The Big Ride for Palestine came to Britain's capital city on Saturday to fly the flag and raise awareness across London of the Israeli occupation. Almost 150 cyclists braved a downpour to gather in North Kensington before setting off on a meandering 36-mile route which took in Cricklewood, Kilburn, Regent's Park — where another 50 or so joined the ride — Camden, Finsbury Park, Walthamstow and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park before ending at St John on Bethnal Green Church, where an enthusiastic reception greeted the riders.
Speakers at the church included the Reverend Prebendary Alan Green who welcomed everyone to St John's which, he explained, is there to help challenge the status quo and fight for justice for the oppressed and downtrodden people of the world. Comedian, broadcaster and journalist Mark Thomas told the riders and supporters that their solidarity is inspiring and he applauded the Big Ride for its efforts to bring the issue of Palestine into the public domain in such an innovative way.
According to the Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Professor Kamel Hawwash, politicians in the West overlook Israel's daily breaches of international law in its treatment of the people of Palestine. "Why? That's what we need to ask them," he insisted.
Other speakers actually took part in the ride. "Flying the Palestinian flag on our bikes and shirts is one way to bring the huge injustice going on before our eyes to the notice of the British public," explained one. For volunteer Ovais Mughal, riding for Palestine is a great way to attract donations to help charities doing work in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. "I have seen for myself the work that these charities do," he told the audience at St John's, "and the desperate need of the Palestinian refugees. Our support in whatever way we can give it is essential."
This, key organiser Owen Cooper told MEMO, is one of the key factors behind the establishment of the Big Ride in 2015 by pro-Palestine activists in Britain and Ireland. More than £65,000 was raised by a ride from Edinburgh to London for projects to help Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip on the first anniversary of the 2014 Israeli offensive against the enclave.
"The Big Ride is an act of solidarity that sends a message to Palestinians that they have not been forgotten," he explained. "It also shows that there are people all around the world — Muslims, Jews, Christians, people of other faiths or no faith — who are prepared to stand up for Palestine and Palestinian human rights. We ride to raise awareness and to raise funds for sports projects for children in Gaza."
Cooper is proud that Big Ride for Palestine has raised almost £150,000 in four years for the Middle East Children's Alliance, which runs projects in occupied Palestine. "The situation in Gaza is very serious, and our supporters, we believe, represent the great majority of human beings who are appalled by this unnecessary man-made crisis. Riding and raising funds is a practical way to help." Big Ride enthusiasts who now live abroad, he added, have established similar protest rides as far afield as Australia.
The now annual event in Britain has included rides to and from Liverpool, Bradford, Sheffield, Coventry and Westminster, as well as Birmingham where, in 2016, the riders blockaded the UAV factory in protest at the company selling drones to Israel. A second Big Ride for Palestine is due to take place in and around Manchester on Saturday, 3 August. The starting point will be outside the Central Library in the city centre. Anyone interested in taking part can register here or you can donate here.