Trying To Organize A Marathon, An Arab-Israeli Woman Runs Into Opposition

Trying To Organize A Marathon, An Arab-Israeli Woman Runs Into Opposition

10:26pm May 31, 2015
Haneen Radi, an Arab Israeli, wants to organize a marathon for her town of Tira, but was told the run couldn't include women. When she insisted, she received threats, and the back window of her car was shot out.
Haneen Radi, an Arab Israeli, wants to organize a marathon for her town of Tira, but was told the run couldn't include women. When she insisted, she received threats, and the back window of her car was shot out.
Emily Harris / NPR
  • Haneen Radi, an Arab Israeli, wants to organize a marathon for her town of Tira, but was told the run couldn't include women. When she insisted, she received threats, and the back window of her car was shot out.

    Haneen Radi, an Arab Israeli, wants to organize a marathon for her town of Tira, but was told the run couldn't include women. When she insisted, she received threats, and the back window of her car was shot out.

    Emily Harris / NPR

  • Samiyah Matar, 80, who owns a dress shop in the Arab-Israeli town of Tira, says shorts and sleeveless shirts aren't acceptable in public, but perhaps women could run if they covered up.

    Samiyah Matar, 80, who owns a dress shop in the Arab-Israeli town of Tira, says shorts and sleeveless shirts aren't acceptable in public, but perhaps women could run if they covered up.

    Emily Harris / NPR

  • "When we go to Tel Aviv, or to the beach, we see people in different clothing, and nothing happens," says Rashid Mansur, who recites the call to prayer five times a day at a Tira mosque.

    "When we go to Tel Aviv, or to the beach, we see people in different clothing, and nothing happens," says Rashid Mansur, who recites the call to prayer five times a day at a Tira mosque.

    Emily Harris / NPR

  • Haneen Radi finishes a 14 kilometer race in the Israeli beach town of Netanya. Because of the reaction of conservative Muslims to her running clothes, she usually runs in Jewish areas.

    Haneen Radi finishes a 14 kilometer race in the Israeli beach town of Netanya. Because of the reaction of conservative Muslims to her running clothes, she usually runs in Jewish areas.

    Emily Harris / NPR

Haneen Radi learned to run by walking.

"I used to walk," says the 36-year-old mother of four. "I saw people running and said, I'll try that."

Radi took off. In the decade since then she's finished eight marathons, and she now coaches a girls' running club with 80 members.

"I'm another person when running," Radi says. "I'm happy, I'm smiling."

A few months ago, Radi decided to organize a marathon in Tira, her hometown in northern Israel.

"I thought, I'm bringing something very nice to my society," Radi said, surrounded by supporters at a recent rally on Tira's main street. "To bring health, to bring something really good to my own people — sport."

In Tira, an Arab-Israeli town of about 25,000 people, most people are Muslim. The minarets of half a dozen mosques rise among low concrete buildings that sprawl off the main street, a two-lane road that cuts between a major highway and other small towns. The town center is a traffic circle, with city hall on one side and a hummus shop on the other.

This is where some hundred people rallied two weeks ago to support Radi and her plans for a public race. Because not everyone in town liked the idea.

"Certain people came to the municipality over here and said, 'You can do a race — but just for males, not females,' " said Radi, who refuses to name names. " 'No,' I said. 'No — you cannot put women aside.' "

Runners are not a common sight in Tira; Radi, in fact, often leaves town and drives to nearby Jewish towns to do her workouts. She says that women being seen running in snug or short sports clothes is not acceptable in Tira, whereas it's fine in neighboring Jewish areas.

Women at the rally said that's not the only way Tira's social restrictions affect them.

"You wake up and think, is this OK to wear or not?" says Yoaad Shbita-Daoud, a 29-year-old patent examiner who grew up in Tira. "When I'm abroad I don't think about this. It's a closed community, and how to dress is one of the points."

Shaping female behavior starts "from a young age," says Atheer Ismail, who graduated from high school in Tira. She describes her home growing up as "not religious" but still observing "societal rules."

"For example, if I want to hang out with my friends and come back late at night, my mom would say, 'Ah, but don't come too late, because what will people say?' " Ismail said. "The basic point is, someone should take care of you — a man, your brother could, your father."

The main opponents to the proposed race in Tira said they were taking care of women by pressuring the city to not let them run.

"Our religion tells us to take care of our girls' honor, so we won't let them go out and let boys look at them," said Rashad Fthelly, a member the Islamic Movement political group.

Islamic Movement leaders distributed notices against the race and asked the city council to stop it. Unknown people threatened to disrupt the race. Then, late one night, someone shot the back window of Radi's car while it was parked outside her home.

The threats of disruption didn't scare her, Radi said, "but when they shot my car I felt really afraid." Police have questioned one suspect in the shooting and let him go.

Samiyah Matar, 80, who owns a dress shop in the Arab-Israeli town of Tira, says shorts and sleeveless shirts aren't acceptable in public, but perhaps women could run if they covered up.

Samiyah Matar, 80, who owns a dress shop in the Arab-Israeli town of Tira, says shorts and sleeveless shirts aren't acceptable in public, but perhaps women could run if they covered up.

Emily Harris/NPR

The shooting riled the town, and opinion about the marathon remained deeply divided even several weeks later. Eighty-year-old Samiyah Matar, who runs a dress shop, said it would be OK, as long as women runners wore long pants and long sleeves.

"Shorts and no sleeves is not acceptable in our religious or societal values," she said.

"When we go to Tel Aviv, or to the beach, we see people in different clothing, and nothing happens," says Rashid Mansur, who recites the call to prayer five times a day at a Tira mosque.

Emily Harris/NPR

A middle-aged fruit vendor who wouldn't give his name blamed "bearded men" — Muslim religious leaders — whom he described as "crazy" for opposing the marathon. But devout Muslims in the town were also divided. Rashid Mansur, who calls others to pray five times a day at one of the mosques, said he had no problem with women running in public, even in sport clothes.

"When we go to Tel Aviv, or to the beach, we see people in different clothing, and nothing happens," he said.

Some opponents suggested holding essentially two races at the same time — women would run in the municipal stadium while men ran in the streets — but that would have been "meaningless," said Sameh Iraqi, deputy head of the Tira town council.

Iraqi, a Tira native, says he senses a growing interest in culture, art and sport in the community. He called the conflict over the marathon part of shifting from a town to a city.

"We view our society as going through a developmental stage," he said. "We hope light can overcome darkness."

There is no scheduled date now for the Tira marathon. Radi says she wants to keep promoting running, but because of the threats she no longer wants to take the lead in organizing the race.

Haneen Radi finishes a 14 kilometer race in the Israeli beach town of Netanya. Because of the reaction of conservative Muslims to her running clothes, she usually runs in Jewish areas.

Haneen Radi finishes a 14 kilometer race in the Israeli beach town of Netanya. Because of the reaction of conservative Muslims to her running clothes, she usually runs in Jewish areas.

Emily Harris/NPR

She is still coaching the girls' running club, though, and took more than a dozen members to the Israeli beach town of Netanya recently to try their hand at racing.

Shams Pichra, 11, signed up for the 5 kilometer run in Netanya. Running is her hobby, she says, making her feel "good" and "excited."

But how did the canceling of the Tira marathon make her feel?

"It's a mistake," she says. "A marathon is not something we have to be ashamed of."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Next, a story where religion and sports collide. Runners usually have routes they like and others they avoid. That becomes much tougher if you're a woman in a conservative society where some oppose women running in sports gear. That's why one Palestinian woman, an Arab citizen of Israel, prefers to jog in Jewish areas. Recently, she tried organizing a race in her own town and faced threats. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It's race day in the Israeli beach town of Netanya. Runner Haneen Radi rounds up the girls she coaches and brought here today.

HANEEN RADI: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Her young runners are excited. Fifteen-year-old Mais Pshara is about to run her first 10K. She joined Radi's club a few months ago and she loves it.

MAIS PSHARA: It's so exciting, and I feel so good when I run.

HARRIS: They all came from Tira, an Arab-Israeli town a half-an-hour drive inland. But, Pshara says the team doesn't run there.

PSHARA: We try to run in Tira, but no results for this. They don't want us to run in Tira.

HARRIS: Who they are is part of this story which starts with Haneen Radi, the girls' coach, and her dream of promoting running in her community. She tells me about this back in Tira.

RADI: (Through interpreter) We decided three months ago to organize a marathon here in my own town to bring health, to bring something really good to my own people, sport.

HARRIS: But not everyone liked the idea.

RADI: (Through interpreter) Certain people came to the municipality over here and said - they said and you can do a marathon but just for males, not for females. No - I said, no. You cannot put women aside. They have to participate.

HARRIS: Threats were made to disrupt the race. Then someone shot Radi's car when it was parked outside her home.

RADI: (Through interpreter) I didn't feel really afraid when I heard the threat. But when they shot my car, I felt really afraid.

HARRIS: Opinion in town was split. An 80-year-old woman sitting outside her dress shop said women runners would have to cover up. Shorts or tank tops were unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: A middle-aged fruit vendor blamed bearded men he described as crazy. He meant Muslim religious leaders, but devout Muslims were also divided. Outside a mosque, Rashad Fthelly, a member of a political Islamic group, said he opposed a co-ed marathon.

RASHAD FTHELLY: (Through interpreter) Our religion tells us to take care of our girls' honor, so we won't let them go out and let boys look at them.

HARRIS: Inside, the man who calls others to pray five times a day, Rashid Mansur, said he had no problem with women running in sports clothes in public.

RASHID MANSUR: (Through interpreter) When we go to Tel Aviv or the beach, we see people in different clothing, and nothing happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: More than 100 people rallied in Tira shortly after the shooting to support Haneen Radi and her hope to hold a marathon. Radi says she wants to keep promoting running.

RADI: (Through interpreter) I'm another person when I am running. I'm happy, I'm smiling. Change a lot of things for the better in my life, the fact that I'm running.

HARRIS: But the threats changed things, too. Now she doesn't want to take the lead in organizing the race. Tira resident Asmaa Kuri does no sports herself, but she hopes Haneen Radi won't give up.

ASMAA KURI: Men want to frighten her. They want her to be scared, to stop doing that. I hope she's not going to stop. We need her to be strong because she brought something new to Tira, and we are very proud of her.

HARRIS: Police questioned one suspect in the shooting and let him go. Some city officials say they hope to host a marathon open to all, but there is no date set. Emily Harris, NPR News, Tira, Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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