First Published: 2013-04-18

 

Israel punishes Gaza athletes with exclusion from Bethlehem marathon

 

Director General of Palestinian Olympic Committee says decision proves Israeli occupier is trying to prevent movement in many sectors, including sports.

 

Middle East Online

By Hazel Ward – JERUSALEM

Prisoners in their own land

Israel has refused to grant permission to 26 runners from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank to run in the first Bethlehem marathon on April 21, officials said on Thursday.

The race, which begins at the Nativity Church, is the first event of its kind in the West Bank with more than 400 people registered to run, half of whom are Palestinians, organisers say.

But a group of runners from the Gaza Strip who signed up for the race, have been denied permission to travel by the COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit responsible for coordinating civilian affairs with the Palestinians.

According to Gisha, an Israeli watchdog which works to facilitate Palestinian freedom of movement, the group includes Olympic runner Nader al-Masri and another four people who had registered to run the full 42.2 kilometres (26 miles) and six who signed up for the 21.1 km half marathon.

Among the group is one woman runner and four trainers.

"The request of 26 Gaza residents to take part in the Bethlehem marathon was examined by the relevant authorities and it was decided to reject the request because it does not fall within the determined criteria for crossing from Gaza to the West Bank," a COGAT statement said.

Gaza residents can only travel to the West Bank for "exceptional humanitarian reasons with an emphasis on urgent medical cases," it stressed.

Etidal Abdelghani, deputy Director General of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, a co-sponsor of the event along with the Palestinian Authority, said Israel had rejected the request without saying why.

"We applied for permission for 22 runners from Gaza to participate in the Bethlehem marathon which will be held on Sunday and Israel banned all of them from coming to the West Bank without giving any reason," she said.

"This proves that Israel is still an occupier and trying to prevent movement in many sectors, including sports, which goes against all international sporting agreements."

Many of the runners had registered to participate in the United Nations' annual Gaza marathon on April 10 but it was cancelled at the last minute after the Islamist Hamas authorities who govern the enclave said they would not let women and men run together.

The news was a blow to Gazans who had been training hard for the event.

"I don't know why the Israelis are like this, it is just a sport and has nothing to do with politics," said 28-year-old Sanaa al-Bakhit, the only woman in the group who had been due to run in the 5 km event.

"In Gaza, Hamas doesn't want (women) to run and now the Israelis will not give us permits" to run in the West Bank, she said.

Masri, the Palestinians' most successful runner, said he had been excited at the thought of competing against runners from the West Bank.

"I spent three months training for this marathon and the one in Gaza which was also cancelled. I wanted to take part in this historic Palestinian marathon with runners from both the West Bank and Gaza," he said.

"The Israeli side is always the problem. We are athletes, not a security threat, but we cannot force them to let us pass."

Gisha Director Sari Bashi, herself a veteran marathon runner, is leading an appeal on behalf of the runners who only have until sundown on Friday to secure permission to travel before the Erez crossing closes for the Jewish Sabbath.

"As a marathon runner, as a woman, and as a human rights lawyer, I cannot understand why Israel would refuse to allow Palestinian runners to participate in the only Palestinian marathon left, the only marathon event in which women can participate," she said.

"Running is a celebration of the human spirit, and these runners from Gaza deserve the chance to compete."

The race, which is called the "Right to Movement Palestine Marathon," will take runners on a tour of Bethlehem, a hilly southern West Bank town which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus. The course will pass through at least two refugee camps.

 

Saudi Arabia foils suicide bombing against US embassy in Riyadh

Kerry meets Zarif on Iran nuclear deal, Yemen crisis

UN blames Israel for Gaza shelter attacks

New rebel alliance ups the ante on Syria regime

Qatar unveils world’s biggest environment project

Syria defence minister starts official visit to Iran

Morocco arrests four people over 'burning alive' fatwa

Arab Israelis observe general strike over house demolitions

IS Libya killings videos haunts asylum seekers in Israel

Gulf foreign ministers set to meet with focus on Yemen war

Iran leads NAM calls for Israel to give up nuclear weapons

UN: Israeli actions killed 44 Palestinians at UN shelters

Journalists face ‘deadliest period’ in recent history

Leading member of Syria ‘tolerated’ opposition escapes to Spain

Arab coalition adopts two-pronged strategy to resolve Yemen conflict

‘Islamic State’ stones two men to death in Iraq

Syrian rock bands finding safety in Lebanon

Coalition strikes continue as bread, medicine run short in Yemen

Guantanamo ex-inmates demand compensation from US

Novelists withdraw from NY gala in Charlie Hebdo protest

Islamist rebels overrun army base in Syria Idlib province

Iraq forces suffer heavy losses in battle of Ramadi

In new provocation, Iran Guards chief likens Saudi Arabia to Israel

Sudan president reelected with more than 94% of vote

Israel charges soldiers for theft in Gaza war

First Saudi National Guards deployed on Yemen border zone

Israel invites tenders for 77 East Jerusalem settler homes

Sudan to unveil election results

Sudan accuses UNAMID of killing civilians in Darfur

Turkey rounds up 350 migrants en route to Europe

Iraq army announces ‘progress’ in Anbar province

Will Somalia Shebab choose Qaeda or Islamic State?

Abbas condemns Israel killing of two young Palestinians in separate incidents

Civilian massacre in Syria northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur

New UN envoy looks to revive talks as battles intensify across Yemen

‘Islamic State’ suicide bombers target Iraq-Jordan crossing

Four Egypt Islamists killed while preparing bombs

Extremist groups capture last major regime holdout in northwest Syria

‘Islamic State’ kills Iraq senior officers in Anbar province

Deadly fighting rages in Yemen southern towns

Entrepreneurs encourage people to ‘buy Syrian’

Over 100 children killed in Yemen since March 26

Libya militia alliance 'carries out air raids' against IS

UN 'confident' rebels will sign Mali peace deal

Petraeus gets two years probation for info leak