Palestine: Freedom Rides expose Israeli segregation
On Palestine's Independance Day, November 15, seven Palestinian activists and one journalist were arrested after boarding an Israeli bus headed for Jerusalem from settlements within the West Bank.
The action and arrests highlight the similarities between Israel's system of oppression in Palestine and the era of Jim Crow segregation in the United States' south.
Campaign spokesperson Hurriyeh Ziadah said: "Both white supremacists and the Israeli occupiers commit the same crime: they strip a people of freedom, justice and dignity.
"We demand the ability to be able to travel freely on our own roads, on our own land, including the right to travel to Jerusalem."
Israeli laws require Palestinians with a West Bank ID to obtain a special permit to visit East Jerusalem, despite the fact that it is internationally recognised as on the Palestinian side of the 1949 armistice line (or "green line").
They are also barred by military decree from entering the illegal Israeli settlements that cover the West Bank — and, indirectly, from riding any buses which travel through them.
"We also aim to expose two of the companies that profit from Israel’s apartheid policies and encourage global boycott of and divestment from them," said Ziadah.
"The Israeli Egged and French Veolia bus companies operate dozens of segregated lines that run through the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem — many of them subsidised by the state."
Egged, which operated the bus the activists boarded, is the largest public transport company in Israel. The company also runs services in Bulgaria, Poland and the Netherlands.
One freedom rider, speaking to Al Arabiya News, said the company is in violation of its US$10 million contract in the Netherlands, as Egged is prohibited from banning anyone from using its buses.
Egged and Veolia have been targetted by international boycott campaigns for taking part in the Jerusalem Light Rail project, which links Israeli West Jerusalem with illegal settlements built on the Palestinian side.
"We know that in undertaking this action we risk arrest, vicious attacks by Israeli settlers, abuse by Israeli soldiers, and even death," said Ziadah. "We take this risk as a step towards ensuring freedom, justice, and dignity for future generations of Palestinians and all people in the region."
One of the riders, Huwaida Arraf, said: "A successful outcome would be the world noticing what kind of apartheid we live under.
"We expect this to be the first of many waves. We expect this movement to grow."
The riders travelled from Ramallah to a bus stop outside the Kokhav Ya'aqov settlement, drawing harrassment from settlers and a rapid mobilisation of Israeli soldiers and police. They waited for nearly an hour, in which time three buses failed to stop.
Finally, the activists, wearing Palestinian kuffiyeh scarves and T-shirts with English and Arabic slogans, boarded an Israeli bus that travels between the Ariel settlement and Jerusalem.
Israeli web magazine +972 said one settler verbally assaulted the riders, while some Israeli passengers had a heated debate over the activists’ actions.
Israeli soldiers instructed the driver to travel via Hizma checkpoint, where the Freedom Riders' ID cards confiscated.
A snap protest by international solidarity activists and Palestinians was staged at the checkpoint as soldiers tried to arrest the riders; eventually, the bus was driven through the checkpoint to a parking lot 200 metres down the road, where the six riders, another activist and a Palestinian journalist were arrested.
They were released later that evening.
Jewish Voices for Peace has organised solidarity rallies to support the Palestinian Freedom Rides campaign. It shows that, as with the fight against segregation in the US, through unity, Israel's racist regime can be brought down.