Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cycling away from the political reality

By Marc Henry - November 19, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [sport]

While the bicycle, for centuries, has been a common means of transport in most of the world, it is still relatively new for many Palestinians. 

On November 6, the Danish House in Palestine (DHIP) held one of their many couch talks, inviting cyclists Muhammad Zarour and Mohanad Salous to share their experiences and bring the topic of cycling in Palestine to an open debate.
Moreover, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to cycling in Palestine according to Sahar Soufan, Program Officer at DHIP.
“Cycling in Palestine is not very common, and it faces several challenges, starting with the social perspective of the community towards cyclists and bikers, ending with the political restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation in the freedom of movement of Palestinians,” Soufan told Palestine Monitor.
Cycling by coincidence
Two of the Palestinians that defy the restrictions imposed by the occupation are Muhammad Zarour and Mohanad Salous.
“They travel around the country to raise awareness about the importance of cycling for the health, environment and most importantly to the feeling of freedom of the Palestinian youth,” Soufan explained.
For Mohammad Zarour, cycling became a part of his life by coincidence. It was his friends who encouraged him to break the daily routine and tame the iron horse instead of spending the day smoking shisha [waterpipe] and playing cards.
“We got the bikes and were riding late at night, so we didn’t get seen by other people. It was one of the social challenges,” Zarour said.
“Then we started to use the bike to go to work, and through social media, we met people who taught us a lot about cycling.”
Today both Mohammad Zarour and Muhanad Salous are some of the more experienced Palestinian bikers hoping to learn other about the benefits of the two-wheeled. However, it has not always been easy to be a bike-rider.
“We got into all kinds of trouble because of the lack of knowledge. We got lost many times and have been in danger at checkpoints. Even my parents are against it,” Zarour said.
“They always say I need to grow up and that my friends at my age are married and have families and I should do the same.”
More safety needed
Mohanad Salous felt how unsafe cycling could be when he, as one of the few at the time, took his bike for a ride around Palestine.
“Some would bother you and throw stones at you,” he said, though emphasised that it was much worse for women.
“Especially the girls would get harassment from men in their cars, but it is not like that anymore. Now a day people have changed, and it is more common to be on a cycle.”
While cycling has become more common, it is still somewhat new for many. As so, both Salous and Zarour call for more attention to the safety of the two-wheeled riders.
Salous is hoping that the authorities will do more for the safety of cyclists, but so far not much has been done.
“They do nothing at all... We had a meeting with the Ramallah Municipality and suggested them to have a pilot area for cycling, just like you see in European cities. Nothing happened,” he told Palestine Monitor.
“At least they could do something to increase attention to the cyclists [on the road].”
While Muhammad Zaour agrees with his fellow biker, he also calls for the bikers to pay more attention to their surroundings.
“I believe that people themselves are responsible for their safety, not anyone else. The drivers here are in general careful because there are no strict rules in the streets,” he said.
“The drivers, I think, are given more attention to the bikers than in many other places.”
More bikes on the road
The couch talk at the Danish House was a success with a lively debate on the topic. The discussion hopefully will encourage more Palestinians to join Muhammad Zarour and Muhanad Salous on the roads.
“It was important to see how people are very passionate to learn more about cycling and how they can do it in Palestine, regardless of the social and political challenges,” DHIP Program Officer Sahar Soufan said.
Mohammad Zarour and Muhanad Salous are two of the Palestinian bikers hoping to get more people out in the streets and onto the iron horse. Photo: DHIP.
The two bikers are hoping more attention will bring more Palestinians to join them on their two-wheeled adventures. According to Muhammed Zarour cycling is good for many things; the environment, body health and mental health as well as reducing costs.
However, there is also a political statement in riding the bike.  
“Here in Palestine, it is also about proving your existence. The bike allows us to be in different places and makes it harder for the others [Israel] to take over,” he said.
“When we go into the mountains in the weekends, we see hundreds of Israeli settlers. It is a way of proving your existence and a way of resistance.”
“Cycling is about trying to get away from the political reality and do your own hobbies and pleasures,” Mohammad Zarour said. Photo: DHIP.

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