What better way of spending International Human Rights Day than to improve a local school in a Palestinian village in a valley that lies in the shadow of an illegal Israeli settlement?
Like every day after breakfast we meet for Tai Chi exercises under guidance of Ben Rivers before our morning circle commences where everyone shares thought, feelings and impressions of the previous day and in general. Reflecting on our day in Al Hadedye causes some of us to become very emotional, having walked this close past military exercises and shooting, seeing people fight for their right to exist wedged in between illegal settlement and military firing zone is bursting our frames of what we thought was possible.
After conclusion of the morning circle we are heading back towards the old familiar military firing zone, not far from Al Hadedeye lies the small community of Khirbet Samra. Timing is of essence, we need to get off the bus, grab the tools and supplies and start walking swiftly before the occupation forces can spot us.
Armed with buckets, spates, gloves and drinking water we make our way to Khirbet Samra where we are met by The Freedom Theatre staff and also our first-year Theatre School students who join to help us with the task at hand.
Because bringing construction material is illegal according to the Israeli law system that controls this area, the concrete and sand we use have been brought here the night before.
This is land theft, water theft, human rights theft… Everywhere you look makeshift huts with tin roofs huddled together stand in stark contrast to luxury houses with pools, green lawns and trees surrounded by electric fence.
How can anyone be oblivious to this? We debate in a group which issue is worse: those committing this crime to humanity? Or the global community that allows it to continue?
It does not take long before the occupation forces arrive. They tell us to stop building because it is illegal. We tell them that we are not building but making improvements to an already existing structure. Most of us ignore the soldiers and carry on with our work. They start filming and taking photos.
Soon arguments break out, the soldiers ask us to prove that this brick building that is going to be a school for the children of this small community was here before. Indeed it was and we start searching through blogs and social media to find pictures of it from last year’s Freedom Ride. One of the actors finally succeeds – but when he shows the pictures to the soldiers one of them replies: “Have you ever heard of photoshop?”
We gather in a circle under a big tree, sit down and start singing. The soldiers watch us. They make some of us go through our cameras and delete photos that contain either the soldiers or their jeep.
Two more military vehicles arrives – and out come two of the soldiers that stopped us two days before when we tried to walk to Al Hadedeye.
After what seems like an eternity they leave. No further comment but that we must stop work. We know we are watched from then on. The three jeeps stop at the end of the small dirt road leading to Samra and park across it to seal the road off.
The women in the community prepare food for us and it is delicious, not only because after this latest hold up we are positively starving!
Whilst the majority of the group continue to sit in the shade of the tree, some keep discreetly working on laying the concrete floor in the school, and they manage to finish it. We know that there is a risk this building will be demolished but the community invited us to help them improve it and we did. If we need to come back and rebuild it we will, as many times as it takes.
Meanwhile news get to us that the army has stopped The Freedom Theatre’s managing director from entering the village. They are not allowing anybody in, not even villagers.
Happy international human rights day.
We listen to stories by a villager who recants all the suffering and violations like an old, familiar, sad song that is ever expanding with new verses until the global community will finally wake up. Yet the outlook of the locals is confident. We are here to stay. This is our land. Justice will come.
Yet another clear change reflects on our group member’s faces. Realization is dawning, hits deep.
Much later we are finished, tools are cleaned, the atmosphere in the group is good but sombre. Deep conversations take place about occupation, apartheid and how all of this is even possible to happen whilst the world is watching – or looking the other way.
When we are done and ready to leave it turns out we cannot return the way we came because of the occupation forces. Instead of using the road, we need to climb up a steep, rocky hill quick enough to meet the bus just when it arrives – there is not time for a long stop, the army might make trouble for us again.
So much to reflect on at the start of this day, which is all about celebrating and fighting for Human Rights. And so many human rights to mourn…
Yet in Samra there is a new concrete floor in the school.