Fifty years ago this month, white and black Freedom Riders rode buses from the nation’s capitol to the South to challenge Jim Crow segregation laws and racism. It was a risky proposition; many white Americans felt so strongly about segregation that they were ready to kill to maintain their privilege.Many other “good” white people looked away from the crimes of apartheid.I know this because in 1961, I was a 14-year-old white boy living in Meridian, Mississippi.
Today, it is hard not to see the parallels between those activists who risked their lives to end segregation and the tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians who rose on May 15, the 63rd anniversary of their ethnic cleansing from Palestine, to challenge Israel’s denial of their right to return to Palestine and to live as equals with Israeli Jews.
From Lebanon and Syria, Palestinian refugees streamed across hills and valleys on foot and, when they glimpsed the border with Israel, broke into a run, refusing to stop even when they were told that they were crossing a minefield. Israeli soldiers shot 20 dead.
Within Israel, Palestinians marched between two Palestinian villages in the north that had been destroyed in preparation for the creation of Israel. And in numerous rallies throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, one Palestinian was killed and hundreds injured.
For decades, the US has actively colluded with Israel to thwart Palestinian aspirations for a life with dignity. Palestinians, like blacks in the US, will not rest until they live as equals with Jews in historic Palestine, which includes present-day Israel. When that day arrives, we “good” people in the United States of America will be appalled at the shameful role our government has played in making that dream of human rights so difficult to realize.