By Fatima AbdulKarim
RAMALLAH, April 1 (Xinhua) -- At an early spring Friday, an annual international marathon is organized in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which, despite its vibrant touristic attraction and historical status, is surrounded by the Israeli built wall and two main checkpoints.
On Friday, 6,000 athletes from 47 countries and regions ran the fifth international marathon from 47 countries. Many of whom said they want to focus on the sports culture.
The race route is 42 kilometers that take runners through Bethlehem's natural landscape, main city center, refugee camps and short scenic site that is interrupted by the Wall.
While Israelis refer to the wall as a security barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinians, the Palestinians describe it as racial segregation due to its impact on loss of Palestinian lands within the 1967 borders and the limitation of their movement.
The International Court of Justice has issued a non-binding advisory opinion, stating that "the wall" is illegal.
The influence of the over eight-meter high wall and the restriction on the basic rights of free movement has affected many aspects of life, such as sports.
In order to run the full marathon according to international standards and without having to cross an Israeli military checkpoint or bump into the Wall, athletes have to run the same route twice.
Palestinian athlete Marian Khoury, 24, said she is not going to be stopped by the Israeli oppression that puts Palestinian athletes under lots of pressure, but will continue to run to achieve better results and personal records.
In fact, many of the Palestinian runners and those who came to cheer for them said they are there for the sport that defies the occupation's view of borders.
Waiting anxiously at the finish line, Khoury came in as the first Palestinian female runner, in third place. Pounding breath, she told Xinhua this race was the hardest yet for her, having to push through it despite an injury.
"It was very difficult, I ran it last year, but this year it was much harder. But it got me through. I had to push through it, I had to stop and sit in an ambulance for 10 minutes but I made it third, so this is good," she said
Another runner is 26-year-old cross-fit coach Basel Qatemesh, who ran the 10km race with the main aim to improve his personal record, which is motivated by the political messages on the Wall.
He explained that "while you are doing the 10 kilometers, every time you pass a street there is some kind of writing on the wall, you pass by the wall of occupation and all those weird thoughts that passes through your mind while you are running. It's kind of motivating for you to do the run more, that it seems that running itself is a way of freedom."
The marathon participants included families who took a short piece of the route with children, and others who ran for causes like honoring the rights of disabled people or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel movement (BDS) to amplify a message that sports is for all and freedom is for all.
The city of Bethlehem saw thousands of visitors who came only to cheer for the runners and show their support to improving sports culture in Palestine, in spite of occupation.
A visitor of the event said, "We came here to Bethlehem today to the Palestinian marathon to encourage our friends and the participants of this marathon, which is considered an important activity for the Palestinian society in light of the existence of the occupation, and the suppression people are living under."
In the first place came South African runner Mervin Steepkamp, who finished the 42km route in two hours and 51 minutes. Palestinian Thaer Shana'a came second two minutes later.
The event is organized by the Palestinian Olympic Committee this year with the hope "to establish a running culture in Palestine," says their official website, adding that "it is an opportunity that provides Palestinians to move in a new and fun way, which also builds a relationship based on the love for running and cultural exchange." Enditem