The Gaza marathon, scheduled to be held on April 10, was cancelled by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after Hamas decided to ban all women from the annual race. The UNRWA was founded in 1949, and “provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.” (unrwa.org). The UNRWA is run almost solely by donations by UN members and is the principal UN agency in Gaza. The race is also sponsored by the UNRWA.
After Hamas Islamist officials banned women from the race, the UNRWA withdrew its support. Even though Palestinian schoolgirls had participated in the last two marathons, Hamas contended it was against the traditions of the Palestinian people. This year’s race was supposed to host a record number of women; 260 Palestinian women as well as 119 foreign women. Sadly, as Adnan Abu Hasna, the UNRWA’s media advisor stated, “The marathon was an annual event to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and to raise funds for summer camps organized by UNRWA which serve at least 250,000 schoolchildren.”(reuters.com).
Relations between the UNRWA and Hamas have been strained at times, in that Hamas has accused the UNRWA of not including Gaza government representatives in meetings with international visitors. Additionally, Hamas representatives have in the past disagreed with the curriculum in UNRWA-run schools. The UNRWA was faced with an extremely tough decision after the ruling by Hamas; do they continue to sponsor the race, while implicitly endorsing anti-women sentiment and rules, or do they pull the plug on the race to the detriment of more than 250,000 male and female schoolchildren of the small nation. Do you think they made the right choice? Were there any other options?