Setting off to Cycle ’48

“I wish I could come with you”
“It is our dream to do something like this”

We’ve arrived at Aida Refugee Camp and Salah and Mousa of the Lajee Centre discuss the trip we are about to embark on. Mousa tells us of his family’s village – Beit Jibrin – which he has never been able to visit, while a young boy from the camp, with an imploring grin, begs us to watch his pedaling prowess as he cycles up and down in front of the centre.

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Salah, Mousa and others at the Lajee Centre, which works to provide refugee youth with cultural, educational, social and developmental opportunities and focuses particularly on projects linked to the “Right of Return“, have been wonderful. Not only helping us coordinate our send off, but sorting us out with the bikes which will take us on our journey. Three bicycles which can only pass through the checkpoint which lies less than a kilometre away because we, with a wave of our British passports, can take them through.

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Murals of the villages which hold the roots and dreams of the residents of Aida line the way into the camp, and a huge model of a key greets all who enter. From beneath this key – the symbol of the strength of these roots, the memories passed down the generations, the steadfast belief in return – we begin our journey. To visit the places where the old keys treasured by displaced families belong. Places stripped of their inhabitants and which remain inaccessible to these people and their descendents.

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After an interview with the Palestine News Network, wishes of good luck and less than encouraging comments about the weather forecast for the week to come, we were on our way.

Less than five minutes later we were drinking Arabic coffee outside a hardware store. Coffee…the Palestinian Roadblock! (quite – Mark Thomas)

Only 5kms on, we were whizzing our way into Jerusalem, covering the short distance between the concrete barrier which separates those with whom we’d just shared coffee and the people milling through this city’s streets. Wind on our faces, legs singing with the joy of being back on a bike, we felt elated. A lightness which jarred with the weight of our privilege and the freedom we are granted.

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