Palestinian Freedom Riders Challenge Israeli Segregation of West Bank Transportation

17 November 2011

On November 15th, 2011, six Palestinian activists were arrested for boarding Israeli settlement buses in the West Bank district of Ramallah. The activists, calling themselves the Freedom Riders, drew inspiration from the 1961 Freedom Rides in the United States, in which young black and white civil rights activists challenged the segregated transportation system across southern states.

Settler buses run by the companies Egged and Veolia, connect Israeli settlements which are built on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, and deemed illegal under International Law, with cities within Israel proper. Palestinians are not allowed to ride these buses, one of many separate and unequal and policies which constitutes apartheid. The Palestinian Freedom Riders waited at a settlement bus stop in the Ramallah district in the late afternoon of November 15th, surrounded by international media and supporters. Several settlement bus drivers saw the crowd gathered at the bus stop and did not stop their buses to let the passengers board.

Finally, a settlement bus stopped at the six activists boarded wearing keffiyehs and carrying signs that said things like, “we shall overcome.” After a fifteen minute ride as the bus approached Hizma checkpoint, Israeli Forces boarded the bus and demanded to see the IDs of the six passengers. On seeing that they were Palestinian, they ordered the activists off the bus and threatened them with arrest. The activists refused to leave, and were roughly dragged off the bus one by one and placed under arrest.

Unarmed campaigns such as the Freedom Rides are only expected to grow across Palestine as Israeli apartheid policies continue to be challenged.