Australian ultra-marathoner Pat Farmer on Monday completed a 1,500 kilometer Middle East Peace Run, running from Lebanon, to Jordan, the West Bank and through Israel, with a plea to the peoples of the region not give up on peace.
The 52-year-old Farmer, who covered an average of 70-80 kilometers a day, said all sorts of people had warned him that running through some of the territories on his route was dangerous, but that everywhere he went, he found people “full of smiles and support.”
He began his journey in Lebanon on May 1, where “constantly people were telling me, ‘Somebody might shoot you.'” Instead, locals along the route joined in along with him. In Jordan, he ran through a refugee camp with 400,000 people, living in desperate conditions “in the middle of the desert.” He was, he said, astonished “by their resilience and willingness to smile and get on with their lives.”
Speaking at a reception at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, he said that when he crossed from Aqaba into Israel, he saw “the innovation of the Israeli people,” who have turned “deserts into oases.” In the Palestinian territories, too, he said, warnings of possible danger proved unwarranted, and he encountered only good will.
Later, speaking to The Times of Israel, Farmer singled out Haifa, Jaffa and Byblos, in Lebanon, as three particular “beacons of hope” where he said runners of all religions joined up and ran sections of his route along with him.
On a West Bank section of the run, however, a group of Israeli runners — organized jointly by the Yesha Council, an umbrella settlers’ group, and Regavim, a right-wing legal nonprofit — were asked to leave the run because the Palestinian contingent accompanying Farmer had fallen back and stopped running in protest at their participation.
Farmer said that the involvement of the Australian government in helping facilitate the run underlined that Australia and the rest of the world care deeply about what happens in the region, and urged, “Please don’t give up on the peace process.”
Farmer, who had previously run from the North to the South Pole, calculated that he had taken well over a million steps in the Middle East Peace Run. Danny Hakim, an Australian immigrant who heads Israel’s “Budo for Peace” program (bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims together to do karate), and who co-conceived the run with Farmer, recalled first discussing the idea with him last year when they calculated that the distance from Beirut to Jerusalem was only 235 kilometers. Underwhelmed, Farmer said “he could knock that off in a weekend.” When they added Jordan and the Palestinian territories to the itinerary, it became more of a challenge.
But the run wasn’t about challenging Farmer, “it was about bringing people to run wth Pat,” Hakim said. “You have to take part, and take pride in peace if you want it to happen,” said Hakim. “Don’t leave it to the politicians.”
Said Farmer, an unsurprisingly wiry and suntanned figure, “There were so many negatives [raised by pessimists in the planning stages], that at the end I said, ‘Well, that’s good, but we’re going to do it anyway.’ Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.”