by Fatima Aruri
BETHLEHEM, West Bank, March 22 (Xinhua) -- In its seventh version, the Palestine Marathon kicked off on Friday with 8,000 participants from 76 countries around the world, under the slogan of freedom of movement for Palestinians, in West Bank's Bethlehem city.
The marathon's starting and finishing line was at the Manger square where runners passed by the Israeli separation wall that cuts the city and reaches to Aida refugee camp and turned back to repeat the 21-km route in order to complete the internationally accredited 42-km route.
Worldwide, the 42-km race usually spread over a single route for the entire distance with different starting and finishing line.
However, in Bethlehem, there was no way to run for more that 11 km without hitting Israeli border restrictions such as the wall, settlements or military checkpoints.
"More than 8,000 Palestinian and foreign participants are running in the marathon, which is a response to the Israeli measures that put all sorts of obstacles in the way of Palestinians," the marathon's director Etidal Abdul Ghani told Xinhua.
The Palestine Marathon included a full 42-km marathon, half marathon, a 10-km race and a 5-km stretch dubbed "family race" to encourage people from different ages and family members to share this activity.
Mahimu Islam, a participant who came from London, told Xinhua that "the fact that we can't even run a full marathon properly shows the limitations face by the people of Palestine. So, we need to do all we can to raise awareness."
The Gaza Strip has been placed under a tight blockade since 2007, pushing the coastal enclave towards a humanitarian crisis.
According to Israeli rights group, there are over 100 Israeli army checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that have significantly affected the socio-economic aspect of daily lives of Palestinians.
This year's marathon witnessed the highest number of participants with the female participants exceeding the male participants by almost ten percent.
Walid Al-Qutub, a Palestinian runner from Jerusalem, has participated in the Palestine Marathon since it was launched in 2013.
He said that the marathon sends a message of hope and reveals the determination of Palestinians against the Israeli movement restrictions.
"As you see, the Palestinian is still capable of coming together with thousands running together, enjoying themselves and looking for the future... The future is still bright and we are sure of it," he added.
The Palestine Marathon was founded in 2013 by an international group of runners promoting the right to freedom of movement all over the world. The marathon is currently organized by the Palestinian Olympic Committee.