Some 7,000 Palestinian and international runners from around the globe Friday descended on Bethlehem to participate in the Sixth International Free Movement Palestine Marathon.
The Marathon started at the Church of the Nativity in the center of the Old City of Bethlehem in the attendance of Bethlehem Governor Jibrin al-Bakri, Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports Issam Qadumi and Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman.
The marathon course took athletes through different view on Palestinian everyday life, including few steep hills and with some fast sections. It started at the Church of Nativity taking the runners through the city, the two refugee camps of Aida and Dheisheh and along the Israeli apartheid wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
It included four tracks; the full 42-kilometer race, a 21-kilometer race, a 10-kilometer race and the three-kilometer family race.
Athletes raced as they were Palestine flags and signs reading “#TimesUp to free Ahed Tamimi and all Palestinian children”, “Long live Palestine” and “Jerusalem is ours”.
They are expected to receive a unique medal crafted from local Palestinian olive tree wood and a diploma certificate.
Al-Bakri said the marathon sent the message that asserts the Palestinian people’s right to freedom of movement and the right to establish the independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Among the racers was the 2017 Arab Idol competition winner Yacoup Shaheen, a resident of the city, who asserted that the presence of thousands of athletes sent the message that freedom of movement was a legitimate right for Palestinians.
Police closed several roads in Bethlehem to ensure free movement for the athletes. Palestinian Red Crescent provided a mobile clinic at the state/finish area and ambulances along the route.
The Palestine Olympic Committee, which sponsored the event, said the marathon was designed to “increase world awareness of matters such as the restrictions that Palestinians face on a daily basis because of the occupation. The event provides all participating foreigners with insight of the fruitful Palestinian culture that is not widely known across the world.”
“The event is about showing the outside world a new side to Palestine and Palestinians. It is about creating awareness and building understanding across cultures. Palestine Marathon is about cultural exchange, cultural exploration, and understanding” it added.
Israel prevented Palestinian athletes from the Gaza Strip from participating in the sports event.
Israeli forces still impose severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement across the West Bank through a complex combination of fixed and flying checkpoints, settler-only by-pass roads and various other physical obstructions.
Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip and subsequently tightened restrictions on Palestinians travelling in and out of Gaza after Hamas came to power in 2006.
The West Bank, of which East Jerusalem forms an integral part, and the Gaza Strip form the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that Israel has occupied since June 1967.
Source: WAFA, published originally March 23