The Freedom Bus: Taking resistance on tour in the West Bank

In September, a troupe of performers from the West Bank and Israel held a nine-day tour throughout the West Bank, promoting cultural resistance and staging innovative performance styles in an attempt to unify disparate Palestinian realities.

By Marta Fortunato

The Freedom Bus: Taking resistance on tour in the West Bank
The Freedom Theater performing for the residents of Al-Hadidiya. (Marta Fortunato)

Al-Hadidiya, Jordan Valley, 12 December 2012 – Samir is on the verge of tears while he watches the Freedom Theatre actors performing the story that he himself just finished sharing with his community members.

“I was grazing my sheep when the Israeli army arrived. I was blindfolded, handcuffed and brought to a military camp,” Samir tells. “There, some soldiers set dogs on me. I was bitten all over my body. Then, they threw me outside the camp and I found myself alone, at 11 at night. I arrived at home scared, shaking like a leaf”.

Samir is a shepherd from Al-Hadidiya, an isolated and marginalized Palestinian community in the north part of the Jordan Valley. Less than one hundred meters from the village’s tents and barracks,  is the Israeli settlement of Ro’i, built on confiscated Palestinian lands. Al-Hadidiya was one of the destinations chosen by the Freedom Bus, a new initiative by the Freedom Theatre. Their troupe is composed of Palestinian actors and musicians from Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarem, Jenin and Nazareth that use interactive theatre and cultural activism to give voice to the suffering and the resistance of the Palestinian people.

“The innovative element of this type of theatre is that the audience members speak and the actors listen.” explains Ben Rivers, the Freedom Bus’ coordinator.

The young actors use “playback theatre”, a particular form of improvisational theatre in which there is a special relationship between the actors and the audience. “A person from the audience tells a personal experience and then watches as their story is enacted on stage,” Rivers continues.

In September, the Freedom Bus held a nine-day tour throughout the West Bank, promoting cultural resistance and staging innovative performances. It was so successful that they decided to organize the “Ride for Water Justice!”, a series of four events in communities impacted by Israel’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian water resources. The ride, organized in collaboration with Palestinian NGO Juzoor and the Thirsting for Justice Campaign, include walks, playback theatre performances and community discussions about inequitable water distribution, and about the struggle for freedom and justice.

The Freedom Bus: Taking resistance on tour in the West Bank
Residents of Al-Hadidiya watch a performance by the Freedom Theater. (Marta Fortunato)

“During the holy month of Ramadan I tried to go to Jerusalem to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” describes Ahmad, from Deisha refugee camp in the Bethlehem area.“The soldiers at the checkpoint stopped me. I was harassed, detained and sent back home. I felt angry, really angry. Is it possible that as a Palestinian I am prevented from reaching Jerusalem that lies just 10 kilometres from my place?” Kristine, a young and talented actress from Bethlehem, represents on stage Ahmad’s day: the morning happiness, the hope to get to the other side of the checkpoint, the humiliation perpetrated by the Israeli soldiers and the rage caused by the denied entry.

The audience always shares moving experiences. Stories of humiliation and harassment, stories of people who have been living under military occupation for more than 45 years.

Moreover, this traveling theatre is also a way to discover and to unify the different Palestinian realities. “Travel between Palestinian communities continues to be highly restricted.  In many cases, this geopolitical fragmentation has led to lack of awareness amongst Palestinians, about what is happening in different parts of the West Bank.  Through the Freedom Bus project, we have been able to promote contact and communication between communities and thus counter the divisive influence of the occupation.” continues Rivers. “In March 2013, we will continue our work with a 13-day freedom ride through  the Jordan Valley and in the South Hebron Hills.  We will be joined by students, artists and activists from across Palestine and abroad.  The ride will provide people with an opportunity to visit and share the life of communities in Area C, and to stand with them in solidarity against Israel’s efforts to forcibly displace them from their traditional homelands.”

After watching Kristine reenact his beating by Israel soldiers, Samir nods: “yes, it was exactly like that,” before going back to sit in the audience, visibly moved, and maybe relieved for having shared his experience with his community members.

Marta Fortunato is an Italian journalist who has been living in Palestine for almost two years. She has worked for the the Alternative Information Center and volunteered for the Jordan Valley Solidarity, and is currently an intern with the EWASH Advocay Task Force.


Photo essay: Freedom Bus tour teaches cultural forms of resistance