Sunday, November 27, 2011

An Israeli Soldier Cares For My Safety

The following took place Friday, November 25th in the village of Nabi Saleh during its weekly protest against the Israeli occupation. A group of protesters managed to reach the hill, where a few hundred meters below was the village spring the illegal settlement of Halamish took by force. If you're not an Israeli settler (or their ilk), you are prevented from getting even close to the spring.

“Watch out. You might get hit by a stone.”
For a split second, various images flitted through my mind. One was me throwing my head back, convulsing and positively howling at a full moon in a deserted forest. Another was a perverse natal instinct to hug the soldier, before throttling him into seeing reason. The third was a kaleidoscope of colors. It wasn’t a full scale explosion, but my mouth became unhinged with “dignified” fury.
“You dare to stand in front me, and pretend that you care about my safety? You’re pretending to be worried if a rock hits me? How dare you, when you come here every week—and not just on Fridays but throughout the week— and terrorize this village by spraying them with skunk water, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and live ammunition at their children, at the women, the men! How many children have you arrested? How many houses have you raided? How many have suffocated from the tear gas fired deliberately in their homes, how many kids have you fired at? You don’t care about any of that!”
His little comment solicited the same reaction from the other sabaya/young women around me. We were shouting over each other, then pausing to listen, then picking up on each other’s sentences with added vitriol.
“Anyway,” I added, more calmly. “These stones have a special homing device built into them; they only hit occupiers.”
Two rocks then crashed into the protective shield of one soldier standing to my right. The one in front of me was completely flummoxed.
“Where are you from?” I asked. “Brooklyn?”
“Fuck Brooklyn.” His muddy green eyes were shocked. At that moment, it hit me. I felt so sorry for him.
The commander then marched up. “Go back ten meters,” he barked.
We stayed where we are. If we were guys, there would have been pushing, shoving, anything to provoke us and for them to justify firing from close range. But we were four Palestinian women with a few other Israeli and international activists. Never underestimate the regal wrath of Palestinian women. We will go batshit crazy on you.
“Please go back ten meters.”
Ah, the order turned into a request, which brought about another stab of the kaleidoscope colors.
“You go back! This is Palestinian land, you are the ones encroaching upon this land, and you are the ones perpetuating the colonization of an indigenous people, so you get off this land!”
The commander stared.
My sister and her friend were enjoying themselves a bit too much with their directed banter at them:
“Do you bleed differently from me? We bleed the same blood!”
“Free your minds! Zionism has imprisoned you!”
“You are a victim of your own government’s policies!”
“Put down your gun, we are protesting peacefully!”
A couple of teenagers baffling the Israeli soldiers in front of us by tearing into their state-fed propaganda. I was thoroughly amused, to say the least. I turned to another soldier.
“Isn’t this much better than firing tear gas canisters at us? Look, we’re having a dialogue! We’re talking. We’re not negotiating, since that would imply two equal parties, but we’re conversing!”
One of the girls pointed to another soldier’s face.
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
“From the rocks you throw at us.”
Kids with guns. This was a new unit. A young, scared unit who broke their own rules by replying back.
It was such a ridiculous situation. I touched his submachine gun. “Look at you, decked out like you’re about to face an army. You’re wearing a helmet, knee pads, bulletproof vest, and this gun of yours that shoots sound bombs and tear gas and bullets. We are armed with nothing. Do you realize how stupid you look?”
“You are armed with rocks.” The eyes shifted, the feet shuffled.
Mr Muddy Green Eyes. I felt so sorry for him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are the Freedom Rides a detour for the struggle?

My latest op-ed published on Electronic Intifada

Last week, six courageous Palestinians attempted to defy racism, segregation and apartheid by boarding Jewish settler-only buses in the hopes of reaching Jerusalem, a city off limits to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Activists and bloggers, intellectuals and independent journalists all supported the Palestinian Freedom Riders for their US civil rights movement-inspired act. Emotions ran high as it was clearly emphasized that racial supremacy still exists in this day and age, and highlighted were the harrowing parallels between oppression in the Jim Crow US South and in Palestine.

But crucial differences remain — for one thing, the indigenous population of Palestine is occupied by a colonial settler population; for another, there are two separate and completely different systems for Palestinians and Israelis, such as military and civilian courts, respectively, rather than a two-tiered system.

However, the symbolic, media-friendly act — and its debatable relevance to the average Palestinian — begs some important questions.

There is no doubt that what the six Freedom Riders set out to achieve was of significance. They challenged Israel’s arbitrary regime of exclusive settler-only networks that serve the illegal settlements throughout the West Bank; they highlighted the human rights abusing complicity of two companies, Veolia and Egged, which operate dozens of the segregated bus lines; and they fought for an essential basic right: freedom of movement. Apartheid is very much alive in occupied Palestine. It is our reality that we breathe through our congested lungs every minute of our waking lives.

Anti-colonial vs civil rights struggle

The Freedom Rides were intended as an anti-colonial act mirroring a previous and successful civil rights one. But our struggle is not a civil rights one. It is a struggle against a foreign occupation. We must be calling for the liberation of an indigenous population under a devastating settler-colonial rule, one that has continued to ethnically cleanse, commit large scale massacres, impose collective punishment, imprison and restrict the movement of Palestinians for decades.

The intentions of the Freedom Rides were transparent and clear, as stated by the second press release in which they stated that they do not seek to desegregate the settler buses, as the “presence of these colonizers and the infrastructure that serves them is illegal and must be dismantled” (“Palestinian Freedom Riders to ride settler buses to Jerusalem,” 13 November 2011).

But by using a tactic specific to the US civil rights movement, one risks the interpretation that Palestinians are asking for the same rights as settlers.

As one young activist critical of the Freedom Rides commented to me: “Do you obstruct settlements by demanding to get on a bus? What you are demanding when you attempt to ride a bus is the right to ride it, not the right to say I don’t want this bus here to start with. You don’t ask to ride the bus if you don’t want the bus in your neighborhood.”

She added, “There is an illegal railway in Jerusalem constructed on [illegally-occupied] territory that endangers children as [trains] pass by in residential areas … if I were to object to this train’s existence, do I make a protest and ask to ride on the train or do I sleep on the train tracks to stop it from coming to my area?”

Indeed, many Palestinians take issue with settlers factoring in a key role in the Freedom Rides event, saying that it blurs the lines of normalization of occupation and apartheid.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement defines normalization as “the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people” (“ Israel’s Exceptionalism: Normalizing the Abnormal,” the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Boycott of Israel, 31 October 2011).

Although the boycott call has been endorsed by nearly 200 Palestinian civil society organizations and political parties, the working definition of normalization of the boycott movement differs from many Palestinians’ personal definitions of normalization. Some view any association with settlers as normalization, others a bit more nuanced but still don’t like the idea, and still others consider it within the specific context in question. The reactions like that of the young activist I mentioned exemplify this concern.

Honor Palestinian resistance

The positive coverage in the Western corporate media shows that the Freedom Rides action appealed to foreign consumption. But it’s not up to Palestinian resistance to appease the tastes of Western audiences. We have our own lively and proud history of resistance stretching back to the days of British Mandate rule, exemplified by popular strikes, boycotts and demonstrations.

Moreover, tactics tailored to western tastes and reactions distract from mobilizing Palestinians on the ground into an effective popular resistance movement. The first Palestinian intifada was a true popular uprising in every sense. Palestinian society collectively organized strikes and rallied together. The level of cooperation was present in families hiding resistance fighters, and in mosques and private organizations hosting educational studies after the universities and schools were shut down.

Today, activism and popular resistance isn’t centralized but, rather, is scattered throughout particular villages and parts of cities. For an act that carries huge potential and holds meaningful implications by connecting the current reality of Palestinians to the history of other oppressed societies, there should have been more awareness on the Palestinian street of its occurrence.

The Freedom Rides event was very exclusive. This is in stark contrast to the recent Freedom Waves mini flotilla campaign, where activists were directly involved with producing, translating, revising and distributing fact sheets and press releases and statements for the UN and mobilizing people on the street and engaging with the media. It was a microcosm of popular resistance as activists from throughout historic Palestine all worked together efficiently to send the message of ending the blockade on Gaza and demanding protection for the passengers, and this message was directed not only at the West and foreign press but to Palestinians as well.

Any act of civil resistance should be inclusive of many sectors of Palestinians. The same efforts that the Freedom Riders took to coordinate with organizations in the US and elsewhere should have also happened in Palestine.

And while the history of other oppressed peoples unquestionably offers its lessons to us as an occupied population, we should be well aware of our own unique history of resistance, and the need for our movement to encompass all sectors of Palestinian society and the historic demands of our anti-colonial struggle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Palestinians clarify goal of "Freedom Rides" challenge to segregated Israeli buses

As posted on Electronic Intifada

Watch live streaming video from freedomriders at

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


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[1] and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.[2]

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.

[1] 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; see also "Demolitions, new settlements in East Jerusalem could amount to war crimes - UN expert," UN News Centre, June 29, 2010, at

[2] 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."

Arabic version

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?

* Twitter: @palfreedomrides
* Email:
* Wesbite:
* Live Streaming
* Facebook: Palestinian Freedom Rides

Tuesday, 15 November 2011. The whole world will be watching.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Freedom Rides in the 21st Century

As posted on Electronic Intifada

Western media lamentations of Palestinians needing figureheads such as a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King to effectively resist the Israeli occupation are self-righteous and uncalled for. An occupied people under international law can resist in any way they want. However, raising awareness and challenging the occupation in creative ways definitely doesn't hurt the Palestinian cause, and so a group of Palestinian youth announced that on Tuesday, 15 November (incidentally, the PA's self-designated Palestinian Independence Day) they will replicate the 1960s American civil rights movement, specifically the Freedom Rides --which celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Just as the American freedom riders -- black and white -- boarded segregated buses together, defying Jim Crow segregation, the Palestinian freedom riders will board segregated Israeli buses that pass through Jewish-only settlements.

This act will highlight the apartheid realities of Israel which govern the Palestinians, the same laws and practices that Judge Richard Goldstone so readily dismissed in his recent op-ed in the New York Times. By drawing comparisons with the US civil rights movement, the Freedom Rides of the 21st century will undoubtedly prove how all oppressed societies are ultimately connected. Palestinians on those buses risk putting themselves in danger, that is if the three-pronged fury of fanatical settlers, the Israeli army, and other Israeli citizens rains down upon them like the wrath of an exclusivist God. They also risk being arrested for days or months or years under Israel's military law. The press release is below:

7 November 2011

On Tuesday, November 15th, 2011, Palestinian activists will reenact the US Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides to the American South by boarding segregated Israeli public transportation in the West Bank to travel to occupied East Jerusalem.

Next Tuesday, Palestinian activists 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 in the 60’s.

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 for liberty and dignity by disrupting the military regime of the Occupation 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 companies, among them 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 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 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. Palestinians, in contrast, 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.