Freedom Bus: A Journey through Palestine

                                                                                               Ben Rivers
                                                                                                                                                Writer, educator and drama therapist
Since 20ll, the Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus has engaged Palestinians and people from abroad to engage in the cultural movement to address Israel’s practice of settler colonialism, military occupation and structural apartheid. Writer, educator and drama therapist Ben Rivers speaks to   Abhijit  Ganguly  on  the  sidelines of an interactive session organized by Modern Academy of Continuing Education (MACE).  

How did the Freedom Bus initiative happen?

Freedom Theatre was established in 2006. Its purpose is to use theatre and other cultural activities to raise awareness about the realities of life under Israeli occupation. Originally, it scripted plays to tour in Europe and US. Freedom bus is an initiative of the freedom theatre. It was one way of expanding the activities that were already taking place. Freedom bus uses a very different form of theatre, that is, playback theatre. It is not scripted or devised, but improvised. Playback Theatre was formed in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and his partner, Jo Salas, who were part of the Hudson River Playback theatre company. Since then, it has spread all over the world. The playback theatre troupe that we developed at the Freedom Theatre was the first Arab playback theatre troupe in the world. Our idea was to use playback theatre in villages, refugee camps and communities throughout the West Bank. We wanted to invite people from all over the world to come and listen to the stories. The basic concept was to raise awareness on what's happening because the mainstream media presents a skewed picture of the Palestinian reality.

How much were you inspired by civil rights movement worldwide?

In August September 2011, there were a group of Palestinian protestors who were inspired by the freedom rights movement that took place in the early 1960s as part of the civil rights movement. We were inspired by these actions and of course by the original freedom rights movement that took place in America. In the early 1960s, activists re-enacted the freedom rights struggle in Australia in a way of bringing attention to the discrimination that the aboriginal people faced in Australia. Over the decades, many people around the world have been inspired by the freedom rights movement. When we started this initiative, I didn’t know much about the history of people’s theatre in India. But on this trip, I worked with the Budhan theatre and Jana Natya Manch. I have been to Jana Sanskriti. India probably has the richest and most radical people’s theatre in the world. It is very inspiring. I am hoping to take back something from here to people I work with in Palestine.

To what extent have you been successful in attracting international attention?

We have a very diverse audience. They consist of Palestinians living in communities where we perform. Then Palestinian artists and activists from other parts of Palestine join. This is very important because Israel tries to impose restrictions on the indigenous population and they have done this successfully by building a separation wall and putting up checkpoints and roadblocks. Palestinians have been separated from each other and one of our objectives is to bring them together. We also have internationals who visit. The role of the internationals is very important. They go back to their countries and put pressure on their governments to withdraw their support of Israel over the issue of occupation. We have journalists, photographers and filmmakers who frequently attend our performances. We have also attracted significant endorsements. Endorsers of the Freedom Bus include Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, John Berger, Judith Butler, Luisa Morgantini, Maya Angelou, Mairead Maguire, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Noam Chomsky, Omar Barghouti and Peter Brook.

The Freedom Bus is also endorsed by the Boy- cott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). A range of other artists, activists, academics and organizations have endorsed the Freedom Bus.

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