The Palestine Marathon is like no other marathon on Earth.
As a result of the current occupation the Palestine Marathon is unable to facilitate one single route. The race runs along a six mile track and through two refugee camps; the runners then run back to Manger Square before running the route a second time before completing the race in Manger Square in Bethlehem.
The race is the brainchild of Danish entrepreneurs Lærke Hein and Signe Fischer in order to open the eyes of the world to the situation of the Palestinians and their limited freedom of movement
The first Palestine Marathon was held in 2013 but this year five Derry men set out to take part.
Mark Mullan, Liam McConway, Dean Power, Ryan Moore and Dave Sheeran all took part and completed the race in sweltering 28 degrees Celsius last month.
“I’ve ran the Walled City Marathon a few times,” said Mark. “I used to think the Derry race was full of hills until I did the Palestine Marathon - it was a tough test but I am delighted to have done it.”
Mark added: “The heat was serious. I’ve done a decent bit of running but running a race in 28 degrees Celsius is something entirely different.”
Mark and the others took an Irish tricolour emblazoned with a Glasgow Celtic F.C. badge. The flag also had the following slogan printed on it ‘Celts against apartheid’.
“Over 3000 people took part in the various different races that day and there were people from all over the world but I think our Irish flag was perhaps the most photographed - the local people loved it,” he smiled.
“If you want to know what apartheid is like you need look no further than the streets of Palestines. It’s utterly unsettling and disgraceful what the international community has allowed to happen to the people of Palestine. The way the people there are subjected to constant harassment from the authorities is terrible. We travelled from Ramallah to Jerusalem. It’s a 10km journey. It should only have taken us 20 minutes or so but because of the Israeli checkpoints and blockades it took hours.”
He added: “I met a man who owned a shop and he could see his house from the front door of his shop. I’d say his house was 100 metres away from where he worked but because he would have to travel through the exclusion zone to get to his house he had to leave the town and go the whole way around to get home - it’s things like this that will stay with me.”
Mark and the four other Derry men travelled to Palestine on March 24, three days before the race.
Before and after running in the marathon the group travelled to places in occupied Palestine where they met and spoke with the people who continue to suffer by the hand of the Israeli government and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
“We travelled to the city of Hebron and I will never ever forget that experience. There’s a Zionist settlement in the middle of Hebron and our guide took us to the checkpoint. We were allowed in because we were foreigners but our Palestinian guide was not.
“Wandering around the Zionist settlement was perhaps the most sinister and unsettling experience of my life - I couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
On exiting the Zionist settlement, Mark and the others ran into a group of Palestinian children.
“We started playing football with these kids and they were delighted to see us. It was a remarkable contrast because only metres away was a group of people who were armed to the teeth with guns and the sense of paranoia was almost palpable but then when you came out there were children who just wanted to play football and be happy.”
Mark and the four other Derry men took part in the race to raise funds for charities Irish In Gaza and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).
“Obviously, the main reason we took part in the race was to raise awareness of the awful situation endured by Palestinians on a daily basis but we wanted to raise money for Irish In Gaza, a charity set-up by a couple from Mayo, and for Medical Aid for Palestinians. Although we have completed the race, people can still donate.”