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Our demands were that we be allowed to kiss our children... that we be allowed to learn [study] while in prison, that we have more time for family visits, better health care, better medicine... and more time outside... for sports, exercise, and to see the sun.ON NOVEMBER 15th, 2011, a handful of Palestinian activists carried out the first Palestinian Freedom Ride. I met one of the organizers, Fadi Quran, at a cafe in Ramallah. Amidst the smoke and the chatter, he shared his story. At the time of the Freedom Ride, Fadi was 23 years old. Only a year beforehand, he graduated from Stanford with a BA in International Relations and a BS in Physics. He’s already at work on his next degree. In his spare time, he’s part of what he describes as “a growing Palestinian youth movement that participates and coordinates acts of civil disobedience and protest and popular resistance within the West Bank.” As Fadi recalls, it “was the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides, so it was all over the news, especially the American news. And we thought it would be excellent to show people that segregation and inequality still exist. And the type of domination that existed in the Jim Crow south exists in a similar sense in Palestine. One way to clearly show that case is to board segregated settler-only buses. So we planned the Freedom Rides.” Including Fadi there were six activists involved, all of them Palestinian, all of them in their twenties, except for a 40-something professor from Bethlehem University. They decided to try to board a bus near a settlement located southeast of Ramallah called Psagot. The morning they’d chosen for the ride, Fadi, with a sharp eye to the optics, put on a shirt with the slogan ‘We Shall Overcome.’ They got the word out to the media and arrived at the bus stop at around 10 in the morning. One bus after another passed them by. “They would see that we were Palestinians and they would just keep going,” Fadi says. Many of the settlers who were waiting were armed; Fadi claims one stepped outside the view of the cameras, unslung his machine gun, and released the safety. “It seemed like he was contemplating, what to do, what not to do.” The soldier did nothing. After hours of waiting, Fadi and the other riders finally managed to board a bus. The bus driver told them, “‘You’re not allowed to get on the bus, go back down,’ so forth.” They walked on board and found seats. The other passengers were shocked. As the bus drove off toward Jerusalem — which Fadi and his colleagues are barred from entering — it was surrounded by four Israeli military humvees. Fadi did a few interviews with the reporters who’d come this far and read Great Expectations. When they reached the checkpoint, the bus was stopped, and the settlers disembarked. Then the bus was directed to a nearby parking lot, where it sat for about three hours. Fadi thinks the military was attempting to thin the ranks of the media; they began ticketing reporters’ vehicles, waiting for night to fall to make it more difficult to film. Finally, at 8:00, four soldiers boarded the bus and announced “‘You are under arrest. You’re not allowed to be on this bus.’” “We’re not going to fight our being arrested,” Fadi and the other Freedom Riders told the soldiers, “but we’re not going to participate in the act of arrest, and we’re going to remain seated nonviolently on the bus.” One by one, the soldiers hauled them off. As the soldiers carried Fadi, they began hitting him in the back; at some point they dropped him on the ground. He heard his mother screaming as the soldiers brought him out; unknown to Fadi, she had been waiting at the checkpoint. According to him she ran toward him, but was intercepted by soldiers who threw her to the ground. One soldier stomped on her hand, breaking it. Fadi took a punch and a kick to the stomach. “You’re always afraid,” he says. “The essence of it is what Nelson Mandela said: ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ And every step you feel afraid, but you always try to make sure that your courage triumphs over the fear, and doesn’t make you back down. And that fear doesn’t blind you from doing what is necessary to keep yourself safe.” “WE DON’T DO GANDHI very well,” Israeli Ministry of Defense official Amos Gilad is quoted as saying in a leaked State Department cable. This is arguably an understatement. Aziz Shehadeh, an early advocate of negotiating with Israel, was stabbed to death (his murderer was never identified; his family believes it was a collaborator). Bassam Abu-Sharif, who had been involved in terror attacks but later argued within the PLO for laying down arms, was killed by a letter bomb assumed to have been posted by the Israeli security forces. PLO leader Abu Jihad, according to King, was seen by Palestinian insiders “as a warrior who had accepted the need for compromise with Israel and could persuade the military cadres of that perspective;” he was assassinated by Israeli commandos in Tunis. More recently, Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari was assassinated in an Israeli air strike while considering the draft of a permanent cease fire. Men like jabari and Abu Jihad are certainly not Gandhi, but they are people the Israelis will need to deal with if they want peace. The Palestinian Gandhis haven’t fared much better. Mubarak Awad’s first workshop on nonviolence was nearly suppressed by the Israeli authorities. Feisel Husseini, who worked alongside Israeli peace activists and denounced violence, was repeatedly detained. Less prominent activists such as Dr. Rateb abu Rahmeh and Ayed Morrar, or Jad Ishaq, one of the organizers of a tax strike in Beit Sahour during the first intifada, have also done time in Israeli jails. Ayed Morrar was arrested in January 2004, as the movement he helped organize gained momentum; he was threatened with four months in administrative detention, but released after two weeks. The Israeli security forces aren’t alone in targeting peace activists. There was Dr. Isam Sartawi, a member of the PLO who called for the recognition of Israel and was in communication with Israeli peace organizations, gunned down in Lisbon by Palestinian hard-liners. Said Hamammi, a Fateh official whom King describes as “a pioneer of dialogue with Israel,” was also assassinated by Palestinian militants. Mubarak Awad, for one, has no doubts about why he was deported. “Because I engaged in nonviolence. Because I was consistent in training Israelis in nonviolence. Because I was consistent in talking to Israelis. I think the Israelis would be more than happy to deal with someone who put bombs, or who killed Israelis, than with me.” --------- * In a report on the demonstrations in al-Nabi Saleh, B’Tselem states that “In July 2008, settlers (apparently from Halamish) began to use the spring and, in February 2009, started to renovate the area.” Al Haq, in its case study of the village, states “In December 2009, settlers from Halamish expropriated privately-owned Palestinian land around the natural spring of ‘Ayn al-Qaws, transforming it into a park and renaming it Mi’yaan Maer in Hebrew.” These two accounts are not necessarily contradictory, but in this article we have used the date supplied by Al Haq for the formal expropriation of the spring. Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer and member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents. He has worked as an election observer in West Africa and Libya.
Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and a member of Jewish Currents’ editorial board. In the past he has written for the magazine about comics, film, the diaspora, Israeli elections, and Palestinian nonviolence. His work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Nation, City & State, and the Village Voice (RIP).