Most Americans would probably be shocked at the level of racism in Israeli society—that is if they knew about it. Problem is, of course, US mainstream media don’t report on it. But despite our media’s omissions, the comments of Israeli rabbis like Ovadia Yosef have long been a matter of public record. Attitudes of Jewish supremacy pervade the country—from its leaders, down to and including many of its youth. In fact there is soon to be a new book out on the subject of racist depictions of Palestinians in Israeli school textbooks. But I would say nothing captures the essence of racism in the Jewish state quite like the above photo. It was snapped on November 15, and shows an Israeli woman giving her reaction to the Palestinian Freedom Riders protest that was held that day. And without a doubt, it is truly one of those “one picture is worth a thousand words” sort of photos.
The Freedom Rider protest was patterned after—yes you guessed it—the Freedom Riders who pioneered the Civil Rights movement in the American South in the 1960s. The event consisted of a group of Palestinians boarding a public bus in the Occupied West Bank and attempting to ride it to Jerusalem, this in an effort to call attention to Israel’s segregated system of transportation, a system that includes roads that have been built for Jews only. You can view more photos of the event here. Below are two articles, the first by Jo Ann Fricke of Christian Peacemaker Teams, three of whose members accompanied the Palestinians on their momentous but abbreviated bus ride. The second is by independent journalist Mya Guarnieri, one of a cluster of reporters who covered the event.
PALESTINE REFLECTION: Freedom Riders take Israeli settler bus to Jerusalem
On Tuesday, 15 November 2011, six Palestinians stood at the bus stop outside the settlements of Psagot and Migron, and boarded a bus used by settlers to travel to Jerusalem. When CPT’s Hebron team heard about the action on the internet, they sent three members to accompany the six Freedom Riders, as the activists referred to themselves.
Although no law explicitly forbids Palestinians from boarding the Israeli buses in the West Bank, racial and ethnic discrimination and the fact that Palestinians are not allowed to travel to Jerusalem where the Central Bus Station is, create a separate system of transportation that is off-limits to the Palestinians, but open to Israelis.
The six were able to board the bus, along with numerous journalists and photographers and depart from the bus stop. However, at the first checkpoint, Israeli soldiers and police stopped the bus and boarded it. After about forty-five minutes, the bus moved one last time just down the road to a parking lot, where it sat for at least another hour before police carried the six Palestinians off the bus and arrested them.
Some Palestinian friends of the Hebron team questioned the effectiveness of the action, but the event was widely covered in the world press, including by the BBC, Washington Post, Los Angele Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. In a press statement read before the activists boarded the bus, spokeswoman Hurriyeh Ziadah noted,
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
We urge the people of the world not to accept the evil that is our occupation, dispossession, and oppression, and to divest yourselves and your governments from the corporations that enable Israel to continue doing this to us. Egged and Veolia are two transportation companies that serve Israel’s segregated, colonial, infrastructure. By passively accepting their presence and not protesting against them, you are all indirectly complicit in the crimes they commit against us, and the profits they make from the violation of our rights; violations that the Freedom Riders will expose today.
Our rights will not voluntarily be handed to us, so we are heading out to demand them.
Israeli Reactions to Freedom Riders
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.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian