In a show of solidarity, cyclists prepare to ride from Bristol to London for the Big Ride for Palestine. Orlando Hill and Sybil Cock report
Since 2015, cyclists have shown their support and solidarity to Palestine by taking part in the Big Ride. Over 60 cyclists are taking part this year: they will meet in Bristol on Thursday, 29 July, cycle for four days, and arrive in London on Sunday, 1 August. They will be welcomed by supporters in a rally at Mile End Park in Tower Hamlets.
The Big Ride was initiated in 2015 as a response to the 2014 bombardment of Gaza. A group of cyclists from Britain, Ireland and beyond wanted to combine their love for cycling with support for the Palestinian people. The first Big Ride was a two-week tour from Edinburgh to London, raising £65,000 for projects helping Palestinian children recover from trauma.
Last year due to COVID restrictions, a one-day 36/44-mile Solidarity Ride was organised, with over 400 people riding solo or in small groups.
Big Ride 2021
This year with the ongoing pandemic, all precautions have been taken to keep riders and the public safe. Participants were asked in the days leading up to the event to avoid situations where they are more likely to pick up the virus. Along with spare inner tubes, cereal bars and water bottles, riders have been asked to bring reusable masks and a pack of lateral flow tests.
The issue of apartheid will be at the centre of this year’s campaign work following the TUC’s resolution adopted in 2020. The hope is that this will contribute to uniting trade unions and sections of the working class over Palestine, as it did in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Besides raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, the Big Ride aims to raise funds for sports programmes in Gaza in collaboration with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA). This year, the money will go towards the creation of a recreational park in Rafah. The idea is to provide a “safe space for children traumatised by bombing and siege to be able to take part in cycling, football, basketball, tennis and walking with an emphasis on activities for women and girls.”
The Big Ride has also partnered with Palestine Riders who are setting up a cycling club for children in the Amar’i Refugee Camp in Palestine. The club plans to offer training, workshops and other activities to enhance the children’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The objective is spreading these activities to as many communities and schools in the West Bank as possible.
Tower Hamlets coup
In 2019, the Ride and its local supporters were denied access to all council parks in Tower Hamlets. Council officers, citing the IHRA working definition of antisemitism which the Borough had just adopted, were concerned that the Big Ride's website referred to the 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestine. They also gave false reasons for the ban. A Freedom of Information request by Palestine Solidarity Campaign eventually revealed the truth. This was widely covered in the press at the time, for example in The Guardian and Electronic Intifada.
After a long campaign, this year campaigners won permission to end the Big Ride in Mile End Park. This is a tribute to the campaign and the fantastic demonstrations of solidarity with the "unity intifada" in May earlier this year. This is a hugely important win.
If you are in London, please come and show your support! Mile End Park South is 5 minutes' walk from Mile End tube. The event starts at 5pm.
Sponsor a rider
You can sponsor one of the authors of this article who will be taking part in the Big Ride at Orlando cycling for Palestine.
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