What I learned when I cycled through Palestine

Rosina Credit Rugfoot PhotographyJust as tensions began to rise in Israel and the West Bank, I undertook a cycle and study tour of Palestine organised by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). We covered around 200km in five days in 40oC heat – at the time if it felt like the cycling version of the Sahara’s ‘marathon des sables’. I’ve read a lot about the situation in Palestine over the years but nothing could really prepare me for what I saw and experienced in that single week.

Over five days, the sponsored ride took us from Nablus in the North to the enclave town of Qalquilya then on to Ramallah. We then swept down into the Jordan Valley to Jericho and the Dead Sea, 300m below sea level to then climb the next day up to Hebron and back on the final day through Bethlehem to Jerusalem. We were never far from the tensions with Ramallah city going into ‘lock down’ with roads closed not long after we left and one of our group getting trapped in the Al-Aqsa mosque as violence grew in Jerusalem.

What we saw was the suffocating pressure faced by Palestinians in every part of their existence and the resolve needed just to do the day-to-day things we take for granted. The general sense of unease was apparent walking around Jerusalem where there was a heavy military presence and the Jewish civilian settlers were openly carrying hand guns in the street.

Rosina on MAP cycle through PalestineIn Hebron, we saw businesses driven out from the old town and local Palestinians being offered vast sums of money to leave their homes to make way for settlers. We saw shocking images of 18 year old student Hadeek al-Hashlamon who was shot at a checkpoint a few weeks ago for allegedly carrying a knife. Locals say that she was shot ten times over in the course of a minute and a half. I doubt the security CCTV footage will ever be released.

In Ramallah we saw water tanks on top of Palestinian homes (the settlers don’t have them) as the Israeli authorities can choose at any moment to switch off the water supply for up to two weeks at a time. An unthinkable situation in this heat, particularly for all the families with young children who would welcome us when we rode into each town.

In Jerusalem we heard stories of charities being taxed at 50% to make it difficult for them to help the Palestinian community and local businesses paying exorbitant taxes that threatened their very survival. ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition) reports that 450 homes have been demolished so far this year and 48,000 since 1967. No permits are ever granted for Palestinians to build new homes and even requests for extensions get lost in the highly bureaucratic planning system and never re-emerge. Olive groves are also being burned in an attempt to undermine a key income for Palestinians. It’s all happening now not in the past.

Western governments need to do more to make Israel live up to its international obligations and end illegal settlement building. Israel has succeeded in a land grab of 20% of the Palestinian territories since the Oslo Accords were agreed in 1993. Both sides need to come to the table otherwise the much supported two state solution may soon be out of reach, if it isn’t already. There will be no end to violence as long as the status quo remains.

Help support MAP’s work in Gaza and the West Bank here.

* Rosina Robson is Vice Chair of Richmond Liberal Democrats

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3 Comments

  • Well done, Rosina.

    Good to hear the other side of what is often a one sided stance in the Lib Dems.

  • The Hero’s Road of Dushanzi-Kuche next year?

  • Carol Sargent 6th Jan '16 - 4:33pm

    I was also in Palestine in October, travelling around from Bethlehem to Jenin via Jericho and congratulate Rosina on her succinct summary on the difficulties and injustices that Palestinians face. I wish our politicians would make more efforts to find out about the reality of life in the Occupied Territories and work harder to find a solution.

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