Palestinians run for freedom in anti-occupation marathon

March 13, 2016

Training for the Right To Movement marathon. Photo: Patrick Harrison.

When people imagine Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, lacing up some trainers and hitting the pavement is not the first thing that comes to mind.

But for some Palestinians, running is one creative and non-violent way to oppose Israeli injustices — rallying behind the banner of the Right to Movement organisation.

For the fourth year in a row, Right to Movement will be organising the Palestine Marathon on April 1, to publicise just how difficult it can be to move in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Preparations for the marathon are going well,” organiser Diala Isid told Green Left Weekly. “So far we have 2350 runners signed up for the race, and still a lot of people are keen to register in the last month.”

Isid is a leader in Right to Movement's Ramallah chapter — one of many groups of Palestinians who have been training hard to prepare for the marathon.

“The movement is growing,” said Isid. “Now we have groups in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Gaza, Nazareth [a Palestinian city within Israel], and will start one in Nablus. We take running as a way of resistance and as a way to highlight how we are deprived the right of freedom of movement.”

Right to Movement takes its name from Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to movement and residence within each state, as well as the right of return that has been denied to Palestinian refugees. The group seeks to highlight all the restrictions of movement in place within Palestine.

One of the key ways in which Israel has restricted the Palestinian right to movement is the West Bank Apartheid Wall or “separation barrier” — a combination of looming concrete walls, fences and roads that will be 810 kilometres long when complete.

Campaign group Stop the Wall reports that about 250,000 Palestinians will be isolated by the combination of the wall, settlements and roads servicing them. More than 8000 people will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank completely, isolated between the wall and the “green line” — the border between Israel and the West Bank established in 1967.

It is an untenable situation that Palestinians see as just another excuse for a land grab. It is one of many factors that have driven Palestinians to a new wave of mass resistance since last October.

“The present violence has affected our training and our movement,” said Isid. “We stopped running in areas where there are clashes, especially near the Apartheid wall and near illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But nothing can stop us!”

“We will continue running, and the marathon is happening no matter what happens, because it's our right to freedom of movement and we will practice it and use it!”

Football is popular and widely played throughout Palestine, but it is rare to see Palestinians engaging in running on the crowded, often chaotic and poorly maintained roads for leisure. This is doubly true for women and girls, who often face social pressures when exercising in public.

One of the few female runners in the 50-strong contingent that joined the marathon from Gaza for the first time last year told the New York Times that she trained in a stadium to avoid scorn.

“We promote freedom for males and females to run together in the streets equally,” said Isid. “We are creating and increasing the culture of running around Palestine and by this, a great running atmosphere is built and everyone is starting to love it and to support it.”

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