On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Palestinian activists in the West Bank attempted to board segregated public transport buses headed to Jerusalem in a show of defiance against the institutional discrimination that has commanded their lives for the past 63 years.
Like the roads they travel on, the buses are effectively reserved for Jewish passengers only, a practice enforced by a draconian legal system designed to apply to Palestinians exclusively. While Jewish settlers are judged under Israeli domestic law, Palestinians find themselves at the mercy of Israeli military law.
The activists are calling themselves “Freedom Riders,” a rhetorical flick that is intended to bring up memories of our own Freedom Riders, a group of courageous individuals who employed the same actions to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-discrimination rulings. The Palestinian action is different in that it is not meant to highlight a disparity between law and its implementation. Rather, it is meant to appeal to our moral sensibilities.
As residents of America, we grow up free of the worries that constantly threaten the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. This may help explain why the Israelis’ decision to release a portion of the Palestinian prisoners kept in secret jails last month was met with such thunderous applause in our country — an ovation that drowned out the fact that Palestinians currently have no Israeli prisoners. But it does not explain why we happily acquiesce to the situation at hand — where 5,300 Palestinians are trapped inside inhumane prisons, hundreds of them teenagers and scores of them still minors.
However, after Tuesday, things may change. Palestinians left their spouses and children, boarded public transportation vehicles and were met with billy clubs and bullets. The picture of colored individuals being thrashed by white uniformed thugs reminds the U.S. all too well of its own experiences, still tender and recent. It is possible that many of us will turn to Nelson Mandela, who urged his followers to understand that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Yet we should also remember that not much has changed for Palestinians since the South African struggle, aside from the weight of the bombs that rain on their homes. Whenever the latest flock of F-16 warplanes screech over Gaza and unload their precision-guided munitions on a defenseless and caged-in population — actions that are bought and paid for by America’s $8.2 million daily contribution of war matériel — the silence is still deafening, and the racism is still palpable.
It has been more than five months since I stood in Gaza, sprinkled with blood after an uneasy Israeli sniper shot a hollow-point bullet into the neck of the 19-year-old boy I was next to, simply for daring to stand on his own land. I am still not able to reconcile that existence with my own here in Rochester, and perhaps this inability is where our strength should lie.
The glib men and women of Washington, D.C. are too ensnared in their opportunistic maneuvers to change track, but we, as young students, are not. We can start by ignoring those who foam at the mouth and snarl about the “cockroach” Palestinians’ wish to drive the Jews to the sea and start listening to actual Palestinians, who are simply fighting for their dignity and liberation, against one of the last vestiges of colonialism that continues to tarnish the face of the earth. We can start by expunging one of the most heinous situations from our contemporary history. We can do this, as human beings, by refusing to accept the substantial disparity between the Palestinian condition and our own.
Boianov is a member of
the class of 2012.