Nour Joudah
The Tenessean (Opinion)
November 15, 2011 - 1:00am

I grew up with two stories, two histories and, in many ways, two countries. From the age of 5 until 21, I roamed, lived in and loved Tennessee’s hills. But, in those same formative years, I lived from news piece to news piece, following with bated breath the events of my homeland, Occupied Palestine.

I was blessed with historians who raised me with stories of justice. Our neighbor, Mr. Miller, would tell me stories of a South I never saw: the Jim Crow South. He told me of African-Americans attacked by mobs, of segregated schools and towns, of redlining and, most importantly, of the brave men and women who stood in defiance of the gross discrimination of Jim Crow.

I would go home and listen to my father’s lessons on the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Lessons filled with settler attacks on Palestinian villagers, with checkpoints forbidding movement, with roads and land for Jews only, and again, most importantly, lessons about the brave men and women who continue to stand in defiance of the gross injustice of an illegal and unjust system of discrimination.

It wasn’t long before it became difficult to tell the narratives apart. This week, my histories merged in a new way.

Tuesday, Palestinian Freedom Riders re-enacted the U.S. Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides in the American South by boarding segregated Israeli public transportation in the West Bank to travel to Occupied East Jerusalem. By nonviolently challenging the system of segregation and apartheid that governs their lives, Palestinians took a page from the history of another rights movement that stood for justice and freedom.

Some in the Israeli Peace Camp or in Washington, advocates of the so-called peace process, will say this is not the way. They will echo those who stood on the wrong side of history.

President Barack Obama honored and thanked the Freedom Riders this past week for their courage and dedication 50 years ago. In a Cairo speech in 2009, he appeared to encourage similar initiatives of Palestinian nonviolence. Obama has an opportunity now to send a powerful message to the world by voicing strong support for the efforts of Palestinian Freedom Riders.

Twenty years into the Oslo peace process, it is clear that negotiating with Israel has achieved virtually nothing. Illegal Israeli settlements have more than doubled, the Wall has been built (effectively physically entrenching the apartheid already present), and travel continues to be heavily restricted. What’s needed isn’t further talk with the intransigent; what’s needed is civil resistance.

The American Freedom Riders began their campaign knowing they would be arrested, or worse, beaten to within an inch of their lives. They made a decision: “Jail, no bail.”

Likewise, the Palestinian Freedom Riders recognized that their continued defiance of the system of apartheid practiced in the Occupied Territories is dangerous, and in fact, an act that risks their lives. They are under threat from the violence of Israeli settlers during the rides, as well as arrest and abuse from Israeli Occupation Forces, and yet they held true to their non-violent act of civil disobedience.

Tuesday, the bus was surrounded and boarded by soldiers who demanded the Freedom Riders get off. After refusing, the six riders were dragged off the bus, one by one, as they chanted slogans, including “Boycott Israel,” “Free Gaza” and “I’m a Palestinian Freedom Rider and I want to go to Jerusalem.” A journalist and local Palestinian activist were also arrested at the checkpoint.

In the 1960s in America, the saying was “We Shall Overcome.” In Palestine, we say “Samidoon,” or “We are steadfast.” Courage, perseverance and a deep sense of justice binds rights struggles worldwide.

To those who stood against injustice in the 1960s and who are proud of that moment in history, the time has come to raise your voices again, to demand justice for Palestinians. The ride to freedom is long and ever-evolving. But it is a ride that knows no geographical boundaries — whether in the Jim Crow South or Occupied Palestine.

Nour Joudah grew up in Clarksville, Tenn., received her BA in International Studies from Maryville College and is a master’s candidate in Arab studies at Georgetown University.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017