A contrived effort to engineer a Rosa Parks moment fall flat Tuesday when a handful of Palestinian activists set out to board an Israeli bus that they say services only West Bank Jewish settlers. In trying to create a comparison between the U.S. civil rights movement and the Palestinian predicament, they hoped to prove the long-standing claim of Palestinians and their international supporters that Israel is an “apartheid” state.
Their contention was quickly debunked when the half-dozen “Palestinian Freedom Rides” activists – trying to imitate the 1960s American Freedom Rides - freely boarded a bus heading from a West Bank settlement toward Jerusalem. Israeli buses are not segregated.
From the LiveStream feed provided by the protesters throughout the afternoon, it was clear there were many more photographers on board than passengers taking part, despite the advance advertising on pro-Palestinian websites. AFP reported 100 reporters were either on or outside the bus. The activists sported black and white keffiyehs and at least one wore a t-shirt promoting the boycott of Israeli products.
Israeli border police knew about the plans and were ready to face any trouble. At one point, an activist posted a message on the group’s Twitter feed pointing to the irony of Palestinians being escorted by Israeli military vehicles.
Israeli passengers had initially been on the bus (again – buses aren’t segregated), but got off when it was boarded by Israeli border police checking if the passengers had Jerusalem entry permits.
The Media Line reports the Israeli passengers mostly ignored the protesters without incident:
Palestinians not only want the Israelis to go back to pre-1967 Israel, but object in the meantime to what they say is a policy of segregation that has created separate roads and transportation networks. Israel says these are needed to protect its citizens against Palestinian terror attacks.
“If I got on one of their buses they would slaughter me,” said an Israeli who would only give his first name, Elhanan. “It’s a gimmick. The Arabs ride on our buses all of the time.”
The first few buses simply refused to stop for the group, though it was difficult to tell whether they drove on because of the media mosh-pit or to deny the Palestinians service.
There appeared to be major factual discrepancies between Twitter messages from the activists on board and the video they were streaming live.
At 3:30pm, one Palestinian passenger tweeted “border police are harassing Palestinian, Israeli and international activists on board Freedom Rides bus,” but a LiveStream feed showed a controlled situation on board, including a border policeman simply asking questions. The main excitement seemed to be from the crush of photographers crowding the aisles.
At 4:02pm a woman, Huwaida Araf, screamed, “We are Palestinian freedom riders! We are not leaving this bus!” Shortly after, she left the bus courtesy of Israeli military police.
A fellow activist posted a message that Araf was “violently arrested while trying to ride a bus into Jerusalem.” The tweet included a photo that does not appear to be violent. (Link to the photo is HERE.) What it does show is the woman’s arms being held, presumably by police, as she is led away. Earlier, another protester lied on the floor of the bus and refused to get up, a tactic that’s also been seen at American “Occupy” events.
At 4:10pm, the protesters tweeted, “Israeli army is attacking the Freedom Riders, trying to remove them from the bus with violence.” But at the same time, their live video reporter said she was turning off the camera to conserve batteries because “nothing is happening.”
What was obvious on the live feed was that during practically the entire event, one or another of the protesters was giving yet another interview. It was plainly evident to see that even while police were checking IDs, protesters continued giving interviews.
In those interviews, protesters said repeatedly that they were about to be arrested and that the Israelis “are going to use violence against us.” The violence charge didn’t seem to play out as perhaps the activists had been planning.
The Jerusalem Post video below shows some of the drawn out negotiation to get the demonstrators off the bus. An Israeli policeman tells the passengers in Hebrew he doesn’t want to use force to get them outside. One of the activists demands not to be spoken to. Another is interviewed lying down. Finally, police physically remove them from the bus while each shouts slogans for the cameras.
One supporter - while trying to interfere with an arrest - accuses a police officer of pushing her which he shouldn’t do because she’s a “lady” and he’s a “racist.”
Perhaps most telling of the true intentions of the protesters, that they’re issue is not so much equal rights but the end of the Jewish state: activist Huwaida Araf tells the Post, “It doesn’t end until Israel’s colonial apartheid regime is dismantled, because it cannot go on. It is the barrier to peace in the region.”
The activists say they were barred from entering Jerusalem because they didn’t have the proper permits. They were subsequently arrested for refusing to get off the bus and were released shortly after without charges. After years of absorbing suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, Israel restricts entry to Jerusalem and into its borders to those with permits or visas. Which raises the question: Why didn’t the activists arrange for such permits before setting out on their journey? (Perhaps less good of a photo op?)
The comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa got a big push when former President Jimmy Carter in 2006 published his book titled "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."
When one bandies as loaded a term as “apartheid” perhaps it would be useful to examine a few facts. There are approximately 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel. Currently, 14 Members of Knesset are Israeli Arabs. One of them, Hanan Zoabi, doesn’t believe that Israel should be a Jewish State, left the hall when the national anthem was played at the Knesset, and was on board last year’s Gaza flotilla trying to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. Regardless, she’s a citizen and has equal rights under the law.
The model representing Israel in next month’s Miss Earth competition is 22-year-old Huda Naccache, an Israeli Christian Arab citizen (granted not the most famous pageant but still conveys the concept of equality). And the Israeli diplomat subject to a Kent State professor yelling “Death to Israel?" None other than Ishmael Khaldi, a Bedouin Israeli Arab honorably representing his country.
Though the activists and their foreign supporters are quick to accuse Israel of racism, it seems they themselves have a penchant for ugly stereotypes. The @PalFreedomRides Twitter page posted this cartoon replete with anti-Semitic imagery. Note the stereotypical knotted beard, the scowl and yarmulke on the Israeli settler.
Though a hateful cartoon doesn’t deserve more attention, just to get the facts straight, Israeli buses do not have chairs labeled “settlers only” or even “Jews only” for that matter.