Irish activist walking 2,200 miles from UK to Palestine – Middle East Monitor


Sixty-five-year-old Irish activist, Mick Bowman, is on a long, arduous walk from Calais to Palestine to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.

As of yesterday, he was in Coublanc, a commune in France and should reach the Swiss border in two weeks. Mick began his 2,200-miles journey from Calais on 16 April last month.

“So, my route will see me go through Switzerland to northern Italy, Albania and Greece to Istanbul, hopefully by mid-October. And then I’ll need to fly to Amman in Jordan, from where I’ll be walking to the West Bank,” he said.

Inspired by the book Walking to Jerusalem: Blisters, hope and other facts on the ground by Justin Butcher, his trek follows the Via Francigena (“the way through France”), Europe’s oldest cultural and trade route, as well as an ancient Christian pilgrimage route.

The book tells the story of a pilgrimage from London to Jerusalem in 2017, which marked three major anniversaries: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration; the 50th year of Israel’s military Occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the tenth year of the blockade of Gaza.

“In 2017, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, they undertook this walk from Canterbury all the way through to Jerusalem in Palestine and that’s what sparked my interest to do the same,” explained Mick.

“I’ve always been active in the Palestinian cause since I was a young man with the Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign (NPSC), hosting stalls and arranging Palestinian speakers. I’ve also been in Palestine a couple of times, but I found this was another effective way of expressing my activism.”

Each day is a new adventure, said Mick. Some nights consist of him wild camping in his tent during heavy rain, while other days he gets to enjoy some rest and a warm meal at a cheap accommodation.

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The most gratifying part of the journey, said Mick, are the conversations he engages in with the locals and pilgrims he encounters along the way, enlightening them about the Palestinian tragedy and drawing attention to Israel’s repeated attacks and assaults against innocent Palestinians.

“Due to the route I’m taking, I’m meeting a lot of pilgrims who get curious when I tell them I’m embarking on this trip in solidarity with Palestine. Not only do they get really interested, but they also have a deeper understanding of the importance of physically taking the time out of the normal daily life to such journeys,” explained Mick.

While on the move, the 65-year-old human rights activist carries the Palestinian flag on his back, which he also hangs as a banner on his tent on the nights he wild camps.

Although tiring, Mick emphasises the importance of encouraging conversations and discussions on what is happening in Palestine to debunk the false idea that the situation is ‘complicated’ or too complex to talk about.

He said, “Framing it as a complex issue which is difficult to resolve is certainly the narrative that the media and the government take is used as a pretext for inaction or colluding with the status quo. It reminds me how people used to say the same thing about the Northern Ireland situation and to a degree, even South Africa, but it’s a tactic reflecting a lack of political will to resolve the situation.”

“So, it’s a fulfilling feeling having the chance to talk to people in cafes and on my walks, including those who aren’t too familiar with the issue because our conversations go beyond the mainstream narrative. After having open and hours’ long discussions, they acknowledge the gross injustice committed against the Palestinians, particularly the pilgrims who are also motivated by a general sense of social justice in their life.”

A retired UK mental health social worker, who occasionally volunteers for the charity, Care4Calais, Mick is using his pension money to fund his walk to Palestine.

Having set off on this trip that stretches 2,200-miles immediately after finishing volunteering in Calais has given Mick much to contemplate on, along with blisters and intense body aches. But, despite the physical challenges, he is determined not to give up.

Addressing the notability of his action, he criticised the British government for its “disastrous” role in assisting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine.

“It’s an issue which has resonated particularly with me, number one reason being the fact that I live in the UK, and Britain has a heavy historical responsibility for the situation in Palestine going back to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, so really, we’ve all got a historical responsibility to stand by and take action for Palestine.

Named after Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, the British government issued the notorious Balfour Declaration on 2 November 1917, pledging its commitment for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”, with the caveat that it must not prejudice the civil and religious rights of the “non-Jewish communities” in the country.

Mick considers the document to have paved the way for their forced expulsion from lands claimed by Israel in 1948, as well as the ongoing illegal Occupation of the West Bank.

He said, “We’ve subsequently failed to address the problem and have colluded with everything that Israel has done against the Palestinians by also continuing to provide economic support. It’s black and white. It’s one people being colonised and subjected to land theft and apartheid, and it’s happening in full view, yet nothing is being done by the international community.”

It was following his trip to the Palestinian Territories for the second time in 2014, during which he was brutally attacked by Israeli soldiers while taking part in a peaceful protest that resulted in him being more determined and outspoken regarding the extreme violations imposed by the Israeli Occupation regime.

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As a member of the NPSC, Mick stood in solidarity with the International Solidarity Movement to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the village of Bil’in, based west of Ramallah, whose lands were being confiscated and destroyed.

Detained, pepper-sprayed and beaten bloody, the temporary first-hand experience of the lives of the Palestinians filled with daily injustices has only intensified Mick’s commitment to the Palestinian cause.

“Going through that has changed me in a literal way that academically or simply reading and watching through the TV doesn’t. It’s a responsibility of people who have visited the West Bank to inform every one of the injustices unfolding there every day, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

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