Talking About It
I carried on talking about the ride, and raised a little more money in doing so, to various groups, including
Special Meeting/Attila the Stockbroker
We arranged a special local event at New Cross Learning to give a slide show and talk about the ride to local Stop the War, CND and Friends of Palestine and other friends, with food and entertainment.
I asked the poet and musician Attila the Stockbroker if he would be able to provide some of the latter, and he not only agreed, but decided that he would cycle to New Cross from Shoreham on the Sussex coast, on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, to raise more money for MAP.
Taking Part in Future Events
MAP’s cycle ride for (autumn this time) 2019 is already fully booked, but there will be future years. You can register your interest for 2020.
MAP’s second West Bank walking trekof 2019 still has places available.
Here is where you can register your interest.
The general links to possible challenge events for MAP are here.
On the way out through Tel Aviv, whatever the profiling may have been on the way in, they seemed to focus more on the people with their own bikes, who were delayed and checked much more thoroughly.
I obviously have an honest face, and went through without a single question (actually not so on a more recent trip to Palestine).
We were on a British Airways flight from Tel Aviv to London, which was delayed by an hour specifically of the time it took for our group to get through. We didn’t expect to be too popular for many reasons.
One of the more talkative cyclists had got chatting with the cabin crew, and later on we were given this card and four bottles of champagne.
In Palestine, and probably the whole of the Middle East, everywhere you go you get Liptons Black Tea teabags on a string. It’s pretty awful. What I desperately wanted was a proper cup of tea, which you can see here in the mug I brought back from Hebron (note the key symbol).
Memories of Palestine
I keep saying it, but it’s true ... I always supported Palestine because I hated injustice, but now I also support Palestine because I love Palestine.
It would be a bit strong to say it changed our lives, but it was certainly one of the most memorable things we’ll all have done.
We still often do activities together (eg some of the cyclists came to the fundraising gig that we organised during Eurovision at the Amersham Arms), hold fundraising stalls, give talks etc.
Here with some MAP staff from the Ramallah office.
Refugees in Palestine
Many Palestinians live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, but many also live in refugee camps in Palestine, having been expelled from parts of Palestine that are now Israel.
About 560 000 live in camps in the Gaza strip, and about 230 000 live in camps in the West Bank. One of the latter is Aida Camp in Bethlehem.
It is said to be the most tear gassed community in the world.
The Key Symbol
The key is symbolic. Many Palestinians keep the key to the home that they were thrown out of, even though it’s unlikely to have the same door or lock if it’s still there at all.
We didn’t stay as long as intended, because it was the second Friday of the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, and there were protests elsewhere as well. People were reported to be burning tyres, and given the likely use of tear gas it was best not to stick around, but we got a bit of a tour.
The camp is right next to part of the Separation Wall.
This is the camp cinema (a white-painted bit of wall).
Palestinians can’t go down this street, but we were allowed to, as are the occasionally muscular settler jogging up and down.
This was once a busy market.
The remaining sections of the market are walled off from the rest of what used to be busy market streets, and are now referred to as the Ghost Town.
Some Palestinians still live in the Ghost Town, although there are many streets where Palestinians are not allowed to walk, and many more where they are not allowed to drive. To get to the Ghost Town, you have to go through one of the checkpoints, like this one.
At this checkpoint to get from the remains of the existing market into the ghost town, we are asked if anyone was Muslim.
Even once through, soldiers again asked whether anyone was Muslim in case they tried to turn left towards the synagogue, which is part of the same building as the Mosque.
No Palestinians of any religion are allowed to stray far beyond the checkpoint and into the ghost town. I was not at all comfortable going into segregated areas where our guides could not go.
There are a couple of shopkeepers who have refused to move. One of them is “crazy Abed” who refused a large sum to move out. The far-right politician Baruch Marzel and some settlers used a video of themselves attacking these shops as part of an election campaign.
He is on the far right, even for Israel, but I can’t imagine even the BNP thinking that a video of beating up shopkeepers would be effective in an election campaign.
It was right to come to Hebron late on. In most of the West Bank, the settlements are out of town, surrounding the towns. As the “resting place” of Abraham, Hebron is of particular significance to the most extreme of the religious settlers.
There is a settlement in the heart of town, with about 500 settlers guarded by about 2000 soldiers. The settlers themselves wander around in everyday clothes carrying large automatic weapons. It feels completely deranged.
Any other city, even in Palestine, with such a history and so many ancient sights would be bustling with tourists and market traders. Hebron is dead, with several streets blocked off and shut down to create a kind of protective barrier. The market traders were thrown out and are desperate.
Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre
I took this image from where Baruch Goldstein was standing when he opened fire on a Mosque full of people in 1994 during Ramadan, killing 29 and wounding 125. The protests that took place afterwards led to the current situation in Hebron.
Outside of the sealed-off area, some of the market remains, but we were constantly accosted by desperate people trying to sell us trinkets but effectively begging (like the very determined chap in maroon in the picture after next). Having been thrown of the nearby streets, they had nothing.
The settlers have no proper living either, but are funded by rich Australians and Americans.
The remaining section of the market has to be protected by a mesh, because Israeli settlers were throwing their rubbish down. Now they are more likely to throw liquids, including alcohol, which is particularly offensive.
I spent a day out of cycling/trekking to visit some projects with Tom. This involved being in a taxi, from where this image of a settlement behind the wall was taken
Palestinian taxis cannot travel everywhere. To cross into Jerusalem, they have to have Israeli plates, but that’s not always enough.
The road that can be seen in the next image is of a road that only vehicles with Israeli plates can use. Our driver told us that, even though he has Israeli plates, he was stopped on this road because he was a Palestinian who wasn’t carrying an Israeli passenger.
The separation wall in has become something of a tourist attraction in Bethlehem, and you can find any number of images of it on the Web, so I won’t fill this story with mine.
The majority of the land area of the West bank (outside of the main towns) is known as Area C. In Area C the Palestinian Authority is not allowed provide services, and Palestinians are not allowed to build. Israeli settlements continue to be built though.
This means that there are no family health services for the Bedouin communities, who were displaced from the Negev Desert, which is now part of Israel.
MAP's mobile clinic provides maternity and postnatal care, vaccinations, care for diabetes and ongoing conditions, support for disabilities and much more.
We saw mainly women and children (and goats), because the men mainly work in construction, and have to queue at checkpoints from the early hours of the morning in the hope of getting work every day.
The Bedouin communities also get some income from dairy products (blessed are the cheesemakers).
Israeli settlements are usually on the hills, and the separation wall is a major feature of the landscape.
The Bedouin communities are not allowed electricity, or to build, and are constantly under threat of demolition. They use donated solar panels, which are often smashed by settlers.
In the meantime, services, including electricity, are provided to the settlements nearby.
In the next image you can see some of the “buildings” of the demolition-threatened village of Khan Al Ahmar, and on the hill the Israeli settlement, and some river valleys.
Sometimes water flows down these valleys and, of course, children go and play in it. This is when the settlers put their sewage into the water, and the mobile clinic staff report a high number of cases of bacterial infections.
An example of the daily humiliation and obstruction faced by Palestinians was this road that we were meant to go down. It had been dug up by Israeli settlers a in the last couple of days.
We were able to get our bikes past it, but our support vans had to take a long route.
Soldiers came along and demanded to know whether anyone in the group was Jewish, on the grounds that people in the village would somehow know this and throw stones.
I still have no idea whether anyone in our party was Jewish. No Palestinian ever asked what religion anyone was.
What small interaction we had with Israeli authorities nearly always focused on what religion people were (and segregation and who wasn’t allowed to walk where).
Settlers As Neighbours
I apologise for including a picture of Milo Yiannopoulos, but I saw this man on a Sunday morning chat show, saying that the reason why people object to Israeli settlements is that they don’t want to live next to Jews.
Well, if you had neighbours who diverted your water supply to their house and tried to sell it back to you, and who shot holes in the water tanks that you had set up to make up for the lack of water, you probably wouldn’t be too bothered about whether they were Jewish.
Remember what I said above, about the red warning signs and who is really in danger when settlers go into Palestinian villages?
It was explained to us that there are “economic settlers”, who maybe can’t afford the cost of living in somewhere like Tel Aviv and are offered cheap deals and services if they move to a settlement in the West Bank, and then there are the “religious settlers” who are fanatical about their right to the land and much more dangerous.
This was the house in Duma randomly selected by six or seven Israeli settlers 2015. They burned a whole family alive.
First they firebombed it and then, when people, already burned, tried to escape, they poured petrol on them.
They are still living, unpunished, in a nearby illegal settlement. This is because, while Palestinian children can be held without charge under military law if they are suspected of something like throwing stones, there is a very different burden of proof when it comes to Israeli settlers.
Soon after our visit in 2018, another house in the same village was firebombed by settlers, but fortunately no one was killed.