Six Palestinian activists, clutching national flags and surrounded by dozens of reporters, were dragged off an Israeli bus they planned to ride into Jerusalem after a standoff with police Tuesday.
The Palestinians boarded the Israeli bus in a widely advertised action hoping to draw attention to what they call discriminatory measures in the West Bank, particularly travel restrictions.
Tuesday's action highlighted how some Palestinians are adopting peaceful actions in their struggle for statehood in the West Bank. Even as the bus protest unfolded in the West Bank, Palestinian militants in Gaza to the south fired rockets at nearby Israeli communities.
"We want to show the system of discrimination that we live in here. My point isn't go to jail … my point is to have the freedom to get on a bus," said Badia Dwaik, a 38-year-old civil servant, shortly before he was dragged off the Israeli number 148 Egged bus, which serves Israeli settlements.
Israeli officials say the travel restrictions on Palestinians are needed to prevent militants from entering Israel or West Bank settlements to stage attacks. The restrictions increased during the violent Palestinian uprising of 2000-2005, when buses were frequently blown up by suicide bombers.
The Palestinian activists dubbed themselves "Freedom Riders" after 1960s American civil rights activists who worked in the U.S. ¬South to counter racial discrimination and segregation there, though there were no security elements in the American rights struggle.
Dozens of reporters clustered around the six activists, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with "justice" and "freedom." Several wore black-and-white checkered headscarves.
After an uneventful 20-minute ride, the bus stopped at the Hizme checkpoint on Jerusalem's outskirts, and Israeli police boarded, demanding Jerusalem entry permits. Lacking the permits, the Palestinians refused to get off.
"I am not going to obey your discriminatory law," Dwaik told the policeman, speaking Arabic.
"So you are detained," the policeman said, also in Arabic.
"Fine. I am not moving."
About an hour later the six Palestinians were detained, dragged off the bus and taken away in a police car to a nearby station – in Jerusalem, having somewhat reached their destination.
Maggie Amir, 48,from the nearby Jewish settlement of Rimonim, said Palestinians should not be allowed on the bus. "This is our bus," she said, adding: "Quite simply, we are afraid of them."
In the West Bank, the two sides usually use different bus systems.
Although no specific rule prevents Palestinians from riding the "Israeli" buses, they are generally not allowed into the Jewish settlements these buses serve, and therefore would have to get off each time the bus entered a settlement. The Palestinians also need permits to enter Jerusalem, which the buses also serve.
Tuesday's protest began at a stop near the Jewish settlement of Migron. Posted on the bus stop were posters praising the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an extremist who argued that Palestinians should be expelled from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The first three "number 148" buses - apparently aware of the planned provocation - sped by. But the fourth pulled up.
The Palestinians paid their fares and boarded, as reporters jostled to board. Dwaik sat a row away from Haggai Segal, a 54-year-old Israeli from the settlement of Ofra once jailed for planting a car bomb that badly wounded a Palestinian mayor. The two did not interact.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said they would "likely" be released soon - back to the West Bank.
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