Closure Keeps Long-Distance Runner From First International Meet
JERICHO, West Bank (AP) _ Long-distance running was supposed to be 16-year-old Maysa Ahmed’s ticket out of this desert town, where most girls are married off as teen-agers and have babies in quick succession.
As the West Bank champion in the women’s 5,000 meters, Maysa was about to leave for a Cairo track meet _ her first international competition _ when Israel sealed off Jericho last week following a bus bombing by a Palestinian militant.
``It really ruined our happiness,″ said Maysa, dressed in black shorts and a red track shirt and catching her breath after a morning run across Jericho’s palm tree-dotted fields.
Maysa is one of many Palestinians inadvertently hurt by Israel’s all-out campaign against the Muslim militant group Hamas, which is bent on destroying the fragile peace between Israel and the PLO.
Maysa was to have left Jericho last week for the Arab Championship for Track and Field in Cairo, her first trip abroad.
She and her friend Haifa had trained for months to qualify for the meet, running 5,000 meters each day at sunrise and after dark to escape the stifling heat of the desert oasis.
Jogging through the town of 20,000 in track suits and sneakers, the pair braved stares from passersby more used to girls in long robes or decorous dresses.
When Maysa turned on the radio Aug. 21 and heard that a suicide bomb had ripped apart a Jerusalem bus, killing four passengers, she knew her efforts had been in vain. Recent bombings have all been followed by travel bans for Palestinians.
``I knew we would not make it to Egypt because they would close the roads,″ said Maysa, her long brown hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.
It wasn’t the first time that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has touched Maysa’s life.
She was a shy, skinny 8-year-old nicknamed ``Mimi″ when the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation erupted.
For Maysa, it meant coming straight home after school because her parents worried she might get caught in one of the countless street clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.
``We used to sit home and do nothing,″ recalled Maysa. She and her sister Samah, 19, kept house for her family of six, including two younger brothers, because her mother is bedridden with diabetes.
Then, two years ago, at about the time Israel and the PLO signed their first autonomy agreement, Maysa found a way out of the oppressive routine.
A sports club was built with U.N. and Canadian funding on a field across from Maysa’s one-story house. Consisting only of a concrete outdoor court and two small rooms, the club quickly became her second home.
Tall and lithe, Maysa took naturally to long-distance running. This summer she and Haifa tied for first place in the West Bank qualifiers for the Cairo track meet.
But last Saturday, when she would have been racing at Cairo stadium, Maysa sat at home.
Her coach, Yousef Hamad, said he didn’t have the heart to search the newspapers for results from the Cairo meet.
``I feel terrible because we had been preparing the girls for five months,″ Hamad said.
As it turned out, Maysa’s best time of 18 minutes would have been some two minutes slower than the winner, Zahra Bu Aziz of Morocco.
Still, Maysa was back running Monday morning, her sights set on a new goal, a Sept. 29 track meet in Tunisia.
``I just hope there will be no closure then,″ she said.