Running the Bethlehem Marathon

"When you run a marathon, you have to visualise yourself finishing it. You have to see the end way before you finish." Greenbelt Festival Creative Director, Amos supporter and runner Paul Northup tells the story of running the third Bethlehem 'Right To Movement' Marathon.

The third Bethlehem 'Right To Movement' Marathon, in Palestine.
Friday 17th March, 2015

When you run a marathon, you have to visualise yourself finishing it. You have to see the end way before you finish.


We were gathered in Bethlehem, where hope was born, with 3,000 runners – mostly from Palestine, but also from all around the world. The thermometer had already climbed well into the 20’s by 7:00am in Manger Square on Friday 27 March, 2015 – but somehow the heat didn’t seem to matter.

Some of us had never run a marathon or half marathon before and so were anxious about the unknown. Others of us knew the challenges that lay ahead only too well. All of us were there to be part of this: an act of solidarity and resistance; to run the streets of this West Bank city until we could run no more (because of checkpoints and walls). And then to run back again.

We were there to make a point and to make it with our whole bodies. This was a physical, mental and emotional act. There would be tears, blisters and dark thoughts over the next few hours. But this is what we’d come for.

When you run a marathon, you have to visualise yourself finishing it. You have to see the end way before you finish.

We had the privilege of being part of something that mattered.

Since its founding in 2013 by two Danish women in Bethlehem working for the 'Right to Movement' human rights charity, the Palestine Marathon has become something deeply significant in the West Bank diary – both for Palestinians and internationals wanting to express their solidarity with the locals.

Best of all this year was the fact that Palestinian Olympic athlete Nader al-Masri from Gaza was there – the first year he had been granted permission to travel from his blockaded home in Gaza to the West Bank (along with 46 other Gazan athletes), to compete in his very own national marathon. The symbolism of the Gazan runners’ presence (and al-Masri’s eventual victory in the full marathon), was deeply moving.

As the Mayor of Bethlehem gave her welcoming speech and the doves of peace were released into a deep blue sky over the beautiful old town, our hearts were already racing – and the race had not yet begun.

Best of all this year was the fact that Palestinian Olympic athlete Nader al-Masri from Gaza was there – the first year he had been granted permission to travel from his blockaded home in Gaza.

We had travelled with a combined group of Amos Trust and MAP supporters from the UK and, once again, we were led by Jenny Baker – Amos Trust trustee and experienced distance runner with Ealing Eagles. We stayed a stone’s throw from Manger Square, right in the heart of Bethlehem and we were guided during our stay by the inimitable Marwan Faruhja from Holy Land Trust.

Either side of the run itself on that hot Friday, we crammed in visits and tours to remind those of us who’d been before of the growing injustices on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to introduce those there for the first time to the Kafka-esque political geography of this small and precious parcel of land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.

From trips to a MAP-funded and newly-built burns unit in the Al Alia Hospital in Hebron to the family home that Amos Trust rebuilt just outside the Arroub refugee camp between Bethlehem and Hebron. We also took in the peacefulness of Wi’am's garden, planted and grown in the shadows of the hideous Separation Wall by Rachel’s Tomb, to the beguiling beauty of the desert, in full bloom after a wet Palestinian winter, and the hospitality of the Bedouin. A trip to Palestine is always unforgettable. 

Our time either side of the marathon itself was bookended by two clarion voices of hope against all hope: Daoud Nassar of the Tent of Nations and former IDF fighter-turned-founder of Breaking the Silence Micah Kurz, now the energy behind a civil rights movement in Israel called Grassroots Jerusalem.

Either side of the run itself on that hot Friday, we crammed in visits and tours to remind those of us who’d been before of the growing injustices in the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Both Micah and Daoud are not just resisting the injustices of the present, they are creatively, passionately and prophetically modelling what the future might look like. A future way beyond political rhetoric and ‘roadmaps’ and a two-state solution; a future where every human living in the Holy Land has the right to movement. Micah talked about the Palestinians having their ‘Mandela Moment’ within the next twenty years. And Daoud talked of a future where those who had learned to live in tune with the environment in the Holy Land would flourish.

Both were deeply skeptical of politics with a capital P but deeply committed to and part of change from the bottom up. Like those of us who ran the marathon and half marathon this year in Bethlehem, Daoud and Micah aren’t overcome by the heat of the moment. Their eyes and hearts are fixed on the finish line; a line that can only be glimpsed by those with their vision and hope. 



Footnotes:


Sadly, after months of training, Jenny fell on her last long run before the marathon and injured her knee and so was only able to run the 10k on the day. You can read her running club blog piece here

I ran 3:29, 15-20 minutes slower than the target I’d trained for. But I’d forgotten how hilly The Little Town is. And nothing could have prepared me for how hot it was. I’m still fundraising for Amos partner projects in the Israel-Palestine and it’s not too late to sponsor me.

The other Amos runners included:

  • Grace Wroe 
    Making her marathon debut and completing the distance in a little over five hours.
  • Guy Roberts 
    A seasoned distance runner from Devon who completed the full marathon just behind Grace.
  • Azey Siddiqui
    Amos Trust’s newest staff team member, completed the half marathon in good time.
  • Isobel Duckworth 
    A long-term Amos friend and supporter ran the half marathon.
  • Tim Walker 
    A newcomer to all things Amos, surprised himself with a good half marathon run despite his legs “being shot”.
  • Mandy Keasley (Jenny’s sister)
    Completed the half marathon with a permanent and infectious smile on her face.
  • Deborah Rooke
    Who heard about the event in a talk that Amos Trustee Jenny Baker gave at Greenbelt Festival in 2014 and ended up running her first half marathon in Bethlehem!
  • Doug Hemmings (running for MAP)
    Who was running as part of his 40th birthday celebrations.
  • David McKnight (also running for MAP)
    Who despite being more used to running the trails of North Wales was running his first half marathon.

Paul Northup is the Creative Director of Greenbelt Festival. Greenbelt has been proud to platform the voices of those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine for many years – and, from 2009 – 2011, hosted a three-year ‘Just Peace’ campaign at the festival.




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