Jewish-Arab marathon team runs for coexistence

Ahead of race, members of Runners Without Borders say that these days, their message of unity is more important than ever

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

The Runners Without Borders men’s team trains under the spotlights at Hebrew University Stadium in Givat Ram. Last Tuesday they were on the track at the end of a long day that saw five terrorist attacks in Israel. But with the Jerusalem marathon only days away, they had to prepare.

“I think involvement in this kind of venture is more important than ever these days,” said Israel Hass, the manager of the group. “It’s important for the strength of the coexistence in Jerusalem, to see that it’s possible.”

The group was established by Hass and Shoshana Ben-David, who was an 18-year-old high school student at the time. The two founded a group for girls in 2014 in response to tribal tensions in Jerusalem, sparked by the war in Gaza that year. There are now also boys, women’s and men’s teams. Around 40 runners from the four teams will compete in the marathon on Friday.

Murad Hallaseh, from Jabel Mukaber in East Jerusalem, found the group through Facebook. He said participating in sports together can change the situation between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. He runs a group called Swim For Life, which brings children from East Jerusalem to pools in West Jerusalem for swimming lessons.

Hallaseh founded the group in 2013, but his numbers have dropped since the onset of the recent wave of Palestinian violence late last year, and he’s has had trouble keeping his program afloat.

“Ninety percent of the kids aren’t coming because of the situation, because of the fear they have,” he said. “The two sides are afraid of each other.”

Hallaseh and Hass both hope their participation in the marathon will help make a statement about coexistence in the city.

They have seen their programs pay off, they said, but need more help from the government to continue.

“The hardest thing is the recognition and the support of the authorities,” Hass said. “We are eager to be supported by the authorities, especially the city of Jerusalem.”

The marathon kicks off Friday morning in Sacher Park in Jerusalem.

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