By Mya Guarnieri and Noa Yachot
IDF soldiers and police on Tuesday forcibly removed Palestinian activists from a bus to occupied East Jerusalem, which they had boarded in a campaign they called a reenactment of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement’s “Freedom Rides” of the 1960s. See photos of the day here
Six activists boarded an Israeli bus in the West Bank that typically services Jewish settlers, with the intention of trying to reach East Jerusalem, which West Bank Palestinians are forbidden from entering without special permits. The campaign was part of an effort to call attention to Israel’s occupation in general, and policies of segregation and restricted freedom of movement in particular.
The security forces carried the activists off the bus following a standoff on the Jerusalem side of the Hizmeh checkpoint, during which they tried to convince them to disembark voluntarily or risk arrest. The activists had boarded after waiting some 40 minutes outside the West Bank settlement of Psagot before a bus finally stopped at the station at roughly 3 P.M. Israel time, enabling activists and journalists to board. After standing still for some time, the bus headed out in the direction of Jerusalem.
At Hizmeh, IDF soldiers boarded the bus, and asked to see the passengers’ IDs. After a short struggle with one activist, Badia Dweik, the standoff ensued, with the bus parked in a lot on the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint and Dweik remaining on the bus. At roughly 5:15 P.M., security forces began carrying the activists off the bus, and arrested them all.
Earlier, one of the riders, showing his green ID card to the cameras present, announced from the bus, “I am illegal. It is now illegal for me to be here.”
An IDF soldier and Israeli woman who had initially been waiting at the Psagot bus station left the scene with the arrival of the Palestinian activists. The woman told +972 she had walked away after hearing Arabic spoken. The six activists – five men and one woman – included Palestinian scholar and activist Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh. Of the six, five hold the green ID cards issued to West Bank Palestinians, and one a blue card held by East Jerusalem Palestinians.
Organizer Huwaida Arraf, one of the six to board the bus, told a press conference in Ramallah earlier Tuesday afternoon that organizers had handpicked potential buses ahead of time, focusing on routes where settlers tended to be less heavily armed. The lines ultimately selected, she explained, tend to have between four and six empty seats at the time of the day in question, and organizers wanted to avoid being told by drivers that the bus had no room.
According to a press released issued Sunday by organizers:
While parallels exist between occupied Palestine and the segregated U.S. South in terms of the underlying racism and the humiliating treatment suffered then by blacks and now by Palestinians, there are also significant differences. In the 1960s U.S. South, black people had to sit in the back of the bus; in occupied Palestine, Palestinians are not even allowed ON the bus nor on the roads that the buses travel on, which are built on stolen Palestinian land.
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.