Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
Bassam Tamimi with his daughters
The Freedom Bus project was not started as a way of doing touristic and artistic tours of the West Bank. And this is not why we joined either. It is helping us to understand more fully this occupation and to speak to Palestinians first hand. Our role as witnesses is to go home and share the reality on the ground, which is way too often distorted in mainstream media. We are not innocent and have to transform knowledge into action – action that has been called for by the locals themselves. They are asking for political support, which can be demanded and fought for back in our own countries. They are also asking for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which should be implemented on a personal level as well as in our schools, supermarkets, offices and nationally. As internationals we have a role and we can work in solidarity with the Palestinians to make a difference.
—Sama, one of the bus riders
March 20, 2015, Friday, Cinema Jenin Guest House, Jenin, Palestine
Cool, low 50s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, slight breeze.
Yesterday [March 19, 2015] was another full day: breakfast at 8; at 9 various warm ups for team building on the outdoor stage of Cinema Jenin (touch-don’t touch partner’s knees; call out names during a rhythm game; stretch together; shake out; breathe, stop-go, down-up, referring to the occupation, and then the reverse as resistance; and share a feeling with the group; all good techniques to use during my later photography teaching); a lecture demonstration by Eyad Burnat from Bil’in about what to expect at today’s Nabi Salih demo (gas, bullets, arrests, etc); lunch at the Freedom Theater with an intro to the theater and freedom ride by Joanna; tour of the refugee camp including the cemetery with its martyrs’ markers, then to the horse statue (made of pieces of shattered ambulances, pointing north toward liberation); a brief talk by a bureaucrat about maintaining the camp; a stunning musical performance by beginning and advanced students at the Al Kamanjati music school; a playback performance there (I offered my Gaza kidnapping story); dinner at the cinema garden (sitting with lubna, the translator, and the shy quiet woman from Acca), and finally, after staff twice grabbed the wrong DVD’s, a screening of Arna’s Children about the founding of the Freedom Theater.
I’d seen the movie before so it looked familiar, but I recalled very little of it. I was puzzled by the time sequence and asked Jonathan, the managing director of the Freedom Theater, who suddenly appeared for the discussion, about this. Most takes place during the battle for Jenin in 2002. Arna died in the late 1990s of cancer, and the Freedom Theater opened in 2006. I set myself in the movie’s time frame and realized I may have visited the camp with the delegation one year after the fighting, and the theater opened during my early period in Israel-Palestine. In fact I may have first visited shortly after it opened.
Trying to sort out what I will bring on the Freedom Ride, realizing I may lack some vital things (like a sleeping pad, suggested by Bryan), with all we human beings jockeying for space, with virtually no sort-out space like my bed available, is—as was true during my various pilgrimages—daunting. But rather than this lasting for 1 year as with the Middle Passage Pilgrimage (retracing the transatlantic trade journey), this is only 12 days. Thus it is tolerable.
Maybe differing from the pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage Pilgrimage, is the feeling of camaraderie, mutual support, shared mission, and above all else, exceptionally fine organizing. Unlike that pilgrimage this is not a first time effort. This tour is the 4th annual.
March 21, 2015, Saturday, Guest House/school, Bil’in, Palestine
Cool, mid 40s, clear, slight breeze.
We are in Bil’in (pronounced with the accent on the 2nd syllable, and adding a sort of grunt at the ‘ —Bil-hi-een.). I believe we are in a school or community room, men in the main room, women in 3 separate rooms, all on the floor, luckily with plenty of mattresses and cushions, relatively quiet after about midnight (Fidaa asked for quiet around 11, reminding me of when I tried this on the Middle Passage Pilgrimage and was angrily opposed), me again next to Bryan (as I’d been in the Jenin guest house, after I seemed to have swiped, in his view, his corner space and his cushions, a very curious relationship), all leading to a fair night’s sleep (but short, 6 hours). I am back in pilgrimage mode.
Nabi Salih and the colony of Halamish
Yesterday we were at the village of Nabi Salih most of the day, for the demo, village walk around, and dinner. We heard of course from Bassam Tamimi, probably the chief leader, who gave a nuanced discourse about resistance. He joked that “we don’t need more tears, we have the tear gas.” Apparently he is originally from this village settled by Tamimi’s and is now filled with them, but in 2009 when the settlers in Halamish took over the village spring (on the other side of a divide), he returned to lead the resistance. His children are in the forefront of the struggle and were clearly the main presence at the demo when they loudly confronted the soldiers, all 4 sisters, ranging in age from about 6 to 11.
Halamish upper left, spring middle right, demonstration in the middle, Nabi Salih behind the photographer
As the sisters scurried up the hill, warned by the soldiers to leave within minutes or they’d be tear gassed, breathlessly one told me she could speak Hebrew and told the soldiers this was not their land, no one invited them here, the Palestinians were the rightful owners, and the soldiers and settlers should leave. To me she spoke in good English. Later she and 2 of her sisters spoke to our group, encouraged by their father and mother, electrifying us with their courage and articulation of the struggle.
Their mother, Nariman, was injured fairly recently, shot in the leg at close range with a tear gas canister. She used leg braces but attended the demo.
Unlike last week when the Israelis arrested 2 women and injured a boy, yesterday [March 20, 2015] they merely shot opening salvos of tear gas, and then allowed resisters to approach to about 5 meters, the kids closest, face-to-face with the army. I remained back, not at the very back where many stood on cliffs, but about 300 meters from the front line. Partly because I have trouble navigating the rocky hills, and mainly because I appreciated the new vantage point afforded by the elevation. Maybe a little confusion and fear as well.
Tamimi girls confront the soldiers
There I perched for about 30 minutes using primarily my telephoto lens, chatting with Lorenza, a young woman from Switzerland. So she could see the action better thru my long lens, we shared my camera from time to time. I felt I was photographing a tableau—lines of people constantly changing their geometry. (I thought of Henri Cartier Bresson, known for “the decisive moment,” his use of evolving human geometry in photography.) The kids, the acrobatics from one of the Freedom Theater members, the casually positioned soldiers, and the spring off to one side now developed by settlers. I used my wide lens to show the positioning of settlement, confrontation, and spring. I’d read about this but now could picture it.
Would the solders attack? A key question. This time, no, perhaps influenced by the large number of internationals, or perhaps wisely realizing, as police in the United States seem to be doing more now, that waiting out the demo is simplest, cheapest, and least likely to lead to negative publicity.
Writing this entry in the early morning, I sit now in the main room of the Bil’in center, leaning against the wall, cushioned by a pillow, on my sleeping bag and blanket (kindly lent by Ayman from the Jenin guest house), while others slowing awaken and rise.
Last night traveling here from Nabi Salih, the driver became lost. Which seemed to lead to a raucous songfest that disturbed me. I was sitting alone in the front, about 5 seats back, the front seats occupied by Palestinians, when they began singing. One woman in particular, who I’d earlier noticed seemed depressed, sitting sullenly and separately with her phone in hand, maybe not loving the bus experience, suddenly became suffused with wild energy. She jumped about, screamed, clapped her hands madly about her head, and was eventually subdued by the Palestinian with dreads. I thought she might be manic-depressive.
Later one of the men explained they sang traditional songs, often sung at weddings, similar perhaps to folksongs in the USA. This episode reminded me of terrible moments on previous trips, pilgrimages, especially the Middle Passage one, where the new living mode I’m subjected to just does not appeal. Let me off this bus, please!
During the spring of 1961, student activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention and eventually forcing federal intervention from John F. Kennedy’s administration. Although the campaign succeeded in securing an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction, the Freedom Rides fueled existing tensions between student activists and Martin Luther King, Jr., who publicly supported the riders, but did not participate in the campaign.
—Freedom Rides in the United States during the freedom movement
On the wall of the Tamimi home
TO BE CONTINUED
Freedom Bus blog