Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

58. Freedom Riders in Palestine

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Next Tuesday, November 15, Palestinian activists will attempt to board segregated Israeli public transportation headed from inside the West Bank to occupied East Jerusalem.  This act of civil disobedience is inspired by the Freedom Riders of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

[MR:  Some context.  The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961.  From May through September more than 450 Freedom Riders travelled by public transport throughout the southern states, confronting segregation laws and customs.  They were attacked by Ku Klux Klan-led mobs and police, not infrequently the same people.  Many Freedom Riders were beaten, some badly enough to require hospitalization.  Some ambulance drivers refused to take the wounded to hospital, and some doctors refused to administer medical care. Reporters and news photographers were attacked, their cameras destroyed.  One bus was fire-bombed, and the passengers narrowly escaped.  All but a very few Freedom Riders were arrested, many of them more than once.

The Freedom Rides focused intense national attention on the deeply entrenched racism and violence that enforced segregation.  Finally under pressure from the civil rights movement, Attorney General Robert Kennedy directed the Interstate Commerce Commission to comply with a six-year-old bus de-segregation court ruling which had effectively been ignored until then.  On November 1, 1961, the new policy went into effect throughout the south.

Finally passengers were permitted to sit wherever they chose on interstate buses and trains, “white” and “colored” signs came down in the terminals, separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated, and the lunch counters began to serve people regardless of race.

Of course there would be obstacles and setbacks.  There still are.  Even so, the Freedom Riders moved mountains.  They were people of immense courage, discipline, and determination.  As are their counterparts in Palestine.]

On November 15, Palestinian Freedom Riders will assert their right to liberty and dignity through peaceful civil disobedience.

The Freedom Riders seek to highlight Israel’s attempts to illegally sever occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and the apartheid system that Israel has imposed on Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Several Israeli public transport companies, including Egged and Veolia, operate dozens of lines that run through the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, many of them subsidized by the state. They run between different Israeli settlements, connecting them to each other and to cities inside Israel.  Some lines connecting Jerusalem to other cities inside Israel, such as Eilat and Beit She’an, are also routed to pass through the Palestinian West Bank.

Israelis suffer almost no limitations on their freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territory, and are even allowed to settle in it, contrary to international law.  By contrast, Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel without procuring a special permit from Israeli authorities. Even Palestinian movement inside the Occupied Territories is heavily restricted, with access to occupied East Jerusalem and some 8% of the West Bank in the border area also forbidden without a similar permit.

While it is not officially forbidden for Palestinians to use Israeli public transportation in the West Bank, these lines are effectively segregated, since many of them pass through Jewish-only settlements, to which Palestinian entry is prohibited by a military decree.

On Tuesday November 15, the Freedom Rides begin in Palestine.

[MR:  The more people around the world follow their progress, the more impact the Freedom Riders will have.  Please give this message wings, and stay tuned….]

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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