The Olympic Runner Is Finally Free to Leave Gaza – 1.5 Million Gaza Residents Still Trapped

Thu,, April 10, 2008 – After months of refusal, Israel’s military finally permitted Nader Masri, one of the four Palestinian representatives in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, to leave Gaza today in order to reach his training camp. The rest of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are still trapped.

Nader Masri, resident of the Gaza Strip, had been trapped in Gaza since Israel closed the borders of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 – missing training, world champion competitions in Italy, Spain, and Qatar, and at risk of losing his chance to represent the Palestinian Authority in the summer Olympic Games.

Israel’s military refused requests by athletic authorities and by Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement to let Mr. Masri out of Gaza specifically in order to reach his Olympic training and competitions. In a Feb. 21, 2008 letter, the military told Gisha that, "currently, exit from the Gaza Strip is only possible in exceptional humanitarian cases and for urgent medical treatment".

But when reporters asked the military why Israel was preventing an Olympic athlete from reaching his training, military spokespersons told reporters that no requests had been made on Mr. Masri’s behalf.

After a Yediot Ahronot reporter confronted a military spokesperson with the Feb. 21 refusal letter by the military, the spokesman declared that "the security situation has changed," and today Nader was allowed to leave Gaza and to travel to Jericho for training.

The rest of Gaza’s residents – students, workers, academics, businesspersons, family members – remain trapped. Since June 2007, following the Hamas takeover on the Gaza Strip, Israel has imposed a policy of tight closure of Gaza’s borders, depriving its 1.5 million inhabitants of their right to leave Gaza and return to it.

The closure policy is now 10 months old – with no end in sight.

According to Sari Bashi, Gisha’s Director: "You shouldn’t have to be an Olympic runner in order to exercise your right to leave Gaza. The military’s arbitrariness in Mr. Masri’s case shows the absurdity of Israel’s closure that deprives 1.5 million people of their right to freedom of movement."