Run for Freedom: A Palestinian Account of the 5th Palestine Marathon

Run for Freedom: A Palestinian Account of the 5th Palestine Marathon

This year, I again joined thousands of Palestinians and internationals in the 5th Palestine Marathon held in Bethlehem on April 1, 2017. The marathon is a symbolic call for freedom of movement, in opposition to the occupation’s heavy restrictions on movement that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza endure. Israel banned Palestinian runners from Gaza from joining the race - a reminder that for Palestinians, even the ability to run in a race  is decided by the occupier.

This year, many more Palestinians joined the marathon than in previous years, and my social media newsfeed was filled with selfies of friends taking part in the race. And who wouldn’t join such a non-violent statement in solidarity with the Palestinian plight by running through refugee camps, along the Separation Wall and past Christian holy sites? For me as a Christian, there is the added significance of the race being held during the season of lent, during which we await the resurrection of our savior to release us from the bondage of sin, similar to how Palestinians actively await the day we will be released from the bondage of the occupation. 

As noble and wonderful as the cause of the race is, I cannot say the same about its execution and implementation. This year, the Palestinian Olympic Committee managed the race as opposed to the Right to Movement Community, and that change left some runners questioning if the new organizers were up for the challenge. 

The most obvious fail of the organizers was the distribution of race kits. The volunteers present seemed to allow late registration for anyone who came to them, and as part of their registration they were given the kits immediately. Yet, for those who signed up early and followed the rules, when the time came to collect their kits, the organizers had run out. 

I had signed up in February and due to my schedule, I was only able to collect my kit the day before the race. When I arrived there, my name was in the system but they had run out of t-shirts. “Come in an hour! The kits are on their way and stuck at the checkpoint,” the volunteer told me. I came later and the kits had arrived and already run out. “Come at 5pm!” they said. I obeyed and came at 4:30 and a different volunteer holding a small notebook asked me to call him in an hour because the shirts hadn’t arrived. My patience was running out, yet I knew that it wasn’t the volunteer’s fault. 

I decided to come back one last time, and by 6pm there were already 50 others waiting at the desk. When the shirts arrived, everyone hovered over the tables trying to grab a t-shirt. I tried to play along and wave my hand for a shirt as if I was in a concert. “We don’t have mediums, so here take a large,” shouted a volunteer. At that point, I was thankful I was able to get something. “We don’t have any bags left, we ran out!” I was furious because when I first came in, they refused to give me a bag without a shirt. In the end, after 5 visits to the pick up center, I received 80% of my kit. 

In my first visit, I ran into a team of Americans that had come especially for the race and had been training for a year, and they too hadn’t received t-shirts. I felt embarrassed because of our inept organizational skills. So many times, in our culture, we seem to reward those who do not abide by the rules, and punish those who do. Let’s not forget if you know the volunteer at the desk, they could save you a kit until you come and it is acceptable to tell the next in line that you have no kits left. 

The day of the race had a huge turnout of runners with a huge screen filming live. I was standing near the start line and could not hear the speakers clearly. All of a sudden, the sound for beginning the race went off, and no one knew whose turn it was. So, naturally everyone gathered near the start line not quite sure if it was their turn or not. The second horn went off and everyone started moving. I kept thinking this large screen could have been handy to announce some relevant information. 

The diversity of those running was majestic, from children to handicapped to professional athletes, all running the streets together. Those less prepared would sprint as hard as they can, and then just stop wherever they were. This created an obstacle course to those running who had to try and maneuver their way through the breathless runners.

After the race, we went to eat some local humus together, and as we came out of the restaurant, I came across some of the same American team. A few of them didn’t get a medal because the organizers ran out of medals too. 

In many ways, this race is a microcosm of the Palestinian plight - we want to liberate ourselves from the occupation and we have so many allies that join our cause. However, when it comes to the facts on the ground, we are not perfect and we make mistakes along the way. We are human and we are trying to keep a form of normalcy in a reality of anomalies. 

 
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