This piece was orginally posted on Infofada, a recently launched Norwegian website.
On March 27th of this year, runners from Palestine and communities around the world prepared themselves for the 3rd annual Palestine marathon to begin. The route for the ten, twenty, and forty-two kilometer marathons went along the routes from Mangers Square in Bethlehem through Al-Ayda refugee camp and past Al-Duheysha refugee camp. A map given to the participants indicated these points, but what is crucial to note while looking at this map was that the runners participating in the forty-two kilometer race in particular had to go from point A, Mangers Square, to point C, past Al-Duheysha refugee camp, and back. The marathon as a whole is for the purpose of raising awareness on the issue of the right to movement and how it is constantly violated. This route itself tells the narrative, as there was not a single uninterrupted forty-two kilometer route through which runners can move through.
“We run for those and with those who are deprived of that right” is the third line of the marathon’s manifesto(1). That right is the right to movement, a right that Palestinians have been deprived since the start of the heinous occupation. One can say, based on the history of the occupation, that Israel allows only one movement, and that is for Palestinians to leave with no return. According to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2), the right to move freely and reside freely within the state’s borders is for all. Furthermore, each individual has the right to return to his or her country. However, Israel continues to deny Palestinians of this basic right by imprisoning Palestinians within physical barriers such as the Apartheid wall and checkpoints, blockades, imposing the need of permits to move around, and imprisonment in Israeli political prisons.
Apartheid Wall: Dividing More Than Movement
Runners of the ten, twenty, and forty-two kilometer marathons inevitably ran past the Apartheid wall that has been in the making since 2002. The Apartheid wall is built by the Israeli occupation as a security measure, similar to why all the other physical barriers are put up by this colonization. Running over five hundred kilometers, the wall cuts through 85% of the West Bank(3). The routes and pathways through which the wall cuts through automatically puts a stop to the free movement of Palestinians from side of the wall to the other. The wall divides Palestinian neighborhoods affecting social life. Agricultural lands are also divided affecting the income of farmers, especially those that rely on farming as a means for living. Furthermore, to obtain access to their lands, farmers need to obtain permits provided by the Israel Civil Administration(4). Health care is also divided, where it was reported by the World Health Organization report on the barriers to health care in 2014 (5) that the movement of individuals from Gaza and West Bank into East Jerusalem has been further restricted within the past years because of this so called separation wall. The fact that there is a barrier in the face of the right to health is a violation of Article 56 of the fourth Geneva Convention, which bluntly states that no one should be denied of their right to access health care due to any physical barriers(6). Clearly, the Apartheid wall stands in the face of the sectors that make up the Palestinian society, and unfortunately, it does not stand alone.
Checkpoints: Blocking Roads
Checkpoints or roadblocks are also put up by Israel to prevent the free movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories and even to and from Israel. As of 2014, ninety-nine checkpoints existed in the West Bank (7). Qalandia checkpoint is one of the major checkpoints in the West Bank. Checking for identification, Palestinians crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah usually take anywhere from a fifteen minutes to a few hours. Students residing in Jerusalem, attending Birzeit University, and having to cross the Qalandia checkpoint on a daily basis, so often are witnesses to this.
“I usually take an hour and a half coming and an hour and a half going between Jerusalem and Birzeit,” a fourth year engineering student at Birzeit informed me. “It’s easier when you’re in your own car. Times passes.”
Even more so, time passes slowly for those waiting in line for their permits to be checked.
Permission to Cross
Permits to cross through checkpoints, whether for medical care, educational purposes or for a trip to the cities of Haifa and Acre, are required yet difficult to obtain. This permit system, in fact, started from the end of the last century(8). For example, when it comes to referring patients from the West Bank and Gaza to hospitals in East Jerusalem for medical care, the approval rates when it came to permits has declined from the year of 2011 to 2013.
Blockade on Gaza
Blockades, as those imposed on Gaza are also another barrier to the Palestinians in general and the people of Gaza in particular. The blockade has been imposed on land, sea, and air, thus controlling agriculture, travel within Palestine and neighboring countries, and fishing opportunities among Gazan fishers (9). The blockade can be seen as a collective prison cell for the people in Gaza.
Imprisonment in Israeli political prisons is a one of the major factors restricting the movement of over 5000 Palestinians. According to Addameer, a Palestinian institution, the total number of prisoners existing as of March 2015 is 5820, of which 182 are children (10). The right of these 182 imprisoned children to move freely, play as any child would, is violated in the one of the cruelest ways to deny a child of his or her rights.
Running for Rights
Nader Al-Masri, a resident of Gaza, won first place in the forty-two kilometer marathon. As he went up on stage his shirt covered in sweat, Al-Masri held the trophy over his head, smiling for his victory; his eyes filled with happiness and hope to be able to return and to participate in the next marathon. Even though Al-Masri was the official winner of the forty-two kilometer marathon, all runners had the aura of winners, defying occupation and running to conquer the occupation, one barrier at a time.
A few meters after Wadi Al-Nar, a route taken by runners from Ramallah and neighboring areas to Bethlehem, there is a point slightly covered by an olive tree, overlooking the city of Jerusalem. If one focuses their eyes straight ahead, one can see the golden Dome of the Rock. How many kilometers would it take to run there if the barriers did not exist?
1.Palestine Marathon Map. PRINT.
2.United Nations. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/
3.AFSC. “Restricted Movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Visited 13 May 2015. https://afsc.org/resource/restricted-movement-occupied-palestinian-territory
4.B’Tselem. “Separation Barrier Statistics.” 16 Jul. 2012. Visited 07 May 2015. http://www.btselem.org/separation_barrier/statistics
5.World Health Organization. “WHO report: Barriers to health for Palestinians under occupation, December 2014.” Dec. 2014. Visited 11 May 2015. http://www.emro.who.int/palestine-press-releases/2014/who-report-barriers-to-health-for-palestinians-under-occupation-december-2014.html
6.See note 5.
7.B’Tselem. “Checkpoints, Physical Obstructions, and Forbidden Roads.” 11 Mar. 2014. Visited 09 May 2015. http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/checkpoints_and_forbidden_roads
8.See note 3.
9.See note 5.
10.Shackle, Samira. “Israel tightens its blockade of Gaza for ‘security reasons.’” The Middle East Monitor. 14 Oct. 2013. Visited 11 May 2015. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/blogs/lifestyle/7813-israel-tightens-its-blockade-of-gaza-for-security-reasons
11.Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. http://www.addameer.org/index.php