For immediate release: 29.03.13
The Freedom Bus, Jenin Refugee Camp, Occupied Palestine.
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International arrested by IDF during peaceful walk in South Hebron Hills, others attacked and injured
An international participant from the Freedom Bus has just been arrested by IDF soldiers during a peaceful solidarity walk in the South Hebron Hills. The man, from the United States, was hauled away from the group and arrested at approximately 10.40am this morning. He was taken to the police station in Kiryat Arba.
This followed the attempted arrest of Abu Mosa from the local Popular Committee, who fainted while in Israeli custody and had to be removed by the Red Cresent. The IDF are currently attempting to stop the walk altogether, and have injured several participants. One international had her leg twisted and others were hit in the head with rifle butts. There are an estimated 150 people taking part in the walk.
The planned walk brings Palestinian artists, activists, and community leaders together with internationals in a peaceful solidarity walk through five communities in the South Hebron Hills. Located in Area C, Mufaqara, Tuba, a-Sfay, Maghayir al-Abeed and al-Fakhit are five of 12 communities located within “Firing Zone 918” – an area of the South Hebron Hills used by the Israeli Forces as a training zone. Residents have been issued with evacuation orders. All homes in these villages are faced with demolition. Each person is faced with forced expulsion from traditional homelands. 
This is not the first intervention by the Israeli security forces. Arab artists from Eygpt, Tunisia, and the Sudan attempting to join the event were denied travel permits by the Israel Civil Administration. 
The planned walk included community visits, discussions and music, with a focus on the life and resistance of residents in the South Hebron Hills. Palestinian musicians, and artists joined the ride, including Abu Naji, renowned traditional Zajaal poet, and musicians from the band Toot ‘Ard.
Details and background info:
• The March Freedom Ride: From 21 March-29 March. Palestinians and international allies will take part in a 13 day solidarity ride, joining Palestinian farmers and herders at risk of forced displacement from lands they have inhabited for generations.
• The March Freedom Ride will include building and reconstruction work, protective presence activity, guided walks, home-stays, interactive workshops, educational talks and cultural events.
• The Freedom Bus is coordinated by The Freedom Theatre: a Palestinian theatre and multi-media centre based in Jenin Refugee Camp. A range of other Palestinian community based organizations and associations are involved in Freedom Bus initiative. [Website: http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/]
Notes to Editors:
 For more details see B’Tselem: http://www.btselem.org/south_hebron_hills/firing_zone_918 and http://nofiringzone918.org/ and http://almufaqarah.wordpress.com/
 See Freedom Bus Press Release: http://bit.ly/Z3MCqn
On 22 March 2013, World Water Day, the Freedom Bus joined with Jordan Valley Solidarity, E-Wash and Palestinians from across the West Bank, in a solidarity walk through communities in the Jordan Valley. Our aim was to raise awareness about unequal water allocation and the accompanying social and economic impact upon Palestinian communities living in the Jordan Valley.
Under terms negotiated in the Oslo Interim Agreement, Israelis are allocated four times more water from the shared West Bank mountain aquifer than Palestinians.
In addition, the Israeli Civil Administration (which governs Area C communities, including the Jordan Valley) refuses to grant permits to Palestinian farmers for the construction of cisterns used for rainwater collection. Cisterns that are built without permits are frequently demolished by the Israeli authorities. The high cost of tankered water has also reduced the ability of communities to pay for essentials such as food, health care, and education for their children. Unequal allocation of water, together with illegal land confiscation and settlement expansion, has allowed the Israeli agricultural industry to develop and dominate in the Jordan Valley whilst driving Palestinian inhabitants to the very edge of a viable existence. For farmers and herders in particular, the pursuit of traditional livelihoods has become increasingly difficult.
The walk set off from the small hamlet of Mak-Hul and ended in Ras Al Akhmar. There was a constant military presence during our walk. Throughout the day we heard people talk about the disparity between the Palestinian communities and the Israeli settlers, who are monopolising all the water resources and agricultural potential of the land in the Jordan Valley.
We held a Playback theatre performance in El Haddidya, gathered on dust plain next to some wheat fields, with rolling hills in the background. But this landscape has another story. It is used by the Israeli Defence Forces as a military training area and it is not unommon to hear gunshots and military planes flying overhead. This community is directly next to Roi settlement, which is fully equppied with water, electricity and sewage facilities, whereas people El Haddidya live in tents and are unable to even build basic dwellings on their own land. Even tent structures here are in danger of being demolished. We heard stories from people in the community about the hardships of their life under military occupation in the valley.
At one point during the performance, a group of people appeared on the horizon and came walking over the hill towards us. It was a group from the communities in the South Hebron Hills, which is also in Area C and faces similar problems, who had travelled to show their solidarity with the people in the Jordan Valley. After the Playback performance, the community served a beautiful lunch for hundreds of people. They brought out armfuls of bread and pots of lentil soup.
Suddenly, in the middle of lunch a huge sandstorm started. It was a fierce storm, which turned the sky dark with clouds of dust. We decided to continue our walk, and descended into the valley, but the storm quickly intensified. We had to wrap our heads up in scarves and battle through strong wind and dust blowing into our faces.
As suddenly as it had begun, the storm stopped. We stopped next to a dry riverbed and in front of a yellow water tanker, Fidaa, a hakawati storyteller, told a traditional story about water, accompanied by Hassan and Rami from Toot ‘Ard. It was a reminder that there is a deeply rooted Palestinian cultural tradition that transcends the daily brutalities of the occupation, and gives strength to resistance here.
An event like this, where people come together to hear stories and see situations first hand, engages all of our senses. This means our understanding of the situation is not purely intellectual – we listen, taste, and feel a piece of the daily reality of life in the Jordan Valley, with all its hardship and struggle. This visceral experience stays with us, mobilising us, and informing our own activism and solidarity when we return to our own countries. When all the statistics, facts and figures are forgotten, we will remember the stories we heard here and the faces of the people we have met. These encounters will sustain us as we take the struggle beyond Palestine.
Hosted by Jordan Valley Solidarity, in the beautiful Friends’ Meeting House in Jiflik – the oldest building in the Jordan Valley – The Freedom Bus group heard talks from Mazin Qumsiyeh and Saed Abu-Hijleh about the history of Palestinian resistance, the nature of apartheid and personal experiences of living under occupation.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, Professor of Biology, Bethlehem and Birzeit University
Mazin opened his talk by questioning the idea of coming ‘in solidarity’ to Palestine. He argued that instead of thinking of ourselves as standing in ‘solidarity’ with the Palestinians, it would better to see ourselves as part of a global struggle, of which the Palestinian struggle for freedom is only one part. The same kind of people that are the cause of Palestinian suffering are the kind of people who are in positions of unjust power everywhere, he said. The problem in Palestine, Mazin argued, is not religious. It is to dowith money, resources, and greed. The Palestinian people are seen by the Israeli state as an obstacle in the way of resources.
Mazin is the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine, a book detailing Palestinian resistance against colonisation from 1881 to the present day. He talked about the first Palestinian uprising in 1881, which used petitions, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and lobbying to demand an end to colonization and the creation of a secular, democratic state. Arguing that these demands have been consistently made by Palestinians since this first uprising, Mazin put Palestinian resistance in the historical context of anti-colonial movements across the globe.
There were further Palestinian uprisings in 1917, 1921, 1929 and 1936. The history of these moments of resistance is not well known. For example, the first demonstration to use automobiles was held in Jerusalem in 1929. It was organised by Palestinian women, who arranged to bring 120 cars from across the country into the Old City in Jerusalem, where they drove through the narrow streets, horns blazing.
Mazin’s history of non-violent resistance – known in Palestine as ‘popular resistance’ – was fascinating. There are many forms such resistance can take, from weekly demonstrations to boycotts and strikes. Perhaps the most fundamental form of popular resistance is simply to remain on the land, living and working, and refusing to be moved. This kind of resistance is key to Palestinian life in Area C, where homes and infrastructure are constantly being demolished, and traditional ways of life are becoming increasingly difficult. Mazin argued that in this way, every Palestinian living in Gaza or the West Bank is engaged in resistance every day, hence the famous slogan: ‘To Exist Is To Resist.’
During the question and answer session, Mazin outlined the best ways in which internationals can help the Palestinian struggle. Firstly, he said, self-educate. Read and learn, so that you can make arguments and have discussions about Palestine and its history. Secondly, use the skills that you have. “I don’t want to see someone with excellent media skills planting trees,” Mazin said, “If you have specialist skills, use them.” Thirdly, he emphasized that the most useful work is not necessarily in Palestine itself, but in our own countries. Support in the West is key for Israel, especially in the United States and England. It is here that political work must be done to undermine this support.
Saed Abu-Hijleh, Professor of Political Geography, An Najar University
Saed began his speech by talking about his own history. Born in 1966, his formative years were spent under the occupation. In 1976, when he was 10-years-old, six Palestinians were killed in the ’48 territories during Land Day demonstrations. There were protests in response all over the West Bank. Shortly afterwards, a 15-year-old girl who was in his sister’s class was shot by an Israeli soldier. Along with other school students, he joined the demonstrations in response.
In April 1982, when he was 16, an Israeli soldier entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and shot dead four Palestinians who were praying, injuring seven others. In response, there was a mini-uprising. On 27 April, Saed joined a demonstration in Nablus along with other students. An Israeli soldier machine-gunned him with explosive bullets. Saed was shot many times, and was lucky to survive. A few months later he was sent to Israeli jail. He was sent to Al Farah prison near Tubas, which was in fact a military camp used to hold activists from all over the West Bank. While in prison Saed was tortured, beaten and whipped with electrical wires. However, Al Farah prison brought activists from many different areas together, and they were able to forge links and learn from each other. This enabled them to organise nationally, rather than just locally.
In 2002, during the second intifada, Saed’s mother, Shaden, was helping those in the local community who were being affected. She was a school teacher, and a member of the Popular Committee, involved in supporting those who needed help with shelter, food etc. One day Israeli soldiers came to Saed’s family home and shot his mother dead. She died in his arms. You can watch a video of Saed talking more about his mother and her legacy here:
Saed’s descriptions of his life and experiences were extremely moving. Saed is also a poet and we were lucky enough to hear some of his poetry, which you can read here.
Driving to Ein Hiluwe took us past a large Israeli military base and through hills where we could see soldiers training. We watched as they climbed the slopes in formation, armed with heavy weaponry. Now and again we would hear the loud roar of military planes passing overhead.
Gathering in a tent in the small village Ein Hiluwe, we sat under kerosene lanterns and watched a performance from the Freedom Bus Playback troupe, joined by Zajaal poet, Abu Naji. We heard stories from the local community that highlighted some of the difficulties of living in the Jordan Valley, including unequal access to water and harassment from the Israeli military.
A man called Khadri told a story about trying to get water from a local well. There were settlers waiting for him when he got there. When his tank was half full, the settlers called the Israeli army. The soldiers came and poured away his water. He had to travel over six kilometres to another spring to get his water. He was furious. He said that he remembers a time when water was just a natural resource that anyone could take from the ground.
A shepherd called Nabil volunteered to tell a story. He was grazing sheep with a friend one day when Israeli soldiers approached them and told them they had five minutes to leave. When the soldiers returned five minutes later and Nabil and his friend were still there, one soldier tried to pull a gun. Nabil’s dogs jumped on the soldier. This made the solider so angry that they arrested Nabil and took him to an isolated area, where one of the soldiers pulled out a knife. Nabil was convinced he was going to die. When the Israeli captain came, the soldier threw the knife into the undergrowth to hide it. However, the commanding offer colluded with the other soldiers, saying that he had seen the shepherds throwing stones. The captain told Nabil that if he ever saw him again he would kill him.
In Khirbit Samra, another small village on the other side of the hillside, volunteers from the Freedom Bus helped to build a school for the local children from traditional mud bricks. Currently, the children of Khirbit Samra have to get up at 5.30am in order to travel to a school that is far away. Volunteers shared songs from their different countries while they worked. Hassan and Rami from the band Toot ‘Ard, and Fidaa, a hakwati (traditional storyteller) and other Freedom Bus riders, played music and told stories to the children of Khirbit Samra. There are over 50 children living in the village. That night, sitting under lanterns hung from the large central tree, we heard stories of the struggles their parents face while trying to raise them in such hard conditions. The Playback troupe was joined by musicians from Toot ‘Ard, and traditional Zajaal poet, Abu Naji.
Mahyoub, a man from Khirbit Samra, shared a story of an event that happened two years ago. One day he was returning from shepherding and found the village full of Israeli military jeeps and bulldozers. He saw that they were in the process of demolishing his house. “I was afraid they were demolishing the house over the heads of my children,” he said, “I felt as though it was the end of the world.” The soldiers told him to shut up, and tried to prevent him from getting near his house. He stood in front of the bulldozer shouting, “Stop! Stop!” He was dragged away by a soldier and hit on the back of the head with the butt of a rifle. They took him to the hillside nearby and pointed a gun at head, telling him not to move. Luckily, his children were not physically hurt in the demolition, but his story emphasised the huge struggle parents in these traditional communities face while trying to give their children safe and happy childhoods.
A man called Abdullah shared a very painful story about his father. His father was very sick and had to be moved from a hospital in Jenin to one in Nablus. As they tried to pass through the nearby checkpoint, the soldier refused to let them through. Abdullah pleaded with him, asking, “What if this was your father and I was refusing to let you through?” But the solider just kept repeating that they could not pass. Abdullah had no choice. He had to carry his father on his back for 1.5km. At one point his father fell and injured his foot. “Perhaps it is better that I die here,” he said to Abdullah. “No,” Abdullah replied, “We must keep struggling. One day things will get better.” Abdullah’s father died, and he was not even allowed to bury him in his own land.
This story highlighted the way in which the occupation controls all parts of Palestinian life; from birth and childhood, to old age and death.
The first day of the March Freedom Ride finds us in Jenin refugee camp, at The Freedom Theatre. In fits and starts small groups of internationals arrive in the shaded court of The Freedom Theatre, drinking Turkish coffee and getting to know each other. They have come the March Freedom Ride, bringing together Palestinian artists, activists and musicians in a ride in solidarity with communities in Area C.
Area C, created under the Oslo Accords, comprises 61% of land in the West Bank, and is under full Israeli civil and military control. The March Freedom Ride will visit two particularly volatile regions located in Area C; the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills. In these areas, local Palestinians suffer from unequal access to water resources, violence from settlers, and frequent – and sometimes violent – harassment from the Israeli army.
On our first night in Jenin, we gathered to watch a performance from the Playback acting troupe, who were joined by the reknowned Zajaal poet Abu Naji. Members of the audience were invited to share personal stories, which were then transformed into improvised theatre pieces by the actors.
We heard a story from a woman called Mariam about an experience she had as a child growing up in El Arub refugee camp. One day, she was going to buy sweets from the shop when she was stopped by Israeli soldiers. At that time it was illegal to display any kind of Palestinian flag. Mariam was wearing a small flag on her shirt. They soldiers began to question her and she was so afraid that she ran through the back of the shop and hid in her uncle’s house. However, the shopkeeper told the soldiers where she would be and they found her. They told her they would take her to prison in Ramle, inside Israel. She said that at first she was very afraid but, as time went on, she decided she would no longer be afraid, and that she would just not give a damn. Her flag was inside her heart. The unit of soldiers kept bothering her whenever they saw her on the street: “Where’s your flag now?” She hid from the soldiers until their unit was changed over and she no longer had to see them.
A young woman called Lianne, who had travelled from New York to join the ride, shared a story about her family and her own life. Her grandparents were Palestinian, born in Jerusalem and Haifa. They left after the Nakbeh of 1948 and went to Lebanon. Her parents were born in Lebanon, but after the war they too were forced to flee. They went to America, where Lianne was born. After 9/11, Lianne’s parents told her that she should never say that she was a Palestinian, and that she would never be able to go back to Palestine. It was not until she went to university, and met other Palestinians, that she was encouraged to visit. She described her joyful tears on arriving in Jerusalem and seeing the Damascus Gate, filled with the sounds and sights of Palestinian life.
It was a fantastic beginning to the March Freedom Ride.
The Freedom Theatre
Jenin Refugee Camp, Occupied Palestine
March 12, 2013 For immediate release
Israel denies Arab artists permits to join the March Freedom Ride
Ahmed Galai Ezzar and Zeid Khemiri are two rappers from Armada Bizerta, a revolutionary hip-hop group from Tunisia. Khalid Albaih is a political cartoonist from the Sudan – his stencils about the Arab Revolutions have appeared on streets and public squares throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Sondos Shabayek and Mona El Shimi are two Egyptian theatre makers, well known for developing the Tahrir Monologues – a series of solo pieces about the Eygptian revolution.
Ahmed, Zeid, Khalid, Sondos and Mona were planning to join the March Freedom Ride, a grassroots initiative of The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus.
In order to gain permission for these artists to enter the West Bank of Occupied Palestine, The Freedom Theatre was required to submit permit applications to the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs.
On March 11, after months of waiting, The Freedom Theatre finally received notice that these applications had been denied by the Israeli Civil Administration.
Events such as this serve as yet another stark reminder about the humiliating system under which we live: That our own Palestinian Ministries must coordinate with, and obey Israel.
– Let us continue to fight for the day when our freedom will permit fellow poets, musicians, artists and writers to travel freely and unhindered to our historic homeland, says Alia Alrosan, coordinator for the Freedom Bus.
MARCH FREEDOM RIDE
From March 17-29, students, artists and activists from across Palestine and abroad will join the people of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills in their struggle against Israel’s forced expulsion of Palestinian communities in Area C.
This ride, organized by The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus together with several grassroots organizations, will occur in solidarity with Palestinian farmer and Bedouin communities who are struggling against attempts to forcibly expel them from their traditional homelands. The March Freedom Ride will include building and reconstruction work, protective presence activity, guided walks, home-stays, interactive workshops, educational talks and cultural events. Through Playback Theatre, residents of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills will share personal accounts about the realities of life and resistance under settler colonialism, military occupation and state-sanctioned apartheid.
ABOUT THE FREEDOM BUS
The Freedom Bus project of The Freedom Theatre uses interactive theatre and cultural activism to bear witness, raise awareness and create alliances in Occupied Palestine. In practice, this project offers a unique opportunity for activists, artists, writers, photographers and many others to come together and establish grassroots contact with communities engaged in day-to-day struggle to survive and resist occupation. Over the past year, the Freedom Bus has engaged over 2000 people in creative acts of community building and cultural resistance throughout Occupied Palestine.
Alia Alrosan (Arabic speaking)
Ben Rivers (English speaking)
From 26-27 February 2013, the Freedom Bus held a solidarity event in several Jordan Valley communities. The following account is written by Jo Salas, co-founder of Playback Theatre, and a participant in the Jordan Valley Solidarity Stay.
We are in the gentle hills of the Jordan Valley, under a starry sky, in a Bedouin village of several families on land that they have owned and grazed for centuries. The air is pungent with sheep dung. There is no electricity in the village—they are not permitted to have electricity, nor to build permanent structures—but along the ridge of the hills just a couple of hundred yards away marches a line of poles and wires carrying electricity to the nearby Jewish settlements and to the massive army base just down the road.
The Freedom Bus performers and their helpers are setting up a stage area. They’re going to do a Playback Theatre show under a spreading Doma tree hung with lanterns whose light is augmented by a blazing campfire on the side. The team is traveling with ten or so internationals on a three-day solidarity trip, visiting Bedouin, farmer, and herder communities, planting olive trees and making mud bricks, eating together, and doing Playback shows so that the villagers can tell their stories.
I’ve joined them just for this evening, driving from Jenin with Abu Naji, a famed Zajaal poet whose traditional form of improvised poetry and song will play a part in the performance. We drove through lush farmland and villages and into an exquisite valley of scattered olive trees and wildflowers. And then we see Israeli soldiers walking down the road, guns at the ready. A little further there is a checkpoint. Cars are stopped, engines off, people waiting in the warm breeze. The word is that they have closed the checkpoint because two boys in the last village threw stones at the soldiers, who are now hunting for them. In the car we are quiet but anxious. If we can’t get through this checkpoint it will take several hours to reach the village. We’ll be late for the performance. After twenty minutes the soldiers start letting cars through. They peer at us, suspicious, but let us go.
Abu Naji and Adnan in the front seat are on their cell phones, trying to find the village where we are heading. The instructions lead us onto a small side road, and then into a field. We follow a long stony track, driving very slowly. Up in the crook of the hills we find the village, and our friends.
A gaggle of excited children surround Fidaa, a storyteller from the Freedom Theatre who has been telling stories and playing with them since the team arrived earlier in the day. They chant together—the children know long verses by heart. They leave for school at 5:30 each morning, walking a long distance to the bus: the village is not permitted to build their own school. I sit on a bench that someone has dragged down to the Doma tree and after a while the children come and join me. One tiny child snuggles close and holds my hand, gazing up at me with solemn eyes. The others are shrieking, apparently convinced that if they raise their voices I’ll understand Arabic. We get as far as exchanging names and the number of siblings we each have. They have many—seven, eight, nine.
I talk with two men who are part of a solidarity organization in a nearby town. One of them, a lawyer, tells me that when he was seventeen, during the first intifada, he was imprisoned for 28 months for throwing a stone. “They counted us many times a day,” he says. “They would wake us up at two o’clock in the morning to count us.”
A few days ago I finished teaching a Playback Theatre workshop in which the Freedom Bus performers took part and we are happy to see each other again. I watch them preparing to perform, in the dark, in the dirt, in this rather chaotic atmosphere, and I marvel at their dedication and good humor. They are fueled by their passion for resistance and justice. As Palestinians they live every day with the humiliations and deprivations of the occupation. They are committed to reaching out to the people of this valley who are victimized perhaps the most of all—the poorest of the poor, invisible even to many other Palestinians, voiceless and powerless, but unshakably determined to stay on their land.
The performance begins. Abu Naji steps out and sings his welcome. I do not understand the words but his expansive gestures and full-throated voice invite us all to listen, to embrace this moment together. The conductor speaks to the audience, this odd assembly of villagers and their children, local Palestinian activists, dreadlocked young Europeans and Americans, the Freedom Bus team, and a few other visitors like myself. A man from the village expresses bemusement when Dabdoub, the conductor, asks everyone how they are doing. “It’s very strange that you’re here, with us who have nothing.” The actors play back his comment, and he laughs—“That was strange!”
Several others speak up, and then Dabdoub invites someone to come to the teller’s chair on the stage area to speak at more length about something from their lives. A middle-aged man accepts the invitation. The soldiers came to demolish his house. He pleaded with them to let him take out some of his belongings first. They refused, and destroyed his house, and beat him, and arrested him.
The musician plays his oud and the actors enact the story. Hassan, playing the teller, picks up a handful of dirt and lets it sift through his fingers. The man watches, absorbed, and nods when it is over. A woman comes next. She talks about living in a firing zone. The children are in danger but the soldiers don’t care, she says. We hear later that people from other villages are afraid to come to this one, because of the frequent shooting. It has kept them away from the performance.
Abu Naji’s powerful voice interweaves with the action, the ornate contours of his music linking these stories of the present to centuries of music and story in this historic land.
The third story is told by a younger man. One day the soldiers accosted him out in the hills. They said that the land was a natural resource and sheep were not permitted there. He argued that the land belonged to him. His family had always grazed their sheep on it. The soldiers arrested him and took him away. They did not give him a chance to find someone to look after the sheep. Later when he was released he took his case to court. After a long struggle his right to graze sheep on his land was affirmed. But now, he said, the soldiers do not respect this decision. They still threaten and harass him.
The performance ends with Abu Naji’s voice once more. There is no resolution for these stories, no redemptive vision of change or hope. But there is the telling, and the listening. Someone stokes the fire and the conversations continue.