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