Freedom riders not demanding equal bus rights but equal access to towns
Linah Alsaafin, electronic intifada
There were worries from some Palestinian youth regarding the first press release of the Freedom Rides. Reading between the lines, the wording could have been better and the purpose of the mission was in danger of being intrepreted as Palestinians demanding equal rights with the illegal Israeli settlers instead of the proper message of divulging to the world one aspect of the apartheid regime they live under. The second statement released yesterday 13 November is longer but more comprehensive and expressive:
Sunday, November 13, 2011
For Immediate Release
Palestinian Freedom Riders to Ride Settler Buses to Jerusalem
Inspired by the Freedom Rides of the US Civil Rights Movement Palestinian activists will attempt to board segregated Israeli settler buses to occupied East Jerusalem
RAMALLAH – Groups of Palestinian Freedom Riders will attempt to board segregated settler buses heading to Jerusalem through the occupied West Bank this Tuesday November 15, in an act of civil disobedience that takes its inspiration from the US Civil Rights Movement Freedom Riders aim to challenge Israel’s apartheid policies, the ban on Palestinians’ access to Jerusalem, and the overall segregated reality created by a military and settler occupation that is the cornerstone of Israel’s colonial regime. While parallels exist between occupied Palestine and the segregated U.S. South in terms of the underlying racism and the humiliating treatment suffered then by blacks and now by Palestinians, there are also significant differences. In the 1960s U.S. South, black people had to sit in the back of the bus; in occupied Palestine, Palestinians are not even allowed ON the bus nor on the roads that the buses travel on, which are built on stolen Palestinian land.
In undertaking this action Palestinians do not seek the desegregation of settler buses, as the presence of these colonizers and the infrastructure that serves them is illegal and must be dismantled. As part of their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, Palestinians demand the ability to be able to travel freely on their own roads, on their own land, including the right to travel to Jerusalem.
Palestinian activists also aim to expose two of the companies that profit from Israel’s apartheid policies and encourage global boycott of and divestment from them. The Israeli Egged and French Veolia bus companies operate dozens of segregated lines that run through the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, many of them subsidized by the state. Both companies are also involved in the Jerusalem Light Rail, a train project that links illegal settlements in East Jerusalem to the western part of the city. By facilitating population transfer into occupied Palestinian territory, Egged and Veolia are actively and knowingly complicit in Israel’s settlement enterprise, which the International Court of Justice has determined to be a breach of international law, and particularly Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting an occupying power from transferring part of its population into occupied territory.
This Tuesday, Palestinian Freedom Riders will head to Jewish-only bus stops in the West Bank and attempt to board the settler buses. Palestinians understand that this act of nonviolent disobedience may result in violent attacks and even death at the hands of Israeli settlers that are to Israel what the Klu Klux Klan was to the Jim Crow South, or the authorities that protect them. Nonetheless, the Freedom Riders believe that this act of civil resistance is necessary to draw the attention of the world to the immorality of Israel’s occupation and apartheid system as well as to compel justice-loving people to take a stand and divest from Egged, Veolia, and all companies that enable and profit from it.
The Freedom Riders will be joined by activists from all around the world who will stage activities in their cities that highlight the systematic oppression of Palestinians and the need to divest from Egged and Veolia.
For inquiries send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
The buses that the Freedom Riders will be boarding are operated by the Egged, the largest Israeli public transportation company, and by the French transnational company Veolia. Both companies are complicit in Israel’s violations of international law due to their involvement in and profiting from Israeli’s illegal settlement infrastructure. Palestinian Freedom Riders endorse the call for boycotting both companies, as well as all others involved in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law.
In July 2011, an Egged subsidiary won a public tender to run bus services in the Waterland region of the Netherlands, north of Amsterdam. The company makes money from trampling on the rights of Palestinians and has been a target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society. The Freedom Riders call on the people of the Netherlands to sever all dealings with companies, like Egged, involved in human rights violations.
Veolia has been a target of an international divestment campaign for running bus lines through the West Bank connecting settlements to Jerusalem and for its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail which connects Israel’s illegal settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem to the western part of the city, thereby directly servicing the settlement enterprise.
Over 42 percent of Palestinian land in the West Bank has been taken over for the building of Jewish settlements and their associated regime (including the wall which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004), depriving local communities of access to their water resources as well as agricultural lands. Settling Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territory constitutes a war crime according to the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute only 22 percent of the Palestinian homeland from which over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948 when the state of Israel was created. Since then, Palestinian refugees have been languishing in refugee camps and other places of exile, denied the right to return to their homes.
Settlements’ infrastructure includes hundreds of kilometers of segregated roads that are forbidden for Palestinians to use. They carve deep into the West Bank further separating Palestinians and their cities and villages from each other.
 See ”Israel’s settlement policy is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention,” The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Gaza, highlighting the relevant articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention to support the determination that settlements are a war crime, at http://www.pchrgaza.org/Intifada/Settlements.conv.htm see also ”Demolitions, new settlements in East Jerusalem could amount to war crimes – UN expert,” UN News Centre, June 29, 2010, at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=35175&Cr=Palestin&Cr1.
 Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibits “[t]he transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
University campuses across the US have jumped on board (no pun intended) on the idea and have planned for similar actions to be staged tomorrow to raise more awareness in their communities. The wonderful author and activist Alice Walker, who was involved in the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s conveyed her solidarity and support for the Freedom Riders on her blog. It is now less than 24 hours before the brave Freedom Riders of the 21st century attempt to break the mold of oppression, indignity and intolerable suffering in order to lead a path to justice, freedom, and equality. Will Israel’s reaction be its own well trodden path of violence infused with blinding hysteria and hatred?