Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: March, 2014

All quiet today

March 22: all quiet today as we travelled to Al-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills, in the south of Palestine, though it is an area badly hit by extremist settlers and Israeli military.  We had two talks by village elders, who pointed out how appallingly difficult life is, given settler attacks on people and property, backed up by the Israeli military.

Then, in contrast, a talk by Professor Mark Levine, who spoke of Israel’s total control of Palestine, and how it is locked in to the global military – industrial complex. Very dispiriting, but as more and more people become aware then perhaps change may come. If only BDS cold get more steam up!

And in other news, I’m gratified at the reaction back home in Australia to my email about yesterday’s tear gas attack. We may be able to make the story go wider, which would really help to get the message out.  

Tear Gas attack

Yesterday (21 March) I got well and truly tear gas attacked. We, i.e. the Freedom Bus mob, as per our arranged plan, joined a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh (near Ramallah) as they marched towards their village spring, illegally seized by the Israelis, as they do every Friday.
We were, as guests of the villagers, asked to walk at the back of the march, and avoid anything that looks dangerous. So there I was, peacefully walking along, when suddenly an Israeli army vehicle hove in to view, and the next thing I knew, tear gas was flying everywhere. Everyone scattered, but I seems to have copped an intensive dose, and I was rendered totally incapacitated.
I couldn’t see as my eyes were full of tears, my lungs heart like hell, and I didn’t know left from right, back from front, and to where the others had escaped. I really was in very painful limbo, quite lost and just staggering around.
Fortunately some of our mob saw my plight and a couple of guys came to my rescue, and one had a gas mask, which helped me a lot. After he left a woman gave me alcohol infused tissues to breath in, which were a huge help, and gradually as time passed I returned to normal.
I think I caught the brunt of the tear gas attack, but compared with a couple of villagers, I was lucky, as they got hit by rubber bullets.
On previous occasions demonstrators, all peaceful demonstrators, have not only been shot, but killed. Sadly, they have their martyrs. It makes me weep – and this time not from the tear gas either.
When people asked me why I was undertaking this project one of my answers was so that I could experience at first hand what the Palestinians are going through. I guess I got my wish.
Being in this village is a new experience, as we are staying in Palestinian homes, and the one I am billeted in is very much a middle class home, quite different from the tarpaulin shacks the Jordan Valley folk had to live in. It is clear though, from their role in the demonstration and the very detailed backgrounding they gave us that they are staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause. There is a photograph in one of the several lounge rooms of a little girl with President Abbas, so I’d say they are Fatah people 

Isreali military’s (IDF) heavy hand disrupts Freedom Ride’s community work

Thursday 20 March: Community work building a mud brick school in a tiny community, which was disrupted by a contingent of very aggressive Israeli soldiers, but we got it done despite them, so all good in the end, though those members of our party who had photographed the military had their cameras taken and had to remove the photographs before they were allowed their cameras back. Our team facilitators explained that their request for us not to film the military (Israeli Defence Forces, henceforth referred to by the acronym IDF) is not just for our own safety (though a very real concern) but instead because of the likelihood of the IDF taking revenge on the villagers after we have moved on, which is much more of a real concern. 

During all this I was interviewed on film by a team of Palestinian filmmakers, about my thoughts on the Freedom Ride in particular and more expansively on the Palestinian situation in general, which I enjoyed doing. They showed me some footage and it looked/sounded okay. We exchanged cards so I hope they send me a link to the finished product.

Playback Theatre took the form of a performance today, which whilst not ‘playback’ was very well received. It again had much of the style of street theatre about it.

Playback Theatre at work in the Jordan Valley

All is good on the Freedom Ride. The Playback Theatre part of the project works very well as the actors ‘perform’ the stories the villagers tell, and the audiences love it. Reminds me of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, or Brisbane’s Popular Theatre Troupe, back in the 70’s, when we had real community political theatre. 

The welcomes and backgroundings from the village elders are wonderful, and very moving, as they tell their stories of surviving under Israeli military occupation.

Speaking of which, Israeli soldiers prevented our community work yesterday, which was a road building project. Though the Jordan Valley is Palestinian, and Israeli military occupation should have ended years ago under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the place is crawling with Israeli military doing exercises, there are military compounds all over the place, and frequent military checkpoints. The fortitude of the Palestinians is truly admirable.

The other ting of note is how well appointed and prosperous the Israeli illegal settlement are, compared with the Palestinian villages, many of which have been destroyed and/or had their water cut off. Now they have to buy it by very expensive tanker load.

On the road with the Freedom Tour

We are well and truly on the road now with the Freedom Bus, in the Jordan Valley at the moment, visiting small communities and families whose property has been destroyed by the Israeli military. Yesterday our community project was to plant a grove of olive trees.

This part of Palestine is designated  Area C by the Israeli government, and though technically Palestine is under Israeli military control – indeed, we had some trouble with the military yesterday, who wouldn’t let us through a checkpoint.

Participants on the tour, and the Freedom Theatre personnel, are great, and we are having a good time, with a strong bond of solidarity. Which reminds me, last night we stayed in a property belonging to the Jordan Valley Solidarity Movement.

We are staying in communal community properties, which is a bit like camping out, but indoors. But the food, and the company, is great.

First full day at Jenin’s Freedom Theatre

Monday 17 March. An introductory day for the Freedom Ride at the Freedom Theatre. It began with a communal breakfast at the Jenin Cinema Guest House, a great local institution where most of us are staying, followed by introductions and group bonding exercises at the theatre’s classrooms, which are in town. These activities were familiar to me from my drama teaching days at Charles Sturt University.

After lunch at the Theatre we had a tour of Jenin Refugee Camp, and as I experienced at other camps, I felt dispirited because the camps are so built up they have a terrible air of permanence about them. This camp though was unique in that it had some very wide streets, but the bad news is that they are that way because they were bulldozed through by Israeli tanks during the invasion of the camp in 2002, during the second Intifada. I also noted again how welcoming and friendly everyone is here, adults as well as children.

Then to the Freedom Theatre for a demo performance of Playback Theatre, which will be the main drama activity of the Freedom Ride. Essentially it consists of the actors enacting through spontaneous group improvisation, in a stylized and largely movement based way, stories told by us, the audience. To get the ball rolling we were asked if anyone had a story of being badly treated by the Israeli border guards when they entered by the Allenby Bridge crossing, so I told my story, which was, after being translated into Arabic, was enacted by the three actors in the way I’ve just described. I was very impressed by what they did, especially in the way they captured my frustration, (unspoken) anger, and the very real fear I was fearing.

I should also add that there is music to accompany the enactment (largely percussion), and that the whole process is very stylized and even ritualistic, which actually adds greatly to the communication of meaning.

I should also note that the Playback Theatre process is similar to an actors’ improvisation exercise I used to teach at Charles Sturt University when one actor starts an action and then the rest of the group gradually join in one by one as they see a way of adding to the story, which made me feel a little less of a babe in the woods as far as this project goes.   

Palestine’s Freedom Theatre Graduation Production

I’m in Jenin now (northern Palestine) after a stress free trip using shared taxis from Jerusalem via Ramallah, the de-facto capital of Palestinian. The Freedom Ride starts tomorrow, but I’m having an early taste as we all got together this afternoon at the Freedom Theatre to see their Graduation Show, which was very impressive.

The four essentially one man pieces were all devised, directed, designed and staged by the students. I was struck by their depth, which was either personal or interpersonal, the staging, which was very physical, earthy and messy (lots of water, soil, and smoke) and the acting, which was direct and elemental. I’m glad I was able to get here in time to see it.

It is good to meet up with the other Freedom Ride participants and though I am by nature a reserved person I am very much enjoying the contact with like minded souls.

It is also good to see more of Jenin. Last time I was here, on my earlier trip to Palestine, it was a very fleeting visit of only two hours, and it was early Friday morning, so their wasn’t much action. Today is very different, it is a busy place and a hive of activity. I think it is a productive farming area, and the landscape is certainly different from the Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem area, as it is much flatter and greener. I do understand though that the Wall has created huge problems for the farmers, as it has cut of many from their land.

The Freedom Theatre is in the Jenin Refugee Camp, and as with most of them one of its most distressing features is its solidly built up nature, which creates a very dispiriting sense of permanence. However, what, from my experience, is unique about it is how wide and straight its streets are. The answer as to why they are like this is also dispiriting, because they were made by Israeli tanks as they invaded the camp during the Second Intifada and flattened much of the place.

And talking about the wider political picture, what I’ve picked up from the local media (Haaretz newspaper. New York Times and Aljazeera TV news) is that the peace process isn’t going very well and the Americans may give in to Israeli pressure and settle for less for the Palestinians. Kerry and Obama aren’t delivering for Palestine, in other words. I hope its not that bad, but the news isn’t encouraging.

But to end on a happier note, as we walked back to the Jenin Cinema Guest House we were greeted with smiles and hellos not just by the children, but by adults as well. Perhaps they are used to visitors like us, but nonetheless, it was a good experience

Finally made it to (East Jerusalem)

I’ve now made it to (East) Jerusalem after over six hours wait at the Allenby/King Hussein (take your pick) bridge border crossing over the River Jordan, though ‘river’ is more than an overstatement, as Israeli water theft has left it as nothing more than a trickle and a chain of shallow ponds. No wonder the Dead Sea really is dying.

Anyway, the main point if this post is that I was pulled from the seemingly never ending lines 3 separate times, once we had finally reached the final, main Israeli checkpoint, for some pretty full-on interrogations. The main thrust of the questions was ‘Where are you going?” and, repeatedly, ‘Why?’ The most ridiculous questions included “Are you married” and “Why not?” I felt like telling the military guy interrogating me at this point the real answer to that one, but thought better of it. 

What is it that makes my passport photo or me in the flesh look like a terrorist suspect? I must admit that whilst I was again sitting waiting (and waiting, and waiting) I was beginning to plan how I would get back to Australia if I was refused a visa. Fly back from Amman straight away, or use the time to explore some Mid-East countries that would let me in?

Anyway, after these three very frightening interrogations they finally gave me a visa, so I can tomorrow take ‘serveeces’ (shared to taxis) to Ramallah and then to my destination, Jenin, for the Freedom Theatre, for the Freedom Ride.

Being in East Jerusalem is great – I feel very much at home here, after having spent a week here after last year’s Peace Camp.

On my way to Freedom Ride through Palestine

I’ve just arrived in Amman on my way to the Palestine Freedom Ride, after a very long flight from Australia. I’ll be crossing into Israel (you have to, to get into Palestine) via the Allenby Bridge tomorrow. I’ve heard horror stories about how the Israeli military treats people using that crossing, so I’m resigning myself to a long and very tedious time – but it will all be worth it!

I’ve also just signed up for a new BDS app, which makes me feel better, as at least it is a form of peaceful action that could produce results if the world gets behind it. That’s the problem of course – so far only individuals and a few progressive European organisations have taken it up. Sometimes I console myself by saying that it took time for the South African BDS to take hold, but to be honest I’m not all that hopeful.

The Freedom Ride is an initiative of the Freedom Theatre, based in the Refugee Camp. Its motto is ‘Resistance through art. As well as staging traditional theatre performances it trains actors, designers and production crew, makes films, provides community support through verbatim theatre, and similar community drama projects, and engages in various activist projects. The Freedom Ride is one such activity.   

Anyway, more news and observations in a day or so, once I’m into Palestine, have connected with the Freedom Theatre, and the Freedom Ride is underway.