The Freedom Riders of Bus 148
March 15, 2011
By Mariam Al-Barghouti and Deema Al-Saafin
The Palestinian Freedom Rides movement was inspired by the Civil Rights Act of 1961, when African Americans and Americans alike boarded buses and road throughout the south in order to break segregation marked by Jim Crow laws.This act branded them the name “Freedom Riders”.
Segregation of the 1960’s revolved around a direct schism between “blacks” and “whites” in every aspect of life imaginable; education, public eating, public transportation, and housing provinces. This began the Freedom Riders movement where Americans, “blacks” and “whites” alike, rode segregated buses .
Inspired by such a movement, six Palestinian activists decided to do the same regarding segregated Israeli buses, in which they would be non-violently defying illegal Israeli settlements, and Israeli segregation.
Earlier Tuesday November 15th, 6 Palestinian activists as well as people of the press headed to the illegal Israeli settlement of Kohav Yakov, where they attempted to board segregated Israeli buses headed to Jerusalem in defiance of Israeli apartheid and segregation. The first bus passes the activists however, the driver keeps driving on. The second bus, and the third pass, to no avail.
Five buses passed the activists without stopping to allow them to get in as passengers; instead they completely ignored their existence. Whilst they were waiting for a bus to stop, an IOF military jeep came to the location of the Freedom Riders. It wasn't until the sixth bus, bus number 148 that the Palestinian Freedom Rides activists were able to board.
Illegal Israeli settlers boarded the bus with the Freedom Riders. At this point, history had already been made, as Palestinians had physically got onto segregation buses headed to Jerusalem. Aboard the bus, the Palestinian flag was flown.
During the first and second Intifada, the waving of the Palestinian flag was an action enough to land a person in jail. During the weekly demonstrations in villages such as Nabi Saleh, Bil'in, Ni'leen and Walaja, waving the Palestinian flag can bring a person an arrest, or worse as in the case of Ashraf Abu Rahmah, administrative detention.
A settler aboard attempted to grab and confiscate the Palestinian flag, but his attempt was defied.
Bus 148 began its move to its perceived destination: Jerusalem. The driver of the bus was following an Israeli police vehicle, while the bus was accompanied by Israeli Occupying Forces from behind.
The bus was led to Hizmah checkpoint, which is one of 522 checkpoints that are spread throughout the West Bank. Upon arrival to Hizmah checkpoint, Israeli Border Police as well as Israeli soldiers boarded bus 148 which carried the six Palestinian Freedom Rides activists: Nadeem Al-Sharbate, Huwaida Arraf, Dr.Mazin Qumsieyeh, Fadi Qura'an, Basel Al-Araj, and Badee' Dwaik, as well as several journalists documenting the event.
The Police asked all the settlers on board and the driver to leave the bus, to which they obeyed but not before remarking to the activists still on board that "this is our land." The settlers were able to board another bus heading to Jerusalem without any harassment from the Border Police.
However the activists were asked for their ID's, and confiscated them in an attempt to get the Freedom Riders to exit the bus. "I will show them my Palestinian ID card and say I want to go to Jerusalem. We'll see what happens," said Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh. However the Freedom Riders were determined to remain on the bus, saying over and over again "We are headed to Jerusalem."
Journalists were then kicked out of the bus and fined 500 Israeli Shekels for "parking on the side of the road". This is merely an attempt to punish those who spread the word of Israel's apartheid regime and its racist implications to the rest of the world.
At this point, Freedom Riders had begun chanting, "We are not getting off, even if you throw us in jail". They knew that they could be arrested but remained defiant, and most importantly, non violent. Palestinian activist, Badee' Dwaik, resisted by nonviolently laying on the floor of the bus. He asked the Israeli Border Police "Why didn't you ask a settler for his permission slip into Jerusalem? Is his blood red and mine blue?"
When journalists and settlers were removed from the bus, only IOF and Israeli Border Police remained with the Freedom Riders. The bus then began its move to a police station.
Once at the police station, Israeli Border Police began forcibly removing Freedom Riders one by one. (Due to the camera shooting the live stream footage running out of battery, we were only able to see three arrests (Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, Huwaida Arraf and lastly Fadi Quran’s).
Israeli Border Police tried to negotiate with activists Huwaida Arraf and Fadi Quran, if negotiating meant saying "You are here illegally. Yallah, you will be taken off the bus." The Freedom Riders remained in their seats, staring straight ahead.
IOF and Border Police then began to violently grab these activists one at a time forcing them off the bus. Whilst being arrested, Huwaida and Fadi both introduced themselves as Freedom Riders and said "We are only trying to go to Jerusalem."
Alongside the activists, Fajr Harb was also arrested, even though he was not on board the bus, nor part of the Palestinian Freedom Riders group, he was merely arrested for showing support for the cause, and being Palestinian. As Fadi Quran said as he was being arrested "We only want our freedom, justice, and dignity." The activists and Fajr Harb were taken to the detention center of Atarot, where they remain now until further notice.
*This post originally appeared on the website WrittenResistance.
*Photos courtesy of Activestills.org
All the Freedom Riders have since been released from Israeli custody.