Palestinian ‘freedom riders’ board Israeli bus to Jerusalem

(www.montrealgazette.com / 15.11.2011)
An Israeli border guard checks the ID of a Palestinian  activist riding an Israeli bus between a bus stop outside the West Bank Jewish  settlement of Migron, near Ramallah, and a checkpoint leading to Jerusalem.  Palestinian “Freedom Riders” reenacted US civil rights movement’s boarding of  segregated buses in the American south by riding Israeli settler buses to  Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM — Six Palestinians were arrested on Tuesday as they tried to enter  Jerusalem on an Israeli bus in a novel bid to protest what they call Israel’s  discriminatory policies in the West Bank.

The six activists, five men and one woman, said their protest was inspired by  the “Freedom Riders,” American civil rights activists who rode to the south in  the 1960s to carry out work against segregation and racial discrimination.

 

In what appears to be a first, they gathered at a West Bank bus stop by the  Psagot settlement and waited for an Israeli bus to pick them up, then tried to  enter Jerusalem.

Palestinians in the West Bank ordinarily require a special permit to enter  the Holy City, unlike Israeli settlers living in the territory who can reach  Jerusalem on Israeli buses that travel on Israeli-controlled roads.

Israel says this measure is necessary to prevent suicide bombers or other  would-be attackers from entering Jerusalem, but Palestinians accuse the Jewish  state of an “apartheid” regime that includes “segregated” bus and road systems,  open to settlers but not Palestinian West Bank residents.

“These buses and this whole system is discriminatory to Palestinians,” said  activist Fadi Quran, as he waited at the bus stop, surrounded by a scrum of  journalists and bemused Israeli settlers and soldiers.

Clutching a sign reading “We shall overcome,” he said the goal of the protest  was “to desegregate the whole West Bank.”

The protest presented an unusual scene — six Palestinians wearing  black-and-white chequered keffiyeh scarves and T-shirts emblazoned with  “freedom” and “justice” — surrounded by dozens of journalists and a few Israeli  commuters.

The first few buses simply refused to stop for the group, though it was  difficult to tell whether they drove on because of the media mosh-pit or to deny  the Palestinians service.

Eventually, after the arrival of border guards and police, who stood by  without intervening, a bus stopped and let the activists on.

Inside the coach, operated by the Egged public transport provider, a handful  of Israeli passengers looked on as the activists took their seats and unfurled a  Palestinian flag.

“They say they can’t ride the bus, but you see it’s not right because they  are in the bus now,” said 70-year-old Abraham, a Psagot resident who declined to  give his last name.

“If they don’t want trouble, why not let them? But if I want to go in a bus  in Beit Hanina (in Arab east Jerusalem), I will find a knife in my back,” he  added.

“We have to be careful, we have the experience of the bombs, the knives, the  terror. But if they are good, we like them, why not let them ride the bus?”

Other passengers avoided interacting with the activists, despite their  attempts to engage them, but grew increasingly annoyed as the coach reached the  Hizme checkpoint, where dozens of border guard and police officials were  waiting.

With the bus pulled over, the Israeli passengers got off, leaving the  activists to try to explain themselves to the police who got on.

“This is Palestinian land, not Israeli land, we are Palestinians going to  Jerusalem and we will not get off this bus,” Quran said, as police told him his  Palestinian identity card would not allow him entry.

“Why don’t you ask the settlers for a permit?” said activist Badie Dweik.

“I am the law, you are not the law,” one officer replied, giving the  activists a chance to walk off the bus, which they refused, before ordering them  forcibly removed.

Before the protest, the activists said they expected to be arrested, but  pledged the action would be repeated.

“We expect this to be the first of many waves,” activist Huwaida Arraf said.  “We have many more people who want to ride.”

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