gazans to travel outside the Strip.

Gisha is calling on people to fax requests to the IDF’s commander for civilian administration, asking him to allow the runners to participate in the race. The fax number is 03-6976306 (more details, in Hebrew, here).

It should be noted that Israel recognized the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a single unit under the Oslo Accord, and it is obliged to allow Gazans to take part in activities organized by the Palestinian Authority, such as the marathon (after appropriate security screenings). Ironically, when the Gaza Marathon was cancelled, the IDF blog reported on it at length, (rightly) highlighting the lack of many personal freedoms under Hamas rule. Now it’s the IDF that is denying those freedoms to the same runners.

Finally, a personal note: In recent years I completed seven full marathons, and I know how challenging the training and mental preparations are, even if you live in a more comfortable environment than the Gaza Strip. I hope the Gazan runners will be able to take part the marathon next week and experience, even for a short while, the sense of freedom and joy that participating in a long distance race can give.

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