Moroccan crowned as the winner of the 9th Palestine International Marathon

BETHLEHEM, Friday, March 10, 2023 – The Moroccan Chakib al-Ashqar, 33, was crowned as the winner of the 9th Palestine International Marathon held today in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the south of the occupied West Bank.

International runners from over 90 countries and Palestinian runners today descended on Bethlehem to participate in the Ninth International Palestine Marathon.

The Marathon started at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, the center of Bethlehem, in the attendance of a host of officials, most notably Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestine Olympic Committee and of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports, and Bethlehem mayor, Hanna Hanania.

Al-Ashqar, from Marrakesh, said that he fulfilled his wish to visit Palestine by participating in this great sporting event.

“This is the first time I visit Palestine. Visiting Palestine was my wish since childhood,” he said, explaining that the marathon made it possible for him to achieve his wish.

Rajoub, who gave the nod for the launch of the marathon, said that the event conveys the message that the Palestinian people remain steadfast in their homeland in defiance of the Israeli foreign occupation that seeks to restrict the Palestinians’ free movement and displace them.

The marathon course took athletes through a different view of Palestinian everyday life, including a few steep hills and some fast sections. It started at the Church of Nativity taking the runners through the city, the two refugee camps of Aida and Dheisheh, al-Khader town, and along the Israeli apartheid wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.

It included four tracks; the full 42-kilometer race, a 21-kilometer race, a 10-kilometer race and the five-kilometer family race.

Held for the first time on April 21, 2013, the Palestine Marathon is held this year, 2023, starting at 6:00 am from the Manager Square in Bethlehem as it has been for the past 9 years. And since it was not possible to find a 42 km stretch within the Palestinian Territories without passing through Israeli checkpoints, it was decided to hold the event on an 11 km stretch, which full marathon runners would complete 4 times.

The Palestine Olympic Committee, which sponsored the event, said that the “event shows the international community another side of Palestinians; it creates international awareness of the Palestinian story, increases knowledge of Palestinian life, culture, and hospitality, and builds understanding across cultures. Moreover, the annual marathon adds value to the Palestinian economy and the tourism sector.”

It added that the marathon provides international athletes with the opportunity to “hit” Israel’s apartheid wall, which “prevents Palestinians from exercising their basic human right to freedom of movement and separates them from their land and from each other,” not to mention other movement impediments, namely the complex combination of military checkpoints and Gaza’s blockade.

In addition to al-Ashqar as the winner of the 42 km race, Ahmad Taha, from Palestine, came second and Sergio Bayo, from Spain, came third.

In the female category, Bushra Erickson, from Denmark, came first, followed by Vanessa Villeneuve, from Canada, second, and Rachel Hertzman, from the USA, third.