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Unrwa 5K run for Gaza in New York raises $2m for Palestinians

Over 3,000 people took part in the event to raise money for Palestinian refugee children and families in the Gaza Strip
Runners and supporters get ready to run at Prospect Park at the Gaza 5k in New York on 2 March (MEE/Zainab Iqbal)

Over 3,000 people ran, and some walked, at the annual Gaza 5K in New York City on Saturday to raise money to help Palestinian refugee children and families in the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza 5k, hosted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) USA, takes place in different cities every year.

Last year, it took place in Washington DC and San Mateo, California. This year, it took place in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, under the banner of 'moving for mental health', where thousands of participants were met with rain and mud. 

According to Unrwa, they raised nearly $2 million, and posted on Instagram that over 3,000 people took part in the event.

Middle East Eye reached out to Unrwa USA for comment, but they did not respond in time of publishing.

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A DJ played Palestinian music over the loudspeaker, while others gathered wearing the colours of the Palestinian flag to support their families and friends. People wore their number bibs and ran with their strollers holding their babies. 

New York Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani was in attendance wearing a pink shirt that had the word 'Palestine' written in Arabic. He was at the race supported by members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and his parents. 

"The urgency of supporting Unrwa relief work has never been more important, especially as the US has ceased funding for Unrwa," Mamdani told Middle East Eye.

He added that it was an "unjust" decision that needed to be reversed.

In early December, Mamdani joined activist Cynthia Nixon and others in participating in a five-day hunger strike in Washington DC outside the White House to call for a ceasefire.

It is now three months since and there is still no ceasefire in Gaza. 

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani before running the Gaza 5K in New York on 2 March (MEE/Zainab Iqbal)

"I am standing here with countless people asking our government to do their part," Mamdani said. "We have to do everything in our power to stop this genocide."

In January, several nations, including the US and the UK, halted their financial support to Unrwa.

This decision was met with criticism from Palestinian authorities. The suspension of funds followed accusations by Israel that 12 of Unrwa's 30,000 staff members participated in attacks led by Hamas against Israel on 7 October.

In response, Unrwa announced that it had terminated its association with several employees and initiated an inquiry.

Unrwa is the second-largest employer in Gaza, following Hamas. The agency has 30,000 employees in total, 13,000 of whom are in the Gaza Strip. 

In the besieged enclave, it runs 183 schools, 22 health facilities and seven women's centres, among several other facilities. 

Runners begin at the starting line at the Gaza 5K in New York on 2 March (MEE/Zainab Iqbal)

Unrwa schools are attended by 286,645 students in Gaza, while its medical facilities have 3.4 million average visits per year, according to UN data.

Asma Suleman was running without a race bib, which identifies racers by numbers. She said she signed up too late and was only able to sign up for the virtual race- which meant runners did not get a bib but were still allowed to run.

She was wearing a Palestinian flag draped around her back and was chatting nervously with her friends who had come to support her. 

"I don't run," she laughed. "I hate any form of exercise. But I am here today because I feel like this is the least of the least I can do."

Runners gather before the starting line at the Gaza 5K in New York on 2 March (MEE/Zainab Iqbal)

"What can I say that hasn't been said before? The US needs to cease funding for Israel. We need a ceasefire. Palestine needs to be free."

Munarwa was at the park running with her baby and her sister. Her sister had a bib, but she did not because she signed up too late as well. She had on her "best-running shoes" and her stroller was decorated with a keffiyeh. 

This was her second time running the Gaza 5k. 

Runners and supporters get ready to run at Prospect Park at the Gaza 5k in New York on 2 March (MEE/Zainab Iqbal)

"I ran two years ago and now I am running again. This one is a little more special because I now have a baby," she smiled.

"It's also a little more painful knowing there is so much devastation in Gaza. Knowing that thousands of kids were killed and many more left without parents."

On the sidelines, her husband stood in support.

"I would've run with them but my right leg is injured," he said. Munarwa laughed and said, "He's just giving excuses."

"I will run next year, God willing," he said. He added that while it is important to show up and support Palestinians, it is also important to donate to them.

"Our tax money is going to Israel, and there's really nothing we can do about that. But we can donate when we can to organisations directly doing work in Gaza," he said.

"Palestinians need our help. We cannot abandon them like our government and the rest of the world did."

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