Portrait of Palestine Proves A Popular Sketch of Palestinian Life!

Thank you to everyone who attended our popular art exhibition at Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green.

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From Tuesday until Saturday last week, we opened the doors of the gallery to those from afar as well as from our own community, to experience Tim Sanders’ unique portrait of Palestine sketched during The Freedom Ride earlier this year.

We were humbled to host over one hundred and twenty people at the opening of the exhibition where guests enjoyed Palestinian cuisine whilst browsing the illustrations and listening to our speakers. Al Jazeera broadcast the evening’s events live! The first speaker to address the audience – international and in house – was Mo’min Swaitat, a graduate from The Freedom Theatre, the institution which organised The Freedom Ride. He spoke passionately about The Freedom Threatre, cultivating individual talent of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the cultural life of Jenin, our twinned city. He shared the lamentable news that Cinema Jenin was to be destroyed to make way for a shopping arcade. Mo’min emphasised the value of art in shaping, not merely a response to oppression, but articulating a vision of a more hopeful future.

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We owe a great debt of thanks to Zaytoun for their enormous contribution to the exhibition. Wesam Tayboub, social relations manager for Zaytoun also spoke at our opening, delighting us with the details of the ancient olive harvest in the West Bank and giving mouth-watering descriptions of Palestinian cuisine produced using ingredients such as Palestinian Medjoul dates. Zaytoun produce, which supports Palestinian farmers to continue to make a living despite the obstacles of occupation, was snapped up in great quantity during the week, especially the ‘liquid gold’ olive oil!

Tim Sanders, with his characteristic humility and humour, shared insights and inspirations that helped form the reportage style of his illustrations. He spoke movingly of the deeply affecting scenes that he witnessed, albeit it briefly, hoping that ‘the images would speak for themselves’. One of the illustrations he captioned ‘To Exist is To Resist’, for him this was the most evocative slogan of life in Palestine, capturing so much experience in so few words – something he wished to replicate with his art.

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We are delighted that many who visited the exhibition throughout the week not only enjoyed the experience but said that the illustrations enhanced their awareness of Palestinian life and struggle, just as Tim intended.

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We are enormously grateful to those who made the exhibition possible, including all the individual donors and unions who sponsored Tim to attend the Freedom Ride 2016 (NUT, Unite Housing Branch, NUJ, Unison, UCU); Zaytoun;  those involved in production and logistics including Four Corners Gallery, Ginger White company, print 101, Riverside Printers, Smith+Bell; as well as all the activists from our Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity group who, with no previous experience of this type of undertaking, worked over many months to put on our first ever exhibition.

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Day 2 of the Freedom Ride: Jordan Valley

Freedom BusDay Two of the Freedom Ride included a visit to Fasayel, a remote village in the Jordan valley, of which 95% is under occupation.

It used to be a popular tourist destination and described as the bread basket of Palestine due to all-year farming its climate supports. Now it is littered with checkpoints making travel slow and largely farmed by Israelis.

Marwan with TH teamSurprise

And on a different and unexpected note the Tower Hamlets delegation were delighted to bump into an old friend Marwan Wishahi from the Jenin Refugee Camp.

Marwan amazingly tracked them down after hearing they were on the tour! You can see him third from left in the picture.

Sybil sent back this report after visiting the villages of Yarza  and Fasayel:

“We have been the guests of the Jordan Valley Solidarity group – a Palestinian grassroots activist movement covering the vast area in the east of the West Bank along the river Jordan.

checkpoint“There are 56,000 Palestinians and 6,500 settlers in 37 illegal colonies. Before 1967 there were 320,000 Palestinians living here. But with 95% of the land designated ‘Area C’ – under full Israeli military control – Israel is free to steal the land for itself.

“Thirteen per cent of the population controls 86% of the land. Settlers or colonists have the right to build what they like under full military protection, and with considerable Israeli state subsidy.

“The main aim of the Israeli occupation is to drive Palestinians out of their villages and into the towns, or further afield.

“We met a man whose 12 year old son had been killed by a land mine some years ago – the Israelis take no responsibility for the mess they leave.

“We saw vast fruit plantations – grapes and dates- run by settlers and Israeli agribusiness. However, 70% of these settlers have homes elsewhere in Israel – they are not here to live but to exploit these fertile lands. Forty per cent of Israeli date  exports to Europe are grown here.”

Demolitions

“A Jordan Valley Solidarity activist, Abu Sakr, had his home demolished for the 8th time in Dec 2015.  Everyone we spoke to had sad and shocking stories to tell.  If an area is declared a CMZ, then the Israeli army is free to demolish Palestinian homes and businesses without a permit.

“In Fasayel, a small village controlled by the Palestinians (Area A), but surrounded by Israeli settlements) we spent two nights in a community centre built in 24-hours using local materials!  The idea is that the roof goes up first so that a demolition order is not needed. Animal shelters and water cisterns are not so lucky – they are just bulldozed on a whim.

Jordan Valley Solidarity uses local and international support to build houses and schools – although two of their six schools have been demolished.  While Israel can demolish properties without a permit, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get one to build or extend their homes.”

Water

“Water is the key to all this.  It can cost Palestinians US$8 a cubic metre to import the stuff. In Yarza we saw a water tank that had been demolished without warning a few weeks ago, while down the road an extensive pipeline takes water from Palestinian land to feed the tiny – but very aggressive – hilltop settlement of Mashiyyot and the military base nearby.”

To keep up to date with the Freedom Ride follow our blog.

Indy cartoonist Tim Sanders gets sketching on first day in Palestine

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by Tim Sanders

Our chair, Sybil Cock, local residents Mary Brodin and Ruby Hirsch, actor Doug Holton and cartoonist Tim Sanders, arrived in Palestine this weekend and will be joining The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Ride across the West Bank from tomorrow.

The last few days they took a look around Jerusalem before travelling up to Jenin to stay with an old friend.

The man in the picture (right) had his family home in Jerusalem Old City stolen by settlers a few years back while his family were attending a wedding. This man only managed to save part of the extensive family home because he didn’t go to the wedding. He now lives in the tiny white building attached to the lovely old building.

A little later the Israeli settler family who had moved in to the ground floor attacked his two sons. The sons were arrested and spent two years in prison. In 3 weeks time he is going to court for the 3rd time to stop his total eviction.

The top floor remains empty, protected by surveillance cameras and a neighbouring security force. The plaques inside the front door show that 2 New York families have funded this terrible policy of Palestinian evictions from the Old City of Jerusalem, alongside the Israeli flag decorating the entrance of what was once a Palestinian home.

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Tim drew this picture of the apartheid wall from the bus we took from Ramallah to Jenin. We’ll see a lot more of this!
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by Tim Sanders

The man in the picture (right) is a volunteer manager at the Al Bustan community Centre in Silwan, just outside Jerusalem old city.  Silwan has long been a target for settlers and many houses, including this centre are threatened with demolition.

His son has been arrested 21 times in 9 years, the first time he was 9 years old. He talked about ‘existing to resist’.  He feels that the rest of the world has abandoned Palestine, but gets on with organising children’s activities, such as dancing, drawing, painting and music.

He asked for us to pressure our decision makers to fix the bad decisions of the past, like Balfour.  He lives in fear, has no power, but he is strong because we have the right to be here.  The trees are older than the Occupation.

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by Tim Sanders: We spent Monday in Jenin, our twin city, with Yousef Awad, who visited us in Tower Hamlets last autumn. This gives a view from the balcony of the Jenin Cinema Guest house.