palestine freedom riders
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Restricted mobility is one of the main obstacles experienced by Palestinians living under occupation. A couple of months ago, a Palestinian friend told me how she overcame this obstacle when she had to go to Jerusalem on an urgent matter, without having the Israeli permit usually required. She simply did what many of the settlers in the West Bank do when they want to go to Jerusalem; she took the "public" bus. Because the settler buses travel on Israeli-controlled roads and through settlements where Palestinians are not allowed to enter, these buses and their passengers are not inspected in the same way as Palestinian buses are at checkpoints entering Jerusalem. This - and not least of all her incredible courage - got my friend all the way to Jerusalem. She told me how she simply pretended like she belonged there, even though her heart was in her throat the entire ride. When she got in, one of the male settlers yelled at her. Apparently she had sat down in the wrong seat, so she got up and sat somewhere else. When the bus was boarded by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint she put on her sunglasses, acted a little snobbish and gave them the impression that she had all the right in the world to be there.

Even though it required a great deal of courage and acting from her side, my friend was not wrong; she does have all the right in the world to be there. The segregation of the Israeli road and bus system discriminates against the Palestinians who have far from the same mobility as Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. By only serving Israeli settlements and not Palestinian areas in the West Bank, the bus companies are discriminating against the Palestinians. Parallels can be drawn between this apartheid-like system and the segregation policies in the United States in the 1960s, which is exactly what six Palestinian activists did on November 15, as they boarded Israeli public bus number 148, connecting the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel to Jerusalem.

Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement in the US, the Palestinian Freedom Riders are carrying out a nonviolent campaign to board Israeli settler buses to shed light on the segregation and discrimination that limits their freedom of movement every day. The small group of protesters (and a significantly larger group of journalists) gathered at a bus stop by the Psagot settlement. From here they entered the bus that took them to an Israeli checkpoint at the edge of Jerusalem, where the activists where eventually arrested when they refused to leave the bus. By Wednesday morning all the activists had been released and according to the organizers of the Palestinians Freedom Rides this is not the last time we will see similar actions. The activists state that they will continue to defy Israeli forces by boarding the buses and express their opposition to the apartheid practices of Israel's occupation.

The main justifications given by Israel for the travel restrictions imposed on the Palestinians are "security concerns". A settler on the bus told a reporter that Palestinians should not be allowed on the bus as it belongs to the Israelis and that the settlers are afraid of them. This is part of a bigger picture, and a complicated conflict, of course. However I find it a little ironic that the settlers who are known to be armed and often extremely violent should be afraid of six non-violent activists who did nothing but refuse to get off the bus.

I can't help but to think of my friend on the bus to Jerusalem, scared out of her mind that her "true identity" would exposed. This is why the nonviolent acts of the Palestinian Freedom Riders is a great way to fight the segregated system in the West Bank; it is the complete opposite of what they have to go through every day, facing checkpoints, violence, armed soldiers and sometimes arrest. Yesterday, they were simply doing as my friend did a couple of months ago; letting the world know that they have every right to be there, as Palestinians.

Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at