Tuesday, November 21, 2017

March Freedom Ride 2014


By Claire Matsunami - April 03, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Jenin Freedom Theater] [Freedom Bus]

Members of the Freedom Ride made their way throughout the West Bank meeting and working with communities that face particularly pressing conditions | Freedom Ride
 
On Saturday 29 March the 2014 March Freedom Ride concluded in Bethlehem. Starting on 17 March, the Freedom Ride consisted of about 20 people from all over the world who made their way through parts of the West Bank facing particularly pressing conditions, beginning in Jenin and making stops in the Jordan valley, Nabi Saleh, the South Hebron Hills and Beit Sahour.
 
The March Freedom Ride is a collaborative effort between Payback Theatre, Jenin’s Freedom Theater, and the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee. It is just part of a larger series of collaborative traveling theatrical efforts put on by the Freedom Bus, an initiative established by the Jenin Freedom Theatre that uses "interactive theatre and cultural activism to bear witness, raise awareness and build alliances throughout occupid Palestine and beyond," according to the groups website.
 
“The Freedom Ride attempts to counter the pro-Israeli bias of mainstream, international media.  We do this by bringing people from around the world into contact with Palestinian communities across the West Bank,” said Ben Rivers, initiator of the Freedom Bus project, in an interview with the Palestine Monitor.
 
According to the official blog for the Freedom Bus, the Freedom Ride “uses interactive theatre and cultural activism to bear witness, raise awareness and build alliances throughout occupied Palestine and beyond.”  Both internationals and Palestinians took part. “For Palestinian participants, the Ride offers an opportunity to connect with remote Palestinian communities who are often isolated in their struggle,” said Rivers. 
 
One of the main components of the Freedom Ride is the inclusion of Playback Theatre, which involves improvised performances of real stories, and is used as a coping and teaching technique throughout the world. Playback theatre performances are organized in the communities that the Freedom Bus visits, allowing community members to share stories on different topics relating to life under occupation and apartheid. 
 
“We are not just responding on a cognitive level to talks and lectures.  We are responding also to enactments that are rich in imagery and expressiveness.  This enables a stronger connection to the predicaments and resilience of the people and the stories they share,“ said Ben Rivers.
 
Beginning in Jenin, the group toured the Jenin Refugee Camp and heared stories fromr residents about the massacre carried out by Israeli troops in 2002 during the Second Intifada. Later on during the Freedom Ride, three people from the camp were murdered by armed Israeli forces. Although they did not meet any of the individuals killed, the incident profoundly affected the participants.
 
The group then made their way to the Jordan Valley, where among other things they took part in the construction of a school in the Bedouin village of Khirbet Samra.  They celebrated International Human Rights Day by helping to lay down a new concrete floor for a school they had built on previous Freedom Rides. The IDF ordered them to stop, despite the group’s efforts to prove the legality of their actions. However, by working covertly, they were able to finish to floor.  
 
“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,” members of the Freedom Ride wrote on their blog. There were also plans to help build a road into the village, but because the IDF had taken notice of their actions they were forced to cancel their plans.  
 
On Friday 21 March the group lent their international presence to the weekly popular resistance protest in Nabi Saleh. Afterwards, the bus traveled to the South Hebron Hills. 
 
In the community of al Mufaqarahh, the group planted 200 olive trees on a patch of land that had belonged to a Bedouin family, but was recently claimed by Israeli. Then the bus traveled to Om Alkhair and Susya, two communities that Israel authorities refuse to recognize as legal.
 
During their time in the South Hebron Hills, the group witnessed a house demolition carried out by the Israeli army in the village of Om Alhkair. “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,” reads the Freedom Bus blog.
 
Freedom Ride participants acted in solidarity with the villagers Susya, joining school children as they walked past settlers and the Israeli military on their way to and from school, and accompanying shepherds as they grazed their sheep near settlements.  Both the students and shepherds are subject to intense settler violence, and rely on military escorts and international solidarity activists to bear witness to the cruelty to which they are often exposed. The children in particular are assaulted on almost a daily basis. By Israeli law they must have a military escort due to the level of violence.  However, according to the Freedom Bus' blog, the escort rarely does much to intervene when violence does occur, and instead drives behind the children in a jeep.  The Freedom Ride also reconstructed a shelter that the children wait in before their escort arrives to take them to school.  
 
The tour ended with a tour of Beit Sahour, Aida Refugee Camp, and Bethlehem. 
 
There were various presentations given throughout the Freedom Ride, including many conversations with locals in the towns visited.  Several documentaries were shown, and the Freedom Theatre of Jenin provided performances along the way. Organized by the The Jenin Freedom Theatre, playback theatre performances are an integral part of the ride. 
 
Many prominent figures have endorsed the Freedom Bus, including Angela Davis, Desmond Tutu, Noam Chompsky, Maya Angelou, Judith Butler, and Alice Walker. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as well as the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) have also endorsed the project.
 
According to the Freedom Bus’ blog, “At the heart of all Freedom Bus activities is the belief that community engagement, active solidarity and creative expression are vital in the journey towards a more just, peaceful and egalitarian world.”

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