Cyclists in global movement to highlight hostage plight
“When an amazing cyclist such as Chris Froome, the Kenyan-born four-time winner of the Tour de France, supports an event, you just have to come on board,” says Selwyn Sanders, chairperson of the Johannesburg-based Capri Wheelers Cycling Club.
Johannesburg was one of at least 40 cities across the globe to respond to the call by Froome, one of the greatest road cyclists in history, to take part in Ride To Bring Them Home Now on Sunday, 14 January, in solidarity with the 136 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. The event commemorated the 100th day since the attack by Hamas on 7 October, and the kidnapping of hundreds of people to Gaza. Tens of thousands of cyclists from six continents took part.
Sanders, Dan Stillerman, and Shevi Brand were inspired to organise a formal cycling event to create awareness of the hostages after watching a video of Froome expressing his support for this cause.
Froome, who rides for elite road race cycling team Israel-Premier Tech, was born in Kenya and schooled in South Africa, and went on to become a legendary four-time Tour de France winner.
“As a human being, as a father myself, I cannot stand idly by,” he said. “Their suffering and that of all the other hostages, deeply affects me, and I call on all cyclists to come out for a solidarity ride that day, just as I will myself, in the hope that this show of support will bring them closer to returning home.”
More than 100 cyclists took part in Capri Wheelers’ 90km route from Arch Cycles in Melrose Arch and back. “It was an unbelievable day out, and it definitely created an awareness,” Sanders says.
A good crowd also turned up for the Stillerman-designed 18km route that took riders past about 46 different shuls and schools through Glenhazel, Sydenham, Norwood, and Linksfield. They rode more than 21km as riders suggested going to different Jewish places. “It was almost a Tour de Jewish Joburg,” Stillerman quips. The latter event also offered a 2km fun route suitable for kids and families. Tied to the riders’ bikes were yellow ribbons, a longstanding symbol of readiness to welcome home prisoners or hostages.
“Initially, when we thought about participating in this ride, we thought we might upset the Muslim riders in our club,” Sanders says. After mulling it over, they realised the ride wasn’t about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the war. “It’s about the hostages. I’m sure there are hostages who aren’t Israeli or Jewish.”
Sanders says Capri Wheelers’ riders have never discussed the war. “It’s not a political club. It’s a sport, a social thing,” he says.
Stillerman, with the help of his girlfriend, Brand, decided to formalise Froome’s call by providing a date, time, and venue. “Dan took leadership on the day, and designed the route,” Brand says.
“We put the photos of the ride and a hashtag on social media so it would raise more awareness and support for Israel and the hostages,” says Stillerman, who has completed the 947 Ride Joburg a few times, riding in support of the DL Link and Cancer Warriors. “If there’s a good cause to ride for, it’s nice to be able to make a difference and stand together,” he says.
“We’re riding to demand that the Red Cross gain access to our people and learn how they are coping, as well as to provide medical care for our 136 citizens that are cruelly being held in Gaza,” says Israel-Premier Tech owner Sylvan Adams.
The core event took place at the Tel Aviv Velodrome, where 136 cyclists, each with a photo of one of the hostages, encircled the stadium. The riders were led by released hostage Erez Kalderon, who endured 51 days in captivity, and widowed father Avida Bacha, who tragically lost a leg in the attack on 7 October while his wife and son were killed.
Many riders also rode individually to mark the day. Czech rider Lukas Klement was so inspired by Israeli riders who supported him on a visit to Israel when his bike was stolen, he rode a 24-hour route in the shape of a Star of David and the number 100.
Meanwhile , you may have seen about 70 people, wearing red to show their hearts for the hostages and the number 100 taped on their chests, walking in Cape Town on 14 January. This event was organised by Capetonian human resources professional Michelle Jaffe after she saw a social media post from the mom of a hostage promoting the United States-based Run For Their Lives organisation.
“Feeling as helpless as people are all feeling across the world wanting to do something in solidarity with the hostages, I signed up and spoke to a lady in America, an ex-South African,” Jaffe says. “She onboarded me as the lead in Cape Town to start organising a weekly walk in solidarity with the hostages.”
The Run For Their Lives movement was started by a group of California-based Israelis in collaboration with the Hostage and Missing Families Forum. “The walks are taking place in 160 locations around the world, in countries like America, Germany, Australia, India, and Mauritius,” Jaffe says. “At different locations in Cape Town, we get together every week to do these walks in support of bringing the hostages home.”