BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK, March 30: In the biblical city of Bethlehem, Sana Jamaani is warmed up and ready to run. This isn’t her first race, but she says it is her most important.
“I’m running in the Holy Land,” Jamaani smiles. “I’m running in Palestine.”
More than 3,000 runners came to the West Bank for the Palestine Marathon on Friday. For Jamaani, this isn’t just a race for time. It is a run for recognition.
“It means that you run for peace,” Jamaani says.
Two weeks before this marathon, more than 25,000 runners took part in the Jerusalem Marathon. The race was a celebration of sport in a citywide event that drew international attention and competition. The course took runners through old and new Jerusalem. They were free to run. But in Bethlehem, runners say they run to be free.
“We are trying to inspire people to take their own rights,” says organizer Signe Fischer, “and the right of movement is the only right that you can physically just claim. You can put on your running shoes and just take it.”
The Palestine Marathon is put on by the Palestine Olympic Committee and the Right to Movement, a nonprofit organization that uses running as a means of activism. They focus their efforts on what they see as one of the most basic rights: movement.
Many of the runners are Palestinian, and their movement is limited, Israel says, for security reasons. The marathon course took runners along the West Bank separation barrier, into the Aida refugee camp, and under guard towers.
Nader al-Masri won the marathon. He is from Gaza, and he says he had to wait five hours at the Erez border crossing to compete. He arrived in Manger Square at the finish line to a hero’s welcome.
“I saw parts of the wall all over. It’s very hard, but I’m still proud of myself as a Palestinian,” says al-Masri.
In its third year, the marathon drew runners from all over the world, pilgrims of a sort making a journey to the holy land, not for religion, but for sport.
“It’s an achievement,” said Jamaani after finishing. “Everyone looks for an achievement in life, and one of them was crossing this line, especially in the Palestine Marathon.”
For runners like Jamaani, the marathon is a statement made one step at a time.