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Palestinian activists board settler bus bound for Jerusalem

By Silvia Boarini

15wp150-11712.jpg

Activist being forcibly removed from Egged bus


November 16, 2011


Wearing T-shirts that read "Justice," "Dignity" and "We shall overcome," six Palestinians boarded an Israeli settler bus bound for Jerusalem from the West Bank settlement of Psagot near Ramallah.

Dubbed "Freedom Riders" — in reference to those black activists of the 1950’s U.S. Civil Rights Movement who refused to sit in the "blacks only" section on segregated buses — these Palestinians wished to challenge  "Israel’s apartheid policies and the ban on Palestinians’ access to Jerusalem," representatives said.

At a press conference prior to boarding the bus, Huwaida Arraf, a founder of the Free Gaza Movement and one of the Freedom Riders, said that "Israel bombs Palestinian ghettos, blocks Gaza and prevents people from seeking medical attention. They say this is all about security but in fact it is about enforcing a colonial regime."

Freedom of movement is curtailed in many ways for Palestinians. Aside from the 522 checkpoints dotting the West Bank’s roads –- as documented by OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) — a system of permits governs admission to Jerusalem for Palestinians residents in the West Bank. Gazans are prevented from exiting the strip entirely.

Standing at the Psagot bus stop amongst surprised settlers and a sea of cameras, the six activists — Huweida Arraf, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Nadeem Al Sharbate, Basel Al Araj, Fadi Quran and Badi Dwaik — were quickly joined by an Israeli military jeep and an armored police car which followed the Egged bus.

Journalists crowd around six Palestinian activists loading a settler bus in the West Bank

At the Hizmah checkpoint, typically used by Israelis in the West Bank to pass between settlements and Jerusalem, the activists were asked by police to present their permit to enter the city.

The Freedom Riders protested at being the only people asked to present their ID’s. A policeman reportedly answered, "These are the laws." The bus was held at Hizmah for over an hour.

Settlers began to disembark, looking for alternative transport into Jerusalem. One of them, Mr. Haggai Sogal, said, "I don’t have a problem with Palestinians on the buses. The reason they are not allowed on is just security. I don’t see a parallel with the Civil Rights movement in the USA, this is just a provocation."

Haggai Sogal

Elaborating, he added, "Palestinians can live here, but the West Bank is part of Israel. It is our land."

The bus was then moved away from the checkpoint in a nearby parking lot where the police and army waited for approximately two hours before forcibly removing the activists from the bus, after they refused to leave voluntarily

One by one the Freedom Riders were dragged out of the bus. Nearby, Israeli and international activists shouted "end the occupation" and "this is apartheid."

The six activists were taken to Atarot prison and were released last night.



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