Yesterday, with the media in full attendance mode (about 100), six Palestinians boarded an Israeli bus in the West Bank to demonstrate the notion that Israel engages in racial discrimination, apartheid laws and segregation against Palestinians. It was a ridiculous publicity stunt premised on a false analogies. At least it was more a more peaceful form of protest than rock throwing.
Restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank undoubtedly exists, and includes access to Israeli settlements and within the Green Line, including Jerusalem. Such restrictions are based on security concerns. If they have a permit, nothing stops Palestinians from riding Israeli buses within the West Bank and continuing into Jerusalem or the settlements. In fact, many do so every day, like those legally employed on construction projects within the settlements.
According to Honest Reporting, which looks at the media's role in the battle for public opinion, the more significant issue should have been why there is denial of entry into Jerusalem and Israel proper. The idea that racism rather than security governs Israeli policy is misplaced. We are reminded:
Many Israelis remember a time in the early 1990s and before, when both sides moved relatively freely between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was only with the outbreak of the Palestinian terror campaign, including the use of suicide bombers, that restrictions on Palestinian movement reached their current level. The media should ask themselves how much culpability Palestinians have for creating this situation where the real victims were Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
And this is like the Freedom Riders in America?
Of course, I believe this is wholly different. In America, blacks sought to establish, based on their American citizenship, constitutional rights to equal protection and substantive due process of law, pursuant to Supreme Court decisions determining that restrictions on intestate travel, solely according to race, were unlawful discrimination and prohibited.
In the Palestinian context, as I see it, this is not a matter of civil rights. Or human rights for that matter. Some Palestinian movement is restricted by military decree based on a legitimate, compelling state interest. Palestinians are not nationals of Israel and therefore have no claim to enforce rights of citizenship or residency against the state. Israel does not owe these individuals any right to movement and there is simply no breach of international norms.
The right to movement is set forth in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
(1) Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.
(2) Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.
(3) The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant.
(4) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.
The restrictions on movement in this case, whether or not one sympathizes, are prompted primarily by security concerns and, even if there was a right, well within the concept of a "margin of appreciation," defined under Paragraph 3 above, that allows maneuver to national authorities in fulfilling their human rights obligations.
So where is the violation of human rights?
The publicity grab by the Palestinian "Freedom Riders" trivializes legitimate fights by people against governments to ensure protection of lawful entitlements from their state. To present the matter as racism and invoke the memory of Martin Luther King is false and deceptive, and an insult to the memory of the US civil rights movement and the true Freedom Riders, whose story can be seen in this May, 2011 documentary on the "American Experience."
Palestinians will be fortunate if this mainly passes unnoticed. I believe most fair minded people will see the disconnect and the episode will be detrimental to their ultimate cause, which is itself uncertain to many observers.
UPDATE: While some Palestinians engage in peaceful protest, others remain busy shooting rockets and damaging an Israeli kindergarten.
(Cross-posted at oldschooltwentysix)