March 30: Freedom Bus trip is over now, and I’m in East Jerusalem, basically on a few days cultural holiday, so I’ll only post if something really significant happens. In the meantime the ‘official’ Freedom Bus blog can be viewed here: http://freedombuspalestine.wordpress.com.
The Freedom Bus project ended with a very moving group session in which we shared our final feelings about what we had experienced. I had brought with me an Australian Aboriginal flag as a present for the Freedom Theatre, which I gave to Faisal and it clearly moved him greatly. I had several times made the point that, just like Israel, Australia is a white colonialist settler society.
On the way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem we had of course to pass through an Israeli border checkpoint. As we were traveling on a regular bus the ‘international’ passengers got their passports checked whilst we remained comfortably seated on the, but the Palestinians had to get off, wait, have their IDs checked and then re-board the bus. What a time wasting humiliation for them. I can’t for the life of me see what difference it makes whether they are on the bus or off it!
Mar 28: final full day of Freedom Bus. We had a ‘political tour’ of Bethlehem in the morning, which was far more interesting than what I imagine the ordinary tourists get. We had lunch at an interesting place, the Al Rowwad a theatre, arts and education project in the Aida Refugee Camp, which I will investigate further.
The tour ended however with an altercation between our guide and a local camp resident, who argues that those who live in the camp should give the tours. Our guide however argues that he had a permit from the relevant Palestinian authorities, so he was -in the right. An interesting conundrum.
An in the afternoon the final and excellent Playback Theatre performance, which really was excellent. It was in the Alternative Education Centre, a place packed with just about all possible information its name implies. It also had a good performance space in a beautiful old complex of buildings in Beit Sahour, not central Bethlehem. It was the right venue at the right time with the right audience. I told a stry to be performed by the actors about the elderly gentleman in the Susyia craft shop who chatted keenly to me about his time in Australia. All was going well until he told me how much he had enjoyed Vienna. Whoops! Did I, at the time, feel inadequate.Nonetheless my story went well and the whole show was theatrical, social and political bliss.
March 27: as we near the end of the Freedom Ride we traveled on to Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, where we had an excellent talk on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). I do hope it can be successful, and of course it makes me worry about Professor Jake Lynch in Australia. I do so hope the Israeli motivated court action against him fails. I’m also concerned that the Coalition government will mount a huge campaign against progressive minds, including the Greens over it, through their mouthpieces the Murdoch press and most of the commercial media.
However, I do believe that though there is of course major value in planning campaigns carefully for maximum effect, I do believe on very important matters of principle you do need to lead with the front foot, and not be a shrinking violet, as per the paragraph below.
Last night Sylvia Hale emailed me the story of ‘my’ tear gas attack in the (Wagga) Daily Advertiser, a full night before I received my e-copy of the paper. I can’t explain the way the time difference worked. Anyway, the version Sylvia mailed had a photograph of me and much more text, whereas my version of the paper had no photo and less text, but I was pleased with both, and I’m very grateful to Lee Rhiannon for writing and circulating the media release. As Kevin emailed me. I’ll get lots of ‘stick’ for it, but please refer to the above paragraph.
Bethlehem is so urban after the rural villages we have been living in for the last couple of weeks. It even has hot water and power points with electricity (apologies for a cheap joke). But joking aside, compared with where we have been this is real luxury, though I do feel so much for those villagers bearing the brunt of the Israeli occupation, and living in poverty, though I’m careful not to type ‘abject’ before ‘poverty’, because abject they are not..
March 26: we visited two extremely poor Palestinian villages today that are being squeezed in by surrounding illegal Israeli settlements, which have already demolished both villages several times. But at least both have electricity, supplied by COMET-ME, the NGO we visited yesterday, so though the whole situation is sad beyond compare, at least they have some power. However, how long that will last is debatable, given that there are demolition orders on both power plants.
The first village was called Susiya, at which we were given a very informative talk (and a jar of village honey), and the second was Om Alkkair. Here the settlement had been built so close to the village it was the closest I’ve ever been to one. Their extremely good living conditions were in stark contrast to the poverty of the villagers’ shacks.
At 7.00 this morning I went to bear witness to an Al Tuwani daily event, the journey of some outlying primary school age children (about 20 of them) to school. The are accompanied by the Israeli military (on this day one guy in a truck), by Court order I understand. There are several explanations for this, and the one that suits Israeli propaganda the best is that the IDF is protecting the children from attacks by the settlers, who overlook their route, and this certainly happens, but more likely is that the army is herding them to school to stop them harassing the settlers, which in reality can’t happen, given the geographic layout. So yet another example of settler intransigence.
March 25. This morning we visited a Comet-ME (www.comet-me.org) site, whose literature describes it as “an Israeli-Palestinian NGO that provides basic energy services for off-grid communities in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable”? It operates in the South Hebron hills area.
Monday March 24: still in Al Tuwani. Activities included a Palestinian village festival, building stone walls for a children’s centre, and a Playback Theatre performance. All peaceful, all good, though we are in Area C and so under direct Israeli military control, and the evidence of their atrocities and that of the settlers, many of whom in this part of Palestine are religious fundamental extremists, to put it politely, abound.
I fell into a conversation with a young Palestinian guy who told me that the two stand-out expensive houses in the village belong to local informers for the Israelis. I know full well that there are informers, of course, but if these people do inform, how do they get away with it? That is, if this guy knew, others would too. Perhaps the Israeli army protects them, but if so, how much useful intelligence could they gather. Though thinking about it some more, perhaps the villagers leave them alone in fear of Israeli (settlers or military) retaliation.
March 23, and we are still based at Al Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills. Today we trekked to neighbouring villages and had tea with a local family in their cave house, as their original property was destroyed by the Israeli military, as were most of the homes, farms and mosques around here, though the settlers, or colonists, as they are sometimes called, are equally violent and destructive. I’m told that there are four times the number of soldiers as there are settlers. I wonder how many American tax payers realise this is where some f their tax dollars go?
I also had emails from Australia commiserating with me about the tear gas attack, and some of practical use for the Palestinian cause, such as the draft of a media release from Greens Senator and good friend Lee Rhiannon, who has used the tear gas episode as a hook on which to hang an attack on the (relatively new and very right wing Australian Government’s relentless swing to a more and more hawkish, pro-Israeli position. Good on you, Lee.
Later Mark Irvine loaded the footage he had shot of the tear gas attack into my computer. It is great stuff, though whether we can use any of it I don’t know .
Tonight another great Playback Theatre performance.