I have longed to proclaim good news from Palestine. To stand, like the watch person in Isaiah, on the highest peak and shout in joy.
I have been at Amos for 12 years — I count the years in World Cups, and, like England, the story in Palestine has been a long and depressing one, (although didn't we get close!).
After last year’s Just Walk I was not due to go back until the end of the year and yet I have been there three times now: for the Palestine Marathon, the Giro della Palestina protest ride and for a failed attempt to visit our partners in Gaza. Each of these visits has been sobering and inspiring. I, like other road cyclists who have visited Palestine, had desperately wanted to cycle through the West Bank.
Al Ahli Hospital, Gaza City:
A young girl receiving physiotherapy due to a shrapnel wound – Gaza City, June 2016
I find it so hard to explain why cycling gives such a different perspective, but it does. So when it was suggested that we carried out a protest ride to highlight the ‘sports wash’ that was the Giro d’Italia Grand Depart in Jerusalem, it was something we couldn’t resist.
Each of these visits has been sobering and inspiring. I, like other road cyclists who have visited Palestine, had desperately wanted to cycle through the West Bank.
On the first day, we cycled from Tel Aviv to Jericho and it reminded all of us of just how small this land is. We started at sea level, then after a long morning climbing, we had a breath-taking, world-class decent finishing 300 m below sea level at Jericho.
In the following days, as we cycled from Jenin to Taybeh, from Bethlehem to the Sumud Camp in the South Hebron hills, Marmoud Darwish’s words: ‘What makes life worth living is here in this land’, spun through my head. As we experienced the beauty of the land we also saw the totality of the occupation; the permanence of the ever-expanding settlement blocks and the settler bypass roads that cut through the West Bank.
Palestinians can be denied access to these in seconds and the difference in quality between these and Palestinian-only roads could be felt with each pedal stroke.
In the South Hebron Hills, the military presence dominates the area. We felt this acutely as we cycled through Checkpoint 300 at Bethlehem, where the soldiers were outraged that we were going through a border crossing on bikes, (even though it is not a recognised border!)
On the first day, we cycled from Tel Aviv to Jericho and it reminded all of us of just how small this land is.
Alongside this were the inspirational people we met at Alrowwad, at Jenin Freedom theatre, with Siraaj in Jericho where we launched the ride, and at Holy Land Trust’s Sumud camp. Because of these, and the numerous other people who cheered us on, offered us drinks and lifts, the ride was full of joy. The Marathon race day, like the first day of the ride, was blisteringly hot.
Taking the rough with the smooth:
Three Amos Road Club members walking with their bikes during the Giro d'Italia protest ride – West Bank, May 2018
We describe the course as ‘technical’ or ‘lumpy’ — and normally forget to mention the altitude. When it is as hot as it was — the hills feel really steep (which the ride confirmed) and the air is hard to breathe. Our runners were incredible, individually, and as a group. Most local runners decided to drop from full to half marathons, ours persevered in temperatures that would have seriously worried the organisers of the London Marathon!
But what stood out, as ever, was the atmosphere in Bethlehem. The town’s creativity and celebration in the face of so many hardships is incredible. Both trips ended at Banksy's Walled Off Hotel. For our groups, it has become a place of Pilgrimage that rivals the Church of the Nativity — and it’s a bit easier to get into in cycling shorts!
It is great to have such close links to the hotel and to projects such as the Palestine Music Expo. The creativity at the heart of both of these undertakings is inspirational and is so needed when things are bleak.
Most local runners decided to drop from full to half marathons, ours persevered in temperatures that would have seriously worried the organisers of the London Marathon!
My third trip was meant to be to Gaza, but problems over visas meant that despite having a valid permit, I was not allowed in at the Erez crossing. We will all, by now, have witnessed Israel’s response to the peaceful protests at the Gaza borders. The March of Return, which was originally to be held each Friday from Land Day (30th March) to the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (15th May), has continued beyond this.
The Just Walk group visiting the Sumud Peace Camp – South Hebron Hills, October 2017
On 12th June the UN reported that 135 Gazans had been killed (118 in protests) and 14,605 injured, (7,802 of whom were hospitalised and of these 3,895 were a result of live ammunition) — whilst in the corresponding period, there were 5 Israeli injuries.
We need to remember that this is happening in a context of power cuts lasting up to 20 hours a day, where hospitals have zero stocks of essential drugs and that the Palestinian Authority isn't helping by inflicting massive hardship on the people of Gaza in an attempt to crush the Hamas regime.
But what stood out, as ever, was the atmosphere in Bethlehem. The town’s creativity and celebration in the face of so many hardships is incredible.
Gaza is fast becoming unliveable and there is growing concern that a new conflict will break out. This represents another formidable chapter in the ongoing struggle faced by our partners NECC and Al Ahli Hospital. At the hospital, 35 people have been treated for gunshot injuries, mainly to their legs. The Al Ahli and NECC infant and maternal health clinics and psychosocial support programmes are under huge strain.
On 12th June the UN reported that 135 Gazans had been killed (118 in protests) and 14,605 injured, (7,802 of whom were hospitalised and of these 3,895 were a result of live ammunition)
This latest round of conflict can only increase the sense of overwhelming loss and trauma which is being heaped onto these young lives. The Israeli actions in Gaza, Jerusalem and throughout the rest of the West Bank are moving forward with seeming impunity. Our own government’s failure to condemn the killings and injuries inflicted by the Israeli Defence force, (there is strong evidence that sniper rifles bought from the UK were used), is deplorable.
When I could not enter Gaza — I went to Bethlehem to join up with Nive who was running a trip with Let Yourself Trust. We spent time with Holy Land Trust, and Zoughbi, Lucy and Tarek from Wi’am (all of whom are coming over in December). Our conversations were dominated by their concerns over the ‘Deal of the Century’, a forthcoming announcement on Israel & Palestine to be made by Donald Trump.
This latest round of conflict can only increase the sense of overwhelming loss and trauma which is being heaped onto these young lives. The Israeli actions in Gaza, Jerusalem and throughout the rest of the West Bank are moving forward with seeming impunity.
It looks likely, and not surprisingly, that this will be a one-sided deal favouring Israel that will be backed, not necessarily in words, but certainly in actions, by some of the most powerful states in the region. Moreover, Trump’s intention is that this will be a final status resolution.
The face of war:
A young man attends Al Ahli Hospital's burns clinic – Gaza City, June 2016
It is hard to know yet what the response will be from a highly demoralised Palestinian population. What is for certain is that we will continue to journey with our friends and partners in Palestine and Israel as they seek to respond to this and as we campaign for their rights and aspirations to be realised.
We believe it is particularly important, at this time, that we continue to ramp up our efforts. Please join us as we continue to ask the British Government to Change The Record on Palestine.