BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Six thousand Palestinians and international visitors from around the globe set off on Friday morning to participate in the the fifth annual Free Movement Palestine Marathon -- formerly known as the Right to Movement Palestine Marathon -- in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem.
Marathon runners set off from the Nativity Church in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, with head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee Jibril al-Rujoub firing a shot in the air to signal the start of the race.
The marathon included a three-kilometer race titled “family race,” a 10-kilometer race, a 21-kilometer race and the full marathon of 42.195 kilometers.
Bethlehem district Governor Jibrin al-Bakri spoke at Manger Square as the marathon drew to an end, saying “the most important message of the marathon is a national one that stresses the Palestinian reality of restricted movement, land theft and the construction of a separation wall, which are all racist actions that violate human rights agreements.”
Al-Bakri also added that the marathon sent athletic, humanitarian and social messages as it “opens the space for reinforcing spots and concentrating on different social cases including rights of people with disabilities,” highlighting that 500 people with disabilities took part in the marathon.
Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and besieged Gaza Strip face a number of restrictions on their movement on a daily basis, imposed by Israeli authorities.
In the West Bank, Palestinians not only face heavy restrictions when attempting to enter Israel, but as well as inside the Palestinian territory itself, in the form of military checkpoints, Israel’s separation wall, and Israeli settler-only roads.
These barriers often cut through Palestinian land, preventing many Palestinians from accessing their agricultural lands and eventually destroying their economic livelihoods.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been subjected to a blockade since 2007 -- when Hamas was elected as the de-facto ruler of Gaza -- imposed by Israel on the air, land, and sea sides of the small coastal enclave.
Egypt has equally upheld the Israeli military blockade since the ousting of former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of al-Sisi in Egypt.
While the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has remained the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world, Egyptian authorities have slowly sealed off movement through the border since Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army.
Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement through the crossing, many Gazans are commonly barred from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, some for months at a time, as the crossing is only periodically opened by Egyptian authorities, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.
The decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s nearly two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and some of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.