My Race Through Walls in Palestine Marathon

Journalist Discovers West Bank Race Is 'Run for Freedom'

Race Day: As many as 3,200 runners took part in the second annual Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem on April 11.
Phillip Smith
Race Day: As many as 3,200 runners took part in the second annual Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem on April 11.

By Tania Haas

Published April 21, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“Getting out of Jerusalem isn’t tough,” said Tiviet Nguyen, the Vietnamese Israeli who sat behind me on the crowded bus full of Palestinian men. “The challenge is getting back in. But there’s a whole industry of taxis taking Israelis back from the West Bank. We’ll be fine.”

Like me, Nguyen and her husband, Moshe Saraf, were headed to Bethlehem to participate in the second annual Palestine Marathon. Unlike me — I’m a Canadian tourist — they are Israelis, and it’s illegal for them to be there without a permit. But since Nguyen is involved with an organization that links Israelis and Palestinians, she’s familiar with the trip home.

I, on the other hand, was a little nervous about our destination. This was my first time in the West Bank. I’d been to Israel before, but this would be the first time I’d be seeing the separation barrier. Safety was also on my mind. I swallowed my fear, and asked Nguyen about her thoughts on peace.

“Peace begins on a ground level,” she said.

“If the people’s mentality changes,” Saraf added, “the government’s motives won’t matter.”

“You know,” Nguyen said, “just being here is a political declaration.”

I had made the trip so that I could witness and report what I saw. But as a Jewish journalist, the task was a little loaded. I was there to understand those on the other side of the wall.

My journey started three weeks earlier, when I joined a press trip to run the half at the Jerusalem Marathon. We toured the country and ate incredible food. Then we strapped on our sneakers and ran the hilly course, which passed Israeli highlights like the Knesset, the Zion Gate and Mount Scopus. More than 25,000 runners from 54 nations participated. Many of them raised funds for projects and charities. During my 13-miles race, I met runners from many different backgrounds, including a settler, Christians and Orthodox Jewish women. But I didn’t meet any Palestinian or Palestinian-Israeli runners. I felt like I was missing part of the region’s running story. So here I was, set to run the same distance. This time, I’d be the minority in unfamiliar territory.

The first Palestine Marathon launched last year, weeks after the United Nations Relief and Works Agency canceled the Gaza Marathon when Hamas banned women from running. In 2013, 650 runners participated. By the time I collected my registration package in April, 3,200 runners were expected.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.