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4 February, 2011

"Run for freedom"

University of Bethlehem and Chester University team up to run towards overcoming barriers

Chester UniversityA strong and fascinating friendship between Bethlehem University and University of Chester has taken on a new and fresh turn. Originally started in 1994 as a part of a British Council funded effort to promote capacity building and information exchange, study visits to the UK by Palestinian colleagues and working visits to Palestine by Chester staff took place leading to the collaboration with the University of Bethlehem, which began in 2003, culminating in research and practice exchange in drama education with plans for cooperation in physical education.

Chester UniversityThe partnership, of Dr. Hala and Ms. Samar Al-Araj Mousa (Phyiscal Education) and University of Chester professor Dr. Allan Owens and Senior Lecturer Mr. Steve Tones from the Faculty of Education and Children's Services, played a huge role, resulted this winter in an artistic and powerful expression of solidarity and hope for people in Palestine. The story of this project began while Dr. Hala was completing her Ph.D. in Drama and Education studies at the University of Exeter. She was invited by Dr. Owens to present her research focusing on drama as a medium of teaching. Dr. Hala says that drama, when it is tailored to appeal to the subject, effectively engages the audience (student) and transfers the knowledge in an creative way. Ms. Samar, Physical Education teacher and coach of the first women’s Palestinian football team, and Mr. Tones, who had already travelled to the area to give sports workshops and training, added sports and physical education aspects to the developing idea.

Chester UniversityAs Dr. Hala and Dr. Owens, who has a keen interest in the situation in Palestine, debated on what kind of project they could do to within their fields of expertise, they began to seepotential in a cooperative project amongst the group of four, began to see that a dramatic act would help to not only draw attention to the plight of Palestinians who live surrounded by occupation and the Israeli segregation wall, but also to empower the residents to view their lives behind the wall through a transformative perspective.

The idea of a run inside the perimeter of the Israeli segregation wall began to take shape. The powerful symbolism presented in the run is because running presents a raw kind of freedom much like experienced by the fictional Forrest Gump character who ran across the United States. When asked why he was running, he replied that he just felt like running. The segregation wall not only presents a barrier to those feel like physically running but also to those who’d like to feel free and “run” in their daily lives, hobbies and careers. Putting runners together with young Palestinian students from the Aida refugee camp, who also ran, offered an opportunity to dramatize to outsiders and the students themselves how to overcome this barrier in order to live a life free of mental oppression.

The run, for safety sake, actually started from Bethlehem University and ended in Aida refugee camp, where the world’s largest key, is on display as testament to all the homes Palestinians lost but still hold front door keys to. The group of nearly 75 runners was welcomed by Dr. Abdelfattah Abu Srour, Chairperson of the Palestinian Theatre League and director. Attendees were treated to a play given by camp students as they performed a play expressing their desire to be children who are able to play without danger of being shot by Israeli solders and also highlighting the important role women play in the fight against oppression.

Professor Owens said: “Daily life for Bethlehem University students and staff, as for all Palestinians, involves dealing with the consequences of occupation, including waiting to be given permission to enter or leave the town and long delays caused by the arbitrary closing of the one gate operating in the eight meter high wall around the city. Organized runs are a recognized event in all free societies and the Bethlehem run was conceived as an act of normalization.”

Ms. Samar hopes that future runs will include international visitors, in order to increase its impact. Dr. Hala feels that this project, having successfully been trialed, has a great potential to help residents overcome what she calls the “abstract wall” that has been built in the minds of much of Palestinians mentality. She says “This wall, which makes us feel enclosed and close minded – desensitizes us to the life we can actually live. We can still live and achieve as we imagine!”


Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine