9 April 2011
AFP, Gaza City
The Gaza Strip will next month host its first-ever marathon, a 42-kilometre test of endurance in which entrants will run the entire length of the narrow coastal enclave.
The race, which is being organised by UNRWA, will take place on 5 May with the aim of raising funding for the UN refugee agency’s Summer Games programme, which is held every year in the Hamas-run territory.
The route runs from the northern town of Beit Hanun and heads south along the coastal road until it ends in Rafah, a sprawling city on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, said Gemma Connell, an UNRWA employee who is organising the event. “Anyone that’s ever worked in Gaza has thought about doing a marathon here because it is exactly 42.2 kilometres long,” she told AFP.
Although only a handful of people are expected to run the full 26-mile route, more than a 1,000 local children and young people will take part at various stages along the way, running in a relay format, she said.
Around 100 of them are youngsters from the Gaza Athletics Federation, who will be participating in an 8-kilometre stretch. About 15 - 20 people will run the full marathon with others expected to join in the half marathon and 10 kilometre races.
Among those running the long race is Palestinian athlete Nader al-Masri, a Gazan who participated in the 5,000 metres at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and who is hoping to enter the 2012 Games in London.
He is expected to be joined by six or seven other Palestinian runners. Other runners are internationals who work for UNRWA or other NGOs, as well as a few journalists and diplomats, she said.
Very few foreigners visit the the violence-hit enclave, with Israel tightly controlling access and the sole crossing into Egypt largely shut.
“We want people to get involved and support, either by running, if they are in Gaza, holding a sister event if they are outside of Gaza, or sponsoring a runner,” said Connell who will be running the full stretch.
Asked about the dress code, she said runners, particularly women, must observe the normal mores in the conservative Islamist-run territory. “Long trousers and sleeves below the elbows,” she said.
Last year, masked gunmen set fire to two UN summer camps, apparently angered over the fact they let girls and boys mingle freely.
A version of this article first appeared on The Nation.
Read more about the UNRWA Gaza Marathon 2011 and make a donation to fund a child's Summer Games.