A Newcastle activist completes 1,600-mile walk to Istanbul in solidarity with Palestine
Written by Elif Gulmen on 18th October 2023
A North East activist has described how he completed a huge 1,600-mile walk to Istanbul in a show of support for Palestine.
Mick Bowman, 65, of Throckley, Newcastle, set out from Calais on April 16 and devoted the following five months to walking until he arrived in Palestine in late September – just days before the current escalation of the conflict in the area.
Mick’s retirement from his role as a political advisor to North of Tyne Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, last December inspired him to take on this challenge in order to raise awareness about the Palestine cause, as he has been a committed member of the Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign for years.
The Palestine cause centres around the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a deeply entrenched dispute over territory, national identity, and statehood in historic Palestine.
It encompasses the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, including the establishment of a Palestinian state and addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees, with various international efforts aiming to achieve a peaceful resolution to these complex issues.
Mick completed this remarkable journey independently, carrying only his ‘Free Palestine’ banner, and camping along the way. Along his route, he traversed eight countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, and Jordan, before reaching the West Bank.
During his journey, he encountered a significant obstacle in Greece during the summer when deadly wildfires forced him to alter his route, necessitating a shorter path.
After five months, he reached Istanbul in early September, where he spent a week. He then flew to Amman, Jordan, and continued his journey to the West Bank by bus, ultimately reaching the ‘finish line’ on September 28.
When asked what inspired him to embark on this journey, he said: “I’ve been an activist for the Palestinian cause for many decades, going back to when I became politically aware of the Palestinian issue almost over 40 years ago.
“But what became the specific trigger of me doing this was a book, which came out in 2018, called ‘Walking to Palestine’. It’s an encounter of a walk in 2017, made by a progressive Christian group, who walked from Canterbury to Istanbul and from there made their way to Palestine.”
The book provided him with the initial motivation, offering a broad time frame and outline route. He also obtained the group’s GPS data from the 2017 dedicated walkers.
The Palestinian advocate readied himself for this extensive trek, covering nearly 25km daily, all while shouldering an 18kg backpack.
The walk was for the cause of Palestine, but also to support refugees. He said: “The route I took was an echo of many refugees have taken, I stand in solidarity with them as well. It made me realise the resilience they had.”
The memorable moments he encountered included “the kindnesses of strangers”. He said: “I didn’t know any of the languages in the countries I was in, I felt lost and disoriented. In one incident, during the heatwave over the summer, some people stopped and took me in, gave me water and took care of me.”
There was a question regarding Mick’s ability to visit Palestine, given Israel’s tight border controls.
Mick said: “I was really worried that the Israelis wouldn’t let me in. I did prepare myself in case I had to turn back. But happily, that wasn’t the case.
“I was aware of the risks and prepared myself.”
He had the opportunity to witness ‘inspiring’ work in Bethlehem for refugees. During his stay there, he resided in Dheisha refugee camp and encountered innovative resources available to support the residents there.
He said: “The Bedouin village where I, along with other volunteers (Palestinians and internationals), stayed overnight to act as a ‘protective presence’ to deter illegal settlers from coming to steal, vandalise, threaten and attack the Bedouin villagers.
“I knew a lot about the Israeli occupation, but when you see it first hand it really shocks you. You see the life opportunities that are lost.”
UN investigator Michael Lynk has called Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank a war crime, urging countries to hold Israel accountable for its “illegal occupation” during a UN Human Rights Council session. Israel did not participate, as it did not recognise Lynk’s mandate or cooperate with him.
Palestine and Israel have a history marked by disputes over land and sovereignty. Despite numerous international peace efforts, the situation remains unresolved and contentious.
On October 7, the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas launched an attack on Israel. The days that have followed have seen the death toll rise on both sides of the war, with the number of casualties said to be in the thousands.
The situation continues to further escalate in Gaza, as Israel has cut off electricity, food, and water, leaving Palestinians with no means of escape while hospitals reach capacity and the last power plant is turned off.
Mick will be a participant at Palestine Food Fest on November 12 in Newcastle. More information here