Julian Sayarer, most well-known for his record-breaking 18,000-mile world circumnavigation by bicycle, and his subsequent book, Life Cycles, takes to his bicycle once again to traverse the length and breadth of Israel and Palestine.
His route weaves from the ancient hills of Galilee, along the walls of the Gaza Strip and down to the Bedouin villages of the Naqab Desert. This is less a travelogue than an exploration of a people, and one man’s quest to understand a phenomenally complex situation. Sayarer largely dispenses with descriptions of landscapes and monuments and focuses instead on the conversations he has with the people he meets, whether they be young Palestinian hip-hop artists, elderly Israeli women, or teenage border guards wielding guns. Travelling by bicycle, he believes, is the perfect way to gain trust, allowing him to emerge as a nonthreatening passerby, and he seems to be proved right, as those he meets share their insights, hopes and fears.
Always, Sayarer asks the same questions – what can be done to improve the situation in this divided country? How can life be made better for the blockaded Palestinians? But, as he discovers, there is no simple answer.
His own sympathies are not disguised. Sayarer is clear that he believes the Israeli government has imprisoned the Palestinians and he considers any retaliation on their part to be wholly unsurprising. At the same time he is almost painfully self aware, constantly acknowledging that as someone who can easily walk away from the confl ict and back to safety, his perspective is warped.
In Fifty Miles Wide, Sayarer provides a humanitarian-minded foreigner’s perspective on this troubled land – a frustrating, illuminating and occasionally hopeful journey.