The Most Controversial Marathon in the World

A run through the capital of Israel, with beautiful historical landmarks of various religions… how could it possibly be controversial? Here’s how.

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The Jerusalem Marathon boasts a scenic route and has attracted many foreigners to participate. However, many of these foreigners are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are running through illegally occupied land. The route runs through both East and West Jerusalem, but only West Jerusalem belongs to Israel. East Jerusalem, by international law, belongs to the state of Palestine. The Israeli organisers of the marathon conveniently left out these facts and simply touted it as a beautiful run through an old and holy city, angering many Palestinians and Palestine activists.

What’s the Big Deal?

After Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli government has set up many Israeli settlements in the area, which are illegal according to international law. The Israeli government has also been demolishing the homes of Palestinians who were formerly living in the area, subjecting them to poor living conditions. The UN Security Council and the rest of the international community have repeatedly condemned and refused to accept Israel’s claim on the Palestinian land, yet Israel still refuses to give up the territory.

What angers people about this marathon is that while it runs through East Jerusalem, the trail goes through the sanitised and better-looking areas of East Jerusalem, masking the dire conditions and the plight of the Palestinians in the area from the international participants.

In any issue, there will be people fighting for the right thing to be done. Let’s take a look at some of the things that happened at this year’s event.

Banned Palestinians

While it was not explicitly stated, Palestinians were not allowed to participate in the event due to ‘security reasons'. Most of them were not even granted permission to cross the border to leave Gaza, another Palestinian territory. This disappointed many Palestinians and angered some, as they were hoping to raise awareness about their plight. This also infringes upon the human right to freedom of movement.

Pre-emptive Arrests of Civilians

Several residents of East Jerusalem were arrested and detained before the race to prevent them from inciting unrest during the marathon. Security was also heightened, with extra soldiers, police officers and security personnel being drafted in to secure the event from ‘Palestinian terrorists’.

Harassment of a Palestinian Supporter

A woman participated in the race with the Palestinian flag on her shirt. She was reportedly harassed by Israeli soldiers, who ripped the flag off her and spat on it. Another woman also joined in on the abuse, pushing her and telling her to “Go back to Gaza!”

Is it All Politics?

Fortunately, no. A new women's record was set by the winning female runner, Joan Kigen of Kenya. She clocked in at 2:38:30, 7 seconds faster than her performance the previous year when she also set the record. There was also an unprecedented number of participants this year - 30,000 from 62 countries -  with people coming from as far away as Brazil and New Zealand.


While marathons are mostly run for enjoyment, there are also some races that are organised for particular causes. A marathon that can be starkly contrasted against the Jerusalem Marathon would be the Palestine Marathon, organised specifically to raise awareness of the situation in East Jerusalem. There are also people who run to raise money for charitable organisations, which add meaning to the experience of running marathons.

“...many of these foreigners are blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are running through illegally occupied land.”


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LIV3LY Editor
LIV3LY Editor

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