Our Creative Director, Paul Northup, tells the story of Greenbelt’s ties to the Palestine Marathon, and the origins of Run The Wall, a global event taking place this March that calls for you to run, walk, or ride in solidarity with Palestinians from wherever you are.
Back in 2013, more than 10 years ago now, the plan was for a group of Amos Trust supporters and Greenbelters to go out to Gaza to run an UNWRA-organised fundraising event in the strip – a marathon which would pretty much run the whole length of the territory. I’d always wanted to run a marathon and this seemed like the perfect Venn diagram of motivations that I needed to do the training.
Then, with just weeks to go, Hamas informed UNWRA that they wouldn’t allow women to run in the event. Suddenly, our hopes of being a part of it all ended. We were a mixed gender team and we weren’t about to compromise our commitments one another’s human rights to raise awareness for a group of people whose human rights were being so systematically and brutally compromised. Catch 22.
But, in what was nothing short of a miracle, the Danish Right to Movement NGO took hold of the event at ridiculously short notice and said they’d stage it in the little town of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. And so all of us could go and run after all. Plans were hurriedly changed, and off we went.
I ended up rooming with a copywriter from North Devon called Paul Trueman, who I’d not met before. There’s nothing like being in the West Bank, running your first marathon, and then coping with the cruel consequences of having consumed too many energy gels in the race to form a lasting bond. Paul captures what that trip meant for him – and for so many of us – so well in this piece he had published in the Guardian shortly afterwards. (Fun fact: Paul Trueman is now a freelance copywriter for Greenbelt and is the creative mind behind ‘Somewhere To Believe In’ and our Manifesto.)
I’d been to Palestine once before, as what felt like a passive onlooker, a sightseer almost. So to have this opportunity to express my solidarity with the wonderful people there in more bodily form felt wonderful. Even being offered cigarettes out on the course and having to avoid taxis and donkey carts on the second loop around, as Bethlehem lost patience and just got back to business as usual – it was amazing as a first marathon experience.
Since then I’ve been back to run the event twice more – once completing the whole marathon distance again (but in 28 degree heat rather than the peculiarly English weather we had the first time around) and then once just the half marathon.
Each time, more and more Palestinians from all over the West Bank have taken part. One year, despite the almost impossible difficulties of securing permissions to leave Gaza, an Olympic distance runner from Gaza called Nader al-Masri came to race with us. Seeing him bounding back towards the finish as the rest of us slogged our way out to the turning point is something I will never forget. He looked so free. And fast. Very fast.
And then, during the pandemic years and lockdown, Amos Trust reimagined the Palestine Marathon for all those of us who could no longer be there in person. They opened it out to anyone who could run or walk pretty much any distance from 5k upward – as a means of our still standing (or running or walking) in solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and raising awareness.
‘Run the Wall’ was born, borrowing its language from the iconic but insidious reality of running in Bethlehem and being bounded in by the concrete brutality of the Separation Wall, which towers around the little town on nearly every side.
And then last year, 10 years on from the first Palestine Marathon and at our 50th anniversary festival, we were able to host our own Greenbeltrun festival 5k (inspired by parkrun) in connection with Right to Movement, and Diala Isid came to be our starter as we remembered the Palestinians as a festival community in our own sweaty, life-giving way.
With everything that has unfolded since 7 October 2023, many of us are feeling helpless as to what we can do. Many of us have joined marches. Many of us have expressed our sorrow and outrage. Many of us have been given just a glimmer of hope by the case brought by South Africa in the International Court of Justice.
But it all feels overwhelming.
So this year, we wanted to more formally – and fully – stand alongside our friends at Amos Trust and all those people of good faith around the world who long for peace, justice, freedom and equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis: it’s your turn to Run the Wall.
You can read how to get involved here. We look forward to seeing your social posts all about your efforts – raising money, raising awareness, raising hopes. Because we must not give up hope. The Palestinians who we’ve met over the years would not allow us such a luxury. Instead, let’s join our hands and run with, and for, those who struggle for freedom. Even if just virtually.