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Israeli reactions to Freedom Riders

The reaction of Israeli onlookers was overwhelmingly negative, with bystanders making racist remarks; after Israeli forces arrested the six activists, a Palestinian journalist was also detained

An Israeli schoolgirl sticks her tongue out at Palestinian activists (Photo: Activestills)

After a short press conference in Ramallah early Tuesday afternoon, journalists followed a van of six Palestinian Freedom Riders to a bus stop in the Jewish settlement of Psagot, which is located in the West Bank.

There, activists—who included Dr. Mazin Qumisyeh, a professor and the author of Popular Resistance in Palestine and Huwaida Arraf, a founder of the Free Gaza Movement—waited for a Jerusalem-bound bus. The Egged line they hoped to ride, 148, would pass through the Hizma checkpoint, entering the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev, which is located in East Jerusalem, outside of the Green Line.

The Jewish Israelis who had been standing at the bus stop—a middle aged woman and an off-duty soldier—quickly distanced themselves from the activists, who were wearing keffiyeh and t-shirts bearing the words Freedom, Justice, and Dignity in Arabic and English.

Magi Amir, a resident of Rimonim, explained to +972 that she moved away from the crowd because she heard people speaking Arabic.

“I don’t think they need to be here,” Amir continued. “They can be in their villages and their houses, why are they in our area? Can we go to Ramallah? If we go into Ramallah, they’ll kill us. Can we go into their villages or their areas? We can’t enter.”

Amir added that, in her opinion, Jewish Israelis can’t trust Palestinians or believe in them. “They’ll do terror attacks,” she said.

Other Jewish settlers who came and waited for the bus echoed Amir’s sentiment, remarking that they feared for their safety.

A 16-year-old Jewish Israeli, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the Freedom Riders shouldn’t be able to board the bus because, “It’s an Israeli bus.”

“We live here, this is our land,” he said.

When asked about those who feel differently, the boy replied, “Those who say this is Palestinian land don’t have proof.”

He added that Palestinians enjoy a lot of freedom. “We give them identity cards and they can do whatever they want.”

+972 asked the boy, a resident of Maale Adumim who wished to remain anonymous, if Palestinians can do whatever they want, then why can’t they ride a bus to Jerusalem?

“Okay,” he said. “They can do what they need to… I don’t want them boarding the bus.”

Two Egged buses slowed but passed. When the third stopped and opened its doors, the six activists boarded, as did an Israeli policeman and some two dozen journalists.

A teenage girl with long, curly, blonde hair talked to a friend as she watched the activists get on the bus. “What are they doing? They have their own [buses]?” she said. She moved the phone away from her mouth and yelled at the male activists, “You sons of bitches!”

“You whore,” she said shouted at Arraf, the only female Freedom Rider.

On board, the Palestinians’ presence sparked an argument between two young Jewish Israelis girls, aged 13 and 17.

“They’re animals,” the younger said.

“No, not everyone,” the older answered.

When the younger mentioned that a family member had been injured in a terror attack, the older girl said that a friend of hers had been, as well.

The younger insisted that violence is “Arabs; it’s the people.”

“So you’re Jewish and you also have your people. What’s the connection?” the older said, rolling her eyes.

The bus was stopped at Hizma and was not allowed to continue through the checkpoint. Israeli forces took the activists’ identity cards and tried to remove Badia Dweik, an activist who was arrested during the First Intifada when he was15 years old. Dweik resisted nonviolently and ended up lying on the stairs of the rear exit for awhile.

After remaining at the checkpoint for some time, the vehicle was directed towards a parking lot.

As the sun set outside, Israeli forces boarded and told the six activists that they had been arrested and that they could choose to go quietly or they would be forcefully removed from the bus. Each of the activists refused to leave the bus. Police and border patrol carried them off. There was an audible thumping sound as one activist’s head hit the stairs as Israeli forces him dragged him out.

The six activists were put in a military jeep and were taken to Atarot prison.

Mohamed Jaradat, a Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah who holds a green ID card, was detained by Israeli police. As they walked to the car, +972 reminded police that Jaradat is a journalist and a member of the media.

A policeman replied, “So?”

Jaradat said that the police were going to take him to the checkpoint and drop him off. Later that evening, however, Hurriyah Ziada told +972 that Jaradat had been arrested.

UPDATE: All of the detainees have been released.

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    1. aristeides

      Those of us who lived through the school desegregation struggle in the US recognize the faces of hate in the crowd. It’s so familiar. I wonder if, 50 years from now, those Israelis will feel the same amount of shame for their words and actions directed at people who only want their rights.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Whose the weirmarr republic now?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jaime Antecol

      It’s completely contemptible that these activists staged this publicity stunt ripping off the US freedom riders of the 1960’s. Instead they should be involved with negotiating a Palestinian state. Actions like this are simply annoying and don’t accomplish anything useful.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mayer

      The peace process is totally a one sided sham.
      These people are courageous and should be commended for their brave actions

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yeah. Actions like this provoke the mighty Israeli army to take “pre-emptive” measures and bombard more Palestinian refugee camps in occupied territories. Actions like these should be avoided and prevented at any cost. Coz it threatens the mere existence of the racist, apartheid state of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    6. @Jaime, your comment is simply annoying and doesn’t accomplish anything useful. These people are standing up for their rights to travel freely around their own home. This apartheid tactic of segregated bussing should not be allowed any where in the world. If you have public transportation, anyone should be allowed to freely ride; whoever they may be.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      In demanding the right to travel freely within the West Bank, they are involved in negotiating a Palestinian state.

      They should be annoying, until they accomplish something useful.

      But, they have to stay focused on single questions, and not allow themselves to get distracted to self-gratifying but vague and dismissable rhetoric.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Israel

      Sounds like the IDF handled it wisely by not arresting them and not interfering with them until they reached the Jerusalem check-point, that is what they wanted so they could be made out to be martyrs.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jimmy

      Echoes of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement in the United States

      Reply to Comment
    10. Larry Derfner

      Great story, Mya. Demoralizing, but great.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ido

      Unfortunately, a green ID and a being a journalist aren’t enough to give you a free pass into Israel.
      Israel’s past experiences, show fake or stolen IDs being used to enter Israel, or journalists doing act of terrors in Israel.
      For example: http://bigjournalism.com/aim/2011/08/20/another-al-jazeera-journalist-suspected-of-terror-ties/

      The hatred between the two sides is indeed horrible. Israelis do not trust Palestinians and vice versa. And Israeli settlers have the least trust.
      However, Israelis shouldn’t be held to a double standard. An Israeli walking about in Gaza will not be treated better (in fact, a lot worse, just for being Jewish).

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben Israel

      I don’t recall that Rosa Parks or ML King advocated having suicide bombers blow up buses or restaurants. If Jerusalem is now cut off from the rest of the West Bank, it is a result of popularly elected Palestinian leader Arafat sending suicide bombers into Israel WITH THE ENTHUSIASTIC SUPPORT OF HIS PEOPLE.
      To compare this with the Civil Rights Movement in the US is an OBSCENITY.

      Reply to Comment
    13. RichardNYC

      “When the younger mentioned that a family member had been injured in a terror attack, the older girl said that a friend of hers had been, as well.”
      –>Its telling that when +972 publishes a Palestinian’s piece describing how he overcame the tragic death of his daughter, everyone congratulates and praises him for not seeking revenge. But when Israeli CHILDREN respond to violence against their families with words, they are “racists.” There’s so much good faith and humanitarianism on +972 I just don’t know what to do with it all!

      Reply to Comment
    14. mya guarnieri

      Hi Larry,

      Thanks! I could have done a story twice as long but at some point it would have been redundant… all the onlookers were saying the same thing more or less: We can’t go to Ramallah; they have their own buses; there were terror attacks. Etc.

      Something I wish I’d put in this is the reactions of the people on the bus who preferred just to look out the window and pretend what was happening wasn’t happening. I tried to talk to these people, too, and they weren’t interested in being interviewed.

      I have to wonder–or maybe I have to hope–that those people were moved in some way to reflect on things… that they were having some sort of internal debate.

      Maybe I’m being overly optimistic though…

      Reply to Comment
    15. Jim

      Ben Israel, you appear to post widely with the same irrelevant logical fallacies, designed to poison the debate.

      It’s a good sign really, that defenders of the regime are reduced to this kind of distortion, having nothing else in their toolbag.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Fadi

      you have your own websites, this website is for free thinking and justice seeking individuals. There’s two sides to every story

      Reply to Comment
    17. Jimmy

      @Ben Israel, the obscenity is the Occupation and the fact that the world allows it to occur.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Ben Israel

      The obscenity is that many of the perpertrators of these bloody atrocities were recently released from prison. The obscenity is that the world accepts the lies of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority regarding Jewish rights in the country. The obscenity is that the official gov’t controlled media in the Palestinian Authority routinely spews out genocidal antisemitic propaganda. The real obscenity is that the Palestinains REFUSE to make peace with Israel on ANY terms.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Jaime

      “The real obscenity is that the Palestinians REFUSE to make peace with Israel on ANY terms.”

      Ben has hit it on the button. Instead of sitting down and working out a living peace these troublemakers condemn their own people to torment.

      The fact is that the haters are not interested in a 2 state solution even though they say they are to keep sucking money and sympathy from the rest of the world. There are also Palestinians working very hard to build a future and together with the Israelis, but you don’t hear about them because they are outnumbered by the protest monkeys.

      The Arabs should show some pride and dignity and get out of the stupid protest business and into the country building business.

      Also the Israelis should reinstate the death penalty, penal servitude and very stiff fines by swift military tribunals for saboteurs and provocateurs whoever they are.

      Reply to Comment
    20. aristeides

      Jaime – why not just throw a noose over every lamppost in Israel and hang an Arab from every one? Because that’s what “whoever they are” means, isn’t it? When the YESHA Drum and Marching Society goes hiking through Palestinian villages in the West Bank hoping to provoke a reaction, that’s not going to count, is it?

      Reply to Comment
    21. AT

      Sometimes when I read the comments on the Interwebs, I want to give up on the human race. Seriously @Fadi, do you really want people to go talk to themselves and those who think like themselves? Is that how you anticipate the world will solve its problems?

      I am quite sympathetic to the Palestinians who are suffering from collective punishment because of the acts of a militant minority. However, political discussions should stay away from propagandistic arguments, since they don’t advance anything and get people sucked into, well, separate websites.

      For that reason I would avoid the word “racism” in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. There is plenty of xenophobia on both sides, and on both sides there is objective basis to that xenophobia. I can understand why Palestinians despise Zionists, since Zionism is certainly a proximate cause to what they suffer. But I can also understand when Israelis who are impacted by terrorism can’t find love in their heart for Arabs some of whom cause and support terrorism.

      Substantively basking in victim hood and throwing blame at the other side for being murderous animals advances nothing. Unfortunately, both Israelis and Palestinians are experts in basking in victim hood and throwing blame at each other. If people on the Internet’s want to join in the chorus of blame and indirectly bask in each sides sense of victim hood than all such discussions are just blasts of hot air that exacerbate the problem rather than promote peace.

      Reply to Comment
    22. To believe that the problems between Israel and Palestine are one-sided, regardless of which side that is, reveals ignorance of the true situation

      Reply to Comment
    23. Borg

      If an American wants to visit Jerusalem, they need a passport. The “freedom riders” from Ramallah are not Israeli citizens. To enter Israel they need papers too. The situation bears no analogy to the real freedom riders in Alabama, who were American citizens trying to ride American busses. Mya, you cant ride a bus in Paris without showing papers to get into France

      Reply to Comment
    24. Jeremy

      AT, thanks for your comment, I was looking for words to react to Fadi’s close mindedness. You can’t achieve meaningful debate without knowing both sides. If you want to understand an issue and get to a resolution, try arguing for the other side. You’ll soon understand so much more.

      And you can’t hate another person, solely because someone who looks like him/her/follows the same religion/sport/political party/lives in the same town/et cetera! Hate and resentment, breeds hate and resentment. Love and respect, peace and prosperity.

      Reply to Comment
    25. CH

      If Palestinians had consistently followed the example of the American Freedom Riders (many of them Jewish–including Goodman and Schwerner who died for black voting rights) there would be a Palestinian state by now.

      If only Arafat and the others had applied the lessons of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. If only the Arab League had supported this approach…

      It is unfortunate for these protesters that their leaders have chosen the path of violence for so many years. Especially the last 20…

      It is equally unfortunate that the Israeli kids were ugly about it.

      It is not too late for everyone to live up to our religions’ expectations of us in terms of compassion and social justice.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Bosko

      AT, Jeremy, Ch
      Well said. I agree with all three of you. Peace will only come when BOTH sides will be willing to take a good hard look at themselves, acknowledge their OWN mistakes rather than focus on the misdeeds of the other side. That in itself won’t be enough. There will be a need for lots of pragmatism too but self reflection, honest SELF reflection is definitely one of the pre-requisites.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Bosko

      The problem today is that too many people expect ONLY Israel to be introspective but not the Arabs. That is NOT the way to achieve peace.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Leen

      Let us not forget, they are using non-violent measures. For years and years Israel has been telling the Palestinians to get their own Ghandi. They are now embracing nonviolent tactics, and that’s the response?
      The peace process has become meaningless. From what I’ve seen, Israel wants to negotiate about nothing forever.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Bosko

      “The peace process has become meaningless. From what I’ve seen, Israel wants to negotiate about nothing forever”
      Funny, I would have put it exactly the other way around. Israel already spelled out twice over what kind of peace deal it is willing to make back in 2000/2001 and in 2008. Yet it was the Palestinian leadership that has been unable to say yes to those peace offers. Not only they didn’t say yes but they did not come up with realistic counter offers other than the Intifada, Durban and the current stunts with their UN initiative in which they hope to get others to do what they can’t do themselves, to force Israel’s hands into giving up lands without getting a proper undertaking to give up their 100 year war against the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral home land and the two state solution. But those stunts won’t work. Try as they might, they won’t be able to get rid of Israel. All they will achieve is prolong their own suffering and the suffering of ordinary Israelis with them. And it seems the latter bit is a form of consolation prize for them. Sad …

      Reply to Comment
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