the West bankWorking in Palestine Signe Smidt discovered during her runs, how movement was restricted by the wall and several check-points, a symptom of the country's political stalemate. This motivated her to arrange Palestine's first Marathon in Bethlehem.
To run is a basic exercise of right to movement and strengthening of spirit, but there were no roads or paths that would allow her to run a distance of more that 10km (5.5miles) in a Palestinian controlled area, without having to run in circles. People are not able to claim this right to movement, she discovered. Not only did this mean a compromising of this right but, as she described to me, it also means that the empowerment, independence, freedom and strength felt whilst running, always remains under a certain threshold.
Smidt decided to organise Palestine's first marathon under the slogan "Right to Movement" to encourage people to claim their own right to movement and initially created annual runs for the people of Palestine. Smidt thinks that International donors, NGOs and UN agencies are taking up to much space in Palestine and it somehow ruins the social fabric in Palestine. Even more so, they fail to bring about any real change. Palestine is still occupied. "With the Palestine Marathon we want to inspire people to take their rights into their own hands and to tell a different story of Palestine. The active sentiment of resisting the occupation was something that all people, irrespective of gender, could contribute to peacefully" she explained.
Before moving to Jerusalem, Smidt studied in Haifa, an experience that she recalls as tainted by Israeli discourse on Palestinians. "Advocacy and activism on Palestine and Israel are often for a certain few academics, policy makers, diplomats and NGO/UN staff" she said. "Instead we need to make this a people's issue, we need to create venues where ordinary people can show their resistance to the occupation. Both multi- an bilateral attempts to end the occupations has falied, she says, "and so far she sees them as detrimental or a distraction from the real political issues behind the fight for Palestinian rights, being the ongoing occupation. According to Right to Movement, the organisation she founded, this is an alternative narrative for the Palestinians, one that tells there story, a different story of Palestine and one which do not promote stereotypes of Palestinians.
Just the mere issue of Palestine not having the required 26.2 miles for a marathon is a symptom of the violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people. In the first year of the marathon, the organisers made it a point to have a route, which was exclusively in 'area A' – that is, under Palestinian control. As a symptom of the scarcity of Palestinian terrain under self-determination, the runners had to do four 'loops' of 10km (5.5miles) as there appeared to be no such distance unregulated by Israeli forces. After arranging the circuit, the run turned out to be a massive success, starting their first ever marathon with over 700 participants in 2013. Last year, they had 3,000 runners registered for their event where about 40 per cent of whom were (largely Palestinian) women – a higher percentage of women that both the New York and Hamburg marathons.
Right to Movement has now become a global running community aimed at being a completely voluntary and locally run, organic entity, and has so far received a lot of positive feedback from contestants who enjoy the peaceful act of resistance. Furthermore, due to the large amount of women, it is Smidt's impression that women can now participate in more gender-neutral forms of resistance that may not be their preferred way of standing up to those who are suppressing their right to movement.
The movement seeks to inspire people to claim their right to movement and has so far helped start locally run running groups in Palestine, Egypt, England, Denmark, France, Jordan and Ghana.
The next marathon in Palestine is taking place on 1 April 2016, and you can register here on the Right to Movement website to manifest your support of Palestinians' right to movement.
Images by MEMO's team who took part in the Bethlehem marathon 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.