UNRWA-Sponsored 'Run for Love' - PA is 'Palestine'
(IsraelNN.com) 'Extreme' desert runner Max Calderan's "Run for Love" may be more about politics than peace, despite claims by United Nations spokesman Chris Gunness that the event has little to do with religion or politics.
Nonetheless, Calderan found out the hard way that not all marathons are alike, when he encountered a snag at the Erez Crossing into Gaza, where IDF officials stopped him right in his tracks.
The runner, backed by Chris Gunness, Jerusalem-based spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was told by government officials from the Ministry of Sport, the Foreign Ministry and the IDF that he would not be able to complete his politically-charged run by crossing into Gaza. However, he ignored the lack of authorization and made the 15-hour run anyway, apparently hoping he would be able to sweet-talk his way through the Erez Crossing.
It didn't happen.
Guness told Israel National News on Sunday that Calderan's 540-kilometer run was to take him "from Jerusalem to the top of Mt. Sinai." He will drive to Taba instead in order to continue the run to reach his goal.
The timing, which comes one week prior to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), in which Jews celebrate the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, was a coincidence, said Gunness. The U.N. spokesman said the run was not intended to make any political statement - though the runner began it by draping himself in a PA flag.
"But then he became the latest item on the list of things banned from Gaza," Gunness said. "Without any explanation, the Israeli authorities banned him. He was to be the guest of UNRWA in Gaza where some of Gaza's most promising athletes, including disabled athletes, were due to run with him."
Gunness expressed frustration at Israel's unwillingness to allow Calderan to continue his run as planned. "So Marathon Runners have now joined the ever growing loony list of items banned from Gaza," he complained. "I know he runs like a long range rocket, but Max's "Run for Love" isn't a threat to anyone," Gunness scoffed. "Sport could have been such a solid bridge for peace, as many Israeli sportspeople know. It's puzzling that an Italian Marathon Man running from Jerusalem to Mount Sinai could be barred in this way."
"He was to be our guest in Gaza," Gunness said. "We have 10,000 people on the ground there, and none have been kidnapped. Security is not the issue," he told Israel National News. Nor did he think politics was the problem. "This was not a political event," he said. Asked if Calderan was Jewish, Gunness turned to the runner and asked him. "No religion, no politics, no nothing. Calderan is an atheist, apolitical," he replied.
But the photos and publicity materials sent to Israel National News by Calderan's personal public relations representative told a different tale.
For starters, the run didn't begin, as billed by UNRWA, in Jerusalem. The "Run for Love," actually began early Friday in Ramallah, the seat of the PA government, according to Calderan's publicity package.
The publicity materials also state that runner plans to traverse the territories of "Egypt, Israel, Palestine" -- conferring upon the Palestinian Authority a status that even the United Nations itself has not yet approved, that of a sovereign state.
Calderan was photographed in Ramallah at the start of his run, draped in a Palestinian Authority banner and backed by a photo of the late PLO terrorist chief Yasser Arafat.
After the discrepancy was pointed out, Gunness confirmed that Calderan did indeed begin the run in Ramallah, and only then proceeded to Jerusalem, but steadfastly maintained "no politics [were] intended." Nonetheless, the runner managed to obtain photo shoots besides the Judea-Samaria security barrier, something that even Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI was unable to arrange during his own recent visit to the region.
All Jerusalem photos, in fact, were shot with the much-disputed barrier clearly in view -- either with Calderan jogging alongside the wall, or with it clearly in the background. Captions sent to the media read: "Freedom Jump Border" and "Max Run Wall."
Gunness insisted the pictures had "nothing to do with UNRWA. We were responsible for him inside Gaza only." And yet, early on Gunness had stated from the outset, "Yes, it is an UNRWA thing."
The brochure that described the week-long run, expected to end next Friday, said it is being filmed for a special news documentary.
A "confrontation" between the film's director and the runner helps describe the spiritual reasons for the run, according to the brochure, which adds that the documentary reports the reflections of both on the "actual Middle Eastern situation."
Calderan "will have to face the limitations of a precarious geopolitical situation," as he makes his run across the Arab-controlled lands, the brochure notes.
In another apparent contradiction to Gunness' insistence on "no politics intended," film director Cinzia Torrini is described in the text as "determined in not realizing a mere report of the run." The brochure says that the director will "contextualize the event following its political dynamics and cultural and religious contradictions, characterizing this Middle East's areas." %ad%
The actual physical challenge of the run does not enter the picture until he reaches the Egyptian stretch, the text explains.
The film will be shot using Jerusalem, Mt. Sinai, Qumran, Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Jordan River as backdrops for the interview --- all, except Mt. Sinai in Egypt, disputed areas currently under negotiation between Israel and the PA.
The prospectus for the documentary goes on to say:
"The production will employ a very well integrated and expert troupe, prepared to meet any difficulty that could be found during the realization of a documentary carried out in war places, the production will employ two teams operating on two different aspects: the first one will mainly follow Calderan's run, the other one will be more involved in the geographic and cultural context.
"In such an important historical moment, attracting the international interest and where new opportunities are being opened for the peace between Israel and Palestine, the Italian State, with its attention and cooperation to the project, confirms its importance."
The reference by the documentary team to the Palestinian Authority as Palestine, a sovereign nation, thus also attempts to create a literary, if not diplomatic, fait accompli.
The run is expected to result in a book plus DVD, to be distributed on Italian Free TV (Rai 3), as well as through an international distribution network.