Johanna Wallin is a human rights activist and mother to Jasmine, a one year old little girl, born during Tunisia’s uprising which has ignited a series of revolts still sweeping the Arab countries. Moving back after a few years in Sweden, Johanna is once again working in The Freedom Theatre, a cultural centre for young people in Jenin Refugee Camp, in occupied Palestine:
“We came here in September and it's been an eventful few months, filled with difficult, exciting, challenging, inspiring moments. After the brutal assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the theatre's former Director in April last year, the theatre is now back on its feet. Drama and multimedia activities are running at an even higher pace than before and the theatre is again teeming with the creative energy that for me was always its trademark. There are many obstacles still in our way, not least the constant harassment of the Israeli army, but we are up to the challenge.”
One of the theatre’s upcoming projects is The Freedom Bus. During nine days in late September 2012, local and international passengers will engage in a solidarity ride through the West Bank. Over the course of the ride, an ensemble of Palestinian actors and musicians will use Playback Theatre to listen to and enact the personal accounts of community members throughout the region.
Performances will be themed, inviting real life stories that describe the impact of settlement expansion, land appropriation, political imprisonment, home demolitions, forced relocation, the separation barrier and other realities of life under military occupation. People will also be invited to share stories that underscore the rich Palestinian history of popular resistance and sumud (steadfastness).
Performances will take place in community centers, theatres, and at site-specific locations such as checkpoints, settlements, olive groves, home demolition sites and the Wall.
Through video link, Palestinians in Gaza, Israel and the Diaspora will be included, thereby creating opportunities to exchange experiences and ideas between communities that are all affected by the Israeli occupation in different ways. Passengers on the ride will also include renowned international human rights activists, artists, writers, intellectuals and others who can bring attention to the state of injustice and apartheid that exists in Palestine.
The Freedom Bus will thus be a focal point for people around the world who wish to learn about life in Palestine and who wish to stand in solidarity against the oppression that violates the human rights and sovereignty of the Palestinian people.
Preparing for the Freedom Bus ride, actors from The Freedom Theatre recently held playback performances with several Bedouin communities, who shared their direct experiences of home demolitions, harassment by the Israeli army and lack of access to clean water and health facilities. We learned a great deal about the strength of these people as they struggle to retain their land and their livelihoods, says Faisal Abu Alheja, actor and project coordinator at The Freedom Theatre.
“The Freedom Theatre is currently trying to raise money for the project so any ideas are very much appreciated”, Wallin says. “We are looking for organisations in the region to partner us either through participating actively in the project or by adding their name to a list of endorsers.”