Honored to be a Palestinian Freedom Rider

by Mazin Qumsiyeh

November 16, 2011

On November 16, five Palestinians took part in a Freedom Ride in the occupied territories. Boarding a bus in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, the riders stayed on the vehicle as it went through one apartheid checkpoint and were eventually dragged off the bus by police. Modeled on the Freedom Ride tactic used by African American and white activists in the U.S. South during the 1960s, the Palestinian riders confronted Zionist colonial and apartheid settlement practices.

This piece was originally shared on the author’s blog here.

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Freedom riders hold signs in front of the bus. Credit: Active Stills

I was honored to be a freedom rider and it was team effort at its best (those who rode and the many who worked behind the scenes). Two other Palestinians were also arrested with us who were there as a reporters/observers not participants. All eight of us were released eventually pending potential trials. Fajr kindly gave us a ride to the edge of Beit Sahour from Ramallah (we were released at Qalandia checkpoint) where my wife met us there with my car and then she and I gave a ride to Nadim and Badi’ to Hebron. I thus arrived home at 1:30 AM and the phones started ringing again at 7 AM. I am extremely tired and with a headache but wanted to send you a brief report and links to stories about this amazing and inspiring experience. While released, we are still charged with “illegal entry to Jerusalem” and with “obstructing police business” pending potential trial.

This was one of the most heavily covered media events I ever participated in. It was also streamed live on the internet and nearly 100,000 people signed a petition of support for us freedom riders. Thus, I do not need to write to you in detail about how three buses refused to let us board and then one driver (who later told journalists he did not know what was going on otherwise would have also refused) allowed us on the bus and what happened on and off the bus. Below are some links to stories published that give you a taste of this. Note especially the signs that we carried and showed before we rode the bus and from the windows of the bus (I am the one with the “DIGNITY” sign). Perhaps I will write more personally when my mind is clearer and I have had some sleep. But there are two anecdotes that happened that are kind of unusual and funny and in some way worth telling while they are fresh in my mind…

The author is forced off the bus.

They took me to the Shabak (“Israeli intelligence”) guy before they took me to the investigator for the bus issue. The Shabak guy did not ask me about the bus at all. He introduced himself as head of the Shabak area of Ramallah (and previously of Nablus and Jenin). He asked me if I was abroad recently. I said yes. He said what happened when you came back. I said I was interrogated at the bridge. He said “come on, interrogating is a big word.” I said I do not know what else to call an eight hour delay including two hours of actual questioning. He said what else they told you. I said that the interrogation would continue and that there is a captain “Suhail” or “Suhaib” or something like that who will call me later. He said that that it is him and his name is “Shihab!” I said, “well then maybe we will save another visit!” He told me that is not likely as I seem to continue to “cause problems and violate laws.” I said there is something called international laws and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Denial of freedom of movement and entry to Jerusalem while allowing colonial settlers to live on our land and have freedom to travel in and out of Jerusalem on segregated buses is a violation of the International Convention Against the Crime of Apartheid. We also engaged in a political discussion and I explained about why Israel now has no incentive for peace (the three main sources of income for it would all dry up if there is peace) and my views of a democratic, pluralistic country for its entire people.

Another incident: One young Ashkenazi soldier was very arrogant and even called me “Professor Teez” (Teez is arabic for “ass”). We all (freedom riders) laughed it off and I told him that I did not insult him and that when someone insults me, they demean themselves first. When he repeated it after my interrogation by the Shabak, I stood up and confronted him, the Druz officer intervened, and the soldier moved away. There were other incidents with other people similarly showing that our collective attitude was strong, defiant, and resilient. We all had Palestinian Kuffiyyas and kept wearing them. Fadi even wrapped himself in the Palestinian flag the whole time except when they did the full body search. We have some video from inside the compound which I will share later.

I came out to find the news that the Zionist mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg ordered the clearing out of the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters for now; a very important protest. But my reading of history and trends tell me that the global intifada will only accelerate as a result of repression by the powers to be.

Some links:

Electronic Intifada: Israel arrests “Freedom Riders” challenging apartheid road system
Mondoweiss: Six Palestinian Freedom Riders arrested traveling on Israeli-only bus [including video]
Active Stills photos
Ha’aretz (Amira Hass): “Palestinians embark on civil disobedience protests against ‘demographic segregation’”


One response to “Honored to be a Palestinian Freedom Rider”

  1. Nick Avatar

    Thanks for the report — it sounds like this was a powerful action for those involved. It was certainly inspiring for those of us watching around the world. I participated in a modest solidarity action in Baltimore, where we sang, held signs, and passed out fliers outside a train station to raise awareness of the struggle and make the connection with the US civil rights movement. Video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E7wzXTEYos

    Baltimore Jewish Voices for Peace, which organized this action, is planning to launch a campaign targeting Veolia, a multinational corporation whose business is running privatized public services and which has a huge presence both in Baltimore and in Palestine. Just as in Palestine, Veolia runs segregated transit for Israeli settlers, in Baltimore, they operate buses which connect affluent white neighborhoods to downtown employers, avoiding working-class and poor black neighborhoods which are served by the (less reliable, more expensive) state transit system. I’m excited by the idea of connecting the struggle for equality in Palestine with the struggle for public transit for all in Baltimore.