Chesterfield welcomes cyclists on national tour for Palestine

Charity cyclists thanked Chesterfielders for their warm welcome today as they passed through the town centre on their national tour.

A team of around 100 people has joined ‘The Big Ride’ from Edinburgh to London to raise awareness for the plight of people in Palestine and collect donations to important children’s projects in the Israeli-occupied territories.

They made a pit stop open their mammoth journey and were welcomed with cakes and tea at Chesterfield’s New Square.

Carrying Palestinian flags and signs reading ‘end the siege’, they said like all the places they visit, the response from local people has been warm and supportive.

Ken Mulkearn, 46, a business journalist from London, said the response at previous stops in Bradford and Sheffield was particularly good.

He added: “People have been putting us up, people have been cooking us food and beeping their horns to support us.”

But while the interest shown by local newspapers had been substantial, Ken regretted the lack of coverage in national media: “We stopped at the BBC in Newcastle, but no one would come out to speak to us and they didn’t say why. Clearly the order had come down from above, and they just weren’t interested.”

The journey is one of the largest mass participation cycling events of its kind in Britain. Hundreds have taken part in various stages of the ride whilst a core group is set to complete the entire 435 miles.

Manzur Sadaq, 53 from Birmingham has ridden with the team since they stopped in Bradford, and has worked in Palestine with humanitarian aid providers for the past 15 years.

He said: “Palestine has been under occupation for a long period of time, they need our help and our job is to raise awareness and get people to notice what’s going on.

“Every time the Israeli’s attack Palestine innocent children get murdered and it comes into the limelight. It’s similar to South Africa and how black people were treated - there is an apartheid of the Palestinian people.”

Retired IT manager Mike Whitehead, 66, has cycled with the team from Dundee, and completed 360 miles so far.

He said: “I’m cycling for Nablus - Dundee has been twinned with Nablus for 35 years and it was the first City in Europe to twin with a Palestinian city and we’re very proud of the link, so I’m cycling to show support for the people of Nablus.

Participants came from all across the country - a few from farther afield - to take part in the ride. Whilst some are regular activists and have visited Palestine before, many are simply keen cyclists who wanted to help a good cause.

Speakers in Market Square referred to Chesterfield’s history of involvement in the support of Palestine, and representatives from Chesterfield Palestine Solidarity Group and Chesterfield Pro-Peace were present to show their support for the bike-ride.

Jennie Robinson, 67 from Brampton has led the group to provide a welcome in Chesterfield.

She added: “We’ve also been fundraising for a number of children’s projects in Gaza which they’re are riding for, providing books, play equipment and a safe place for them to play.

“We also help with trauma care for hundreds of children – most children in Gaza are traumatised by these horrendous attacks.”

The cyclists were full of praise for the British public, who they say have shown great support and interest, but stress that more must be done to spread awareness of the bombardment of Gaza.

John Budis, 54 from Glasgow said: “Some people are truly in the dark on this issue, or else they think the conflict is equal. When you get talking to them about the facts though - 85 Palestinians dead within the first three days of last summer’s bombardment compared to zero Israeli deaths - they generally are very shocked.”

John, who teaches further education for a living and has a 15 year old daughter, spoke of the encouragement he feels by the interest young people are showing.

He added: “The new generation is very aware. Social media plays a big role – my daughter has been tweeting about us and getting all her friends involved, it’s great.”

The public’s support for the cyclists has not always been universal however, and one man on Vicar Lane was heard shouting ‘you should be ashamed of yourselves’. Participants believe though that the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive.

The cyclists expect to reach London in another four days and have so far raised £48,000 out of their £50,000 target.

For more information go to redspokes.co.uk/thebigride.