Sari Bashi, Gisha director
Last week I called on the public and on my fellow Israeli runners to contact the Israeli Ministry of Defense and ask for a reconsideration of the refusal to allow runners from Gaza to travel to the Bethlehem Marathon which was held yesterday. Their request was first denied on April 11, because according to a representative from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, it did not meet the criteria for travel between Gaza and the West Bank.
The response from the runners was amazing. Dozens wrote moving letters to the Ministry of Defense, emphasizing the hope and purity embodied in the marathon and speaking of their identification with people who challenge their human abilities by doing that amazing thing called “running”. We posted some of these letters, which fill me with a sense of pride in the community of Israeli runners.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Defense refused to reverse its decision. The marathon was held in Bethlehem without the Gaza runners, among them a female runner, Sanaa. In my opinion, this is a missed opportunity to do something that is simply good – for runners who trained for months for a marathon that was canceled, for a female runner who can’t race in Gaza because of the restrictions the government places on women’s participation, and for Israelis, who, from a very human place, mobilized to try and help their Palestinian neighbors run in the only Palestinian marathon they have left.
Because of the Israeli holiday last week, we had very little time to act. This type of request has been approved by the Defense Ministry in the past, and I believe we have a good chance to succeed next time.
What can be done in the meantime? I was pleased by the discussion that developed within the running community about Palestinian athletes and our relationship with the people who live in the Gaza Strip, a discussion that remained respectful, didn’t necessarily always reflect agreement, but rather created an honest exchange of opinions and a willingness to listen to one another. I am not surprised that the optimistic, principled and supportive nature of Israeli runners found expression also in the way they handled their differences of opinion.
I am disappointed that Sanaa, Nader and their friends did not run in Bethlehem yesterday, but I’m very proud of the Israeli runners who supported their request. Next time, we’ll be able to get them to their race.
Looking forward to seeing you on the running trail.