The para-cyclists who delivered aid to Gazans displaced by the war against all odds

Feb 14, 2024 | News

Gaza’s para cyclists deliver aid to displaced persons through bomb sites, a symbol of human resilience

Alaa Al-Dali is in deep negotiations with vegetable sellers in the Reqqa Souk in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Al Dali, co-founder and captain of the Gaza Sunbirds Para-cycling Team, haggles for lower prices to deliver parcels to as many displaced people as possible.

Gaza Sunbirds is a nonprofit that was founded in 2020. Its mission is to provide cycling training to Palestinian para-athletes in order to enable them to compete in international tournaments including the Paralympics in 2024. The 25-member team had to put their dream on hold after Israel went to war in Gaza with Hamas following the terrorist attacks in Israel by Hamas gunmen last October. According to the Hamas Ministry of Health, around 28,000 people have died and 67,000 others have been injured in this conflict.

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“The reality and displacement of amputees, and their families, pushed us to refocus on aid relief in order to respond to people’s needs,” says Al Dali who lost his leg after being shot at by Israeli soldiers while protesting.

The athletes, aged 18 to 26, lost their limbs in previous Israeli attacks against Gaza or during the Great March of Return 2018, a series of mostly peace-filled demonstrations calling for the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza as well as the return of refugees back to their villages.

UNRWA reports that 75% of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is now internally displaced. UN human rights experts warn, “Everyone in Gaza is starving, a quarter is struggling to find food and water, and famine will soon be upon us”.

Alaa Al Dali said that the group’s efforts in aid were refocused due to the dire need for food and essential items.

Sunbirds’ efforts are made more urgent. The team has distributed more than $170,000 worth of aid (PS56,000), including 53 tonnes food, to over 170,000 people living in the southern and central Gaza. Aid packages contain baby essentials, sanitary items, and other necessities, such as duvets. Aid money is used to pay stipends to athletes and their families.

Al Dali states that “the children in particular are under enormous psychological stress.” “We decided to distribute toys as part of one of our missions, just to bring joy to their broken heart.”

What if we lose even more limbs

Al Dali and a vendor finally agree on a price after three hours of haggling. With a feeling of triumph, Al Dali begins packing the vegetables along with his teammates. They work under the watchful eye of nearby merchants, who inspect their prosthetics.

The Sunbirds, who have themselves been displaced in different parts of Gaza Strip, then distribute the food using their bikes. The team insists that despite the physical strain and the difficulties of getting around because of the destruction of roads and the overcrowding they deliver the aid personally as a symbol of resilience and possibilities.

The team has been challenged by damaged streets and overcrowding, but they are determined to get the aid out.

Al Dali says, “Delivering assistance on our bikes and walking using a crutch sends a message to the Palestinians that life can continue despite the waves of despair that have swept them since the beginning of the war and the displacement of their people.”

He adds, “Our hope is that we will rebuild our training facilities and resume our training after the war. We also plan to expand the team.”

Hazem Suleiman, a Sunbirds member, is busy delivering parcels from one tent to the next, using a crutch. His left leg was also amputated, like Alaa’s, after he was shot at by Israeli snipers in the 2018 protests. According to a UN investigation conducted in 2019, “81% of gunshots hit the legs of protesters, with 122 people suffering one or both limbs amputated”.

Gaza is now a place where such injuries are common. According to UNICEF, at least 1,000 children had lost one or both limbs in Gaza by the end November.

Amputees like Hazem are haunted by the fear of losing more limbs during some of their missions.

He says that during one of his aid missions east from Khan Younis a nearby site was bombed. “We asked each other: ‘Is there a chance that we could lose more limbs’?” The team laughed off the thought and continued to work despite the sounds of shelling.

Mobilising international athletes

Karim Ali, the co-founder of Gaza Sunbirds in London, coordinates with Athletes For Palestine – a humanitarian aid appeal aimed at rallying support from the international athletic community. The campaign has raised nearly $245,000 (PS194,000), which will go towards aid.

“We’ve received a lot support and more than 100 athletes have signed up for our solidarity campaign. We’re organizing around 85 bike rides across the globe,” he says.

Once the war is over, the team hopes to rebuild its sports centers and resume their training.

Ali says that the Sunbirds’ support from the athletic community not only gave them legitimacy as a sports team, but also motivated them to tell their story and help with relief efforts.

He says, “We believe that we have a right to compete in sports.” “We believe that it is our right. We have sacrificed so much for us to be where we are today .”

The team’s efforts are hampered by obstacles. According to Hassan Harb, the Gaza-based team’s coach, the team is limited in its ability to provide humanitarian assistance due to their own displacement and the lack of food on the local market.

Walking with a crutch and delivering aid on our bikes is a message to show that life can continue

Gazans are unable to import or produce food and rely heavily upon aid entering the area. According to the World Health Organization, international organisations and non-governmental organizations have only been able provide limited relief.

The Gaza Sunbirds are an example of human resilience, as they pedal through adversity. “This [resilience] forms part of our humanitarian message,” Dali says.

This article was created in collaboration with Egab.

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