Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Women ride for peace in Mideast; Turks in group finish Bacca’s mission

Hundreds of women riders from over 40 different countries bicycled from Lebanon to Palestine between May 2 and 15 to promote the Middle East peace process, and among them featured 20 Turks seeking to attract attention to this troubled region of the world once again.

The Turkish group’s goal was also partly to finish the mission of Pippa Bacca, a young Italian female artist who was raped and killed in western Turkey while hitchhiking her way to Tel Aviv in a wedding dress in support of world peace. In memory of Bacca, one of the cyclists in the Turkish group wore a wedding gown at the airport before leaving for Beirut.

This year’s Pedal for Peace in the Middle East -- organized by the international Follow the Women (FTW) organization, comprised of 500 women from 40 countries who support peace in the Middle East -- began on May 2 in Beirut with a formal opening ceremony at the UNESCO Palace. The women first rode to the Sabra and Shatilla Refugee Camps before riding from Mount Lebanon to Saidon (Saida) and on to Tyre (Sour). They then crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border and rode to Damascus and Qunaitra before riding through the Golan Heights.

The women then journeyed to Jordan and took part in a peace advocacy cycle ride in Amman and met Jordanian women and Iraqi and Palestinian refugees at the city’s Cultural Palace, in addition to visiting many other places on the way. After riding for days, those who were still able to ride arrived in the West Bank from Jordan via the King Hussein Bridge.

Many of the riders came from Europe and the Middle East, but there were teams from the US, Canada, South Africa, Japan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan as well.

Last Sunday, 145 women arrived in Eriha (Jericho) on bicycles, that day riding particularly in memory of the 60th anniversary of the Nakba -- meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic -- which marks the beginning of the 1948 Palestinian exodus, an outcome of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Of the 300 members, only 145 of them made it to Eriha because the Israelis, who control all of the borders, did not allow certain nationalities to enter, including the Iranians and Syrians in the group.

“We arrived here to participate in the commemoration of the Palestinian’s Catastrophe. I say to the Palestinians that it is their right to return, and I say to the Israelis that they must allow the Palestinians to return to their homes,” one of the riders told the press after reaching Eriha.

Despite the negative reactions that had been expected, the tour ended in a positive mood with members still holding out hope for the end of decades of violence in the region.

“In every country, every city and every little town we went to, people welcomed us with sincerity and warmness. The hosts liked the guests and the guests liked the hosts. We knew that peace wouldn’t come with a simple bike ride, with just one click. But we also knew that peace was a long process that requires many people’s efforts in different forms for a long time. Our aim was to support the Middle East and Palestine [and] tell them that we were with them, meet them and make simple connections. Our aim was to see and show that people there have the right to live and be happy just like us,” Selma Şevkli, from the Turkish group, wrote in her blog. “Everybody can do something to change the world, there is just too much to do. And the things you do, is never small,” she also wrote, noting that she will publish the diary that she wrote during the trip.

The FTW bike ride was set up in 2003 by Detta Regan, a well-known international youth work advisor. In a press release for this year’s event, Detta said: “Women do not traditionally cycle in the Middle East, so the sight of a large female-only group attracts huge interest. I am thrilled that we are getting women from so many different countries joining us on the 2008 ride.”

It was emphasized in the release that the ride was aimed at raising awareness of how the spiral of violence in the Middle East was blighting the lives of women and children, who often suffer the worst consequences of the “painfully slow pace of the peace process.”

“I want to inspire and empower women to take an active role in the peace process,” Detta remarked.

On the FTW’s official Web site, www.followthewomen.com, it is noted that FTW has also become a registered UK charity for its great efforts in advancing education and raising awareness about different racial and religious groups to promote equality and solidarity.

Source: Today's Zaman, 20 May, 2008

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