Over the past two years, nobody has run the Gaza marathon for its beautiful scenery, even as it wends its way along the Mediterranean coast. The entirety of the route, after all, snakes over crater-pocked roads past gutted, war-ravaged buildings, both painful reminders of Palestine's ongoing military conflict with Israel. But there's a certain (albeit) appeal to running through a war zone, and the race gave participants a rare opportunity to empathize with the people of Gaza. That's why 807 runners—both from Gaza and abroad—signed up for the event, which is sponsored each year by the United Nations as a fundraise for its summer program for Palestinian children. In a war-torn land, the marathon represented a rare moment of relative normalcy for everyone involved—organizers, participants and spectators alike.
But this year, when the ultra-conservative Islamic Hamas government announced that women could not run, the UN cancelled the marathon.
"We did not tell UNRWA to cancel the marathon and we haven't prevented it, but we laid down some conditions: We don't want women and men mixing in the same place," Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government, told AFP.
The event, scheduled for April 10, was to include 119 women from abroad and 266 women from Gaza. The decision is a sad setback for women, but also a tragedy for children of both genders who might have attended the UN’s summer camps.