Recap on the Big Ride for Palestine

Another world is possible…

While the Tour de France was coming to a close on the Avenue des ChampsÉlysées in Paris, 92 bike riders and 15 teams were completing over 8000 km in Australia. That is roughly the distance from Paris across Europe and Asia to Seoul in Korea. Not a single media organisation in Australia covered the big ride for Palestine. Why?

The Big Ride has raised over $35,000 for the Bourj el Barajneh camp in Beirut where refugees lack food, basic health services and the right to work. While the Tour de France peloton were sipping champagne in Paris before the eyes of the world, refugees in the camp are struggling to survive.

The Big Ride picnic 2020

The Big Ride began in the United Kingdom with a ride from Edinburgh to London. One of the riders, Manal, then brought the ride to Australia. In 2017 the Big Ride went from Brisbane to Byron Bay. It continued during the following years tracing a similar route and involved about 50 riders from various communities. This involved navigating our way through five different local authorities and three different police departments. Insuring the ride was always a big cost and so too was accomodation for the riders who took two days to complete a ride of about 180 kilometres.

The question in 2020 was: could we conduct the ride and still be Covid safe? Our plan was to leave the course of the ride up to individuals and teams and asked them to register on a website and seek their own sponsors. This would mean we did not have to charge riders to participate because we did not bear the cost of insurance, accomodation and jerseys. The Big Ride needed a partner APHEDA to reach out to union members and activists on a national level because previously we had only organised the ride in South East Qld and northern NSW.

In 1983 APHEDA or Union Aid Abroad was set up initially by Cliff Dolan, General Secretary of the ACTU, on the advice of two nurses Helen McHugh and Olfat Mahmoud after the massacre of refugees in Shabra and Shatilla camps in Beirut. Olfat grew up in a nearby camp Bourj el Barajneh . Her family had been exiled from Tarshiha, a village in northern Palestine in 1948.

In recent years APHEDA had been hampered by false allegations from the Australian government that it was supporting terrorists. Its funding was suspended while it defended these charges. APHEDA was keen to help the Big Ride organise an event from 5th – 20th September and provided a fundraising platform for the ride.

In August the Bourj el Barajneh camp was hit by a blast from a huge explosion of ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut. People in the surrounding suburbs were killed and injured. Lebanon was already crippled by corruption and economic collapse. People went on the streets to clean up the mess and to protest against the government. Olfat Mahmoud reflected on the situation:

As a refugee, I started to think that now, many people will be displaced because their houses were destroyed. They will be refugees in their own country. I remembered how losing your house means losing your dignity. I remembered how hard it is to lose not only your house, but also the memories which were made in each and every corner of your home. ” –

The President of France, Macron, visited the capital and promised the Lebanese people aid. None was forthcoming for the Palestinians save for small and inadequate aid from UNWRA – the United Nations organization charged with responsibility for Palestinians in Lebanon and the occupied territories. APHEDA and the Big Ride proposed to give aid to the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation that works in the Bourj el Barajneh providing educational and health services attempt to draw women out of the cycle of poverty in which they live.

Retired unionists supporting the Big Ride 2020 at the TLC building in Brisbane

The Big Ride is organised to raise awareness in Australia of the struggle of the Palestinian people against the unjust military occupation of the country by Israel. We organised a low key launch of the event by a walk from the Trades and Labour Council in South Brisbane. At the end of the two week event we organised an end-of-ride picnic in Orleigh Park at Hill End in Brisbane.

The ‘Araucarians’ in front of the Araucaria tree in the Fassifern

Both the CFMEU and the Plumbers Unions have given generously to the Big Ride again this year. Several teams participated. For example in Melbourne a Services Union team rode over 1,590 kms and raised $3,200. Our team, Al Quds, completed over 1,500 kms and raised over $2,000.

For the first time walkers participated in the Big Ride. For example, The Araucarians completed two long walks, one in Cleveland (13kms) and another near Roadvale in the Fassifern (6.4kms). The total kms walked by adding all the participants was 74 kms.

We hope that the money raised will help the Palestinian refugees suffering in the camp and that one day they will be able to return home to their towns and villages.

Ian Curr
24 September 2020

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