My plan is to post this piece on Thursday 11th May. I’m lucky enough to be going for a bike ride on that day with a friend who’s recently returned to London after a few months overseas. Cycling is one of the things we like doing together. We plan a route, briefly disagree about what time to get started in the morning and whether or not to take a picnic; then the day dawns and we saddle up and start pedalling. It always feels so good to be out of London, on two wheels, with a long day stretching ahead of countryside and open skies, and the happy anticipation of pauses for snacking, lunch and taking photos of appealing road signs.
The last ride we did took us to the sea on the marshy Essex coastline. It was a hot day with a blue sky brushed with wispy white clouds. We rode through old villages, past a Norman church and down a sandy path through marshland until we were alongside the water. The breeze ruffled my hair and I felt bright, alive, free.
World Keffiyeh Day
By chance, our first ride since then falls on World Keffiyeh Day. Traditionally worn by Palestinian farmers, the keffiyeh is the black and white shawl or scarf associated with Yasser Arafat and has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance and of international solidarity with Palestine’s status as a country under military occupation since 1967.
World Keffiyeh Day is a movement begun by Canadian students. People across the world are called on to wear their keffiyeh on 11th May to show support for the Palestinian cause. The date was chosen as it falls just a few days before Nakba Day or al-Nakbah – Arabic for catastrophe – on 15th May. This is the day in 1948 when the British Mandate in the region officially ended and Israel declared independence. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in the months before and after this date, many having no right to return and living as refugees ever since.
The West Bank and curtailed movement
For Palestinians still living in Palestine, the situation is little better. The West Bank is cut off from Gaza and Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to expand with the very real and devastating effect of squeezing space and cutting people off from their land, as well as from friends and family who often can only be visited by crossing Israeli checkpoints, if permitted, or taking a roundabout route of several hours.
Getting to the sea
For the large majority of those living in the West Bank, going to the sea is not an option either. A permit has to be issued by the Israeli authorities and is hard to come by. For many Palestinians, the Mediterranean is only around 30 miles away but for them, travelling across land parched of water to take a refreshing dip in the ocean has become a pipe dream. The idea of driving, hiking or cycling to sea remains just that – an idea.
Cycling in solidarity
I don’t yet know if I’ll cycle to the sea on 11th May. We’re still pondering our route. But the fact that I can get on my bike and go anywhere, whenever I want, at any time, feeling the wind in my hair as I smell the scents and see the sights of places old and new – this is something I try not to take for granted, and especially on this next ride, falling as it does on World Keffiyeh Day.
Walking to fundraise
In commemoration of the 15th May 1948 there are a few events going on over the next few days to raise funds for the Palestinian cause. One of them is a sponsored walk in London in aid of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) which “works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees”. A friend of mine is walking from the Thames Barrier towards central London to raise money for MAP on Saturday.