Palestinian Freedom Riders to Board Settler Buses to Jerusalem

Palestinian activists will attempt to peacefully board segregated Israeli public transportation in the occupied West Bank to travel to East Jerusalem in action reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides to the U.S. South.

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When: Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 at 1:00 p.m.
Where: Cultural Palace, Ramallah
Media contact: 059-234-6895 or 054-632-7736

[Occupied RAMALLAH] This Tuesday, Palestinian activists, mostly youth, will attempt to board segregated Israeli public transportation headed from inside the West Bank to occupied East Jerusalem in an act of civil disobedience inspired by the Freedom Riders of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Fifty years after the U.S. Freedom Riders staged mixed-race bus rides through the roads of the segregated American South, Palestinian Freedom Riders will be asserting their right to liberty and dignity by disrupting the military regime of the Occupation through peaceful civil disobedience. The Freedom Riders seek 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.

Group spokeswoman Hurriyah Ziada said: “Israel’s control over Palestinians must end and all of Israel’s Jewish-only colonies that sit on stolen land must be dismantled. As we struggle for our people’s basic rights, we call on the peoples of the world to support our struggle for freedom like they supported the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. We ask that they devote themselves to the noblest methods of solidarity with the oppressed by implementing boycott, divestment and sanctions on our oppressor, Israel. We demand freedom, justice and self determination.”

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. They run between different Israeli settlements, connecting them to each other and to Israel. Some lines connecting Jerusalem to other cities inside Israel, such as Eilat and Beesan (Beit She’an), are also routed to pass through the West Bank.

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.

Tomorrow, Palestinian Freedom Riders will head to Jewish-only bus stops in the West Bank and attempt to board the illegal and segregated 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 illegality and immorality of Israel’s occupation and apartheid system as well as to urge justice-loving people to take a stand and divest from Egged, Veolia, and all companies that enable and profit from this oppressive system.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/PalestinianFreedomRides
Twitter: twitter.com/#!/palfreedomrides Hashtag:  #FreedomRides
Blog: http://palfreedomrides.blogspot.com/
Live stream: www.livestream.com/freedomriders
Email: ridingforfreedom@gmail.com

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

Almost no limitations are imposed on the freedom of movement of Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territory. On the contrary, the Israeli government allows and even encourages its citizens to settle in the West Bank (especially in and around East Jerusalem), in violation of international law. Palestinians, in contrast, are not allowed to enter Israel without procuring a rarely granted special permit from Israeli authorities. Even Palestinian movement inside the Occupied Territory 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 military decrees. This is one aspect of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid[i] against the Palestinian people.

The buses that the Freedom Riders boarded are operated by Egged, the largest Israeli public transportation company. Another prominent public transportation company in the Occupied Territory is 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.[ii]

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 illegal Israeli colonies to Jerusalem and for its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail which connects illegal settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem to the western part of the city, thereby directly servicing the settlement enterprise.[iii]

Israel has laid its military control over 42 percent of the occupied Palestinian territory  for the building of illegal Jewish settlements and their associated regime[iv] (including the wall which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004) across the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), 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[v] and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.[vi]

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.

[i]                  In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the eminent jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.” http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/sessions/south-africa

[ii]            Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS, available at: http://www.bdsmovement.net/call.

[iii]            http://www.bdsmovement.net/activecamps/veoliaalstom#.TsDEckOGXxQ

[iv]            B’tselem Report: “By Hook and By Crook, Israeli Settlement Policy in the West Bank, July 2010; summary available at: http://www.btselem.org/publications/summaries/201007_by_hook_and_by_crook.

[v]            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.

[vi] Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the 2002 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.”