Monday night March 19, on a whim we decided to book a room at The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem and run in the Palestine Marathon 10K. The only room available was the Presidential Suite and registration was closed for the 10K but we were determined, so we boldly booked for two nights in the suite and figured we would get into the race one way or another. We thought very briefly about the safety of our decision as The US State Department warns its citizens to avoid large crowds and discourages participation in big events. But for those who don’t know us, we don’t always play by the rules!So the day after returning from our two day road trip to the north we took the train to Jerusalem where we found an Arab Israeli taxi driver to take us into the West Bank and drop us off at the hotel. We headed straight for the Marathon Expo in Manger Square to try for late registration. Unfortunately they were completely out of numbers but said that we could register for the Family Fun Run which was loosely billed as a 5K. The cost was only 30₪, less than 9$, which got us a shirt, swag bag and a medal. After registration we checked into our Presidential suite which made us wonder how many famous people had been in the room before us. Sandy did note however that they did not even supply robes or slippers. This hotel was opened by the elusive British artist Banksy. It is part whimsy and spectacle with a lot of dark humorous art and a wall mart which sells supplies for wall painting, part serious with a wall museum and an art gallery featuring Palestinian artists.
That night we went out to a very rustic Palestinian farm to table restaurant, Hosh Jasmin. It was about a 15 minute taxi ride to a desolate looking country road where a somewhat rundown house was perched on the side of a mountain facing west over a barren Wadi towards another small West Bank village. We arrived there in time for the last of the sunset which was beautiful. We were greeted at the entrance to the side terrace by the Restaurant’s pet sheep who was gentle and friendly.
We dined outside on very rustic wooden tables sitting on the dirt.
The food was simple but very fresh, aromatic and tasty. Our taxi driver Alaa had of course volunteered to return and take us home.
The next morning we awoke early and walked the 2K to Manger Square and the start of our run.
Sandy had a plan; this run was not going to be a repeat of our disappointing 5K “walkathon” of the Tel Aviv Marathon which we did a few weeks earlier. We pushed and shoved our way to the front of the starting corral and took off running as fast as we could to leave the weak, infirm and families with strollers behind. If anyone got in our way or stopped in our path we physically pushed them aside and moved on. Sandy calls it running Middle Eastern style. We will definitely need to clean up our act and be more civilized for the BAA 5K next month in Boston. The 5K turned out to be more of a 3K but it did have some nice hills so at least it was a mini workout.
We walked back to our hotel in the street along the running route now dodging all of the runners going the other way back to the finish line of the 10K, half and full marathon. There were no barricades and occasionally there would be a stray car on the road. The marathon was a double loop which went by our hotel so we sat on the side terrace for a few hours making friends with a group of 20 year old runners from the UK and also giving directions to the straggling lone runners who were going by.
We went out to dinner with our eight new friends from the UK, one living in Thailand and another from Ireland. The restaurant was Arabic of course called The Tent. We only ordered a Mezze platter and salads which was plenty for all. We invited them to our suite for a post marathon party and of course we outlasted them all.
We booked a two hour tour of a refugee camp near our hotel at 10am Saturday morning. Our tour guide Marwan was very knowledgable, interesting and passionate about the plight of the Palestinians. Aida camp was established in 1950 by refugees from the Jerusalem and Hebron areas, and covered an area of 0.17 square kilometers. At the time, Aida housed 1125 refugees living in 94 tents, there are now over 5,000 refugees living in the same small area. We felt that it was mandatory for us to hear and see the other side of the Arab Israeli story.
After our tour we took a taxi from Bethlehem back to our apartment in Tel Aviv as there are no trains or buses running on Shabbat.