A Chinese philosopher once said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a walk to Lewisham Station. This is very true.
The majority of people flew ridiculously early from Heathrow. Fortunately for me, I was flying from Luton at around midday, and could leave home at a more civilised hour. Unfortunately for me, I was carrying one of two bags of tyres with me that the group was taking with us, because they are difficult to get hold of in Palestine. It was a shoulder bag from which the strap had gone missing, so I rigged up something with a bit of cord.
This is Lewisham Station again.
A few people took their own bikes, but most of us hired hybrids from the tour company that MAP was working with in Palestine. I choose not to take my own classic bike with me.
Those who chose to take their own bikes had to take them apart and package them in something like this.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport
When the two of us who flew from Luton arrived, the others had been there for four hours already. Several of them had been or were still being questioned.
I was asked a couple of questions and allowed straight through, but others were questioned for hours. In this picture you can see me, a member of MAP staff crouching in front of me, one of our Palestinian guides in red, and then all the people who had been held back for questioning.
I couldn’t possibly say if there had been any profiling.
Anyway, the white people had already left for Jenin four hours earlier, but it turned out that a checkpoint had been closed without warning, leaving them to take a long alternative route, and in the end we met up with them on the way and all arrived at our hotel in Jenin the same time (very late).
Sendoff from Lewisham
I mentioned that seven of us were from south east London. Sadly, one suffered a Ladywell Fields-related injury and had to defer till next ride.
Our flights to Tel Aviv were very early on the morning of Saturday 31 March 2018, so we had to slightly fake our sendoff on Good Friday at Lewisham Station.
Dr Swee Ang, eyewitness to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and one of the founders of MAP, came along, and helped to persuade the station manager to let us take our photograph with banners of supporting organisations. She can be seen in the picture.
This was also the first day of the Great March of Return and shooting of unarmed protesters within the perimeter of Gaza, which has been continuing every Friday since.
Michael Coulston has very kindly agreed to do a number of guest blog posts about his 240 km cycle through the West Bank in 2018 to help raise money for MAP (Medical Aid for Palestine). Chapter 2
Shaking the Bucket
Here’s a couple of the West Midlands contingent fundraising for their trip in a local supermarket.
Other riders took it on themselves to accost any passing Celebrity (it wasn’t me, but it was someone from south London).
I took a slightly more political approach. Here I am meeting my MP, Vicky Foxcroft, who had previously been to Palestine herself with Unite the Union. She was able to tell me what I should be prepared for.
I am not a religious person, but always wanting to make connections in support of Palestine. I asked if I could come down to Lewisham Mosque to get a photo with the Imam, but he suggested that I said some words and had a bucket collection.
So I had to come up with something off the cuff. I also hadn’t chosen my socks very carefully.
At the end, the bucket collection raised over £400.
Michael Coulston has very kindly agreed to do a number of guest blog posts about his 240 km cycle through the West Bank in 2018 to help raise money for M.A.P (Medical Aid for Palestine). Chapter 1
CHAPTER 1 PHYSICAL CHALLENGE
Why Take Part
In 2018, I signed up to take part in a fundraising cycle ride through the West Bank. It was organised by and raising money for Medical Aid for Palestinians www.map.org.uk. There were thirty places on the ride.
I have supported the Palestinian struggle against occupation for a long time, but I had never been there before 2018. I had some misgivings, because I had always said that I didn’t want to go as a tourist. A fundraising cycle ride seemed a little close to tourism in my mind, but I convinced myself to take part on two grounds.
Firstly, there was an element of physical challenge, which has a certain kind of appeal.
Secondly, in doing my fundraising, both before and after the event, it would be an opportunity to talk about Palestine as much as possible and meet people and groups that I might not normally have had the chance to talk to.
The Physical Challenge
There were two main challenges that we were warned about. One was the heat, but there wasn’t much preparation I could do for that in the English winter. The other was that the West Bank is very hilly. Not being as light as I once was, I knew that hills would definitely be a challenge.
But hills I could prepare for. In Lewisham, we’ve got Vicars Hill. If I could crack Vicars Hill, surely there could be nothing any tougher than that in the West Bank?
One day, being too bored or lazy to cycle any distance, I just cycled repeatedly over Vicars Hill for a couple of hours.
Also, it turned out that seven of the riders were from south east London, so we met up a few times and went for training rides that always seemed to end at Vicars Hill.
I should mention that there is cake at the top of that hill, which provides a lot of motivation for getting up there. It’s in the very good and supportive (of Palestine) café in Hilly Fields.
Hills Further Afield
I ventured into the borough of Bromley, where you can find a 1 : 4 hill in Cudham.
I really had cycled up that, although it could only be done by zigzagging from side to side to make it more of a shallow climb.
The day I went to Cudham, I was tought a lesson about supporting corporations like Sports Direct. I got a puncture, and this was what happened to the spare tube I had purchased from Sports Direct a few days earlier.
On another training ride, I had two punctures in one day. Someone kindly photographed me fixing one of them.