The 2016 Freedom Ride Begins

Day1-1

All 48 participants of the 5th annual Freedom Ride arrived in Jenin safely. Gathered at Cinema Jenin, they received a warm welcome from Freedom Ride coordinators, followed by a descriptive introduction to The Freedom Theatre and cultural resistance from Artistic Director Nabil Al-Raee. Ben Rivers, renowned theatre practitioner, gave his insights into the local context and purpose of Playback Theatre and the Freedom Bus.

Sitting around tables in the Cinema Jenin Guesthouse, participants shared a meal and introduced themselves, nurtured new relationships and rekindled old ones. Many months of preparation and a long day of travel have come to fruition as this year’s Freedom Ride makes its way across the occupied 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

March 2016 marks the 5th annual Freedom Ride – Continuing Cultural Resistance in Palestine

With just one week remaining until The Freedom Theatre’s 2016 Freedom Ride begins, anticipation runs deep in the emotions of theatre members and international participants.

During the last weeks, Freedom Bus coordinators and affiliate groups have met with communities throughout the West Bank to prepare for the ride, determining where the theatre will perform and where workshops, cultural events and community work will take place.

From Jenin in the north, through the Jordan Valley, Nabi Saleh and Bethlehem to Hebron and the south Hebron Hills, international and Palestinian Freedom Riders will learn from the diverse lived experiences of marginalised Bedouins, villagers, city and refugee camp residents.

Mustafa Sheta, Freedom Ride coordinator and secretary of the Board of The Freedom Theatre, said he “considers the Freedom Ride to be one of the most significant cultural solidarity initiatives in Palestine.” With the aforementioned intentional selection of locations, Sheta stated, “The Freedom Ride goes to the most marginalised communities, whose residents are exposed to the toughest conditions of life, to participate in their daily circumstances. They get to directly see the strength of these people who are able to carry on with life and continue to struggle against the occupation and against the injustice.“

Participants will accompany communities in the building of a playground, rebuilding a demolished school, painting murals, planting vegetables and olive trees, as well as partake in political discussions and film screenings. Freedom Riders will also have the opportunity to engage with committee members who coordinate popular resistance in local communities and renowned activist and scholars such as Omar Barghouti and Mazin Qumsiyeh.

By offering an in-depth and highly personalised understanding of the daily experiences of Palestinians across the West Bank, the Freedom Ride will contribute to building relationships between international allies and communities in resistance, as well as strengthen connections between various activists and organisations involved in the transnational Palestine solidarity movement.

Beginning on March 21st, our blog will include day by day accounts of the 2016 Freedom Ride.

To exist is to resist

 

 

 

 

 

Join the 2016 Freedom Ride!

March 21st to April 1st, 2016, people from across Palestine and abroad will join communities in some of the key areas of oppression and resistance in occupied Palestine. The Freedom Ride will be the fifth annual ride and take place as part of The Freedom Theatre’s ten-year anniversary.

Over the past decade we have devoted ourselves to what our co-founder, the late Juliano Mer Khamis, called the “Cultural Intifada” – a movement that harnesses the force of creativity and artistic expression in the quest for freedom, justice and equality.

In celebration of our 10-year milestone, we are calling on friends and comrades from around the world to join us for the annual Freedom Ride – an initiative organised through The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus project in partnership with popular struggle committees across Occupied Palestine.

The 2016 Freedom Ride will offer a gathering point for artists and activists engaged in diverse movements around the world. Together we will engage in mutual exchange through storytelling, discussions, teach-ins, interactive theatre and other cultural actions in some of the key areas of oppression and resistance within Occupied Palestine.

ITINERARY 
The ride will commence in Jenin on March 21st.  We will then travel to the Jordan Valley and stay there for several days before moving on to the Bethlehem area and the South Hebron Hills. The ride will end on April 1st

Unlike past rides, and based on experiences from those past rides, we ask you to join the Freedom Ride only if you can commit to attending the entire period. This is important for the group process and the quality of the activities in the ride. 

CONDITIONS
The Freedom Ride is focused on financially impoverished communities and living conditions during the ride will be very simple. Some host communities lack basic services including electricity, telephone lines, running-water, sewage systems, schools and clinics. Accommodation will be simple, in shared rooms or communal spaces. Showering facilities will not always be available and in some places we will be using outdoor toilets.

In short, this ride will require a high tolerance level and you should be prepared for what may be perceived as stressful situations, and be willing to deal with them in a calm, supportive way. In return, you will get a completely unique, first-hand experience of life in Occupied Palestine and get to participate directly in the movement towards freedom and justice in Palestine!

COST
Local participants: 550 NIS.
International participants: 550 US Dollars.

The fee includes:

  • Transport during the ride (participants must organise their own transport to Jenin prior to the ride).
  • 3 meals per day (vegetarian alternatives will always be offered).
  • Shared accommodation (if you prefer more privacy, we recommend that you bring your own tent.) Mattresses and blankets will be provided but for your own comfort, we recommend that you bring a sleeping bag.

The fee must be paid by 1st February 2016 but as places are limited we recommend you pay the fee as soon as possible. Make the payment here. Please note that it can not be paid through our US partner MECA as a tax-deductible donation as it is a fee, not a donation. Also note that we are unable to give discounts to the fee as it barely covers our own costs for the ride.

The 2016 Freedom Ride is organised in partnership with Jordan Valley Solidarity (www.jordanvalleysolidarity.org), the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee and a multitude of other local organisations and individuals.

Want to register for the 2016 Freedom Ride? Fill out this form!

Interested in joining but not 100% sure yet? Sign up to the email list!

See photos and read statements from previous participants here and read daily reports from the 2015 Freedom Ride here on the blog.

2015 Freedom Ride, Day #11: Jerusalem and Ramallah

The original plan was to spend the two last days of the Freedom Ride in Jerusalem. A symbolic and actual defiance of the enforced separation between Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. However, realities on the ground came in the way.

Despite several attempts, the Palestinian members of the Freedom Bus were denied permits and thus could not cross the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. The international members of the Freedom Ride were put in a dilemma – should they continue or stay? In the end half the group stayed behind to plan a playback performance in central Ramallah and the other continued into East Jerusalem.

A partner of the Freedom Bus, Grassroots Jerusalem, hosted the group who crossed the barrier for a tour of the eastern part of the annexed Jerusalem. During the tour we saw how the wall and the settlements have confiscated Palestinian land, and how Palestinians are being marginalised in East Jerusalem under the Israeli apartheid regime (see UN OCHA or Stop the Wall for more facts on the separation barrier and East Jerusalem).

Later in the afternoon we walked to El Hakawati theatre (The Storytelling Theatre) located close to the old city of Jerusalem. El Hakawati is the home of Palestinian theatre. We heard the early history of Palestinian cultural resistance through theatre told by Amer Khalil, one of the founders of the theatre in the 1970’s and its current Artistic Director.

Inside the Hakawati theatre the reduced (due to some of its members still being in Ramallah) playback troupe was reinforced with a few brave volunteers, and performed a playback event. The audience shared several stories about the difficulties of having to separate from the Freedom Riders who were not granted permission to enter their own capital.

Meanwhile the group in Ramallah had organised a playback event that took place in parallell with the event in Jerusalem. They likewise performed stories of isolation and marginalisation and also solidarity between people from around the world with Palestine and how that inspires and gives hope. 

This day thus ended in two places, at the Hakawati theatre in Jerusalem and at the Al-Manara square in central Ramallah. It was decided that in the morning after, the last day of the Freedom Ride, the group in Jerusalem would travel back to Ramallah to carry out the evaluation with the rest of the group and hope for better luck with a third application for permits in order to join the closing event on Land Day in Jerusalem. 

El Hakawati

Photo: Fredrik Westerholm

El Hakawati

Playback Ramallah II Laura Book

Photo: Laura Book

To exist is to resist

2015 Freedom Ride, Day #9: South Hebron Hills

Friday’s activities included informative and inspiring visits with representatives of shepherd communities that continue to survive after multiple demolitions, as well as observation and presence support with one of our Palestinian hosts during a confrontation with the Israeli occupation forces.

After our morning circle groups and a hearty breakfast in Atuwani, we walked a few hills over to the 158-person village of Al Mofaqara. Sipping tea in a large tent, we met and heard from Sausan Mahmoud Al Sen Hamade, a young woman who walks 2 hours on the way to and back from the university where she studies. Sausan’s family lives under the tent in a carved-out cave that housed her ancestors, with bare rock walls blackened by the fires they light inside the cave in the winter months. Sausan told us of a day in 2011 when the army came and demolished her house, which sat where the tent is now. She was arrested and imprisoned, but her family was not notified of her whereabouts. Sausan asked all of us to tell our governments, wherever we live, to put pressure on Israel to stop evicting people from their ancestral homes and destroying their way of life.

We returned to Atuwani for lunch, and then headed out on foot again for Um Elkheir, also a sheep herding community of about 130 people that abuts the fence of the colony whose settlers consistently harass children and adults in surrounding communities. The walk to Um Elkheir ends in a barbed wire barrier that has wounded their sheep. The barbed wire was erected to protect the settlement. In Um Elkheir we were greeted by an elder Bedouin shepherd, Sleman Al Hadelin. Sleman was so delighted to see us that he implored us to skip the community work we had promised to do and just sit and have tea with him. He told us of how the army came and demolished buildings here despite the fact that he has papers showing he owns the land. He reiterated with great pain how unfair this is, and pleaded with us to share his story. Freedom Riders eventually persuaded Sleman to let us do some work. It was brief but meaningful. One group moved stone rubble from a demolished house to the ground under what will be the foundation for a new caravan (mobile home), while a second group helped rebuild a stone wall nearby.

We retired for tea with Sleman but were quickly interrupted by the presence of Israeli soldiers nearby. Called to provide support, we marched behind and around Sleman as he led the soldiers on a walk around his land. Surrounded by internationals and hearing the spirited protest of Sleman, the soldiers retreated, and Sleman was lifted in triumph. He had already told us that the community would pay the price for our visit for the next three months. After some playback theatre, many of us reflected on the difficult dynamic we create for locals, although we knew that Sleman wanted us there and appeared to feel that today’s victory was worth tomorrow’s likely outcome, which is that the Army will return in the night and destroy everything.

If there is hope on a longer term basis, part of it comes from the presence of Operation Dove volunteers with whom we met in the evening. These human rights workers are from Italy, and do accompaniment on an everyday basis. The two volunteers who spoke to us are committed to doing this for 2-3 years, while other volunteers come for a month or two. I was in awe of their work, but even more of the courageous villagers whose lives we all want desperately to help protect.

Written by Todd Davies, 2015 Freedom Ride participant
Photos by Bridget Mullins, 2015 Freedom Ride participant

Sausan Atuwani

Samer oud

Playback Um Elkheir

Sleman Al Hadelin

2015 Freedom Ride Day #8: South Hebron Hills

Soil and soul 

Day eight of the Freedom Ride and we are in Atuwani – a beautiful village in the South Hebron Hills. After a great morning circle, sharing where we are all at with the roller coaster of emotions that comes with a trip like this, we are sitting on top of a hill with Nassar from the Popular Struggle Committee for the region. To the left of us the village is nestled neatly among the slopes, sheep roaming, scattered olive trees, and traditional stone walls lining the roads. To our right, an illegal settlement is plonked on the hill top, surrounded by fences. 

It’s hard to digest what Nassar describes of the problems the village faces. In addition to the usual struggles in Area C – where people are not allowed to build at all, not even plant a tree, or develop infrastructure in any way, Palestinians living in these hills face consistent and violent attacks from the settlements. 

Just a few days ago, a six year old girl suffered injuries to her head and leg after being hit with stones by settlers. This is not unusual, children travelling to the school in Atuwani from the neighbouring villages have to pass close to a settlement, often incurring attacks and abuse as they make the daily journey to get an education. 

In order to report an assault, Palestinians in the region have to go to the Israeli police station. Despite hundreds of incidents, with incontrovertible evidence presented, not a single settler has ever been charged with anything. The rule of law simply does not apply to them. 

After a long process of complaints from Palestinians and internationals, and following news coverage of a settler attack on international solidarity activists, the Israeli occupation decided an appropriate solution would be an army escort for the children, to protect them from the settlers. Rather than use normal methods of justice for these radical and violent settlers, the occupation prefers this non-solution. Needless to say, the army takes their role less than seriously. The children are often waiting for hours for their army escort which may or may not show up.

Last week, one child had a panic attack faced with their usual route to school, past the settlement. Today, a couple were assaulted; thankfully they were not hurt, but badly shaken by the experience. It is practically a daily occurrence, Nassar tells us, and for most attacks, the psychological impact remains a lot longer than the wounds.

Just as we were all feeling quite depressed and concerned about what Palestinians in this area are having to face, their lack of safety in their own homes, and the pure lack of humanity shown to them by the settlers and occupation authorities, we were reminded once more that it would take more than even this to destroy their spirit!

Celebrating Palestinian heritage day we were treated to wonderful acts of singing, dancing and theatre from children in the school, and people of the community. It was Palestinian culture at its most vibrant, energetic, and fun. 

After speeches, graduations, and lots more dancing, we ate a feast of traditional Palestinian dishes. The food was delicious, with an amazing variety of flavours and textures.

It was disturbing and incredible to witness these people, with such a wonderful rich culture face such injustice. The occupation and the settlers are trying every tool in the book to make their lives here not worth living, but the resolve of these Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills is strong and powerful. They are not leaving their land so easily. 

In the afternoon, we split into two groups. One group rebuilt a tent, which the children can shelter in while they wait their escort to go to school. The Freedom Ride built this last year (and the year before!), but it has consistently been destroyed by the Israeli military. We will keep rebuilding; while they destroy, we will create. Now the children have somewhere to wait in the shade, and will have shelter when it rains. Let’s hope the bulldozers stay away.

The other group was helping maintaining and building the stone walls that line the roadside. We were taught the traditional technique and were able to complete this work, even when a military jeep turned up and two soldiers got out and watched us from the road. It was clear that had there not been a big international presence, the Palestinians of the village would have been prevented from carrying out this basic maintenance work by the army.

As the sun set on another day, we sat on the hill playing, singing, and enjoying Palestinian songs. Once again, the Palestinians we’ve met have been an example of strength, resilience, and determination.

Written by Bella Croaks, 2015 Freedom Ride participant
Photos by Bridget Mullins, 2015 Freedom Ride participant

Atuwani stones

Atuwani cultural celebration Atuwani cultural day

2015 Freedom Ride, Day #7: Jericho & Jerusalem Gate

Waking up in Jericho, our seventh day was supposed to be a day of rest and relaxation. Some of us planned to spend our time sightseeing in the city; others intended to catch up on e-mail or sleep. During our morning breakfast, however, we learned the urgent news that several Israeli soldiers were currently in the process of clearing a piece of land in Abu Dis near Jerusalem which protesters have renamed “Jerusalem Gate.” As a group, we decided that rather taking the entire day off, we would leave Jericho early to pay a visit to Jerusalem Gate.

We arrived at the site in the late afternoon to the sound of bulldozers. Next to a busy road, several Israeli soldiers were guarding the demolition in a fenced off area. A number of Palestinian demonstrators were also at the site, waving flags, shouting slogans, and spraying protest graffiti against the occupation. One of the activist leaders addressed the group and told us about the history of the area. The Israeli attempt to control this area constitutes an attempt to divide the West Bank in half, from north to south. Several times during his talk, Israeli soldiers interrupted him in Arabic, with demands about where we could and could not stand.

Leaving Jerusalem Gate, we went to Ezariyah, a nearby hilltop inhabited by a group of Palestinian Bedouins. They live in very harsh conditions, in shacks and tents with little or not access to electricity or running water, and the Israeli authorities have issued them multiple demolition orders. Ezariyah thus threatens to become the next Jerusalem Gate. From Ezariyah’s high vantage point, one can see the Israeli settlements that are gradually being constructed to the east and west in defiance of international law.

As it began to get dark, we boarded our bus to head south to Atuwani. On the way, we made a quick detour to the refugee camp of Al Aroub where Freedom Bus coordinator Habeeb invited us into his home for dinner and refreshments. We stayed longer than we had planned, talking to Habeeb’s family and enjoying a wonderful impromptu musical concert. Even though our day of rest turned out to be filled with many stories of ongoing oppression and dispossession, the warmth we experienced in Aroub gave all of us a wonderful moment of generous hospitality.

Written by Greg Burris, 2015 Freedom Ride participant
Photos by Bridget Mullins, 2015 Freedom Ride participant

Ezariyah

Jerusalem Gate

2015 Freedom Ride Day #6: Jordan Valley

Every day on the Freedom Ride we start with a morning warm-up and a session of sharing feelings and thoughts with each other. The day before was very interesting and tough at the same time. A lot of people shared their feelings about the playback performance, the walk during the Jordan Valley and the meeting with a shepherd who suffers from the lack of water. It is not easy for everyone to speak out in front of a big group but this day a lot of people felt more secure than before and so the day started with a lot of reflection.

In the morning Rashid, our Jordan Valley guide, took us to a farmland where we planted 50 olive trees. The farmer told us about the way the Israeli military activities made it difficult for him to work on the land and make a living. The planting itself was nice to do because of the teamwork and the immediate result of the work. Some of us were really good in handling the pick axe!

In the afternoon we continued the day with different kinds of community work in and around Fasayel. One group cleaned the area around the guesthouse from litter. Another group planted olive trees in the village. The group that did the hardest work were the ones who made bricks. A lot of houses in the Jordan Valley are made of bricks made of clay, water and straw. Next to our guesthouse is a machine which can make these bricks. Freedom riders filled the machine with raw materials and after the production process they laid them to dry. The afternoon sun in the Jordan Valley made sure the bricks dried quickly.

In the meantime The Freedom Theatre’s students made a playback performance for the children of the village. One of the children told the actors a personal story and the actors improvised and gave a show which caused a lot of joy with their young audience! The children were a great group for the students to practice their playback theatre skills with.

After a last dinner at the Friends House in Fasayel we said goodbye to Rashid and his colleagues. We enjoyed our stay in their guesthouse and we all endorse their resistance against the oppression against residents of the Jordan Valley. In the night we arrived in Jericho. After four days without a shower for some of us this was maybe the best part of the day…. 🙂

Written by Stan Verstraete, 2015 Freedom Ride coordinator

Freedom riders planting II

Jordan VAlley planting

Lena planting

Planting trees