2014 March Freedom Ride concludes

The March Freedom Ride has officially come to an end. 

Many new friendships have formed within the group but also with local communities. Everyone leaves inspired and strengthened by the unique and life-changing experience that is the Freedom Ride. Palestine is in all our hearts! Mabrouk (congratulations) to everyone who has worked hard to support communities, braved our encounters with the occupation forces and given so much of themselves – be that through planting an olive tree or sharing through playback theatre workshops. This year’s Freedom Ride may be over but the Freedom Family will live on!

“I don’t know if there are words to express how I feel or the truth that sings in my heart. Today was the last full day on The Freedom Bus and I am feeling so many conflicting emotions. I am happy to be going home to my partner, family and friends, and yet I will truly miss the new friends/family that I have made along this journey. The injustices that I have witnessed with my own eyes is at times too catastrophic to explain, but I know I will do my best. My hope is that I will bring this truth home with me and share it everyone and anyone I come into contact with. I will carry this truth with me wherever I go. The stories that I have heard the people that I have met will always be with me. Inshallah.” – Meredith Pass, March Freedom Ride participant


Day #12 and #13

Well rested and freshly showered, we leave for a tour of Bethlehem and a visit to Aida Camp.

We meet our guide and the first stop is the nativity church. During a detailed tour we visit all its different sections and we learn that renovation stagnated because all faiths involved have to agree for each step to be taken and it is not easy.

Upon leaving the church we head into town, it is a very hot and beautiful day as we walk through cobblestone streets with romantic little alleys leading into the old town of Bethlehem. During a quick stop for tea and coffee we get to watch a local shop owner make delicious bars of candy made from sesame seeds and nuts.

After that we visit an old market, a shop that sells sling shots (David vs Goliath) and in the shade of a narrow winding alley we buy Tamarind, Almond and Lemon juice from a mobile street vendor, “The Juice King”, and soon we all agree – he most definitely is juice royalty!

Our round trip concludes walking down the steep hill to the main road where we had left our bus, before continuing on we visit one of the best known souvenir shops where everyone finds one or the other treasure to procure! The shop harbours everything from religious inspired motives, figurines and carvings made of olive tree wood to Palestnian kufeyeh, prayer rugs and jewellery. It’s high walls are covered by shelves stacked up with the most unique and beautiful items.

Back to the bus we continue to Aida camp where we watch a brief film about the work of the local NGO, then we devour a delicious lunch and desert after which we get the chance to buy locally crafted traditional items from a small shop inside the building.

The tour through Aida camp is brief, it’s a very densely populated space and we are told that it is impossible to keep any privacy because houses are squeezed in beside and sometimes perched on top of each other.

We walk downhill and as we turn a corner the apartheid wall itself greets us with its hostile and grim counterfeit. The watchtower had been set on fire the day before and it is blackened and its foundation crumbles not only in a symbolic way.

To see the wall shocks us all, in disbelief we look at it, to the right the road leads out of the camp through a gate that has a gigantic metal key on it – the well know Palestinian Key of Return – and it is adorned in read writing “Not for Sale”. This part of the road is a different kind of Wall Street, it is known for fights and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Occupation Forces and soon we find out things are tense today – later that day we learn that shortly after we left the camp, the occupation forces began to shoot tear gas inside the camp.

We stop by a wall inside the camp that is adorned with many murals and pictures that tell about the issues and struggles  of the inhabitants of this camp. It talks about generations of “refugees” in their own homeland and many artworks express the deep longing to be free and able to return to a non-refugee status. One of the murals is particularly meaningful and moving – it is the outline of Palestine and on each side the names of those villages are listed from where people were displaced to what is now Aida camp. They keep the list of village names because people here have not given up the idea to one day be able to return home.

Back at the guesthouse people rest and digest today’s impressions, contact details are exchanged as it is our final evening together – and what better way than to finish it with The Freedom Ride’s final Playback Theatre performance for 2014?

At 8 pm people of our group and also locals flock to the beautiful venue of the AIC, the Alternative Information Centre. This is our only indoor performance and it turns out spectacular and emotionally charged. As usual we begin with simple experiences and light or funny stories for the Playback Theatres to re-enact. Marvellous pictures are painted as the Playback Theatre actors breathe life into stories without prior talk – like fish in a bowl they move on stage and although each of them expresses what they heard individually, their actions tie back to each other.

The evening’s final story is a very sad one, a young Palestinian shares his memory of his father being murdered by the Israeli Occupation Forces and the aftermath.

Whilst acting out the story actors along with some people of the audience have tears in their eyes, one visitor needs to step outside, another bursts into tears after the performance.

In a somewhat solemn mood we leave to return to our guesthouse. It’s been a great but intensive day, some retire, others go out into town or sit outside the guesthouse.

On our final morning together we have a very special morning circle, reflecting on the previous two days. Afterwards we gather in a big circle and everyone is given the chance to remember a moment they had during the past weeks – the idea is that upon hearing about the individual’s experience, other members of the circle will step into the middle and express with a movement how they perceive what was said – the freedom family is having its very own playback theatre performance!

Finally an evaluation circle is giving everyone the chance to share their feelings, provide feedback and give suggestions for improvements for future freedom rides.

The common sentiment is that everyone who shares their experience, does so in a fashion that suggests that of course they will be part of the next Freedom Ride…

After our final lunch as a group, people begin to leave and things get very emotional. The March Freedom Ride 2014 has ended, but the journey of this freedom family will continue in our hearts and minds forever.







Day #11

“Imagine somebody moves into your house and takes three rooms… you don’t negotiate with people like that.”

After nearly two weeks living with little water and hardly any opportunity to take a shower, people have a whole new appreciation for water. When we clean the two rooms at the clinic, lots of water bottles are found with some water left in them. People feel bad about throwing them away and start to drink the water instead.

Today we are off to Beit Sahour where all of us are longingly looking forward to the first hot shower in nearly two weeks – the Freedom Ride 2014 will conclude in a guesthouse with twin-bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms.

After long and heartfelt farewells in At-Tuwani we are ready for the home stretch of the Freedom Ride 2014. The previous evening had concluded in a meeting with the community and the feedback from locals was praise and gratitude connected with warm wishes and an open invitation to return to visit At-Tuwani anytime.

The Freedom family gets on the bus and the drive to Beit Sahour turns out something wonderful and very special. Listening to songs about longing for freedom from artists such as Tracy Chapman, everyone quietly reflects, looking out the windows over the by now so familiar, beautiful landscape, Palestinian towns, villages, Bedouin communities – all interspersed with fortress-like settlements and military watchtowers. Together with the music this drive feels magical, we all have so many achievements and great results of hard work to be proud of and look back at.

Upon arrival at the Saviour guesthouse in Beit Sahour, which is a converted greek orthodox church, our group disperses instantly, all heading for the longed-for hot shower and some rest.

The guesthouse is very beautiful, high ceilings, arches adorn the upper hallway, cooling marble floors, soft light flooding in through the windows – just upon entering reception we all feel instantly relaxed and comfortable.

After yet another delicious lunch some take a quick break outside in the garden, sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the bliss of this peaceful oasis whilst others have a quick power nap before the afternoon’s BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) workshop.

Our BDS lecture, given by a member of the by now well-known Palestinian BDS movement, takes us through the different types of boycott, divestments and sanctions that the organization pursues and talks about examples of current success stories. The boycott of Israel is growing and increasingly proving to be the strongest weapon next to cultural resistance in the fight against occupation and apartheid.

We work our way through the BDS one letter and category at a time, starting with “Boycott” which is the main instrument for all of us as consumers. “Divestment” is directed towards Israeli companies or foreign companies that invest in Israel and thereby profit from the system of occupation, apartheid and colonialism that Israel pursues. The company Veolia, who is involved in the light rail project in East Jerusalem that entails confiscation of Palestinian land, is one example of a company that has suffered great losses due to global BDS efforts. The “Sanctions” part of BDS is up to governments and transnational organisations such as the EU and the UN but as individuals we have the power to influence them to take such steps.

Back in the day the South Africa apartheid regime finally collapsed thanks to a similar approach – because it all starts with the people. First the people move and by that eventually the governments are forced to follow and international pressure will increase until the apartheid regime finally crumbles.

Opposite initial doubt, the BDS movement is growing worldwide and rapidly at that! The goal is to pressure Israel until it adheres to international law.

Finally we discuss the struggle BDS faces within Palestine. Palestinian society is not poor but impoverished – natural resources exist but are controlled by the occupation regime. Palestinian consumers are oftentimes more likely to buy the cheap Israeli products as the local business are unable to compete on the markets. This is coupled with circling propaganda that Israeli products are much better than those of Palestine. BDS still celebrates successes; more and more Palestinians are willing to make sacrifices and more conscious choices when shopping.

The BDS workshop leaves us all charged with new information, ideas and inspiration.

The rest of the afternoon we are free to spend at our own leisure – some go into town for some shopping, others just enjoy the beautiful gardens around the guesthouse in its tranquillity.

After everything we have witnessed since day #1, we all agree that today almost feels like a holiday!






Day #10


After breakfast and morning circle our group splits. While some participate in a playback theatre workshop, the rest of us set out to visit two communities at great threat that suffer constant incursions by the occupation forces and illegal settler violence – Om Alkhair and Susya.

Just when we leave, news reach us that we need to change our program for the day and visit Susya first, and upon arrival it becomes clear why. We get off the bus next to the road from where we can see military vehicles just a little further down the road. Looking further to the right, we see a bulldozer roaming a stretch of land, what used to be a grove with olive trees resembles ruins – the occupation forces have uprooted every single olive tree and demolished homes. In disbelief we witness how homes and livelihood of people are reduced to dusty rubble and wooden splinters.

It’s tough to watch what is happening right before our very eyes, how different it is to be present, in person to witness what we usually read about. Outrage is taken to an entirely new dimension. Despite the bus and a group of people observing from a mount, the occupation forces ignore us, in fact, as they leave they mock us by waving with smiling faces from the car as they pass us.

Once we have recovered from what we had to witness, even though from the distance, we walk to the nearby community of Susya where we are welcomed with the usual warmth by the locals. You wouldn’t be able to tell that yet another demolition serving the purpose of ethnic cleansing has taken place; for Palestinians this have become a daily hurdle to take.

“Most countries have military. But Israel’s military has a country.”

In a comprehensive presentation we are shown a satellite picture of the region we’re in, it has been turned into a map by the Israeli occupation forces and with tiny tags that bear white numbers hundreds of further unlawful evictions of Palestinians from their own land are signified. A laminated sheet with small printed numbers to decide about the fate of thousands of people… ethnic cleansing tactics to drive them off their land. Most interestingly there are blue marked patches that Israel claims to be its land – in areas C, B and even A!

It makes the Oslo accord look like just another atrocious crime committed to the people of Palestine.

Permits to build have become impossible to get for Palestinians. Expensive and elaborate red tape and other requirements mean that the locals will remain forced to live in metal structures covered with tarp held down with tyres and wood to protect them in any season.

The Israeli government once approached the people of Susya by suggesting that it would be so much more beneficial if they agreed to be moved to a different area, given that here they had no facilities, no hospital and schools nearby etc. Susya’s response was that they had no intention to move, however in order to obtain access to mentioned elusive facilities they were happy to grow the surrounding Palestinian communities and connect them to the town of Yatta.

This of course is not in Israel’s interest and the authorities retorted that this was not feasible given that the “planned growth” would come from Yatta downwards, not from Susya to Yatta… go figure.

We hear about stories of how the Zionist regime uses different laws from Turkish over Ottoman to old British laws… whatever serves their purposes will do.

By the end of it everyone receives a glass of honey from Susya and we all walk back to the bus in silence, everyone is engrossed in deep thoughts.

Later that day we visit Om Alkhair, another village that is not recognized by Israel. A high fence of mesh topped with barbed-wire is the only thing that separates the Palestinian village from the illegal Israeli settlement. Settler attacks are frequent and violent. On the settlement side of the fence a yellow sign in Hebrew, English and funnily enough also Arabic, warns of “danger of death” when nearing the fence.

Hostility exudes from the houses, blinds are shut, it feels like this must be a ghost town.

The rightful owners of the land show us the papers and deeds to prove their claim to the land is legit. They tell us that originally the first members of this community had bought this land from Palestinians from Yatta. The people who purchased the land are still alive, the contract was made around 1948, yet the Israeli regime refuses to recognize the village.

As we walk around Om Alkhair, it is the first time for all of us to get this close to a settlement. In the background we see construction work – of course illegal settlers can construct to their heart’s content without any permits… In fact, oftentimes they build entire houses and receive a hasty permit by the government in the aftermath.

Our Palestinian guides explain the situation very matter-of-fact, everything said has a common underlying message: this is our land, we’re not going anywhere!

But few of us can even begin to phantom what the people of Om Alkhair must be going through on a daily basis. “Yesterday the settlers watered all their grounds for no reason.” “Why did they do that?” Our guide responds with a sad look in his eyes “Because they can.”

Every few metres the fence surrounding the illegal settlement is fitted with an even taller spike that carries a high voltage flash light lest any outsider should approach. The Palestinian community here hardly has water supplies or electricity.

Driving through the West Bank one cannot help but wonder why every Palestinian village has water tanks on the roofs of its houses while houses in Israeli settlements do not – it’s because Palestinians have to buy their own water which is against international law and defies human rights. Most Bedouin communities do not even have houses to speak of and the tanks are on the ground.

It has been a great day for learning, gathering new facts, bearing witness to Israeli crimes committed to Palestinians and for absorbing the reality of occupation and apartheid. It has been an exhausting day for the mind, most of us feel tired and some even overwhelmed by the amount of impressions to take in and digest.

This is Palestine.










Day #9

At the crack of dawn, 6.30 am, some of us get up to join the Italian volunteers for their daily trip to pick up children from the military escort. After those who joined yesterday had shared what they witnessed with the group, more people wanted to see the transfer of those school children with their own eyes.

From our new friends, the Italian volunteers, we learn that there was an incident yesterday in the afternoon, as the children were on their way home from school: settlers threw stones at them. So today the volunteer in charge needs to speak with the soldiers and remind them to adhere to the agreement.

We also learn that since we arrived an Israeli soldier has been stationed outside At-Tuwani, observing the village – these news coincide with one of our group members having spotted six soldiers walking around the construction site of the new kindergarten which is only metres from our accommodation.

This is part of life under occupation, we don’t worry about it, we carry on as usual.

While we wait for the children, many ask questions and they mostly evolve around – why does the army not protect the children? And how about the police? Occupation and all its ugly accessories are difficult to comprehend at first. It also reminds those of us who spend more time in Palestine that we must be careful not to adapt too much but always be conscious of the crime in the acts of the oppressor regime.

One of our group members is a young mother, and at the sight of children being herded down a dusty slope by a military jeep with four soldiers in it, the tears run down her appalled and saddened face.

Illegal settlers sometimes drive past the kids, hitting, pushing and verbally abusing them. The soldiers remain in their jeep. We learn a new tactic is used. The youngest soldiers are sent for this job, meaning they don’t dare to push back violent settlers twice their age. In the beginning more senior soldiers were allocated to this task and at least they tried to actually protect the children.

We return to At-Tuwani, breakfast and morning circle time and after that we set out to one of the most exciting missions yet – today we are heading out to Mufaqarra with a tractor to plant 200 olive trees!

Upon arrival the local Bedouin farmer explains us the situation in detail. He received an internationally unlawful notice that a patch of land where he plants olive trees is no longer his, it says he was illegally using it and he had no claim to the land.

These are occupation tactics for stealing land. First it is confiscated under pretence that it is needed for military exercises, later it suddenly becomes annexed to an illegal settlement.

Off we go to plant olive trees on that very plot of land. The work is hard, the land is on a very steep hill and gigantic rocks are interspersed with patches of rich soil of a unique and beautiful shade of brown.

Some pluck weed, others start toiling the land with pick axes and finally we begin to plant the olive tree saplings. There is something deep, true and magical about planting a tree. It’s like breathing new life into the earth, a tree can outlive us all provided it is not cut, poisoned or burnt by Israeli settlers, that is… but for now we are happy, we create, we make a true and hopefully lasting difference – to sum it up, it’s such a wholesome and symbolic act.

As part of the infamous “price-tag” campaigns, which is the settlers’ way of revenge for any support of Palestine, olive trees are often times popular victims. Settlers spray them with poison, cut or set whole groves on fire. Going against the very land they claim is holy and sacred…

Think of trees – nature has a way of protecting them wherever weather is adverse and storms are harsh, the roots of trees will grow deeper. This also applies to the people of Palestine.

 Everyone has a great time, people enjoy the oftentimes therapeutic task of tending to the land, it’s re-connecting with nature but most of all it means re-connecting to the reality of our world in which we live, where occupation and apartheid, land and water theft, killing of livestock, assault and murder of natives and their children, restriction of movement and all the other manifold ways of destroying Palestinians’ livelihoods are not something we will stand for.

200 olive trees later we are happy, exhausted and positively starving! Our host and his children are very pleased with the result of today’s work and they insist we stay for lunch.

On the way back we navigate carefully as to not trip over any rocks – the Palestinian plains are very unique – although they are luscious green there are thousands of small rocks littered everywhere, hence it is sometimes referred to as “Land of stone and thyme”. Conversations erupt as to how tricky it is to move slowly, let alone imagine settlers chase you when it is impossible to move fast.

As we cool off inside a comfortable tent the local women bring us food and it is so rich and tasty that none of us can stop eating. We all reflect on how generous and hospitable Palestinian people are, how they will either share or give whatever they have even if it is not much and always with a smile and so much warmth.

“I have never met any people that are kinder or more generous than the Palestinian people.” This sentiment can be heard several times a day as part of conversations between people.

When we finish lunch we say good-bye to our host and his family and The Freedom Tractor takes us back to At-Tuwani.

Everyone needs a break after a hard day’s work, yet we gather the final scraps of our energy and finish what we started yesterday – some of us accompany the two local shepherds and their flocks and others finish re-building the shelter for children (where they will wait for their escort).

The evening of another long day concludes with a movie night. We all begin to dread the upcoming end of the 2014 March Freedom Ride and we all agree that really, this ride will never end but continue in our heart forever.

Palestine is working its magic, as the days go by people feel increasingly attached to the land and its people and everyone already feels somewhat conflicted about departing.








Day #8

“You know, when I talk to my friends and we speak about us or our future, the conversations always end in silence…just silence.” Palestinian Freedom Bus crew member

In the morning some of us get up at 6.30 to meet a group of Italian activists that accompany school children of all ages past an illegal Israeli settlement and an outpost that is notorious for violent and aggressive inhabitants.

In 2004 three international volunteers were badly beaten when they accompanied the children as they do every day. The volunteers had to be brought to hospital, all three suffered long time damage, one of them is now blind on one eye.

Because one of the volunteers was American, the US stepped in and the Israeli high court was forced to implement a military escort for school children for the stretch right next to the illegal Israeli outpost. Only illegal settlers have the key to the gate that closes the road that Palestinian children from the nearby villages have to pass. Not even the occupation forces can intervene and need to ask for permission to pass.

Two Israeli soldiers are supposed to accompany the group of children by foot. Colonist settlers throw stones at them, verbally abuse them and hit them. Even the stretch past the gate is dangerous as settlers passing in cars push, hit and swear at Palestinian school children.

We listen in disbelief as we are told about stories of settler attacks in this small valley of which half has been annexed to the illegal settlement whilst the other half has been declared a closed military firing zone. Shepherds are attacked along with their livestock, settlers attack with sling shots, sticks, fists…. The occupation forces are not allowed to take action against illegal settlers whilst the police oftentimes refuses to because the culprits are members of their community. The last arrest included three soldiers off duty…

Our volunteer guide receives a text message: there are two further volunteers stationed on a hill from which they can watch the children leave the village and meet the army, there is a two minute period during which the children are out of sight – this is when a message is sent “The children are out of sight now. In 2 minutes you see them.”

We all stare anxiously to the spot in the far distant that the volunteer has pointed out – this is where we will see them shortly.

And what we see yet again defies humanity. The soldiers don’t walk the children. Four soldiers sit in a big military vehicle and children of all ages walk in front of it… herded like cattle they are exposed to any potential attacks.

Watching them walk down the slope we get a sickening feeling, despite the detailed and comprehensive previous explanation of our kind volunteer guide, nothing prepared us for the reality of it.

The children laugh and shout and chatter as they approach us followed by a cloud of dust the huge jeep driving behind them is stirring up.

“Good morning”, “Sabah al kheer”, “Marhaba”, “What’s your name?” “How are you?” Big smiles and lots of little hands greet us – again we are baffled, Palestinian children should all be teaching in schools world-wide because we need it.

We walk them to At-Tuwani, the military jeep keeps driving, the Italian volunteer takes the usual information: how many soldiers, number of the car’s plate…. We watch the jeep disappear around the corner.

We return to our accommodation and continue on to our usual morning exercises, we have our daily check-in circle and those who joined to pick up the children before, share their feelings.

After a brief session on future solidarity co-operation, support, fundraising and ways of keeping connected we start our official program – we visit the local school’s festival.

And boy is it a party! Palestinian flags sore in the air and exude a feeling of victory as they dance with a backdrop of clear blue sky and sunshine to a soundtrack of children singing and laughing. Some kids volunteer as ushers and we recognize some of the kids we picked up this morning.

There are passionate talks interjected by performances of students – from playing instruments to singing and dancing Dabke it again becomes clear how proud and rooted the Palestinian culture is.

Dabke is much more than a dance, it is a powerful expression of resistance, of pride of being rooted to faith and land… it makes your heart burst with passion just watching a performance. Really, it makes you want to learn the steps and join!

Our lunch is a cornucopia like buffet of traditional food and desserts, young girls in traditional clothing serve everyone.

After this buffet – be jealous, be very jealous! – we need a break before today’s community work.

In the afternoon we split into two groups, one is to rebuild a shelter for children whilst they gather to wait for their escort by volunteers and military. The second group accompanies the local shepherds with their flocks so they can have their animals graze in the luscious deep green grass that grows very close to the illegal settlement.

Colonist settlers instantly call security and we see a white car circle the settlement closely to the double row of mesh, barbwire and electric fence. After this morning’s events those who joined are still baffled by the sheer possibility of things happening here.

We sit with the shepherds keeping a watchful eye towards the outpost, but we are so many that nothing further happens aside from suspicious security approaches.

Shepherding the shepherds, rebuilding a shelter that has previously been destroyed by settlers and army over and over again – this is a very different reality to the one we are used to in our “safe” lives we will soon return to, whilst the locals will keep up the fight for their rights.

Lest we forget.

The night we arrived to At-Tuwani, we needed lots of blankets, mattresses, pillows and covers – and we witness something that is just so very typically Palestinian. People are bustling and rushing throughout the entire village – before we know it there is a pile of all we need. “They are all clean!” a woman shouts from a balcony of a nearby house. Only when we tell them that we have enough now, does the rushing stop. Surely they have given us everything they have and are happy to sleep less comfortable to make us welcome and keep us warm through the night.

Back to yesterday – in the evening we are in for a very, very special treat. After dinner we all gather in the by now familiar school yard, all decoration, chairs and sun covers from today’s celebrations have evaporated.

Together with some members of the local community we listen to Munther Al-Raee who performs a repertory of beautiful, sometimes haunting but mostly up beat and rhythmical Palestinian songs.

The performance is the perfect way to end another wonderful day in At-Tuwani, locals and our group deeply enjoy the music and for about an hour we are what we are supposed to be – one global community. The crowd mingles and some families invite member of our group to stay with them in their homes for the night.

Children run around playing catching each other, there is lots of giggling and the soft mumble of many conversations being held once the concert has finished.

Some of the local men dance and sing some more, the sound is addictive and we could just stay like this for the entire night, it is such a magical atmosphere.

We all go to sleep exhausted but happy and we cannot wait for what small and big miracles tomorrow will bring.

This is Palestine.







Day #7

Our day starts as usual – delicious breakfast, diary updates and morning exercises followed by the daily check-in circle.

Whilst some of the group participate in a spontaneous Playback Theatre workshop with Ben Rivers, the rest of us set out to take a long walk up and down steep slopes to visit some communities in the surrounding area. The dusty, pothole-riddled tracks make way for smooth tarmac roads connecting illegal Israeli settlements and outposts that are illegal even to Israeli law. Whilst the high court “publicly” orders those colonies to be removed, in reality they are given infrastructure and the plan is to connect them – as mentioned in previous blog posts – to create apartheid Bantustans and fragment Palestine even more.

The heat is stifling, we are exhausted as we reach the top of a hill and look at surrounding areas whilst we stand on a road that is made for illegal settlers. We see Yatta in the distance, the landscape is so beautiful yet broken by illegal settlements and outposts. There it is: the ugly face of occupation, land theft, water theft, human rights violations… Concern and appalled disbelief is written on everyone’s face.

The real owners of the land live in dust and poverty, subjected to frequent and violent Israeli settler attacks, army incursions and worse.

After arriving in Mofaqarra we all get to cool off sitting down on comfortable mattresses in a Bedouin home – a cave. Makeshift shelves are fixed to the ceiling, storage is improvised by means of bags hanging off a wall in the most decorative fashion… There are some very beautiful vintage clocks, vases and other bric-a-brac – this cave exudes the feeling of roots, steadfastness.

Another local guide tells us about the struggles of this community: evictions, violence, killing, suffering – and as always his talk finishes with an unspoken conclusion: we are not about to go anywhere, this is our home, this is where we are born and this is where we will die.

Our host spoils us with the usual delicious tea served steaming hot in glasses, and sitting in that cave, looking at the daylight flooding in through the door giving this homely space an incredibly warm and comforting glow, this tea tastes special.

Outside we listen to our next local guide talk about how the army forces families to leave their homes, claiming the land as military firing zone and in general doing their best to make live unbearable for communities.

While he talks we sit on rubble that once was a mosque. 

The walk continues through the typical stunning Palestinian landscape that tell so many tales of beauty and suffering without speaking a word. Sometimes we get brief explanations, other times we all reflect looking out at sandy, stony hills interrupted by pastures of the lushest of green you want to dive right in!

We pass further Bedouin communities and meet some children on their way home from school. Palestinian children are a miracle in themselves, every single one of those tiny people can teach you more about life than any books or universities could. They are polite, warm, open and you can sense that inner strength we have come to find as a Palestinian trait. We are not “helping” them, they are helping us to make this world a better place by suffering so bravely yet holding their ground. 

After nearly three hours of walking, we are ready to return to At-Tuwani and most of us are positively starving at this point. Everyone deeply enjoyed this walk, new food for thought – now for some food for the stomach!

The afternoon is spent taking naps or relaxing in different ways, some help at the local school to prepare decorations for tomorrow’s festival.

In the evening we all gather with the locals at the schoolyard to witness another great Playback Theatre performance and by that finishing the day bearing witness to more stories of the past, the Nakba with its sad and dark anniversary coming closer.

66 years since more than 700,000 Palestinians were uprooted, driven off their land and the atrocities committed to them and the suffering they endure until this very day leave us in silence…. There are no words.

The 2014 March Freedom Ride is special, this group consists of so many unique individuals from all walks of life who have gathered to bear witness, to spread the word, to gather humanity to put an end to the slow killing of Palestine and her children at long last. 

We have one thing in common: we are truly, deeply and irrevocably in love with Palestine – its culture, people, landscape… this is a special place and we need to safe it.

This is Palestine. And we are a voice for those who have been silenced for too long.










Day #6

After a wonderful breakfast enjoyed outside sitting in the sun, we say good-bye to Nabi Saleh and our journey continues to At-Tuwani.

The drive takes us past the largest illegal settlements and the landscape is now littered with the infamous watch towers from which many innocent people and children have been shot at the whim of a soldier.

It becomes very clear that there is much more military presence, there are many road blocks and armed soldiers are at every corner.

This morning news reached us that the occupation forces have entered Jenin camp to assassinate a 22 year old man. Three people were martyred, at least eight people ended up in hospital with injuries, some of them are still in critical condition. Having been to Jenin and visited the camp, having watched the slideshow of pictures from the Jenin massacre 2002 with Vangelis’ masterpiece Voices playing in the background… the news puts a damper on the entire group’s day.

Many sit on the bus quietly reflecting on the trip so far – many still process yesterday’s demonstration and the experience of teargas and sound bombs and… walking in Palestinian shoes for that stretch down the hill around the bend where the army already waits…

After lunch we take a walk up the mountain where the views are breath-taking – not only because of the landscape’s beauty, but also because it is clearly visible how At-Tuwani is surrounded by a growing number of illegal Israeli settlements. These illegal colonies are to be connected if the occupation regime gets its way – this means Palestinian communities will be further divided and what will be created is comparable to Bantustans in apartheid South Africa.

Because of its location, At-Tuwani is considered a gate from one region to another and amongst many other attempts to drive Palestinians out, one of them is that the occupation forces constantly set up road blocks that make it nearly impossible for the local Palestinians to leave or return to their homes.

The community here permanently faces some of the worst illegal Israeli settler violence – water and live-stock are poisoned, shepherds and school children are subjected to harassment and even physical abuse, the village suffers constant attacks… to name only few of a long list of violations and issues.

In the evening we all enjoy time with some of the locals, delicious dinner and a talk by Mark LeVine about the history of the occupation in Palestine and how economical as well as political interests prevent solutions.

Many are exhausted and so we return to our accommodation and our fatigued group members prepare for an early night, whilst those who are charged with energy sit outside by a fire, marvelling at a clear and starry night-sky, listening to tunes played on guitar and oud.

Our real mission in At-Tuwani begins tomorrow – so watch this space. Today was about taking a much deserved break and reflecting on what we have seen so far.

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Day #5

We are sitting outside our host’s house, the sun is shining, beside the house construction workers hammer away, birds a singing… the smell of delicious falafel is in the air… as you go down those sunny stairs of this homely patio to take a stroll down that inviting luscious green slope, you will soon trip over tear gas canisters, sound bomb shells and other paraphernalia of occupation and war crime whilst the trees make way for a different view – an illegal Israeli settlement sits ugly and menacing right on the opposite hill.

We are in Nabi Saleh.

Many people have a bucket list, on it are the things they hope to do before they leave this world. Yesterday all of us here ticked off from our lists: having tear gas grenades and sound-bombs shot at us. The weekly demonstration was as usual met with reckless force by the occupation forces, however due to the high number of international participants and an entire battalion of cameras the army did not show their usual “effort”.

It’s a surreal experience… the march begins at a square, the group is waiting for those who attend the mosque to finish their prayers and then everyone rallies around the leader, flags, posters, pictures of martyrs are handed out to everyone. At the start of this peaceful demonstration, children walk upfront, carrying flags and posters until the procession reaches the bend in the road after which they are within immediate shooting range of the occupation forces.

The awkward moment when you find yourself in an acre, trying to make your way without tripping over one of the many rocks, at the same time checking the skies for tear gas grenades whilst keeping an eye on the soldiers of the occupation forces – and still take some decent pictures to pass on what you saw – we all had that yesterday.

As we watch clouds of tear gas descending from the valley, sound bombs explode, shots can be heard… and someone asks: “Imagine to live in that settlement and watch this every Friday.” Well, if you are in that settlement, then you are the kind of person that watches this every Friday. It’s simple.

One injury was reported – the occupation forces shot a paramedic, a war crime in itself, but he got away with minor injuries and trauma as the bullets were rubber coated projectiles. Again, probably part of the special show put on for foreigners – the locals say that since the weekly demonstration here has attracted international attention, the forces have changed tactics. As collective punishment they drive through the entire village spraying houses with skunk water, a chemical and poisonous strong smelling mix. They take special care to target the water tanks on the roofs – fully aware that they are who deprive Palestinians not just of land but also water resources – the supply to Palestinian villages is restricted and oftentimes additional water has to be bought from the Israeli water company. The water vendor only comes around every so often, think about that next time you take a shower, flush the toilet…. Etc.

This March Freedom Ride is for most people a trip to reality because it is so easy to forget, so easy to ignore. The suffering of people here is hard to imagine, in fact you cannot fully comprehend it until you find yourself feeling like a child on its birthday because you get three minutes to take a shower – the first after a week.

Our host has an archive of every army incursion over the past 4 years, he shows us documentaries, one of them is a film made by a Belgium film maker who conducts interviews in Nabi Saleh as well as the illegal settlement. After watching it most of us are deeply shocked, someone apologizes to our tour guide for ever having questioned the right of Palestinians to fight back.

After a long and intense day we have dinner in a different house, the views are stunning, the sun sets behind us, bathing Nabi Saleh in a magical golden glow and again we feel so proud to be here because this place is special. People are so very strong, their inner peace and determination to hold their land is deeply inspiring.

We discuss how we are all controlled by this, how we are questioned and interrogated by border control of Israel why we have been e.g. on a holiday in Morocco… the most inappropriate questions are asked, making many people never return again.

Today we wake up to news that the Israeli Occupation forces have entered Jenin Camp. Three young men have been martyred. Houses have been demolished.

Our work might never end, but it’s worth doing it every second. Day #5 of The Freedom Ride – three run-ins with the occupation forces so far.

This is Palestine.