A north-east man today told how he braved a run along an infamous wall in a Middle Eastern conflict zone.
Lewis McNeil, from Ellon, ran 231km in 11 days alongside the wall that separates Palestine and Israel, as part of a bid to raise awareness of the ongoing strife.
The 31-year-old was inspired after visiting Palestine over the last two years and “witnessing both the worst and best in humanity”.
Israel and Palestine have been in almost constant conflict since Israel was formed in 1948.
Supporters of Palestine claim its annexation by Israel has led to the displacement of more than hundreds of thousands of people.
His visit and his run along the barrier in the West Bank, which he has called Run The Wall, also motivated him to compile a series of real accounts from people he met.
Lewis has plans to retell these stories across the UK.
The travel agency assistant manager predominantly carried out the run on his own, though two friends followed him in a car. He was also joined for a section of the route by 12 Palestinian runners.
Lewis said: “When you see someone’s house demolished and see the families suffering, you get fed up. I read the comedian Mark Thomas’ book Walk The Wall and I thought to myself: I could run the wall.”
Lewis teamed up with Right to Movement, a global running community that participates in marathons for the basic human right to freedom of movement.
He said: “I want to change the narrative we are told about occupied Palestine and tell the human side of the story – the story of those who live with injustice every day, the story that the mainstream media don’t talk about.
“What is striking is that behind the wall, everyone has a story that speaks of injustice.
“It’s a tragedy. My mission is for these stories to be told. I’m simply one person trying to tell a different story.”
He started his trek on April 30 at the Jalameh checkpoint and finished on May 10 at the Deir Al-’Asal Al Fauqa Metar checkpoint.
But the gruelling journey came with its own hazards due to the wall being heavily guarded with armed soldiers.
He added: “This run came with its risks every day and every time I stepped outside the car with ‘Right To Movement Palestine’ on my T-shirt.
“We were aware it could create unwanted attention from soldiers and Israeli settlers.
“On numerous occasions we were stopped by soldiers and, mentally, it was draining because you often felt totally exposed.
“Day four, however, took that risk to a whole new level. We had 12 Palestinian runners from Right To Movement join us for 22km.
“Fortunately, we drove the planned route the day before, and to our shock discovered Israeli settlers with guns standing at junctions, alongside soldiers with guns.
“In the end the risk was too great – there was a potential these Palestinian runners could be shot at for simply running in their own land. For one small moment I experienced the pain and anxiety they face every day.
“Sadly this situation proved the point we are trying to make – that Palestinians don’t have the right to freedom of movement.”
During his travels, Lewis has been able to meet with locals and hear their “moving” and “heartbreaking” stories.
One one occasion, Lewis heard the story of Abu, a restaurant owner who had his venue demolished during the occupation.
Lewis said: “He now runs his restaurant out of a tent. Since those in Palestine are not allowed to build anything, the soldiers keep coming and taking the tent down.”
Lewis will talk about people he encountered during his visit in Aberdeen on September 22.
For more information about his projects visit: bit.ly/2JSduNI