RAMALLAH, West Bank -- With the Boston Marathon bombings on their mind, hundreds of Palestinian and international runners participated Sunday in what was billed as the first Palestinian marathon.
The Right to Movement Palestine Marathon kicked off in front of the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the West Bank.
Before it began, Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, asked runners to bow their heads in silence for one minute in remembrance of the Boston Marathon victims.
“As we stand here at the Nativity Square, we should bow in silence for one minute for the victims who died in the terrorist act last week in the Boston Marathon,” he said.
Rajoub, a former Palestinian security chief, expressed hope that this first Palestinian marathon will carry a message that “it is our right not only to freedom of movement, but also to life and to live in a free and independent state.”
Participants, about a third of whom were foreigners from 28 countries, battled rain and cold to run either 42, 21, 10 or five kilometers. (The longest of those, 42 kilometers, is just slightly less than the regulation marathon distance of 26.2 miles.)
To cheers from spectators, the participants -- old and young, men and women -- ran through Bethlehem’s streets and along a 25-foot-high wall sealing off the city’s northern border with Jerusalem. Women made up about one-third of the runners, some wearing traditional Muslim head coverings.
The winner, Abdul-Nasser Jawani of the West Bank town of Jericho, finished in 3 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds -- about an hour longer than the winner of the Boston Marathon, Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia, who came in at 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds, long before the explosions caused the race to be curtailed.
Twenty-six runners from the Gaza Strip were denied permission to cross from the Palestinian territory to the West Bank through Israel to take part in the marathon.
The Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Gisha, said in a news release that efforts by dozens of Israelis, including prominent marathon runners, to get the Gaza runners to reach Bethlehem via Israel had failed.