As the hundreds of red, green, white and black balloons representing the Palestinian flag were released into the sky amidst the cheers of 4,300 runners gathered to participate in the fourth annual Palestine marathon, my group and I knelt on the ground over wafers and plastic cups of grape juice, quietly taking communion. I briefly centered myself in prayer, reflecting on the journey that led me to Manger Square, about to run in the Right to Movement marathon alongside Palestinians and internationals of all ages, in a shared journey of purpose.
The course, which ran alongside the Israeli separation wall, through the Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps, and along Bethlehem’s main roads, demonstrates the restrictions Palestinians face in their daily movement. Journeying this course alongside Palestinian women pushing strollers, a man herding his sheep across the road, and runners of all ages excited to be taking part drove home to me the significance of this race and the community I had the opportunity to be part of in this creative act of civil resistance. The simple act of running, of placing one foot in front of the other with a purpose and destination in mind, took on new meaning as I ran alongside participants beneath the shadow of an Israeli guard tower and under the arch to Aida Camp’s entrance, topped with the mold of a key to signify the homes Palestinians were driven from in 1948. Three generations later, families still possess these keys.
To demonstrate that Palestinians do not have the continuous length of a marathon for their use without encountering a checkpoint, the separation wall, or an Israeli road which only Israeli citizens can drive down, the marathon route crosses the finish line at the halfway point,; where I turned around and ran back out to repeat the course. Growing more daunted at round two of the inclines I knew were ahead of me, I joined forces with 2 women, Fadwa and Rosie, Palestinian and British, and we resolved to finish the race together. As we motivated one another each step of the final 13 miles, I experienced a sacred sense of community that reminded me of the incredible purpose behind this race and the immense honor it was to be part of it, cheered on by families leaning out of their windows to see us run by, and returning high fives to children who wanted to run alongside us and introduce themselves in English.
Crossing the finish line in front of the birthplace of Christ to celebrate with my mission team members, internationals, and Palestinians to celebrate our shared journey that day was a sacred honor I will never forget, and a story I will tell for the rest of my life.
by Sara Burback