Nottingham Resident Diala Isid Talks Us About the Current Situation in Palestine and How She Started a Palestinian Running Campaign

Words: Diala Isid
Illustrations: Zarina Teli
Tuesday 23 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Marhaba! I’m Diala Isid and I’ve been living here in Nottingham for around four years. I moved from Palestine to do my masters at the University of Nottingham and then found a job at a Renewable Energy Company in Beeston called EvoEnergy. I decided to make Nottingham my second home because it felt like one!

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It is extremely painful for all Palestinians to see what is happening in Gaza right now. Only those in Gaza can truly know the horrors that are unfolding, but everyone around the world must know that this most recent war did not begin on 7 October. For Palestinians it is the culmination of 75 years of occupation and displacement.

I come from Beit Sahour, a town nestled in the steep hills of Bethlehem. You may know Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, but to me it’s home. It’s where I went to school, where all of my family live and where I eat the most delicious Palestinian food. Bethlehem is in the West Bank, and like any other Palestinian city it has been profoundly affected by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Surrounded and suffocated by a wall built by Israel, with checkpoints and daily military raids all creating a system of separation and oppression.

Faced with this daily reality, in 2013 together with other Palestinians and with the help of some Danish volunteers, we set out to show people around the world our daily life in the West Bank from a completely different perspective. We founded the Palestine Marathon: a 42.195 KM route that starts and ends at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. But this is a marathon like no other. To run a full marathon in Bethlehem, runners must run the same road four times, running next to the wall and through two refugee camps. The reason for this is due to a lack of freedom of movement that is caused by the West Bank being occupied by Israel where land is segregated into areas with different juridical control, checkpoints existing between Palestinian cities, illegal Israeli settlements spreading through the west bank and the existence of the wall. The Israeli Occupation restricts and limits where and how much Palestinians can move. So, our marathon aims to highlight this and draw attention to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of movement within one’s own country.

We started the first ever running group in Bethlehem under the name Right to Movement (RTM) with the slogan ‘We Run to Tell a Different Story’. This was partly to raise awareness and to help to get local people’s support for the marathon, but it was also to give us an opportunity to meet new people and train together for the race. The subsequent growth of our running communities was very organic. I moved to Ramallah, a city to the north of Bethlehem and I started another RTM running community there. After this we grew quickly, making new connections with Palestinian runners throughout historic Palestine and we managed to grow to nine communities during the best times. Right now, there are four active groups in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Haifa and Jerusalem.

Our goals and aims are simple: we are a social running group using sports as a tool to promote the basic human right to freedom of movement that we have lacked for the past 75 years. We are strong advocates for women’s rights and are always ensuring that young Palestinian women can take leadership roles in our communities. But what we’ve come to achieve over the past eleven years is an unexpectedly large network of Palestinians, all sharing the same struggle in their different cities, all eager to be part of a positive community wanting to change the narrative and most importantly all happy to speak up about life under occupation and inspire others to do the same.

To run a full marathon in Bethlehem, runners must run the same road four times, running next to the wall and through two refugee camps. The reason for this is due to a lack of freedom of movement that is caused by the West Bank being occupied 

One of the RTM communities we had was in Gaza. Our Gazan runners were active for a couple of years and always hoped to meet us and to join our various activities. But the restrictions imposed on Gazans has made it more difficult for the running community to survive. I have never got the chance to meet them because we can not travel freely to Gaza. We require a special permit from Israel to travel between the West Bank and Gaza, something that is impossible to get unless it is for work purposes in a humanitarian NGO. Our Gazan runners have never been given permits to travel to Bethlehem to participate in the marathon or any of the other runs or activities we have put on. The restrictions on Gaza have led many including Human Rights Watch to label it as the world’s largest ‘open-air-prison’.

Being a leader with RTM has given me the opportunity to travel to many countries around the world, to run marathons and to advocate for Palestinians basic rights. The journey for a Palestinian with a Palestinian Passport (West Bank ID) out of the West Bank is difficult and unpleasant. We have to cross both a Palestinian and Israeli border before crossing into Jordan to use the airport there. This means hours of crowded humiliation and frustration spent at the borders, but the majority of the time we manage to make it through. However, for the Palestinians in Gaza, that has never been the case. They are well and truly trapped.

Many people will look at what is happening in Gaza and not realise the context of how it has reached this point. They might not know that a huge percentage of Gazans are already refugees from 1948 when the state of Israel was created on Palestinian land. These people were refugees then, have had their houses destroyed in multiple wars since and once again find themselves as refugees again now. They want to return to their villages that now lie in the state of Israel. This is their human right as stated by the UN, but this is something Israel continues to ignore with impunity. The risk of famine in Gaza is now imminent. More than 30,000 have been killed and the world continues to look away.

I gave birth to my first baby during this war on 29 October and I would do anything to protect him. I can not imagine the pain that all the Palestinian women and men have been going through losing their little ones as well as those children whose parents have been killed. I have been finding it extremely traumatising to watch the news and videos on social media of dead bodies. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to bother the politicians enough to make them call for a ceasefire.

Often, I’m asked ‘Do you still have hope for Palestine?’ The honest answer: less so every day. But that doesn’t mean that the weekly marches I see here in Nottingham don’t give me a glimmer of hope. Or Nottingham-based band Do Nothing deciding not to play their South by Southwest shows in solidarity with the Palestinians. Or the multitude of fundraisers put on at bars, clubs, and restaurants across the city. These things give me hope and show me that even though the politicians might not be with us, the people certainly are. Most of all I just want people to see Palestinians as human. To understand and learn about the history of our struggle. If they do that, they can’t fail to be an ally. So please keep talking, keep sharing, keep marching and keep demanding a ceasefire and the immediate humanitarian aid Gaza needs.

If you want to find out more about daily life in Palestine a film featuring Diala and Right to Movement called Freedom to Run is screening at the Nottingham Quaker Friends Meeting House on Saturday 4 May at 7.30pm. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

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