Freedom Rides highlight the lack of Palestinian rights, and the unjust system attempting to keep it that way

Bill Fletcher Jr., Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and past president of TransAfrica Forum, comments on tomorrow’s Freedom Rides in the West Bank:

When I first heard about the planned Freedom Rides scheduled for Tuesday, November 15th  to take place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories I realized that  this was a brilliant tactic. Much as with the Freedom Rides that were  used in the USA to dramatize the violence of Jim Crow segregation in the  South, and later the Immigrant Freedom Rides to dramatize the plight of  immigrants, the Palestinian Freedom Rides are about dramatizing  violence—the violence that the Palestinian people face every day as a  result of the Israeli Occupation.

In  my visit to Palestine this past June, the problem of transportation was  discussed in virtually every conversation. The limits on transportation  for Palestinians tell you virtually all that you need to know about the  racist Occupation. One graphic example is that there are different  license plates for Israeli settlers from those of the Palestinians. A  car with Palestinian plates cannot travel into Israel. And, in fact,  there are roads within Occupied Palestine, on which Palestinian vehicles  are prohibited. Another graphic example, which relates directly to the  matter of the Freedom Rides, was explained to me at a border crossing  where Palestinian workers were going into Israel for their jobs. I was  informed that once in Israel they had to ALREADY have their  transportation arranged. Naively I assumed that they could simply hop on  a bus and go to work. Not so fast, it turns out. The Israeli buses will  not stop to pick up Palestinian workers.

The  Palestinian Freedom Rides aim to dramatize that there is no freedom of  movement for Palestinians. They are a population suffering from an  on-going occupation that has become, as I have asserted previously, a  slow-motion annexation. Discriminatory transportation policies which  privilege the freedom of movement of Israelis, and Israeli settlers in  particular, are part of the low-intensity violence experienced by the  Palestinians on a daily basis aimed at further and further marginalizing  them until they feel forced to abandon their own land.

The  Freedom Rides conducted by African Americans in the USA, particularly  after World War II, brought the attention of the world onto Jim Crow  segregation. These were not only demonstrations for rights, but were  demonstrations to illustrate that the absence of rights was tied to a  regime of violence and oppression. To put it another way, Jim Crow  segregation was not solely or mainly the separation of African Americans  and whites, but instead was the violent separation  and subjugation of African Americans by a white supremacist system.  This is not a matter of semantics. Apologists for the Jim Crow South  attempt to portray it as simply a matter of social separation rather  than a system that aimed at dispossessing the African American, thereby  subverting any possibility at democracy. That this was to the advantage  of the white ruling elite in the South is critical to grasp, but it  cannot be overlooked that masses of whites, even contrary to their own  interests, allied themselves with this system of racial subordination.

The  Palestinian Freedom Riders are also displaying that the travesty of  transportation in the Occupied Territories is not simply a matter of  lack of rights. Instead it is illustrative of the manner in which the  larger Occupation system operates with the aim of suppressing the  Palestinian population in perpetuity. For this to work, not only the  Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories, but the Israeli population  within Israel proper have to decide that the system of racial violence  must be supported, if not reinforced. This is the challenge being thrown  down by the Palestinian Freedom Riders and in doing so they need  solidarity from those of us committed to global justice.

( / 14.11.2011)

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