Nader al-Masri is a marathon runner and one of the Gaza Strip’s top athletes. He has been running for 14 years and competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Last Friday, he should have been running the second Palestinian marathon held in Bethlehem. But although Mr Al-Masri could practically run from his house to the start line (a mere 65 km), he could not make it.
Israel, which controls all travel between Gaza and the West Bank, would not let him go.
No security claim was made against Mr Al-Masri, who travelled through Israel on his way to the Olympics, but the state and Israel’s highest court rejected his request to travel to the marathon.
Why? Because of a policy by which Israel seeks to isolate Gaza — especially from the West Bank. Travel in “extreme humanitarian circumstances” is allowed but that is about it. In the state’s words, Mr Al-Masri’s request to run did not meet the required criteria.
It’s Pesach and once again we think about freedom and what it means to move, to travel and even to run. Gisha, the Israeli human rights organisation that represented Mr Al-Masri in court, works to protect the access rights of Gazans because freedom of movement is a precondition to the fulfilment of so many other rights.
Without it, you cannot access proper medical care, you cannot reach your university and, very often, you cannot see your family. And, like Mr Al-Masri, who knows better than others what freedom of movement means, without it, you are cut off from professional opportunities and also your dreams.
There are real security issues at stake and Israel has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens. But the sweeping restrictions placed on Gaza’s residents do not make us safer. They harm the well-being of our neighbours and, in turn, the stability and development of the region as a whole.
As a people, we have a deep, collective experience of movement in times of difficulty. This Pesach, I ask Israel’s leaders to think of the possibilities that come when a single path is opened up and it becomes possible to stand up, step forward and move.
Leora Garton is the development co-ordinator at Gisha –Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement based in Tel Aviv