On November 15, a group of Palestinian activists were arrested while travelling on a bus carrying Israeli settlers. The activists called themselves the “Freedom Riders”, after the American civil rights campaigners of 1961.
Their aim was to demonstrate that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has led to segregation. Because settler buses go to areas that most Palestinians cannot enter, Palestinians are effectively prevented from using them.
However, the activists made clear that their goal was not equal rights with Israeli settlers:
In undertaking this action Palestinians do not seek the desegregation of settler buses, as the presence of these colonizers and the infrastructure that serves them is illegal and must be dismantled. As part of their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, Palestinians demand the ability to be able to travel freely on their own roads, on their own land, including the right to travel to Jerusalem.
Holly is a British volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, and was there to see what happened:
Yesterday I witnessed six Palestinian activists demand freedom, justice and dignity as they defied Israel’s apartheid policies when the group successfully boarded settler-only buses and attempted to enter East Jerusalem, where they were eventually brutally dragged off and arrested by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF). At the press conference and in the lead up to the event, the activists described how they had taken inspiration from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the heroic actions of Rosa Parks. Drawing on the struggles of African Americans who fought against segregation and inequality in the United States, and South Africans who battled against apartheid, the Palestinian Freedom Riders aimed to draw the world’s attention to the similarity of the struggle faced by the Palestinian people on a daily basis.
Unlike in the American South of the 60s, you will not see signs around the settlements or at the checkpoints stating “No Palestinians here” – Israel manages its PR machine far too well for such overtly racist statements to be witnessed by the other “democratic” countries which fund its existence. Similarly, Palestinians are technically allowed to ride “settler-only” buses and drive on “settler-only” roads, something repeated by the Israeli media and the settlers who came off the buses yesterday. But the segregation, inequality and the denial of Palestinian’s rights to enter their own land is implemented in a far more covert way by Israel. Whilst Palestinians may be able to travel on the buses and roads, these buses lead either into the internationally recognised illegal settlements, or into East Jerusalem where Palestinians are forbidden to enter. East Jerusalem is the intended capital of a future Palestinian state, yet Israel has denied the majority of Palestinians access to the city without a permit, which are almost impossible to obtain. As a result, Israel has been able to continually expand the settlements in East Jerusalem, particularly in the highly contentious area of Sheikh Jarrah, and this has lead to the annexing of Palestinian populated areas in the city so that it is surrounded by Israeli settlements, systematically destroying the possibility of having a Palestinian controlled capital. As I hope is becoming evident, the Palestinian Freedom Riders movement is not simply about the segregation of buses, the problem here is much larger. Palestinians face an apparatus of military control over Palestinians that needs to be dismantled, along with the settlements themselves.
Haitham Al Katib posted the following video on YouTube:
Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, one of the Freedom Riders, wrote on his blog about his experience:
I was honored to be a freedom rider and it was team effort at its best (those who rode and the many who worked behind the scenes). Two other Palestinians were also arrested with us who were there as a reporters/observers not participants. […] While released, we are still charged with “illegal entry to Jerusalem” and with “obstructing police business” pending potential trial.
He described his treatment by one Israeli soldier after being arrested:
One young Ashkenazi soldier was very arrogant and even called me “Professor Teez” (Teez is arabic for “ass”). We all (freedom riders) laughed it off and I told him that I did not insult him and that when someone insults me they demean themselves first.
Back to Holly, who concluded her post by saying:
The Freedom Riders are demanding that their very basic human rights are upheld in accordance with international law, and to demonstrate that they will continue to engage non-violently to win the freedom, justice and dignity for which the Palestinian people have struggled for so long.
Israeli policy is dictated by real security concerns that must be taken into account even even by those of us (including myself) who see the current situation as a spiritual cancer. Note that the bus service within Israel to Jerusalem or anywhere has no such restrictions and is equal to all, independent of nationality or religion. Thus, the sad situation from the “territories” must be seen in a political and security context.
Barry Berger – Kiryat Tivon, Israel
Thank you for pinning down the core problem of the Mideast conflict. The name of the first cause is “territories.” This term cannot survive in isolation; we can’t hang it out without defining it.
WHOSE are those “territories,” Barry? They must be ether “ours” or “theirs.” Anyway, we have to attach the only suitable, in this context, word. That word is “occupied.”
Yes, Barry, we can use “territory” with only one word, “occupied” — השטחים הכבושים [HEB].
There are only two ways to deliver the true meaning of the “territories.” We can say
1. “our occupied territories,” or
2. “their occupied territories.”
Each of those definitions lead to violence. Why is that? It’s because there is no difference in meaning between the two above mentioned sayings.
Indeed, do you see any differences between
1. There are OUR occupied territories, and
2. There are THEIR occupied territories.
In both cases, the territories are occupied by Israel. And in both of the cases the casualties are only on one side — on the Palestinian side. The Israeli casualties is a reaction on oppression. It’s as simple as such.
It’s always good to avoid any sort of ambivalence. We have to start calling a spade a spade. We have to define whose those territories are. We have to use ether “There are Israeli territories,” or “there are Palestinian territories.” Only then there will be an end of the violence.
As a conclusion, I want to bring in a couple of words which belong to Abir Kopty, a Palestinian activist. She told “The main problem is that Israelis are not ready yet to see beyond the walls surrounding them. Yet, one has to admit, something is happening, Israelis are awakening. There is a process; people are coming together, discussing issues.” (http://mondoweiss.net/2011/08/tent-1948.html)
I see our discussion is a manifestation of Abir’s words.