Last week, six Palestinian activists boarded an Israeli bus in the occupied Palestinian territory in the hopes of going to east Jerusalem. The ride was a challenge to Israeli apartheid policies in the West Bank. The bus they boarded serves only Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
The activists waited for a bus near the Jewish settlement of Psagot. Three buses, owned by Israel’s largest transportation company, Egged, past without stopping. A fourth bus stopped. Upon arrival to the Hizmeh checkpoint, the bus was surrounded by police and the army. The activists refused to get off the bus. They were dragged off and arrested.
The activists call themselves the Palestinian Freedom Riders.
Their act of civil disobedience was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement Freedom Rides fifty years ago in the United States. The first Freedom Ride took place 50 years ago on May 4, 1961 starting in Washington, DC on segregated buses traveling to the deep South.
A statement released by the Riders state that the protest was against the occupation of Palestine, and an assertion of the Palestinian aspirations for freedom, justice and self-determination. The occupation has resulted in segregation, discrimination, and loss of basic human rights which include freedom of movement, and loss of land and life, and so many other things
The Ride was also a protest against two bus companies, Egged and Veolia (French). The two companies route their buses through the West Bank, connecting the illegal settlements to each other and to Israel, and profit from the occupation.
There are no signs which state that Palestinians can not ride the Israeli buses, but the buses pass through the settlements and roads which, by military decree, Palestinians are not allowed to enter, so in effect they are not permitted on the buses.
Approximately half a million Israeli settlers live in 124 illegal settlements and 100 outposts (not officially recognized although they were built with government assistance), all built on Palestinian land. Additionally there are 12 Israeli neighborhoods East Jerusalem.
There are no restrictions on the movement of the settlers. They can go between settlements and in and out of the West Bank and Israel freely. However, the Palestinians face522 fixed checkpoints, physical obstructions such as trenches, dirt piles, concrete slabs, 495 (average per month) flying (non-permanent) checkpoints, the Wall of which 80 percent is built inside the West Bank rather than on the Green Line, and over 230 kilometers of Jewish only roads, on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel or east Jerusalem without a special permit granted by Israel. (statistics taken from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitairan Affairs – occupied Palestinian Territory, September 2011).
This system of control over the West Bank, in addition to taking over 42 percent of the Palestinian territory, has resulted in hardship for Palestinians in reaching their places of education and employment, healthcare in hospitals, and it has separated families from each other, and farmers from their land and water resources. This list is a short version of the many obstacles placed in front of the Palestinians.
Hurriyah Ziada, spokeswoman for the Riders said, “As we struggle for our people’s basic rights, we call on the people of the world to support our struggle for freedom like they supported the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.”
Empowered by “people power”, the group just may ride again.