Around 250 cyclists went to London yesterday as the Big Ride for Palestine completed the final stage of the journey from Bristol to the capital raising awareness of the Palestinian cause and funds for children in the Gaza Strip. Crowds welcomed the riders along the way in Swindon, Oxford and Luton, with receptions featuring local mayors, councillors and trade union officials.
The route took in cycle paths, minor roads and towns and villages through areas not known for solidarity with the people of Palestine. Nevertheless, many onlookers were happy to take explanatory leaflets and engage with the riders, even those caught up in traffic as a result of the ride. Some sceptics were won over. One said that he was pleased to hear that the purpose is to "raise awareness and start a conversation". Although some hostility was also witnessed, this did not deter the riders, many of whom were veterans of previous Big Rides, which started in 2015 with a marathon from Edinburgh to London.
With the 2021 Big Ride spread over four days, the team included support vans and volunteers who welcomed riders at lunch and tea breaks with food and drinks in pub car parks and village cricket and sports clubs. Evening meals were hosted by local community groups.
Welcoming the riders and Big Ride support team to Oxford, city councillor Jabu Nala-Hartley reminded a large crowd in the city centre about Nelson Mandela's insistence that, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."
In London, Palestinian Ambassador Dr Husam Zomlot greeted the riders by pointing out that the Big Ride follows "a long and proud history of solidarity" with the people of Palestine. "Your dedication is exemplary… inspiring and empowering. Our defiant people thank and salute you." He told the riders and supporters in Tower Hamlets that he "prays for the day when a Big Ride for Palestine is held in Palestine."
The Big Ride for 🇵🇸 follows a long and proud history of solidarity with the people of Palestine. Your dedication is exemplary and your solidarity unwavering. It's most inspiring and empowering. Our defiant people thank and salute you 🇵🇸✊🏽🙏🏽 #TheBigRide https://t.co/oRPo9mZqNz
— Husam Zomlot (@hzomlot) August 1, 2021
Writer, actor and comedian Alexei Sayle also spoke at the welcome rally in London. He told MEMO that the Palestinian cause is "one of the great moral questions" of our age.
You can't pick and choose your causes. [Former Tory leader] Iain Duncan Smith was going on about human rights in China. Any claim of moral superiority in the West is undermined by support for Israel. I look forward to seeing him on the next pro-Palestine demonstration.
Decent human beings, he added, have to support the Palestinians.
Other speakers at the rally included the chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Professor Kamel Hawwash. "From here in Tower Hamlets, to the people of Sheikh Jarrah, of Silwan, of every spot in Palestine, we are with you until freedom and liberation," he said.
The Big Ride for Palestine combines a love of cycling with support for the Palestinian people. Since 2015 the Ride has raised more than £220,000 ($306,000) for the Middle East Children's Alliance to provide play and sports facilities for Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. That total is expected to rise above £300,000 ($417,000) following this year's ride. The donation portal is still open here.