The Big Ride for Gaza: Nine days that helped put Palestine on the map
Some 200 plus cyclists, over 435 miles, over nine days joined together for a mass bike ride from Edinburgh to London to highlight the 547 children killed in the 2014 bombardment of Gaza.
PALESTINE ACTIVISTS and cycling enthusiasts banded together this month to deliver The Big Ride, a mass bike ride from Edinburgh to London, to highlight the 547 children killed in the 2014 bombardment of Gaza. We were determined not to let the anniversary of Israel’s war crimes -- collective punishment of the Palestinian people -- pass without a cry for justice.
Our first initiative was to raise £8,600 for an advertisement in the national press (The Independent and The i) a year to the day since the massacre began, listing all the names of the children verified as killed.
We had also enlisted 37 MPs in support of an Early Day Motion backing The Big Ride along with 23 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
Then, at the start of August, riders assembled in Edinburgh for the start of our journey. Seasoned anti-war and trade union activists joined ranks with young workers and students, donning their black End the Siege of Gaza cycling tops, emblazoned with the Palestinian flag.
We were aged 15 to 80; Jewish, Muslim and those of no faith; disabled, gay and lesbian – a whole range of humanity united in our support for Gaza. Some 200 plus cyclists joined the ride and half of them completed the full 435 miles over nine days.
Most notable was the interest and genuine concern of ordinary members of the public the length of the country who stopped us to ask what the ride was about and even donated cash on the spot or pledged to go away and find out more. We also received sympathetic coverage in many local newspapers along the way.
The ride raised £60,000 for children’s projects working on the ground in Gaza with some of the 400,000 children the United Nations says have been left traumatised by losing their families and homes last year. The projects are supported by the North American based charity, the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance.
In the Scottish capital we made a dignified and sombre impact, reading out the names of all the children killed a year to the day. Riders held posters with the children’s names, age and place of death and photographs.
We were seen off with speeches from Ian Murray, MP from Labour Friends of Palestine, and Dr Mona El Farra, who works with children in Gaza traumatised by the Israeli Government bombardment and blockade of vital supplies.
Dr Mona thanked us for our “humanity and solidarity” and appeared to cast a watchful eye to the skies as the morning sun was eclipsed by clouds. Perhaps she knew something about the Scottish weather that we didn’t as we headed south into what proved to be torrential rain, strong winds and plunging temperatures in the Borders.
Undeterred by the continuing strong head wind impeding progress we covered 72 miles on the second day crossing the border with England to reach Newcastle. Before departing in the morning we stopped to lobby the local BBC studios which had refused to provide any coverage. The names of children killed that day were read out before we cycled on for Northallerton, North Yorkshire where we stayed with the local rugby club who let us camp in their grounds for free and use the club house for refreshments.
In Bradford our arrival generated a spontaneous show of support as local people lined the streets to cheer us on and cars tooted their horns. We were greeted with garlands of flowers and bottles of water in the City Park and hosted in St Mary’s Magdelene’s Church, a community centre where we were fed and bedded down for the night.
We reached Sheffield on day five, where supporters held a two hour vigil on the Town Hall steps while they awaited our arrival. Earlier that day Barnsley Palestine supporters were out with their placards to welcome us and in Chesterfield the following morning we walked our bikes through the market square led by Stop the War supporters to more free food and water courtesy of the local Trades Union Council.
Milton Keynes Palestine Solidarity arranged a reception at a local Christian centre and, on the eve of our arrival in London, we were hosted by local activists in Luton for a sit down meal and speeches.
In London we were applauded along the Edgware Road and by tourists on The Mall and as we passed Buckingham Palace, singing our adopted theme song “We’re the Big Ride”.
On Westminster Bridge, just as Big Ben was striking two, we stopped the traffic and held a minute silence for all the child victims in Gaza. We had covered 435 miles and only had another mile or so to the final rally in Archbishop’s Park just south of the Thames.
There we were greeted by Dr Mona who once again thanked us and told us how Palestinian youngsters were now staging their own Big Rides, even though they were confined inside the Gaza strip and could cycle no more than a few miles. Also showing support was Grahame Morris MP from Labour Friends of Palestine.
It had been nine days of ups and downs, both in terms of the rolling hills, but also emotionally for the riders, many of whom shed a tear along the way at the sheer injustice and brutality of the Israeli state but also in hope for peace and justice in Palestine.
All were overwhelmed by the warm response we received all along our route, both from those who organised much welcome support and encouragement for us and to the general public for the spontaneous gestures of good will.
It made us more determined to continue the campaign to make Israeli state racism against Palestinians as unacceptable to the world as was apartheid in South Africa before it fell.
Source: The Big Ride