UNRWA cancels Gaza marathon

Posted: March 5, 2013 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

…because Hamas won’t let women run. According to Associated Press:

A U.N aid agency canceled the Gaza marathon on Tuesday after the Palestinian territory’s militant Hamas rulers banned women from participating in the annual sporting event.

UNWRA, which assists Palestinian refugees and also sponsors and organizes the event, announced that plans for the race next month have been scrapped because of the Hamas demand that women be barred.

A statement from agency said that “this disappointing decision follows discussions with the authorities in Gaza who have insisted that no women should participate” in the marathon.

In fact, Palestinian women have never been allowed to run in the UNRWA Gaza marathon. In this case, however, there was additional pressure to ban international women from participating. From what I understand, there is fairly wide support for the ban in (conservative) Gazan society, including among many UNRWA staff.

Ironically, both Iran and Saudi Arabia field women participants in the Olympics, which makes Hamas support for the ban appear even less understandable more stupid.



Here is the formal statement from UNRWA on the issue:

05 March 2013

UNRWA regrets to announce that it has cancelled the third Gaza marathon which was to be held on 10 April. This follows the decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate.

Registered participants who still wish to come to Gaza are welcome and UNRWA is working on a programme of other events, which will be forwarded to those interested as soon as possible.

UNRWA is disappointed with this decision, and sincerely regrets the inconvenience this may cause to those who planned to participate in the marathon.

Background information

For the past three years, the annual UNRWA Gaza Marathon has raised funds for UNRWA’s summer programme for children in Gaza. In the past, local parents have praised the initiative as a welcome break from the difficulties of life in Gaza. Read more

A total of 551 local people were due to participate in the 2013 UNRWA Gaza Marathon, of which 266 are women. Of these women, 51 were hoping to participate in one of the running events (marathon, half-marathon or 10 kilometres), while 215 were aiming to participate in walks of two or ten kilometres.

A total of 256 international runners had signed up so far, of which 119 are women.

As in 2012, a total of 1,600 children from UNRWA’s 243 schools across Gaza were meant to participate in relays.

In 2012, 393 Gazans participated in the marathon alongside 84 international runners.

Palestinian Olympian Nader el Masri, who has this year been helping UNRWA to train with local people, won the 2012 marathon with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 47 seconds.


UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at USD 66 million.

  1. Mick Dumper says:

    Rex, I wonder if you are minimising HAMAS’ difficulties in this case. I have no truck with their social agenda and believe that UNRWA has acted absolutely correctly in cancelling the marathon – you cannot allow HAMAS to bully a UN agency into practising gender discrimination. However, your comments do not convey the context of the decision. HAMAS is clearly trying to shore up its conservative flank and retain some control over the more extreme elements in the Strip. In the context of rocket attacks on Israel, achieving some leverage over Islamic Jihad would be of much greater import to HAMAS than the negative publicity incurred by its decision to forbid female runners. I stress that I am not condoning HAMAS’ decision and of course it appeals to the most narrow-minded and mean-spirited of their constituency but there is more to this decision than just reactionary stupidity as your blog implies. In addition, I recall that Iran and Saudi Arabia incurred the wrath of its reactionary clerics in allowing female runners to compete in the Olympics but the establishments in both countries had the political capital to over-ride them. I suspect that HAMAS does not have that luxury.

    • Rex Brynen says:

      Mick: I entirely agree with your analysis of the why (although I think there is room for pushback by Hamas activists who don’t accept such restriction of women’s participation in the public sphere). However, I’m not inclined to give Hamas a pass on the decision simply because they have a radical wing to mollify, any more than I’m willing to give Netanyahu a pass (say, for settlement activity) when he claims the need to maintain a fragile political coalition!

  2. […] Under Grandi’s leadership, UNRWA has been in the forefront of those promoting the moral decline of human civilization. The Agency has, for example, organized summer camps for Gaza children, so that they might—and this is almost too horrible to contemplate—play and have fun, despite the many difficulties of life in Gaza. Quite rightly, some militant Islamists  condemned this. UNRWA has organized marathons in which some women—shock, horror—were permitted to compete (thank goodness Hamas put an end to that dubious exercise). […]

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