By Laura Al Bast
BU News Service
BOSTON — Around 30 cyclists wearing black and white checkered Palestinian keffiyeh arrived in New York Sunday after a four-day-400km journey that departed from Boston, as part of CYCLING4GAZA’s 10th annual fundraising cycle ride.
Founded by Tamara Ben-Halim in 2009, the non-profit initiative serves to raise awareness on the ongoing blockade in the Gaza Strip and the consistent humanitarian crisis affecting its people. In doing so, CYCLING4GAZA raises funds for select non-profit organizations that provide critical education and health support to vulnerable communities in Palestine, particularly children, on an annual basis.
Dina Dajani, 31, the Executive Lead of the organization, said that this was not the first time they choose a route in the U.S. for its cycle, but for its 10-year-anniversary, cycling in the U.S. meant going big in terms of raising awareness for their cause.
The organization stated in its September press release that its continuous support is critical in the face of funding cuts to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Particularly as the UNRWA provides education and operates health facilities for more than one million Palestinian refugees.
“I think this is the perfect timing,” Dajani said, “especially with everything the Trump administration is doing to curb the rights of Palestinians.”
Dajani, who just earned her Master’s degree in International Relations from the IE School of Public and Global Affairs in Madrid, Spain, explained that the organization’s executive committee is made up of five women living in different locations and managing the initiative through online communication.
“We started in 2009, not thinking that this was going to be an annual cycle,” Dajani exclaimed. “It’s been 10 years, we’re still cycling and we will keep cycling for the children of Gaza.”
The non-profit initiative explained that it selects internationally renowned NGOs that are audited annually and send reports to CYCLING4GAZA on how funds raised were spent to support programs.
Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a UK-based charity operating in the Gaza Strip, Palestine, is this year’s target charity. CYCLING4GAZA will help fund programs that involve women empowerment, community rehabilitation targeting disabilities among children and adults, and mental health support.
Tina Bajec, director of fundraising at MAP, wrote in an e-mail that each program provides tools and systems needed to positively impact the community as a whole.
“Our campaign on human development works towards providing women and children with new avenues of freedom,” Bajec wrote, “[this is] to try an alleviate as much suffering as possible, caused by the siege created by political regimes.”
Bajec also wrote that MAP is helping respond to the on-ground consequences of funding cuts to the UNRWA.
“The situation for Palestinians living under occupation in Gaza, the West Bank, or as refugees in Lebanon, is disastrous,” Bajec stated. “Malnutrition is on the rise, health services are stretched to breaking point and essential medicines are in dangerously short supply.”
Zara Hannoun, 32, a post-doctoral immunologist and head of the CYCLING4GAZA committee, visited Gaza with Ben-Halim last March, to explore projects by NGOs on the ground.
“MAP’s projects were perfectly orchestrated,” Hannoun wrote in an e-mail. “They constantly identified and met the needs of the communities with regard to each individual project, whether emergency medical aid or providing psychosocial support.”
Hannoun stated that CYCLING4GAZA’s continued support is critical to raise awareness on the ongoing situation in Gaza in the United States, as the latter plays a critical role in the prospects of a resolution.
“Our continued support is critical at this time, as UNRWA faces severe funding cuts. The U.S. withdrawal of life-saving funds has resulted in the loss of 30 percent of UNRWA’s annual budget,” Hannoun wrote. “Our continued actions are vital [to support] education, healthcare, and capacity building projects in Gaza.”
According to Hannoun, cyclists have raised $65,000 and expect to raise more over the coming weeks.
Zein Nimri, 32, a Jordanian nutritionist and eating disorder recovery coach, is joining this year’s cycle for the fourth year in a row.
“I am, and always have been, into endurance sports. I took part in [three] marathons and practice long runs and bike rides as a crucial part of my lifestyle,” Nimri wrote in an e-mail. “Merging that with the sense of community [that] CYCLING4GAZA holds is a true blessing.”
Nimri believes that she is part of a movement that connects young and fit professionals and entrepreneurs from all walks of life to create one powerful voice.
“I think we can show the world that you can take action and show political leaders that there are different peaceful and niche communities that want peace, love and unity.”
To raise her target goal for the fundraiser, Nimri hosted an event at an activewear shop in Amman, called Atheltique, contacted possible donors, and relied on social media platforms.
Amalee Nsour, 28, an American-Jordanian from California, is joining this year’s cycle for the first time. She came across an online post about the initiative and decided to take part in it.
“This is a personal cause to me,” Nsour said. “I want to support people [who] are always mobile to action when there’s a crisis in Gaza, and it’s important to do these things when there’s nothing newsworthy going on.”
Nsour hosted a fundraiser that brought together the work of Palestinian artists, a Palestinian bakery and various members of the local community involved in social justice issues.