Celebrities for Palestine raise awareness through cultural activism; Ben Rivers

by Marivel Guzman

A talk by Ben Rivers on Playback Theatre and Popular Struggle in Occupied Palestine. Photo: Bhagya Prakash. K

Since December 2011, The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus has engaged thousands of Palestinians and people from abroad in cultural actions that address Israel’s practice of settler colonialism, military occupation and structural apartheid. The Freedom Bus partners with village cooperatives, popular struggle committees and grassroots organizations to hold multi-day “solidarity stays” and “freedom rides” in villages, towns, refugee camps and Bedouin communities throughout the occupied West Bank. These events involve community visits, interactive seminars, guided walks, Hakawati (traditional storytelling), building construction, and protective presence activity.

A central feature of Freedom Bus events is the use of Playback Theatre. Through this method, a troupe of Palestinian actors and musicians invite stories from the audience and subsequently transform each account into a piece of improvised theatre. By sharing stories about the realities of life under colonization and apartheid, community members aim to mobilize audience members in the broader struggle for freedom and equality in historic Palestine.

Irene Fernández Ramos writes for her Storytelling, Agency and Community-building through Playback Theatre in Palestine. What is Playback Theatre?
Playback Theatre is a form of non-scripted, interactive community-based theatre created in the 1970s in the United States by Jonathan Fox. A Playback Theatre event usually lasts around seventy-five minutes and it is constructed from the stories of members of the audience who are invited by a conductor to share short or long stories, or ideas, with the rest of the audience. The new storyteller steps forward and sits on the edge of the stage, where he or she is seen by the performers and by the audience. With the help of the conductor’s questions, this new ‘storyteller’ narrates his or her experience allowing the performers to understand the personal feelings lying behind the story and to translate them into improvised theatrical language. Read more on her essay here 

Endorsers of the Freedom Bus include personalities such Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Maya Angelou, Noam Chomsky, Omar Barghouti and Peter Brook. (Click for the full list of endorsers).
The Freedom Bus is also endorsed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Code Pink in between other organizations.

Freedom Bus The heart and art of playbackUsing stories, photographs and video, Ben Rivers speaks about the Freedom Bus initiative and its role within the popular struggle movement.

Palestinian Solidarity Committee in India and 1 Shanthiroad last February organised a talk (Video) by Ben Rivers, a British-Australian drama therapist and co-founder of The Freedom Bus Initiative with The Freedom Theatre in Palestine, on playback theatre and popular struggle in Occupied Palestine. In the talk Ben focused on the cultural activities of the Freedom Bus Initiative, including ‘solidarity stays’ in which the team resides in a village for some days, acting as a protective cover or re-building homes . “We also work very closely with grassroots, popular struggle groups and organisations. We organize political actions together.” Excerpt from the Hindu.com

In his talk, Ben narrated some of his experiences working with the communities in occupied Palestine.

“In the South of the West Bank, in a region known as South Hebron Hills, we were on the outskirts of a village called Atwani, where a very small community lives. A lot of their land was stolen by people of a settlement nearby who were hostile. Palestinians who are grazing their sheep on the hills are regularly attacked by them. Palestinian children used to be stoned by the settlers as they walked to to school.”

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Gaza: Long History of Wars and Defiance By Marivel Guzman Gaza is one of the world’s oldest living cities. It is a city held to be of major strategic importance. It was the only overland route between Africa and Asia, which led Egypt to establish, in 3500 B.C., the citadel of Tell Sakan on the banks of the Wadi Ghazzeh, some 12km from the modern city. In the second millennia B.C., the Egyptians lost control of the city to the “Hyksos”, who expanded Gaza nearer to the sea front and built “Tell Al-Ajjul”. Hyksos people marched southward and captured the Great Egyptian Empire, about 1650 B.C. They lasted around 100 years, before the Egyptian Army chased them out to the outskirts of Gaza. History informs us that the Egyptian then failed to crack Gaza and retreated. Some 200 years later Gaza once again fell under the domination of Egypt, an event marked in history as the conquest by Thutmose III on April 25, 1468 B.C. Gaza’s history has been shaped by its strategic location; in 734 B.C., the Assyrian Empire took complete control of Gaza. The Persian Empire in 539 B.C. expanded and annexed Gaza. In Gaza there is the ancient Greek city of Antidon dated to around 520 B.C., a port and settlement four kilometers from the Gaza city. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great besieged Gaza, the last city to resist his design, for the control of the ancient world. Most of the old Babylonian domain, including Egypt, swiftly fell into Alexander’s hands. Gaza dared to resist; a siege of two months followed by a ruin as complete as that of Tyre. The defenders, mostly local Arabs, fought to death, the women and children were taken captive. In 145 B.C. Gaza was conquered by Jonathan the Hasmonean (brother of Judah the Maccabee) who destroyed the suburbs of Gaza by fire. The Jewish King Alexander Jannaeus, after a siege of a year, brought destruction and massacres around 96 B.C. Neither Alexander the Great’s bloody conquest in 332 B.C. nor the brutal one by Alexander Janneus in 96 B.C. could vanquish Gaza who endured and rose again. Around 50 B.C. Gaza became magnificent and so luxurious under the Romans. Gaza would reach the peak of civilization; its exports in the 5th century A.D. (during the Byzantine Empire) reached as far as England, Ireland and Geneva, Gaza’s schools graduated leading theologians such as Barsanuphius, John of Gaza and Mark the Deacon, whose writings profoundly influenced Christianity at its early stages. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, famous Gazan Jews included the medieval liturgical poet Israel Najara, who is buried in Gaza’s local cemetery, the Sa

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