Palestinians catch bus to protest Israeli curbs

HIZME, West Bank Tue Nov 15, 2011 2:05pm EST

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HIZME, West Bank Nov 15 (Reuters) - Calling themselves "Freedom Riders", six Palestinians boarded a bus used by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, but the end of the line was Israeli police detention.

The protest, streamed live over the Internet, followed attempts earlier in the year by sympathisers to sail to the blockaded Gaza Strip and hold fly-in demonstrations at Israel's main airport to drum up support for the Palestinian cause.

"My message is that Israel conducts a racist regime," said protester Badi Dweik before he was dragged off the bus by police at Hizme checkpoint north of Jerusalem.

Dweik said he had been barred from nearby Jerusalem for 12 years while settlers could travel freely to and from the Holy City. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed it as its capital, a move not recognised abroad.

Israel has no law barring Palestinians from its public transport in the West Bank, where it has a network of military checkpoints that it describes as a security precaution after more than a decade of violence including suicide bus bombings.

Palestinian-registered buses and taxis are often subjected to intense scrutiny and barred from East Jerusalem and Israel. Palestinians see Israel's soldiers and settlers as an obstacle to their hoped-for statehood in the West Bank.

The protesters wanted to be seen as emulating the civil rights activists, black and white, who rode together on buses in the American south in the 1960s to challenge racial segregation.

"This is the kind of pressure that is needed to force Israel to back down from these illegal policies. This is popular resistance," said another Palestinian activist.

The U.S. comparison was lost on Hagai Segal, one of the few Israeli passengers aboard the bus, and who disembarked upon the orders of police before they removed the Palestinians and detained them for interrogation as "illegal aliens".

"It was like theatre in there," Segal said. "During the bus ride, they were talking about Martin Luther King. But as far as I know, (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas is no MLK."

Some 500,000 settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal. (Editing by Dan Williams)

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