The Palestinian Marathon and Phoebe Greenwood’s selective credulity.

The Guardian published a story on April 21 by Phoebe Greenwood entitled ‘First Bethlehem marathon staged in howling wind and rain‘, which focused on the putative challenges faced by Palestinians in organizing their first-ever full marathon.

Greenwood’s report includes the following passages:

A Palestinian city encircled by Israeli settlements, bypass roads connecting the settlements and checkpoints, Bethlehem cannot offer an uninterrupted 42.2km full marathon course. The 26 competitors who ran the full race were required to make two circuits of the city along a course that passed through two refugee camps, alongside the Israeli separation wall, turned back on itself at a checkpoint and finished back at the Church of the Nativity.

In any other country, a marathon runs from point A to point B. In the West Bank, we have to run from point A to point A.  It’s around 40km from Bethlehem to Hebron but runners would have to cross the Israeli settler roads, and that could never happen,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestinian government spokesperson and native Bethlehemite.

Xavier Abu Eid is, according to his short bio at ‘This Week in Palestine’, a “Palestinian-Chilean student of political science and Vice President of the General Union of Palestine Students in Chile”.  He’s also a marathon participant.

Xavier to the left
Xavier Abu Eid is seen on the left

Greenwood naturally lets Abu Eid’s claim about the ‘atypically circuitous route’ of the marathon go unchallenged.

However, a quick glance at the Palestinian Marathon route in contrast with Israel’s annual Jerusalem Marathon undermines Abu Eid’s suggestion.

First, here’s the Palestinian marathon map, according to their own website:


As you can see, the route begins near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, then travels north before heading southwest towards Al Khader – where runners then turn around and run back towards the Bethlehem starting line.  Participants who did the half marathon ran one (roughly 21 km) Bethlehem-to-Al Khader loop, while those running the full marathon (42.2 k) ran two such loops.  

Now, here’s a map illustrating the route of the Jerusalem marathon:


As you can see (by following the race which begins by the black arrow), the 42K run begins by circling Givat Ram before, in a far less than direct route, heading towards Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus Campus, where the runner doubles back (along some of the same route) to the finish line, which is positioned roughly 500 meters across from the original starting line.

(See black arrow indicating the start of the race, as well as numbers showing the path.)  

Additionally, the Tel Aviv Marathon doesn’t employ a direct route from “point A to point B” – but similarly requires that runners turn back at a certain point, and run a second time along part of the same route to reach the finish line.

Of course, it was just one throwaway line by the Palestinian spokesperson – but its significance transcends the minutiae of the specific claim.

In late 2011 we posted about a Tweet by Greenwood indicating her skepticism over a comment by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister (now Defense Minister) Moshe Ya’alon about incitement, racism and the glorification of terrorism in Palestinian school textbooks.  As we noted at the time, evidence regarding such hate education by the Palestinian Authority is extremely well-documented by sites such as Palestinian Media Watch, and its difficult to understand how a professional reporter could seriously question the veracity of such reports.

For those who carefully follow the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s very difficult not to observe the credulity of reporters at the Guardian and elsewhere in the face of even the most flippant and often unserious Palestinian statements, in contrast with their extreme skepticism when they cite even the most intuitive and empirically based Israeli claims.

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