Letter from Palestinian Freedom Riders

Comptroller Darlene Green
St. Louis City Board of Estimate and Appointment

January 14, 2013

Dear Comptroller Green,

We are known as the Palestinian Freedom Riders, inspired by the courageous Freedom Riders of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. We are writing to you to urge you to vote against a contract in St. Louis with Veolia.

Although most Americans find the discrimination endured by African Americans in the United States’ historically (and still today) sickening, tax-paying Americans are supporting similar segregation policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). One of the most blatant manifestations of this discrimination is Israel’s colonial settlement enterprise. The OPT is pockmarked with over 170 Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land. Serving these settlements is a vast infrastructure that includes Jewish-only roads and the buses that travel on them. The two bus companies serving these settlements are the Israeli Egged company and Veolia (through its Israeli subsidiary, Connex). Their buses are effectively off-limits to Palestinians.

On November 15, 2011, six of us decided to challenge this discriminatory system by riding one of the buses meant for Jewish settlers only to the occupied city of East Jerusalem — a city that is holy to both Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and is meant to be the capital of our country.

Five buses passed us without stopping or opening their doors for us. We managed to board the sixth. Our bus ride was short-lived, for as we arrived at the military checkpoint that closes Jerusalem off to Palestinians, we were violently dragged off the bus by Israeli police and arrested.

Our abuse and arrest did and does not deter us from continuing to challenge, daily, Israel’s occupation and discriminatory policies. But the Palestinian Freedom Rides and other similar protest actions alone won’t end the unjust system under which we live. Like the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the South African anti-Apartheid Movement, we need support. We need people to withdraw their cooperation and complicity with our oppression.

We were extremely heartened to hear of the Board’s decision to shelve the Veolia contract pending further investigation last month. Cursory investigation will show that Veolia is involved not only in running segregated buses through the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but that it also has been involved in building a light rail through occupied East Jerusalem, in violation of international law, and that it is involved in collecting refuse from illegal settlements at the Tovlan landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley, using captured Palestinian land and natural resources for the needs of Israeli settlements.

On behalf of Palestinians around the globe watching developments on the Veolia contract in St. Louis, we urge you to be on the right side of history and vote no to segregation and discrimination in my country by showing Veolia they are not welcome in St. Louis.

Sincerely,

The Palestinian Freedom Riders

Huwaida Arraf, Palestinian Freedom Rider

 

 

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