Bethlehem on the move

Town twinning – what motivates me to join in, above everything else, is the chance of meeting and getting to know people. It certainly is an enrichment for all of us to exchange information about each other’s lives and thus to see beyond our noses.

Nicole’s personal experience

An evening spent in Bethlehem, Palestine, Thursday March 21st 2019. The idea originated in Cologne, Germany, in October 2018, at the time of the Cologne Marathon. There I met 12 runners from Palestine, members of the organisation “Right to Movement”, and meeting them in the warm and open atmosphere of the Cologne Marathon race spurred the spontaneous idea to participate in the 2019 Bethlehem Marathon. And before long I was certain that the wish to meet again in Bethlehem must come true.

More ideas came in

Timing was perfect because the city of Cologne had donated money for three social service organizations in Bethlehem which we would now be able to deliver the money to. We met numerous people and had very interesting conversations, exchanging ideas and proposals, for example during our visit to the Joint Services Council for Tourism, at the Ghirass Cultural Centre, we met an olive wood carver, or even just out shopping and in the taxi.

im Taxi unterwegs durch Bethlehem
with Taxi in Bethlehem

We had a happy reunion with “our” Marathon runners from Cologne. As it is customary at such an event, we met for a meal of spaghetti at a really “hip” restaurant – a place I wouldn’t have expected in the West Bank. The lively atmosphere, mostly young people and international visitors as well as members of  “Right to Movement”, a very happy reunion indeed, and non-stop talking. It could have been anywhere in the world. Everything seems so easy going and normal, and that’s exactly the way these young people in Palestine would like to live. Feeling at ease and carefree, like we live our lives here in our country.

Had there not been an incident in Bethlehem the day before where one person was killed and another one injured, and had the ensuing general strike not resulted in an extraordinary calm all over Bethlehem until late afternoon, and had going to our meeting point that same evening not meant that we had to pass one of the checkpoints – it could have been an absolutely normal evening before the marathon race. But we are in Palestine, in the West Bank.

Friday 22nd of March 2019, a marathon run totally different from the one in Cologne. There is no circuit of 42 kilometres. If you want to do the 42-kilometre distance, you have to run the circuit twice because the wall and the existence of zones A, B and C limit our freedom of movement and thus the marathon routing.

Marathon in Bethlehem is more than a sporting event; it’s also a political demonstration.

Therefore, apart from the half-marathon, there are a lot of runners who do the 10-kilometre run and the Family Race covering five kilometres. We see children, adolescents, entire school classes, families, groups from different organisations, physically challenged people, young and old, a cross section of society.

Over much of the course there are no spectators, but in the town centre and on Manger Square it feels like a folk festival.

The day after the race, Saturday March 23rd, 2019, we meet the “Right to Movement” runners again. We have a meal together and talk a lot. And again I realize what it means to be in Palestine, where you lose two hours waiting at a checkpoint and thus arrive later than planned, where a runner from Jericho sets out at 2 o’clock in the morning, has to go through 4 checkpoints and can only start 10 minutes after the official start at 6.20, due to the fact that it takes four hours to cover 45 kilometres by car. A country where running and training wherever you want cannot be taken for granted; where a young Palestinian has no idea of the departure procedure in Tel Aviv because he has never been there and can only take flights from Jordan. It would be really great if we could invite these young people to Cologne again this year. The idea strikes me that it might be possible to create a “Right to Movement” group in Cologne. I want to support their aims and stand up for the freedom of movement of men and women, young and old, people with and without a handicap. Maybe that is too ambitious a project. But who knows, I might be able to follow up my words with action. Let us run to tell a different story!