“I’m a Freedom Rider! I’m just trying to go to Jerusalem!” shouted Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf Tuesday evening as a live Internet video feed showed Israeli police officers dragging her off a bus linking Israeli settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem.
Arraf and five other Palestinian activists boarded segregated Israeli public bus number 148 — which connects the illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel to Jerusalem — on Tuesday in an act of civil disobedience aimed to draw attention to Israeli colonial and apartheid policies and the lack of basic human rights Palestinians are afforded under this system.
After sitting peacefully on the bus at Israel’s Hizma checkpoint, just outside the northern entrance to Jerusalem, and nonviolently resisting attempts by the Israeli authorities to get them off the bus, all six “Freedom Riders” were eventually removed by force and arrested for illegally entering Israel without permits.
Another Palestinian Freedom Rider was also arrested while attempting to ride the segregated buses, and according to a Freedom Riders press release, was taken with the six other activists to Atarot police station (“Palestinian Freedom Riders On Their Way to Jerusalem Violently Arrested on Israeli Settler Bus”).
Their protest action was inspired by the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement in the United States, who nonviolently challenged segregation in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s.
“It’s going to be a challenge for Palestinians and for every human being for their morality. It’s going to be a challenge for the whole world to really take action against the Israeli crimes,” Palestinian Freedom Riders spokesperson Hurriyah Ziada told The Electronic Intifada on Monday.
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Given Mayor Bloomberg’s clearing of Zuccotti Park just shy of the OWS two-month anniversary, and the escalating tensions between police and protesters at Occupy sites across the country, a cluster of questions surrounding the meaning and uses of civil disobedience come once again to the fore. In particular the violent altercations at the University of California, Berkeley--a campus with a long legacy of civil disobedience—force us to reconsider the role of this specific form of dissent.
Hannah Arendt considered civil disobedience an essential part of the United States’ political system. By revisiting some of her main ideas on the issue we can more fully appreciate how the civil disobedience carried out by the OWS movement both harnesses and re-imbues the public realm with political energy.
Berkeley Professor Celeste Langan, participated in a civil disobedience action on the university campus, and was treated harshly, to say the least. Her description of the encounter reminds us just what can be involved in this form of protest:
"I knew, both before and after the police gave orders to disperse, that I was engaged in an act of civil disobedience. I want to stress both of those words: I knew I would be disobeying the police order, and therefore subject to arrest; I also understood that simply standing, occupying ground, and linking arms with others who were similarly standing, was a form of non-violent, hence civil, resistance. I therefore anticipated that the police might arrest us, but in a similarly non-violent manner. When the student in front of me was forcibly removed, I held out my wrist and said "Arrest me! Arrest me!" But rather than take my wrist or arm, the police grabbed me by my hair and yanked me forward to the ground, where I was told to lie on my stomach and was handcuffed. The injuries I sustained were relatively minor--a fat lip, a few scrapes to the back of my palms, a sore scalp--but also unnecessary and unjustified. "
Egyptians March Against Military Trials For Civilians
The face of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah appeared on signs at protests around the world last Saturday. In Cairo, the faces of detained activists could be seen sprayed on many walls. Abd El-Fattah is being held in Torah Prison for refusing to answer questions from Egypt's military prosecution regarding clashes Oct. 9. At least 24 mostly Coptic Christians were killed during the protest, when the military police opened fire and ran people over with tanks.
Abd El-Fattah's prominent detention has gained international attention after activists here from the No Military Trials campaign, which his sister founded, asked Occupy Wall Street and other activists to rally in solidarity with Egypt on Nov. 12. In an open letter posted on their website, activists wrote, "Since the military junta took power, at least 12,000 of us have been tried by military courts, unable to call witnesses and with limited access to lawyers. Minors are serving in adult prisons, death sentences have been handed down, torture runs rampant. Women demonstrators have been subjected to sexual assault in the form of "virginity tests" by the Army."
The letter concluded by listing connections between the Egyptian government and countries including the U.S. and Britain: "The G8, IMF and Gulf states are promising the regime loans of $35 billion. The US gives the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in aid every year. Governments the world over continue their long-term support and alliance with the military rulers of Egypt. The bullets they kill us with are made in America. The tear gas that burns from Oakland to Palestine is made in Wyoming. David Cameron's first visit to post-revolutionary Egypt was to close a weapons deal. These are only a few examples. People's lives, freedoms and futures must stop being trafficked for strategic assets. We must unite against governments who do not share their people's interests."
Activists in Oakland, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Austin, Boston, Budapest, Chicago, Dusseldorf, Eugene, Frankfurt, Geneva, Lincoln, London, Manila, Michigan, Montreal, New York, Orlando, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm, Toronto and Washington D.C. vowed to take up the call. Photographs and videos were posted by the next day, with footage from San Francisco showing confrontations between police and protestors. Other demonstrations shared on the "Defend the Egyptian Revolution" Facebook page appeared peaceful.
The following evening in Cairo, activists gathered for a march and "stand" on Qasr al-Nil Bridge in solidarity with civilians who have been tried in military court. A list of detainees is available here in Arabic: http://en.nomiltrials.com/p/detainees-list.html. One young woman I interviewed said Egyptian activists were "really glad to see the demonstrations in San Francisco and in Oakland," and added, "I was personally very glad to see pictures of Alaa Abd El-Fattah."
Abd El-Fattah's mother has been on a hunger strike since November 6 to protest his detention. He has sent a message to his supporters asking them to celebrate his 30th birthday on Nov. 18 by joining a planned million-man march in Tahrir Square.
"I really got used to spending the feast and my birthday away from my family," Abd El-Fattah wrote in a message published in an Egyptian newspaper, "but the birth of my first son, how will I miss this? How will I bear being separated from Manal [his wife] at this moment? How will I tolerate waiting for news about them to learn if they are okay? How will I put up with not seeing my son's face or his mother's face when she first sees him? How will I look at him when I am released knowing that I promised he would be born a free person?"
Civil Disobedience in Pakistan. Do it for youself. Do it for your Kids. Do it for Pakistan.
Mario Savio on Civil Disobedience
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all! ... That doesn't mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!"
2 December 1964, UC Berkeley, Sproul Hall Sit-In