Thousands run Bethlehem marathon to protest Israeli restrictions


(JTA) — More than 4,000 people participated in a Bethlehem marathon designed to highlight travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israel.

First conceived in 2013, the fourth annual “Right to Movement” marathon set out Friday from the Church of the Nativity past Israel’s security barrier, which cuts around much of the city, before passing Duheisha refugee camp and the town of al-Khader, near Gilo military checkpoint, the Ma’an News agency reported.

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“Restriction on movement is one of the major challenges for the Palestinian people living under occupation. Palestinians cannot move freely on roads, or from one city to another,” the marathon’s organizers from the Right to Movement group had written on their website.

Because the Palestinian Authority does not control a contiguous 42 kilometers, or 26 miles, in Bethlehem district — the distance of a full Olympic marathon — the run was instead forced to loop around a seven-mile stretch.

Nearly 4,400 runners took part in this year’s marathon — up from 3,100 last year— with a record 46 percent of them women, far surpassing the 39 percent that joined 2015’s run, Ma’an reported.

The Palestinian Authority, which helped organizers facilitate conditions for the race, asked Israel to allow 102 runners from Gaza to attend as well, but they were not allowed into the West Bank, the report said.

Ma’an quoted Israel’s Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories as saying the Palestinians deliberately had not given them enough time “for dealing with such requests,” adding: “It’s unfortunate to witness cynical using of the sport.”

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