Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

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“The song will live”: Freedom bus & Zakaria Zubeidi

International pressure has finally succeeded in forcing the Palestinian Authority to release Zakaria Zubeidi from prison, after they had held him without charge since May 13.   But he’s still not free.  An update follows.  First, exhilarating news from the Freedom Bus, a project of the amazing Theatre that Zakaria co-founded in the Jenin refugee camp:

Freedom bus giant puppets vs the wall.  Photo: Alternative Information Centre.

The Freedom Bus has just completed its first Freedom Ride, bringing together Palestinians and internationals on a tour to communities all over the West Bank, occupied Palestine.

The Freedom Bus visited some of the most besieged areas in the West Bank.  Palestinian actors and musicians enacted personal accounts of community members, touching on issues such as home demolitions, land confiscation, army invasions, arbitrary arrests, settler violence, water shortage, the effects of the Wall and much more.  Interactive theatre and music performances were complemented by university seminars, community tours, hip hop concerts, giant puppet shows and marches.

The Freedom Bus made its first stop in Faquaa, where although the village’s name means spring water bubbles, the villagers are struggling to get access to clean water due to Israel’s separation barrier and land confiscation.  The performance was watched, from a distance, by Israeli soldiers looking through binoculars, photographing and filming the crowd over the barbed wire.

The bus continued on to Nabi Saleh, a small village surrounded by settlements, where we heard several stories from women in the village who are very involved in the non-violent resistance.  A newly released prisoner also joined the performance, and as the villagers joyfully crowded around him to welcome him home he told the audience about his experiences of being held in Israeli prison.

In Aida Camp, close to Bethlehem, the Freedom Bus actors had the opportunity to perform in a beautiful purpose-built outdoor theatre directly next to the Separation Wall.  As we performed in the shadow of the wall, the lights of our show lit up the resistance graffiti.  It was a truly astonishing setting.  An elderly man began his story with a joke: “When people come into your house, they usually choose to enter through the front door. But in the Second Intifada our visitors [Israeli soldiers] came through the walls.”  He was referring to the Israeli practice of bombing the walls of neighbouring houses to move through the camp internally.  His house was invaded in this way and occupied by a group of soldiers for seventeen days before the army set off a bomb that exploded through the walls of five adjacent houses.

Another stop was made in Ramallah, where in the unlikely setting of a corporate conference room, we heard stories from Gazans who lived through the war on Gaza of December 2008 to January 2009.  The Ramallah performance was beamed to people in Gaza.  As the Freedom Bus actors introduced themselves, they said they dreamed of one day being able to perform in Gaza without the need of wires and cables.  A woman from the Gazan group summed up what many were feeling when she said: “I am happy to see you, but unhappy about the borders between us.”

In Al-Walajah, a village facing impending strangulation by the Separation Wall, the Freedom Bus joined community members in a creative march to protest the attacks on their land and homes. The villagers of Walajah have owned the land for generations, but only inhabit one side of the valley after they were expelled from the location of their original village in 1948.  Soon, the valley will also be lost and the wall will essentially imprison the village.

The Freedom Bus also headed to Hebron or Al-Khalil, one of the biggest cities in the West Bank and historically a trading centre.  These days, however, the central market places of Hebron are silent.  The shops are closed and Palestinians are constantly threatened with attack by the extreme hard-line settlers that have invaded the top storeys of Palestinian homes.  Many homes in the Old City have been vacated.  “Welcome to the ghost town,” said one little boy.

In a desert valley overlooked by hilltop settlements near Jerusalem, we found the tiny village of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin encampment of ramshackle hand-built shacks of tin, plastic and wood.  The Freedom Bus chose to visit Khan al-Ahmar in order to highlight the conditions of the often-forgotten Palestinian Bedouin population in Israel-Palestine.  These people are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life and their homes are constantly under threat. Nonetheless, an older Bedouin man described the Bedouin as “fierce and resilient people” who will resist as long as they can.  As one young Bedouin man put it: “The singer may die, but the song will live.”

It is hard to do justice to the experiences of this Freedom Ride.  The international participants left occupied Palestine with memories for life.  Perhaps the strongest impression was the steadfastness and creativity of people living under occupation.  Their stories, brought to life by the Freedom Bus actors, acted as a remarkable testimony of a collective struggle to live with dignity in the face of oppression.

This historic Freedom Ride would not have been possible without your support.  As we look ahead towards what we hope will be many more rides, we invite you to join us on our continued journey.

Read more:
The Freedom Bus blog
Freedom Bus photo essay
The Freedom Bus on Facebook
Stay tuned for upcoming Freedom Bus videos on The Freedom Theatre’s YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, here’s the update on Zakaria Zubeidi:

On October 7th, Zakaria went to the scheduled court hearing in Jenin that officials had assured him would be the final one.  After a few minutes, the judge stated that the hearing was postponed until the following week.  At this point one has to wonder whether the primary purpose of this so-called judicial process is to keep Zakaria Zubeidi in limbo.

It’s not over yet but thanks to all of you, the immediate threat to Zakaria’s life has been averted and he is home with his family.  He recorded this message to people who have supported him during the long months that he spent in prison.


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More cracks in the wall

Good news from Anna Baltzer, National Organizer with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation:

The Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) has become the first national fund in the United States to divest from Hewlett-Packard and Veolia Environment, based on the companies’ involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

According to the Executive Director of FFC, Hewlett Packard was dropped for providing information technology consulting services to the Israeli Navy, while Veolia Environment was removed due to “environmental and social concerns.”

Hewlett Packard maintains a biometric ID system used in Israeli checkpoints for racial profiling; manages the Israeli Navy’s IT infrastructure; and supplies the Israeli army with other equipment and services used to maintain its military occupation.

Veolia is involved in a light rail linking illegal Israeli settlements with cities in Israel; it operates segregated bus lines through the occupied West Bank; and it operates a landfill and a waste water system that dumps Israeli waste on Palestinian land.

FFC handles investments for over 300 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts, and endowments across the U.S., with over $200 million in assets.  At last count, FFC held investments of more than $250,000 in Hewlett Packard and more than $140,000 in Veolia.  [MR: Admittedly not huge amounts, but both divestments are crucial precedents.]

The decision to divest followed advocacy from member group Palestine Israel Action Group of the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, which also successfully urged FFC to drop its $900,000 in Caterpillar shares in May. Caterpillar produces and sells bulldozers to Israel that are weaponized and used to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, hospitals, olive groves, and lives.  FFC has a “zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components.”

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation commends Ann Arbor Friends Meeting and the Friends Fiduciary Corporation for this landmark decision, in line with FFC’s commitment to invest only in companies that “contribute positively to a peaceful, sustainable world.”

The Quakers are already under attack for their principled initiative.  If you support their decision, you can let them know here.

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The Freedom Bus: All aboard!

From the irrepressible Freedom Theatre, a thrilling new initiative is set to go on the road:

For nine days, 23 September – 1 October, the Freedom Bus will embark on a historic and ground-breaking solidarity ride through the West Bank of Occupied Palestine.  [See tour itinerary here.]

Inspired by the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights era in the USA, the Freedom Bus will promote cultural resistance with community visits, concerts, hip hop performances, giant puppet shows, university seminars, and Playback theatre performances based on people’s direct experience of daily life under occupation.

Endorsed by well-known cultural and political figures like John Berger, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Judith Butler and Noam Chomsky [full list here].

The ride will embark despite many challenges over the last year, including continual harassment from the Israeli military since the assassination of the Freedom Theatre co-founder Juliano Mer Khamis in April 2011, and the ongoing hunger/thirst strike of co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi, who has been imprisoned for the last four months with no charge.

In the face of these challenges, the Freedom Riders – Palestinian actors, photographers, musicians, activists, and bloggers – are determined to share their unique brand of cultural resistance across the West Bank.

Judith Butler, author, philosopher and recent winner of the Adorno prize comments, “The Freedom Bus represents the aspirations of the Palestinian people to be freed from an illegal occupation, to exercise rights of self-determination, and to demand justice after decades of oppression.  The Freedom Bus ride represents as well the freedom of movement and a movement for freedom.”

Last call:  Don’t miss this opportunity to participate directly in the movement towards freedom and justice in Palestine!

If you can’t be there in person, join the ride via the Freedom Bus website.

You can also support the Freedom Riders by buying a bus ticket, here.

All aboard for freedom and justice!

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“Shame, shame”

An update on Zakaria Zubeidi, still on a ‘death fast’ in the occupied West Bank to protest his illegal detention by the Palestinian Authority:

Zakaria Zubeidi (seated), in rehearsal (Photo: explore.org)

From the Ma’an News Agency, received yesterday, September 17:

Zakaria Zubeidi told a Palestinian court in Jericho on Monday that he would not eat, drink or speak until he is released, after his four-month detention without charge was again extended.

During the second intifada and Israeli invasion in 2002, Zubeidi led the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin.  He left it to take up the cultural struggle, co-founding the Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp in 2006.

Last Thursday, Zubeidi agreed to partially suspend his earlier fast by taking fluids, after he received assurances from a presidential delegation that he would be freed from Jericho civil jail in five days.

But at a court hearing on Monday the judge extended his imprisonment for a further 19 days, citing the need to give the prosecution more time, Zubeidi’s lawyer Farid Hawash said.  [MR: It’s important to note that the Palestinian Authority collaborates closely with the Israeli military, which continues to harass the Freedom Theatre with arbitrary arrests and no charges.  The PA also targets the theatre because some of its productions have been critical of the regime.]

Zubeidi was detained by PA forces on May 13 and his detention has been repeatedly renewed without charges being pressed.

Witnesses said Zakaria warned the court “you will take a funeral from Jericho to Jenin in four days,” noting that he was looking gaunt and had trouble speaking clearly. He has refused food since last Sunday.

After the judgment, supporters in the court started chanting “Shame, shame, is this Palestinian democracy, you are no better than the Israelis.”

Zubeidi’s lawyer Farid Hawash told Ma’an he regards the court decision as illegal as Zubeidi has already been jailed without charge for longer than is permitted under Palestinian law.

Please see previous posting for suggested actions.