Forty-six runners exited this morning from Gaza to participate in the Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem

41 were approved yesterday evening. Illustration: stock.xchg

41 were approved yesterday evening. Illustration: stock.xchg

March 26, 2015. Forty six Palestinian runners, among them Olympic marathon runner, Nader Al-Masri, exited Gaza in order to participate in the third annual Palestine Marathon, which will be held tomorrow (Friday) in the streets of Bethlehem. The Palestinian Olympic Committee filed permit applications (through the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Ramallah) for 54 runners to the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), of which 46 were approved yesterday evening, thanks in part to Gisha’s intervention.

Although military authorities coordinated the departure of Al-Masri from the Gaza Strip via the Allenby crossing several times since April 2008, to train and to travel abroad to represent the Palestinian Authority in international competitions, Israel has chosen not to allow him to leave to participate in the Palestine Marathon over the last two years.

A year ago, Gisha filed an urgent petition on the matter to the High Court. During the hearing, the state argued that “approval of the application depends on the status of relations between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Authority and not on the status of relations between the individual applicant and the State of Israel”. The proceedings were interrupted to allow state representatives to present confirmation that the defense minister personally refused to allow Al-Masri to travel to the marathon.

The petition was rejected, but the court suggested that in the future, the state should consider expanding criteria for the approval of athletes from the Gaza Strip. Indeed, and in the framework of changes to policy followed Operation Protective Edge, the criteria for exit was expanded last summer to include athletes from the Gaza Strip. Two months, COGAT replaced a narrow list of athletic fields whose athletes would be eligible to request permits in favor of a general rule that supposedly allows any athlete belonging to a Palestinian national team to request a permit to transit to the West Bank or through it abroad to competitions and training.

And yet, earlier this month, Israel refused to allow members of the Palestinian beach soccer national team to participate in a qualifying championship in Asia, currently taking place (March 23-28) in Qatar. The Palestinian Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association filed the request on behalf of the atheletes.

Palestine’s national beach soccer team was established in 2010. In 2012, the team exited through Rafah Crossing to participate in the Asian Championship held in China and finished in third place. For the past two years, the team members were unable to exit via Rafah crossing, and missed the Asian Championships in China, the Asian Games in Thailand and Arab Beach Soccer Championship, held in Sharm al-Sheikh. Requests to travel to the West Bank for training were refused as well.

The coach, Imad al-Din Hashem, told Gisha’s field worker in Gaza: “We practiced hard, with determination and enthusiasm to get to the championship. We dreamed to win and qualify for the finals in Portugal, but with the current situation, we cannot play at the World Championships in Portugal and FIFA cannot rate us as a group. We lost the opportunity to participate in the beach soccer World Cup qualifier”.

Given that Israel already recognized that national team athletes should be allowed to travel to realize their potential, it should strive to apply this recognition more consistently. This, in the same vein, of things said by the defense establishment regarding its ostensive efforts to facilitate normal life for the civilian population separate from its effort to confront security challenges in the region.