Gaza Marathon Canceled After Women Are Barred From Participating.
By FARES AKRAM
Published by The New York Times – March 5, 2013
GAZA — Gaza’s third marathon run, an annual fund-raising event planned for April 10, was canceled after the Palestinian territory’s Islamic leaders barred women from participating, the organizer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Tuesday.
The ban is the latest in a series of decisions by Hamas, which governs here, seeking to enforce tougher Islamic strictures on an already conservative society. But some of the measures have been unpopular, and enforcement has ebbed and flowed.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the United Nations agency, said the marathon was canceled after Hamas informed the agency that women would not be allowed to take part under any circumstances.
Of the more than 2,400 people registered for the race, some 370 were women, nearly two-thirds of them Gazans.
Hamas had no objection to the participation of girls among the 1,600 schoolchildren set to run.
In a statement, the agency called the development “disappointing.” It said runners who intended to come from outside Gaza to race were still welcome to visit the coastal enclave, and that alternative activities were being studied.
Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said in a text message that his government had informed the United Nations agency that the marathon should respect “some regulations related to the Palestinian people’s traditions and customs.” He said the government regretted the cancellation.
Salma al-Qadoumi, 22, who was among more than 250 female Gazans who intended to run, said she was “saddened and shocked” by the ban. “This is against Islam, because Islam encouraged Muslims to learn sports, and it did not stipulate that it’s only men who should practice sport,” she said.
But Maha Abu Shaban, an economic researcher, supported the ban, to preserve modesty and prevent mixing of males and females “in violation of the religion.”
Mr. Abu Hasna said the fund-raising was to benefit the agency’s summer games programs, which serve about 250,000 children. Hamas also provides summer programs for children here, and competes with the agency for enrollment.
The agency, which takes care of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and refugee camps in the neighboring Arab countries, suffers from a $66 million shortfall in its budget.
Since taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas has issued several orders for stricter behavioral codes, mainly about women’s dress. Last month, the Hamas-appointed council of Al-Aqsa University here imposed an Islamic dress code on women.