by on April 19, 2012 7

Last Saturday I went on the saddest bike ride ever.

A few days prior I’d gotten an e-mail about a bike tour of the Jordan Valley, and I registered immediately. I thought it would be a great way to get some exercise, meet new people, and lend my support to Palestinian sumud (steadfastness) in the Jordan Valley. I volunteer in a village a little further north, so I’m familiar with the issues Palestinians face there: demolitions, land confiscations, resource theft, and the looming annexation threatened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamain Netanyahu in 2010.

At 7:30 in the morning (a time I rarely see), I managed to be in Al-Manara circle in Ramallah, and after standing awkwardly on the sidewalk for a few minutes, I identified a group of fair-haired foreigners that looked sporty and out of place enough. I went up and introduced myself, and found that most of them were European, many of them Danish, in fact. I shared that my father’s family was Danish, but I couldn’t remember from where. It wasn’t a very good story. The organizer then led our walk to the bus. For five minutes the fair-haired foreigners ruled Rukab Street, before we climbed into our big maroon bus and waited to move out. We were joined by a handful of Palestinian girls who looked much more bright-eyed and bushy tailed than me. I spent the next hour and a half drifting in and out of sleep, while trying to catch the conversations around me and take in the view of the desert hills we were descending from. We were taking the windy Palestinian route, not the highway that connected the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley with Israel ’48. That straight shot gives Israelis and tourists easy access to a part of the Territories that doesn’t look very disputed, with Hebrew signs and rest stops and military monuments. And here we were, a bus full of ajaneb (foreigners), descending on the valley first and foremost to go for a bike ride, but fully aware of the situation and the statement we were making by riding bikes with Palestinians.

I was excited to see that a Palestinian group was organizing this outdoor adventure. I’d heard of hiking trips and Christian walks, but I’d never participated in them because the touristy stuff always cost money and I just wanted to do something spontaneous and cheap. Naturally, any Palestinian tourist venture has a political slant to it, especially if it ties the Palestinian people to their land, and especially if that land is in Area C. This area, which covers 62% of the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, is under full Israeli control, and as evidenced by the settlements and military camps scattered throughout, it would not be easily relinquished. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared two years ago that Israel would never give up the Jordan Valley, even though the international community considers it part of illegally occupied Palestinian territory and essential to the contiguity and economic survival of a Palestinian State.

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This post first appeared on Morgan’s blog.

(Scenes from the day including Jiftlik’s Cultural Festival can be viewed in the this video , recommended)