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Israel-Palestine war: Volunteer removed from New York City Marathon for pro-Palestine sign

Organisers say no 'political' messaging was allowed despite the presence of a 'Run for Israel' tent at the race
Briana Navarro in her New York City Marathon jacket with pro-Palestine signs taped to it (Photo: Briana Navarro)
Briana Navarro in her New York City Marathon jacket with pro-Palestine signs taped to it (Photo: Briana Navarro)

A volunteer at the New York City Marathon says she was escorted away after she wore pro-Palestine signs on her jacket on Sunday.

The New York City Marathon, part of the New York Road Runners (NYRR), courses through the five boroughs and is more than 42km long. 

On 5 November, 51,000 people ran through the streets of New York City and around 8,000 people volunteered at the race. 

Briana Navarro was one of them. It was her first time volunteering for the largest marathon in the world. 

Navarro arrived to volunteer around 4.30am. At check-in, she received credentials and a uniform. She was assigned to help collect clothing, such as the jackets runners take off and leave behind ahead of the race.

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During her time there, she was directed to a location in front of one of the many tents that were set up. This one was a “Run for Israel” tent.

The tent had signs surrounding it, one of which said, “Do a mitzvah for Israel”, with a photo of a soldier and “Wrap. Pray. Run”. 

“I understand the tent was intended for prayer, but the propaganda on the exterior was biased and political,” said Navarro. 

She said the coincidence empowered her to wear her signs. So, to her pink New York City Marathon jacket, she taped up two signs that said “Bombing children is not self-defence” and “Genocide in Gaza. USA is guilty”. 

“I figured if the tent was allowed to be there, I would also have the same rights to express my views. But that turned out to be false,” Navarro told Middle East Eye.

'My anti-violence statement was silenced through intimidation'

- Briana Navarro, volunteer

She said she was soon approached by event security who told her that people at the “Run for Israel” tent had complained about her. 

“My signs did not mention Israel or Judaism, or anything about religion,” Navarro said.

In a video that Navarro recorded, an event security member tells her: “It’s not necessarily Israel-displaying propaganda here, but it is a violation for us to have a volunteer displaying a political message.”

Navarro’s badge was then confiscated and she was escorted out by a few members of the park police.

“Running has long been a platform used for freedom of expression, speech, and protest. We support our runners’ freedom of speech and right to protest while running,” a spokesperson for the marathon told Middle East Eye.

“However, NYRR is a not-for-profit organisation that does not engage in political speech. Nor do we allow our uniforms or support facilities to be used for that purpose. We were not aware that one of our starting line tents was being used to post political messages. In the future, we will work to ensure more equal application of our rules," the spokesperson said.

NYRR says it was unaware of the signs on the “Run for Israel” tent until afterwards. The unpermitted placement was an oversight, and the signs were not approved.

According to the spokesperson, Navarro did not take off her signs when asked to do so, which was why Navarro and two other volunteers were escorted away. But Navarro said she did take off her signs. She added that once she did, the police accused her of “falsing” her identity. 

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“At the end of the day, marathon volunteers supporting ‘Run for Israel’ were permitted to wear their pink and orange uniform even inside their heavily political tent,” Navarro said.

“Among volunteers, there was a double standard. My anti-violence statement was silenced through intimidation.”

Navarro said that she was just spreading information in a place where she felt like she could make an impact. At first, she explained, she was not afraid because she was receiving words of encouragement from other volunteers and runners. Once the police threatened her, she felt afraid because she didn't want to get arrested. 

When asked if she would do this all over again, she answered: “Absolutely.”

“It is important to advocate for not bombing children when another government slaughters 4,000 kids without hesitation,” she said.

“My purpose was to bring awareness that there is a genocide in Palestine. Even though my signs were silenced by the marathon, I achieved my goal by reaching half a million views online on a video about the incident.”

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