Some 7,000 people took part in the “Run for Freedom” Palestine Marathon today which setoff from Manger Square in occupied Bethlehem.
The route follows Israel’s illegal 26-foot-high Separation Wall and loops four times through the city. It was chosen to draw attention to the constraints Palestinians face in their daily lives – that there is no route that can be run continuously before hitting a border or roadblock. A half marathon, ten kilometre and five kilometre race also take place alongside the marathon for families and younger runners.
Earlier today, the 2017 Arab Idol winner Yacoub Shaheen and children from across the West Bank and East Jerusalem gathered in Bethlehem to mark the start of the marathon, singing “Dreams alone are not enough” in front of the runners.
Genvieve Boutin, UNICEF’s Special Representative to the State of Palestine, was also in attendance at the ceremony and spoke about the particular importance of the marathon for Palestinian children.
“We’re here today with our own children to run for children in the State of Palestine,” Boutin told attendees. “For children and young people still developing, the physical and mental benefits of sport and play set the foundation for healthy development and life-long learning. It also gives them an opportunity to express themselves in a positive setting.”
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Runners from Gaza were not permitted exit out of the besieged Strip in order to attend the run.
Earlier this month, Israeli occupation forces also attacked a Palestinian marathon in the occupied city of Jerusalem which had coincided with a similar event organised by the Israeli-run municipality in the city.
Large numbers of Israeli troops had been deployed across the main streets of West and East Jerusalem to protect the Israeli marathon, whilst occupation troops attacked Palestinian activists who organised the rival run in East Jerusalem, and arrested some of the runners.