The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced late last week that he would not allow Gaza runners to participate in today’s marathon in Bethlehem. The reason? “Entry by residents of Gaza into Israel is only allowed in extreme humanitarian cases, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases”.
But the criteria for permitting travel between Gaza and the West Bank tell a different story. Section 16 of the criteria states: “Periodically, and subject to submission of a detailed request from Palestinian Authority representatives in the Judea and Samaria Area and the authorization of the Minister of Defense, residents of the Gaza Strip are permitted to enter Israel in order to participate in conferences or special events sponsored by the Palestinian Authority”.
The runners’ request to travel was not rejected for security reasons. In fact, some of them have received permits to travel to the West Bank in the past, including for the purpose of participating in training. COGAT refused to let them travel because their case was not considered extreme or humanitarian enough.
Last week, dozens of people, including prominent Israeli marathon runners, took action and called on COGAT to allow the runners to get to the marathon. The Bethlehem marathon was Sanaa Abu Bahit’s only chance to run in an official race, after Hamas banned women’s participation in races in Gaza.