Palestinian Freedom Rides Echo the Civil Rights Movement

copied from my Alternative Information Center article with Mya Guarnieri here

This week’s Palestinian Freedom Rides will resemble those of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. As the American Jewish community was widely supportive of the Civil Rights movement, the event serves as an opportunity for American Jews to reflect on Israel’s system of segregration–a system that it opposed in the United States. 




Rabbi Dresner and another American rabbi being arrested during the African-American Civil Rights Movement


The Palestinian Freedom Rides, which are set to begin on Tuesday, will seek to replicate those of the African-American Civil Rights movement. Palestinian youth activist and organizer Fadi Quran explains, “this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in the US. Apart from disrupting the segregation and challenging the oppression imposed on us by Israel, we chose this form of direct action to highlight the similarities between the Palestinian struggle and the [African American] civil rights movement to an American audience.”


Despite the similiarities, there are crucial differences between the Freedom Rides that were held in America during the 1960s and those that will take place this week in the West Bank. Those who participated in the American Freedom Rides were United States citizens who sought to reform the country’s discriminatory policies. The Palestinian Freedom Rides, on the other hand, is a people’s attempt to assert their rights in the face of a foreign military occupation. While the African-Americans sought merely to level the playing field with their white oppressors, it can hardly be said that West Bank Palestinians simply demand equal access to settler roads and buses. They seek to call attention to and dismantle an inherently oppressive system.


The event also holds potential for the American Jewish community–which was, by and large, supportive of the African-American Civil Rights movement–to reflect on the segregation the Jewish state enforces in their name.


Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner was a white, Jewish-American Reform Rabbi who joined the 1960s Freedom Rides as part of the ‘Interfaith Riders’, a group of black and white clergymen and rabbis who became known as the ‘Tallahassee Ten’ after their arrest for attempting to desegregate an airport restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida.


“I became a ‘dove’ in the few years after the Six Day War”, says Dresner. “By 1970 I had already realized that the occupation was a disaster.”


Dresner was arrested in the 1970s for marching on behalf of the refuseniks, and has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians since the early 1980s.


“As long as they remain nonviolent”, he says about the new Palestinian Freedom Rides, “I’m all in favor of this…there are major differences [between the two Freedom Rides] of course…[but] the occupation has led to a buildup of hatred in Israel, the kind of hatred we call racist hatred- the kind that says ‘all Arabs are bad, all Palestinians are terrorists’…so the occupation has been a disaster for Israelis and for Palestinians.”


Nonetheless, following a typical path of ‘soft’ liberal criticism of Israel,  he prays essentially for the reform of what he believes to be an originally and ultimately morally just state. “I love Israel,” he reassured the Jewish Week in an article published in May 2011. “I’ve been there 36 times. I was married there. Israel means a great deal to me, and I just feel that their policies are self-destructive.”


Dresner, who today sits on the Executive Board of Meretz USA, told Rabbis for Human Rights in 2010 that “I’ve been a dues-paying, card-carrying Zionist for 68 years, and Zionism today has been corrupted and corroded…we have to correct it, we have to reform it to change the annexationist policies…”


Dresner is not the only Jewish American Freedom Rider who would come to question Zionism. Henry Schwarzschild became a civil rights lawyer and activist who publicly declared himself Israel’s enemy after the 1982 siege of Beirut.











One thought on “Palestinian Freedom Rides Echo the Civil Rights Movement”

  1. I am a conservative Jew. I know many orthodox Jews. None of them are against the state of Israel. It is only a small percentage of orthodox Jews who are. You make some valid points that the first Zionists did not practice Judaism. But today I know a number of American Jews who have moved to Israel. All of them practice Judaism. As for a Jews not being supposed to make a Jewish state, nowhere in the Torah does it say that. I do not believe that we Jews today have a right because of God to have a state there. But neither does God tell us not to. And this I know for sure: The Zionists who created a Jewish state there did NOT do it to weaken Arabs. They may have wanted to weaken Arabs who were there in order to have a state. I am not saying that was a good thing. But to weaken Arabs was NOT their motivation for going there. Were they supported by financial interests that wanted to have a capitalist dominion there? That is quite possible. But if so the financial entities were using the people who moved there for their own interests. The people who moved there themselves did it because of a passion to create a Jewish state. If you want to understand this better all you have to do is to go to any Jewish Sabbath service and you will hear how Israel dominates our prayers as a theme over and over in the service and has done so for thousands of years. That is my suggestion: Go to one Jewish service and you will understand the motivation for Jews being there. Just as Muslims have not historically hated the Jews neither have Jews historically hated the Muslims. We are brothers and it is time to reflect on both sides what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right. Unfortunately the most powerful orthodox Jews DO believe that we have a right to be in Israel and that God entitles us to be there. They are the ones who are multiplying also. Most Jews I know are not like that and would be thrilled to have a two-state solution with both sides committed to peace. This includes orthodox Jews. Unfortunately they are not the ones calling the shots.


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