Under the direction of race director Eitedal Ismail, the Palestinian Olympic Committee and the non-profit Right to Movement “We Run to Tell a Different Story” the Palestine Marathon has become a premier international running event welcoming 7000 Palestinian and international runners to Bethlehem, Palestine in 2018.
The Palestine Marathon
The Palestine Marathon starts at the Church of the Nativity taking runners through the Al Aida and Ad Dheisheh refugee camps, past Banksy’s “Walled Off Hotel” and along the barrier wall separating Palestine from Israel. The wall was deemed illegal by The International Court of Justice, in a 2004 advisory opinion, that found that construction of the wall by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, was contrary to international law.
Israel, no doubt, has been emboldened by President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Dozens of IDF loiter in the Old City, the Mamilla Mall and the Central bus station. Even the Palm Sunday procession from the Church of Bethphage to St Anne’s had an oppressive IDF presence. I do not support Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or the Israeli’s egregious security policies and violence towards Palestinians.
“Bucket List” Turkish Bath
This year, following the Palestine 10k, I took the 238 bus from Jerusalem to The Turkish Bath Palestine in Ramallah. I chose the traditional Turkish bath and full body massage which included the steam room, cold pool and body scrub (140 NIS). Don’t worry that you don’t know what you are doing. Rana, the manager, and her staff will walk you through the Turkish Bath every step of the way. Bring a bathing suit and shower shoes. Afterwards I had lunch at Samar Restaurant and walked the six blocks to the Ramallah Central bus station for the trip back through the Qalandia Checkpoint to Jerusalem.
Is it safe? I never felt scared. Notwithstanding the fact that the taxi driver confessed that during the second intifada he was paid by the PLO to place three bombs under three bulldozers used by Israel for home demolitions. He was shot, imprisoned for eleven years and released in a prisoner exchange. He stated emphatically that he would never kill anyone as it is a violation of Islam. According to The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2017, Israel demolished 423 homes with 664 Palestinians displaced.
Palestinians are required to disembark, walk thru the checkpoint and re-board the bus on the opposite side. Americans are sometimes, but not always, required to show their passports to IDF soldiers that board the bus.
Blockade of Gaza
The blockade of Gaza refers to a land, air, and sea blockade by Israel and Egypt from 2007 to present. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, as well as, the Erez crossing. The Rafah crossing is controlled by Egypt.
Bethlehem officials said the Palestinian Authority applied for 50 permits for Gazans to run in this year’s race. Israel granted just 14. Even those runners were delayed and did not reach the start line until 1:30 pm.
Runners belong to a universal brotherhood and sisterhood of runners. Many international runners run in solidarity with Palestinians.
Nesher Tours operates sherut or shared taxi service between Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem for 64 NIS (New Israeli Sheqel) or around $19 USD. They provide door to door service to your hotel, private residence or landmarks like the Damascus Gate.
The Three Arches YMCA Hotel in Jerusalem was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for its efforts in “promoting peace, unity and the dignity of humankind.” It welcomes people of all faiths. Three inscriptions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, are engraved on the building’s façade: “The Lord our God the Lord is One,” in Hebrew, on the right; “I am the way,” in Aramaic in the center; and “There is no God but God,” in Arabic on the left.
It is within walking distance of the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Educational Bookshop and the Old Central bus station by Damascus Gate, where you can take the 231 or 234 bus to Bethlehem or the 238 bus to Ramallah. The fare is 6.80 NIS.
Casa Nova Bethlehem, a Franciscan guesthouse for pilgrims, is located on Manger Square. It costs $60 per night which includes breakfast. It’s definitely worth considering if you are running the Palestine Marathon. Located steps from the starting line it adjoins the Church of the Nativity. The 231 bus stop on Hebron Road in Bethlehem is a short walk or taxi ride (20-30 NIS) to Casa Nova Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square. Negotiate a price before you get into the taxi.
Things to Do
Visit Banksy’s “Walled Off Hotel” at 182 Caritas Street. The hotel houses a piano bar, gallery, museum & bookshop. The “WallMart” next door sells art supplies stencils and spray paint, as well as, ladder rental for decorating the wall.
Mail postcards at the Bethlehem Post Office located in the Bethlehem Municipality Building, near Banque du Caire Amma on Manger Square. On January 9, 2013, the Palestinian Postal Service issued the first stamp of the “State of Palestine”. The move followed the historic upgrade of Palestine to Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations on November 29, 2012. The stamp depicts the Star of Bethlehem that marks the birth place of Jesus in the Church of the Nativity.
Palestine doesn’t yet have an independent Palestinian currency. Visitors can pay with the Israeli shekel, the US dollar or the Jordanian dinar.
Visit the Christmas House, Olive Wood Factory on Milk Grotto Street and the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square.
Taybeh beer is the local Palestinian beer.
Susan M Hall is an American long-distance runner with a goal to run a half marathon in all 193 UN-recognized countries plus the two permanent non-member observer states of Palestine & the Holy See.
On her radar are the Outer Banks Half Marathon, Nags Head, North Carolina, USA; Beirut Half Marathon, Beirut, Lebanon; Radisson Blu Larnaka Half Marathon, Larnaka, Cyprus, and the Pyramids Half Marathon, Giza, Egypt.
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