The end and the beginning

Mural II.jpg

Text and photo: Bryan MacCormack, with Left in Focus

The 2016 Freedom Bus has come to an end. Throughout the ride participants were armed with stories of love and resistance, each departing with a new responsibility to spread these truths abroad. The power carried by our experiences is immense, as attested to by Abu Ashraf who said “You all are more frightening to the settlers than an army tank.”

As we learned from those at The Freedom Theatre, regimes of Occupation and Apartheid must also occupy the minds of the people: those under and outside of their rule. By bearing witness and standing in solidarity with those in struggle, we are now better equipped to change the hearts and minds of our friends, families and societies at home. Through articles, film screenings, photo exhibitions, participation in Palestine solidarity committees, and organising in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, we are now more committed than ever to furthering our solidarities with Palestinians.

Day 11 – Not these olive trees, not this land

Written by Tim, Karina and Christine
Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus


Today Freedom Riders had a chance to show solidarity through the universal language of sport. At the sound of the school bell, excited students from Afula primary burst out of their classrooms and onto the paved sports court.

Under a hot West Bank sun, a volleyball game started between teachers and older students, showing great skill and enthusiasm. For the younger boys, a competitive game of soccer was greatly enjoyed.

After a quick break, and some acrobatic instructing in somersaulting and handstands from Ibraheem, an obstacle course race was run. The two teams were both eager to win, with much laughter and yelling of encouraging words. It was a close tie!

We were very thankful to be welcomed so warmly by everyone at Afula primary school; high-fives and wide smiles were in abundance. Visiting the students was a beautiful reminder of what we share across cultures—most importantly, a love of sport!


Playback Theatre

In one of the rooms of the school in Atuwani, Ben and Karin held a workshop on Playback Theatre. Eight participants from the Freedom Ride and four young men from the village took part. Warming up exercises and games found a lot of response!

Due to noisy construction work in the school, the second part took place outside in a shady part of the schoolyard. Two stories were told and enacted on the spot: A participant’s story about a surprising view of Mufaqqara’s livestock out of the bathroom window that morning. The second story was told by a young Palestinian from a nearby community, trying to escape from aggressive settlers and ending up fooling them. The 90 minutes of playing together brought joy and connection.

Olive Trees

At around ten in the morning, Freedom riders who’d chosen to stay back in Mufaqqara followed Abu Ashraf down a rock-strewn path into the valley, cutting through tobacco fields and as-yet unplanted furrows of orange soil until we came to a grove of young olive trees.

Armed with half a dozen pick-axes and our own bare hands, we spread out in pairs and small groups over the hillside grove to weed the little plot of soil that circled each tree. Before long, there was singing and laughing. Abu Ashraf demonstrated the technique, then reclined on a wide flat rock to watch us work, pausing to call out playful teasing judgments of those who worked too slowly, or forgot their work for long moments as the conversation with their work-partner became more engrossing than the rocks and nettles.

Later, we learned that this plot of land was cultivated specifically in response to a nearby settlements’ attempts to claim it. Under Israeli martial law, any piece of land that is left “untended” by Palestinians for three years or more is legal to confiscate. In practice, most Palestinians would be happy to work their land, but are pushed off of it by the aggressive intimidation tactics—killing livestock, physical assault—of Israeli settlers.

But not these olive trees, not this land. This land belongs to the people of Mufaqarra, just as the people of Mufaqarra belong to this land.

Day 10 – South Hebron Hills

Written by Mary and Christine
Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus

There are two communities that live side-by-side in the South Hebron Hills. One is Carmel, a gated Israeli settlement of 400 residents, with lush gardens and air conditioned homes.  Just beyond its barbed wire fencing is the small Bedouin town of Umm al Khair, populated by roughly 70 people living in tin huts and tents. They have no access to the electricity grid and no running water. All their attempts to build permanent dwellings have resulted in demolition by Israeli forces.

The Bedouins in Umm al Khair came here nearly 70 years ago when Israel expelled them from the Naqab desert. They bought the land bit by bit over 10 years from people who lived in the local town of Yatta. In the end, it cost them 100 camels—a high price for a small band of subsistence farmers.

They attracted little attention from the Israeli authorities until 1980 when the decision was made to build Carmel and the settlers began to look greedily on the Bedouin land. The means of grabbing it was to issue arbitrary military zone orders, under which the Bedouin structures suddenly became illegal—from their homes to their bread oven and, more recently, to the small toilets they built.

Some structures have been demolished two or three times and then rebuilt. Soldiers attack the goats and sheep and the shepherds who tend them. The Bedouins have papers to prove ownership but are forbidden permits to enable them to build new houses or maintain the old ones.

The Bedouins refuse to leave. Meliha Al’hathaleen, a 56 year old woman (pictured with one of her 17 grandchildren), says the Palestine Authority have been no help.

“They came once, took a picture and then left,” she said. “We have to be steadfast. The Palestine Authority build mansions in Ramallah, but we stay here to fight to keep our land.”

South Hebron Hills

A five minute drive from Umm al Khair, tucked in the rolling hills around Yatta, is Mufaqqara. It’s a small farming community—olive trees and tobacco, sheep and goats, donkeys, a few horses. Situated at the crest of hill, the village affords stunning views across the fertile valley farmland to the east, and, on a wooded bluff on the western horizon: another gated Israeli settlement, it’s white boxy buildings sitting in stark contrast to the smooth curves of the land.

Over the years, the people of Mufaqqara have endured a lot of abuse from these settlers.

“In 2007,” said Abu Ashraf, the eldest patriarch of the community, as he reclined on a rock with us looking out across his pastures. “Settlers poisoned the feed of my sheep.”

Abu Ashraf owned around 300 head of sheep at that time. He took a sample of the poisoned feed to be tested at Birzeit University. The result?

“They said the baby sheep can’t drink from their mother for four months,” Ashraf said. Because of the timing of the attack—early spring—many newborn sheep were lost, despite the village’s attempts to keep them alive by bottle-feeding them costly powdered milk.

Despite this, Abu Ashraf maintains a remarkable humor and sense of resolve about the situation. Before long, he has everyone laughing as he relates a story of an arrest that took place on the hillside right before us. According to Ashraf, the Israeli police arrested and detained a shepherd from Mufaqqara, ostensibly because he was grazing his sheep in a “closed military zone.” They told him, in custody, that he owed a 8000-shekel fee for this offense, and that he could either pay the fee or stay with them at the army base indefinitely.

“He began to argue with the police—asking for a lower and lower fee.” At last, when the police had agreed to lower it to 2000 shekels, the shepard looked stunned, hurt. Only two thousand shekels? he said. Surely Im worth more than that!

“They kept him over night,” Ashraf said. The next morning, when Israeli police arrived for their morning briefing and assignment of daily tasks, the arrested shepherd piped up.

Hey, what about me? He began to banter with the police, asking for an assignment. I can drive, why dont you let me be in charge of this or that raid?

In the end, the shepherd was released with no fine.

On its surface, the story’s pure fun, a tale of triumph through wit. What you can’t see, however, is that at the margins of this tale—underpinning and likely facilitating the Israeli army’s decision to release the shepherd—is a vast network of support that Abu Ashraf has intentionally built for himself and the others of Mufaqqara. He partners with a variety of human rights organizations—The Freedom Theatre among them—and is not afraid to call on their support and solidarity when the dignity and rights of his community are infringed upon by Israel.

While we sat on the hill, a silver pickup truck drove past us down a distant road, slowing down to gawk out their open window at the forty or so of us gathered on the hillside. A settler. Immediately, half the group stood, pointed their cameras at the vehicle, walked closer to the road. After a few moments, the truck drove away.

“You all are more frightening to the settlers than an army tank,” Abu Ashraf told us. “Your cameras, your writing. There is a dramatic change in their behavior towards us when you are here.”

I’ve never felt “watching” to be a particularly strong activity. However, in Playback Theatre performances—after a community member has shared a story—the person conducting the show will turn to the audience and say, khaleena enshuf. It means “let’s watch.” In both those moments of performance onstage and moments of witness like the one all the Riders collectively shared on the hillside in Mufaqqara, it has become clear to me that, in certain circumstances, watching is a powerful act.



Day 9 – Checkpoints and child arrests

Written by Janey
Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus

The Freedom Bus arrived in Hebron today. Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank and as the only Palestinian city left out of the Oslo accords, it faces a uniquely brutal struggle for survival.

The beauty of this ancient city, with its old buildings and winding streets, is totally overshadowed by the lethal military presence. Menacing soldiers with guns patrol the city and cage-like checkpoints with turnstiles and body scanners are always just around the corner. The city is shrouded in tension.

Since 1997, Hebron has been divided into two areas: H1 (under Palestinian Authority control) and H2 (under Israeli control), with the Israeli army maintaining checkpoints to and from H1. The Israeli army strategically blocked off several passages around the city, making journeys that could be direct much longer, and there are large areas of the city that are inaccessible to Palestinians. 

Due to violence from the army and settlers, as well as heavily restricted access to the area, more than 40% of Palestinian residencies in H1 have now been abandoned, and shops and markets have been forced to close by court order. There are now ghost streets where the biggest markets used to be. The markets that do remain open face aggression from settlers who live above them, who throw rubbish and stones down. Palestinians have put nets above the markets to collect all the debris to protect themselves from all the debris that’s thrown down. Settlers in Hebron are fervently religious and notoriously violent, known to set fire to homes and shops, as well as damage water containers. Muslim prayer calls are frequently banned for periods of time and schools are closed during Jewish holidays. 

Freedom Riders travelled to Hebron today to witness its apartheid and meet the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, who help renovate shops and preserve the cultural heritage of the city. We were told to bring our passports and ID cards, because interaction with the Israeli army was inevitable. As we passed through a checkpoint into H1, painfully a Palestinian member of the group who had forgotten his ID card had to remain behind. He later told the group how awful it felt to watch people – including international travellers – entering in and out of this part of the city, whilst he was completely locked out.

When you approach a checkpoint, you are totally at the mercy of the soldiers controlling it. You’re forced to move like cattle through a narrow, caged passage, through two turnstiles and a body scanner. Smug soldiers watch everyone coming through, and can arbitrarily demand to check IDs and refuse people entry as and when they want. Some of the group said they felt scared at the checkpoint; I felt a deep, burning sense of anger at the total power and control the Israeli army hold over Palestinians. There is no doubt this level of surveillance and humiliation, amongst everything else in the occupation, seriously impacts your sense of dignity. 

We were only about 15 metres clear of the checkpoint when we turned into an empty road where two armed soldiers faced a scared 16 year old boy, with their guns half-raised. It was incredibly distressing to see, especially in Hebron. Less than a week ago, two young Palestinian men were executed by the Israeli military here. The military don’t hesitate to kill, arrest, torture and imprison children, and Palestinians present with the group today were afraid that the soldiers would shoot him. Consequently, the whole group stopped to witness the situation and stand in solidarity with the young boy who was being targeted. 

The boy was terrified. The soldiers, on the other hand, were nonchalant. This was enraging to witness, and it struck me how little it really takes for humans to be able to dehumanise others, and how the IDF as an institution must be very adept at training soldiers to dehumanise. How else could they butcher and terrorize Palestinians in the way that they do? As I witnessed the scene, I talked to a Palestinian woman about the Israeli military and we wondered how much they’re paid to do this, she concluded: “But they don’t realise, they’ve sold their humanity. No wage can be worth that”.

We stood and took photos of the situation, with the hope that this could bring some sense of accountability to the soldiers and hopefully deter them from doing harm. However, when it comes to the Israeli army, accountability is almost non-existent. There are thousands of videos online of vicious military violence against Palestinians. Regardless, in that moment on that street, bearing witness felt like all we could do; we were concerned that actively getting involved might escalate the situation.

Before long, even more armed soldiers had arrived by foot and they grouped around the boy. Eventually, a jeep turned up. The soldiers didn’t seem to care that we were there: they posed for photos, proud, and one even directly addressed the group, smirking: “Ok people, hi, how are you? Did you enjoy your time in Israel? You can move away now”. We didn’t. He declared that the army were holding the boy because “he wasn’t meant to be in this area”, and when some of the members of the Freedom Ride demanded “well why are you holding him here then? Let him go!”, the soldier never replied. 

One of the Palestinians in the group asked a soldier: “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to protect my country”.

The group’s interactions with the military proved fruitless: they arrested the boy and put him in the back of the jeep. It’s likely they then drove him to an interrogation centre, where he’ll be detained and aggressively questioned, asked to sign a statement that is written in Hebrew, then charged with a false crime that will be decided on in a corrupt military court, and then imprisoned. If the stand-off in the street wasn’t enough to completely traumatise him, the military arrest process will. 

I can’t get him out of my mind – what happened to him? How does he feel? How will this impact his life? 

Do his parents know he’s been arrested? What kind of terror will they feel when they find out?

Later on, Freedom Riders and local organisers debriefed on the day’s events. There was a heavy atmosphere in the room. Many of us felt sad and angry about what we had witnessed. International participants and Palestinians alike couldn’t help but cry, and a Jewish member of the group explained how livid he was that today’s violence was “being done by Jewish people in the name of the Jewish religion”. Some of us felt conflicted: we weren’t sure whether talking to the army was a good idea. We didn’t know whether our presence and actions had mitigated the violence committed against the boy, or actually made it worse. We’ll never know if he would have been killed if we weren’t there, or if he will be killed because we were there. When it comes to the Israeli occupation, it’s impossible to predict. 

At the end of the debrief, which went on late into the night, one of the members of the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee said that what they see in Hebron is more than apartheid: it’s ethnic cleansing. He described the difference: apartheid forces you to take restricted routes to move forward. Ethnic cleansing stops you from passing anywhere.

As the Freedom Ride travels to different places in Palestine, we are hearing about and seeing astronomical amounts of violence at the hands of the Israelis; it’s an everyday occurrence in Palestine. Everyone has a story to tell about their own experiences: a family member who has been in prison or killed. All of these accounts are just tiny parts of an aggressive, violent system. This is how structural oppression works: individual, traumatising acts of aggression that happen on a mass-scale and serve a greater end goal. In this case, one of colonisation and ethnic cleansing. 

Hebron watchtower

Day 8 – The land that makes you belong to it

Written by Christine
Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus

Our last full day in Bethlehem dawned with a heavy, cold rain. I noticed my own sleepiness reflected in the faces of others as we took our breakfast together. A large portion of us had been up late the night before, laughing and singing and talking together in the lobby of the hotel, infected by the contagious joy of the music we had heard performed in Aida Refugee Camp. Now, though: eyelids were heavy. Coffee cups were filled and refilled. The day’s work lay ahead.

Our first stop was Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh refugee camp. Established in 1950, the camp housed refugees from villages in the greater Bethlehem region. For the first six years of its operation, Dheisheh camp residents lived in tents, 3-by-4 meters in area per family. Like in Jenin Camp, after time had passed, more permanent structures were erected.

Now, the camp is known for its exceptionally strong cultural outreach programs to children and women. The front room of the center is crowded with sports trophies. In the back, traditional pieces of Palestinian tatriz embroidery are available for purchase. Produced by the Women’s Tatriz Collective after the start of the second Intifada in 2000, the sale of these items provides financial support to families living in the camp.

After a presentation on the history of the camp and Ibdaa, we moved upstairs for two guest lectures. 

The first, led by Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch, dealt with what he called “the mechanics of the occupation.” Since 1967, we learned, all of occupied Palestine has been subject to Israeli martial law. More than 760,000 men, women and children have been detained since that time.

“Ask yourself,” Horton said. “What is the primary objective of the [Israeli] military in the West Bank? It’s no real secret,” he said. “It’s to guarantee the protection of the settlers who live in the West Bank.” 

As of this February, settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank numbered more than 600,000.

“When you look at some of the data, it is truly staggering,” Horton said. According to the US State Department, not a single settler was killed in the West Bank in 2012.

“How on earth has the Israeli military been so successful?” Horton asked us. “They haven’t come up with some fancy new strategy. The strategies they employ are tried and tested throughout history, but they have perfected them. They basically consist of two elements. The first one is mass intimidation. The second one is collective punishment.”

The second talk dealt with Palestinian refugees and international law, given by Lubnah Shomali of the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

“It should be noted that the provision of services to refugees,” said Shomali, “whether they are Palestinian or otherwise, in order that they are able to live in dignity during their time of refuge, is a right according to international law. So it’s not just a moral obligation upon states. It’s also a legal obligation.” 

I thought, then, of the cold rain currently falling on Dhesheh, and remembered the talk given to us in Jenin Refugee Camp. At a certain point, we’d stopped near a deep rut in the sidewalk, where the concrete had broken through to form a rough trough that ran down the center of the narrow sloped street. When it rains, our guide told us, we swim. I tried to imagine living with dignity in a Palestinian refugee camp as a torrent of rain water, sullied by rubbish and dust from the streets, soaked through my shoes and socks and pants as I made my way to work or school.

It was hard to imagine.

 After lunch the rain cleared, and we took the bus out to Mar Saba, a monastery located in a remote, beautiful desert. We walked up and down the winding stone steps, built into the canyon wall, picking our way over a metal foot bridge, peering into the abandoned cave-dwellings of hermits and saints, picking sprigs of fragrant, fuzzy-leafed wild mountain sage. At the end of our walk, a local man, Hasan il’Sukkon, invited the whole group to his home at the lip of the canyon for tea and music.

For years, il’Sukkon told me through a translator, he had worked as a night guard for the monastery. Now, he supports himself and his family by giving tours and performing his original songs at weddings. 

“Living here is beautiful,” he told me, gesturing out over the rolling sand-colored hills. “But the disturbance from Israelis makes life insecure.” 

Six years ago, the Israeli army demolished the nearby home of his uncle. When I asked what he would do if the army came to destroy his home, il’Sukkon shrugged, answering indirectly that they were lucky in this part of the West Bank, because there was no settlement immediately nearby.

“All I need,” he said, “is to live, to provide food for my family. After I die, I don’t want them to destroy everything.”

On the bus ride home, I put a pair of headphones on, playing back one of the songs Shezzar had played the night before. Mountanee, sang the vocalist: homeland.

“But it’s more than that,” Osama, one of the acting students told me last night. He explained that the word means something closer to “the land that makes you belong to it.” Not the kind of land that you own, but the kind of land you belong to. And I didn’t know that as I listened to the music I’d recorded the night before, thinking on everything il’Sukkon had said, several kilometers away in Dheisheh camp, the acting students of The Freedom Theatre were performing the story of a young girl whose brother had been killed by the Israeli army days earlier. Virtually everyone in attendance was weeping.

And while I didn’t think of it then, I can’t help now but think about dignity. How sometimes it looks like a young girl weeping, grieving publicly, suffering but not crushed. How sometimes it sounds like the ribabi played in the open air at the lip of a canyon. How sometimes it feels like belonging, and responsibility, and that it is still alive here in the people of Palestine, everywhere I look.

Day 7 – Calls for revolution and solidarity


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Photo by Bryan MacCormack 
Written by Veronika Nýdrlová and Anika Machura

We spent our day getting to know about Aida Refugee Camp, which is one of the 59 refugee camps built in the occupied West Bank since 1948. Aida is home to more than 6000 Palestinians. We were welcomed in Alrowwad Theatre and Cultural Training Centre, a cultural community space which is a “Home for Dreams, Hopes, Imagination and Creativity”. Here all people, especially children, can gather for education and cultural activities such as traditional dancing, camera and photography workshops and music lessons. We were introduced to the concept of ‘beautiful resistance’, being explained to us as the opposite to the ugly occupation. We had quite a discussion about what the word resistance really means for Palestinians, and for all of us. Could resistance actually be described as beautiful, and if so, is every kind of resistance beautiful? Or is it more a necessary reaction which shouldn’t be classified or judged?

In a walking tour through Aida Camp we got to know many collective and individual stories of the people who lived here for many generations, nowadays right next to the separation wall. No one knows what is going to happen to the self-built houses in the camp, since the leasing of this area’s land is for 99 years of which 68 have passed. The inhabitants of the camp are threatened on a daily basis by the Israeli army that starts shooting tear gas into the camp in the afternoons or demolishes the water tanks on the roof tops at any time.

The afternoon was filled with a string of very interesting talks. We heard professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, teaching at various Palestinian universities and a former lecturer at Yale, who talked about the occupation in a global context and opened some other interesting topics. “I want to make a workshop on revolution”, he said after talking about all the initiatives, especially organised by NGOs, to support Palestine, which not always benefit the Palestinian communities.

One of our Freedom Riders and actors from The Freedom Theatre, Osama who grew up in Al-Azzeh Refugee Camp, explained his categorisation of the different refugee generations: the Nakba generation, the Stone generation, the Intifada generation and the Oslo generation, divided further into the Tank and the Wall generation. Growing up throwing stones at army jeeps every day to express his feelings and to show that he was a living human being, Osama said, “I believe that theatre is the way I can call for revolution”.

One other fellow Freedom Rider and leader of the Jana Natya Manch theatre group, Sudhanva, gave a talk about solidarity, its definition and why it was important for him and his group to get together with the Palestinian actors from The Freedom Theatre. He closed with the famous quotation of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus, and Ibraheem Moqbel

Omar Kettani from the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University continued talking about the effects of the occupation, especially on education in the West Bank. He connected to what Osama was talking about and introduced the Bank generation, children who are caught somewhere in the middle of their parent’s loans and their expensive lifestyle in the Ramallah area. Omar Kettani emphasized that “education is resistance, but not the education that brings you to a privileged level; that is the opposite”.

At the end of the afternoon, the director of the community centre, Abdelfattah Abusrour, summarised the vision of Alrowwad and focused on an important part of the resistance, which is the creativity of the new generation. “We are prisoners of the collective narrative, we need to recognise the individual stories,” he said.

The band Shajar closed with variations of traditional Palestinian music, being warmly appreciated by all of us after this really important educational day in Aida Refugee Camp.


Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus

The Alrowwad stage became full of clapping and singing and the Freedom Riders left the camp with heads full of stories and impressions, singing on the bus back to our guesthouse.


TimAidaWall-1 copy

Drawings by Tim Sanders

Day 4 – A Village That Never Sleeps & Always Resists

Day4-8(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)
Written by Roberta Verde, Karin Gisler & Bryan MacCormack

Last night we learned that the countryside is not as quiet as we expected it to be. A whole symphony of animal voices lulled us to non-sleep: dogs, cats, chicken, donkeys, birds and last but not least, mosquitos took part in the concert. And the beautiful full moon shined upon us women sleeping in the open on the terrace.

In the morning, we split in two groups; one staying in Fasayel painting the community house together with the children of the village, the other group driving back to Yerza village to help rebuild the community center.

Reconstruction as Solidarity and Resistance

Day4-1(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

On the way to Yerza the Freedom Bus got two flat tires. There was only one spare and it was clearly Palestinian, as it maintained steadfastness through the rocky roads of the mountains until we were able to buy a second.

Day4-2(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

The Yerza community center has been destroyed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) several times. Each time the village has rebuilt it.

A villager told us that the IOF fly over the area regularly. When they see something new has been built they will come with bulldozers and destroy it.

International support has at times been counterproductive, as it attracts even more attention. Yet, rebuilding something that will likely be destroyed once again is one form of resistance and an example of Palestinian steadfastness.

We started by clearing a path to allow cars to reach the community center then went on to build a platform fort the community center’s floor. Our workers squad included some members of The Freedom Theatre and the Hafez family.

Day4-6(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

We then began throwing aside the smaller stones that lied on the ground. Then one of Naeem’s sons brought a pickaxe to take off the bigger rocks that were stuck in the ground.

One of these rocks was particularly big and went deep into the earth. Observers gathered around the rock and everyone in turns gave a hand; men and women, the Hafez family, Freedom Riders, The Freedom Theatre actors and neighbours that had now arrived.

It’s something that happened spontaneously: everyone wanted to give a hand and with the help of all, the rock was moved.

Mural Painting

IMG_1367(Photo by Anika Machura)

Local children released from their morning school session joined us to put their energy into decorating the outside wall of the community centre.

Freedom Riders, Orijit Sen – a graphic artist from Delhi, and London-based cartoonist and teacher Tim Sanders were on hand to guide the mural painting. Osama from The Freedom Theatre interpreted and facilitated interaction with the kids.

Orijit and Tim had given the work a start and asked the children to paint familiar shapes and figures.

IMG_1431(Photo by Anika Machura)

After a few minutes the children were brightly painted and the walls portrayed the energy that had been expended.

Reflecting on the work, Orijit said, “I am very glad we got this opportunity to do something with the children. It was an unexpected event and very exciting. The children were energised and probably frustrated by a childhood under occupation. This comes out in the way they express themselves. That’s what matters. It’s not about good and bad, but an honest expression.”

Tim and Orijit painted two panels depicting suffering and resistance.

The mural we collectively achieved is very striking. The local cockerel enjoys pride of place on one of the panels; unsurprising to anyone who has been here.


house - 1(Photo by Jakov Gisler)

IMG_1444(Photo by Anika Machura)

On another panel the children created an explosion of energy. The mural is memorable, much like our visit.


Day4-3(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

At night the people of Fasayel came together with Freedom Riders for three theatre performances. The first was Platform, about a Palestinian-American coming back to Palestine for the first time. Facing the oppression of the occupation and embracing his people’s culture deepened his connection and understanding to the land of Palestine.

Day4-5(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

Following Platform came a performance of a short Hindi-language play called Yeh Bhi Hinsa Hai (The Faces of Violence) by Jana Natya Manch (or Janam for short). Earlier in the day, Janam had performed for a group of women in Fasayel. They were thrilled that the women embraced the play and led an engaging discussion amongst themselves. “It was one of our most memorable performances,” said Janam member Sudhanva Deshpande, “I will carry it with me for quite some time.”

Day4-7(Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left In Focus)

To end the evening, students from The Freedom Theatre School performed Playback Theatre. An elder man in the village told a story about his family being unable to buy a wedding dress for their soon to be daughter in law. The Israeli Occupation Forces refused to let half of them through checkpoint leading to the markets of Nablus. The family tried another checkpoint and were also denied entry. The bride realised they would have to buy the dress from elsewhere. This deeply saddened her because she knew the dress would not be the same quality.

Another audience member from a refugee camp in Bethlehem told a story about his mother’s role in the resistance during the second intifada. In her home she had a window with bars over it. When the IOF invaded the camp to capture freedom fighters, she would remove the bars allowing fighters to come in and hide. When the IOF arrived to raid her house the fighters would climb back out the window. She then let the soldiers in and continued cooking as if nothing was happening. The IOF never found the fighters.



Day 3 – Northern Jordan Valley

Day3-2Written by Urvashi Sarkar; Photos by Bryan MacCormack with Left In Focus

Large parts of the day were spent in Area C in which Palestinians have very few rights. We spent a significant part of the morning in Tubas, where members of Jordan Valley Solidarity such as Rashid Sawafta explained the various ways in which Israel controls water resources and prevents Palestinians from accessing water. The control of water resources happens in many ways: by confiscating/destroying Palestinian tanks and wells, and controlling access to the Jordan River. People have to travel many kilometers to buy water, which can cost up to 7 or 8 USD per cubic meter. For many Palestinians, accessing water can be an everyday struggle, often resulting in violence and even death.


The Israelis have designated large parts of the Jordan Valley as closed military zones. The irony, however, is that the Jordan Valley is part of the West Bank which is Palestinian territory under the Oslo Accords. By giving military labels to these areas, Israel forces Palestinians off their own land, preventing them from building, farming or living on the land. Even if they try to build as much as chicken coops, the Israeli army will demolishes them.

The designation of an area as closed military zone is arbitrary. Therefore, Palestinians living in such areas will not know when the area they live in will be declared a military zone. Many areas designated as closed military zones are then given to Israeli colonists to farm. Later, Rashid told us that in 2011 alone settlers made approximately $125 million in profits from exporting produce grown in the Jordan Valley. In addition, the Israeli military leaves explosives on the land which have caused loss of limbs and life.


In Yerza village, we heard from farmer Naeem Hafez who was shot at by Israelis. His wife was shot at as well. He also lost a 12-year-old son to shooting by the Israelis. Whether being shot at, losing someone to death, or having a family member in prison—each of these elements is present in varying degrees in many Palestinian families.


Five checkpoints control entry and exit from the Jordan Valley; the worst of them, Al-Hamra, is known as “the checkpoint of death” because young people have been shot by Israeli occupation forces. Long lines of vehicles form as the Israeli Occupation Forces interrogates people and searches vehicles, often causing produce to go bad while being transported.Day3-11

In the evening, the Freedom Bus took us to Fasayel village where Rashid gave a detailed account of the activities of Jordan Valley Solidarity including solidarity building, working with communities in education and sustainable building, and organising resistance. Fasayel is a small village with little infrastructure and limited supplies. However, next to Fasayel is a colony with Israeli settlers with greenery and swimming pools—this was shown to us on a map.


The day concluded with initial discussions for organizing solidarity around the BDS movement. Organisation wide solidarity in countries like the UK and unity between international trade unions could help in building resistance and pressure to boycott Israeli made products, especially those manufactured in the West Bank.


2016 Freedom Ride Itinerary

21 to 22 March: Jenin
Introduction to The Freedom Theatre and The Freedom Bus
Group-building workshop
Tour of Jenin Refugee Camp
Music recital by Al-Kamandjati
Playback Theatre performance
Jana Natya Manch performance

23 to 24 March: The Jordan Valley
Presentations by Jordan Valley Solidarity
Rebuilding the community centre
Painting the local school
Playback Theatre performance
Jana Natya Manch performance
Platform performance

25 March: Al-Nabi Saleh
Presentations by Popular Struggle Committee
Safety debrief
Weekly protest

Saturday 26 March: Bethlehem (Free day)
Walking tour from Al-Makhrur to Battir (optional)
Jana Natya Manch and Platform performance (evening, Manger Square)

Sunday 27 to 29 March: Bethlehem
Tours of Aida and Dheisheh refugee camps
Talks by Mazin Qumsiyeh (Palestine Museum of Natural History), Sudhanva Deshpande (Jana Natya Manch), Omar Barghouti (PACBI), Lubnah Shomali (Badil), Gerard Horton (Military Court Watch), Omar Kettani (Right to Education Campaign)
Live music by Shajar
Playback Theatre performance
Platform performance

29 March: Hebron
Tour of Hebron with Defence Committee for Hebron
Painting murals in Hebron’s Old City

30 to 31 March: South Hebron Hills
Presentations by Popular Struggle Committee
Playback performance
Platform performance
Vegetable planting
Olive tree planting
Playback Theatre workshop

1 April: Beit Sahur
Reflection and evaluation

First day of rehearsals!

Today was the first day of Playback Theatre rehearsals leading up to the 2016 Freedom Ride in Occupied Palestine! This year, our Theatre School students Ihab, Samah, Ibraheem, Osama, Ameer and Raneen will give interactive playback theatre performances in communities across the West Bank. The students will also be performing a unique production, with the working name Platform, that will be built along the ride based on stories from the communities that the ride visits. Stay tuned for more!

Student actors