Bethlehem Marathon Thrown By Palestinians Can't Find 26 Miles to Run On

Hundreds of people braved the freezing rain and blistering winds on Sunday to participate in the West Bank's first marathon. The race, also called the Right to Movement, was held to successfully demonstrate two things — the first, to show what peaceful resistance looks like, and second, to show how difficult the simple task of finding 26.2 miles (or 42 kilometers) of contiguous land under occupied Palestine is. The marathon was also successful in demonstrating that until Israel lets go of its hard-line stance on the Palestinian occupation and allow Palestinians their basic freedoms, any solution to the conflict will be nearly impossible to reach. 

Unsurprisingly, Israel's actions had already given the runners yet another reason to demonstrate against the occupation before the race could even take place — last week, around 26 runners from the Gaza Strip were unable to participate in the marathon, having been denied permission to travel to the West Bank by the COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry unit that is responsible for coordinating civilian issues with Palestinians. 

According to COGAT, "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."

The only time Gaza residents can travel to the West Bank, where their fellow estranged Palestinians reside, is only if there is an exceptional humanitarian reason or an urgent medical issue. 

Israel's typical occupier actions, however, only further fueled the runners' reasons for running and drew attention to the fact that, although the Article 13 of the U.N. Human Rights Charter states that everyone has the right to freedom of movement. The Palestinians clearly do not under the military occupation.

Their cause was proved even further when the organizers of the marathon could not find an uninterrupted 26-mile stretch to run on within Area A, the tiny strip of Israeli-occupied West Bank which is fully under Palestinian control. Because of this, the participants were forced to make two laps of the same route in Bethlehem in order to complete the 26 miles.

In a statement, the organizers of the marathon lamented the difficulties of finding a mere 26-mile stretch under occupied Palestine, saying, "The EU and the U.S. talk about a two-state solution, an independent Palestine – but we cannot find the 42 kilometers needed for a marathon. Not 42 kilometers of an area, which [is] supposed to be an independent state [that is] controlled by the Palestinian themselves."

Palestinians, they added, "do not have a state, and their lands are controlled by a foreign army that army controls their movement with roadblocks, checkpoints, military zones, an illegal wall and a complex set of discriminatory laws."

And the organizers of the marathon are right. Although everyone has the right to movement, it is clear from the Palestinian's plight that not everyone has the option to movement. Until this vital component of self-determination is granted to the Palestinians, the U.S. and EU's calls for a two-state solution are meaningless.