My bicycle is my peaceful weapon: cycling to Palestine

In September 2017, BBP volunteer Susannah O’Sullivan set off to cycle 6000km from Bristol to Palestine, where she ended up living for 6 months working as a solidarity activist supporting resistance against the occupation. There Susannah witnessed more injustice and violence than she could have imagined, but she also fell in love with Palestine. Along the way Susannah passed through 15 countries, wild camping along the way and sleeping by rivers, on empty beaches, in farm outhouses and once in a cave. Last month, Susannah hosted a talk at the Project where she told her story of resisting the occupation in Palestine. Here, she writes for us on her bike travels and how volunteering at BBP helped her to prepare.

Early last year I decided to cycle to Palestine. I wanted to cross continents and plunge myself into difficult situations. I wanted to push myself to the limit and see how far I could go. Eager for adventure, I set about preparing. I started volunteering at The Bristol Bike Project fixing old bikes for their Earn-A-Bike scheme, that teaches maintenance skills to refugees who then receive their own bicycle. I was already working with refugees in Bristol, and this gave me an opportunity to work on my mechanical skills and help in the community at the same time. I learned how to strip old bikes and rebuild them, which I then put to use building my own bike for my trip. I ended up wobbling down my lane in Bristol in September 2017, weighed down with all my gear for a cold autumn ahead.

In the early days of the trip I struggled cycling with that much weight, and questioned what I was doing, but by the time I was in Switzerland I was stronger and enjoying the peace and solitude of quiet roads and deserted forests. Mostly I camped in the wild but sometimes it wasn’t possible and I asked farmers to camp on their land. In Croatia a farmer let me pitch my tent in her outhouse and phoned her English-speaking daughter in Canada to ask if I wanted milk and sugar in my coffee. A farmer in Bavaria put me in their spare room and fed me breakfast with fresh bread rolls from the bakery he also worked in. A Greek farmer let me pitch by his chickens, then went out to buy me a chip and tzatziki sandwich and chocolate.

I revelled in these moments of warmth and human kindness as much as I did the moments of calm I felt when I was alone in nature. I felt that my bicycle broke down people’s natural defences about strangers and made people open and curious about my trip. I learned to ignore the fears of doubters, and trust in the kindness of strangers, on which every long distance cyclist must sometimes rely. This was probably the best possible preparation for my time in Palestine, which pushed me to a different kind of limit.


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