Some of those watching noted that the structure of the run indicated the divided nature of the two main communities participating — Israelis and Palestinians.
“I am an athlete and I believe in the importance of sport as a way of bringing people together,” said Zorzi about the non-competitive marathon that aims to continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II for peace, brotherhood, and inter-faith dialogue
It was held in advance of the scheduled pilgrimage in May to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI. The marathon is an initiative of the Israel Ministry of Tourism and CSI, the Italian Sports Association. It pits competitors from Italy and runners from Bethlehem and Israel.
The marathon began at Manger Square in Bethlehem, with Palestinian and Italian runners leisurely running down the early morning streets. Israel does not permit its citizens to enter Palestinian territories for security reasons. Since the Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, several Israelis caught in Palestinian areas have been killed by Palestinians.
Upon the arrival of the runners at the Bethlehem checkpoint near Rachel’s Tomb half an hour after the marathon began, the Italian and Palestinian runners were met by Israeli runners. The three groups then continued to the final point of the marathon at the Notre Dame Centre in downtown Jerusalem across from the Old City wall.
Israel does not allow West Bank Palestinians into Jerusalem including East Jerusalem, which is also under Israeli control, without a permit. As in past years, all the Palestinian runners had Israeli permits to cross through the checkpoint to complete the marathon with the rest of the runners.
As well as Zorzi, there were two other leading Italian athletes in the peace marathon: Giovanna Trillini, a three-time Olympic foil fencing champion and Demetrio Albertini, a former AC Milan football player who currently serves as the deputy president of the Italian Football Association.