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Middle East

Palestinians board settlers' bus in civil rights protest

Six Palestinians seeking to emulate the "freedom rides" in the segregated southern United States of the 1960s by travelling in a West Bank-to-Jerusalem bus alongside Jewish settlers were arrested by Israeli police yesterday.

The Palestinian activists managed to board a number 148 bus outside the West Bank settlement of Psagot, near Ramallah, but the bus was halted and the activists taken off near the Hizma entry terminal to Jerusalem.

Three walked off the bus under police escort but another three, including one woman, Huwaida Arraf, resisted and were dragged off it by force amid shouts of "Stop the apartheid", and "I have the right to go to Jerusalem".

Palestinian residents are forbidden from entering the city without a permit, for what Israel says are security reasons. The restrictions date to the beginning of the second intifada 11 years ago, which included a spate of suicide bombings in Jerusalem up to 2004.

Police had earlier boarded the bus at the checkpoint to persuade the activists to leave of their own accord as supporters waved banners, including one – in an echo of the famous speech by civil rights activist Martin Luther King – proclaiming: "We have a dream."

Two of the activists were told by a police officer: "You are detained. Please get off the bus. If not we will have to use force." One of the Palestinians, Nadim Sharabati, a 33-year-old blacksmith from Hebron, told the officer: "This is racial discrimination between me and the settlers. Why don't you take permits from the settlers when they come to us?"

When the police officer told the men: "I am asking in a civilised way, with respect," the other man, Badiya Dweik, replied: "If you respected us you would treat us like [you treat] the settlers." When the officer asked if he had a permit, Mr Dweik replied: "Why do you not ask the settlers for a permit?"

Another of the Palestinian activists, Fadi Quran from El Bireh adjacent to Ramallah, asked the officers, in an apparent reference to the settlers: "Why are you protecting the Klu Klux Klan?"

Most of the Israeli settlers among the passengers left the bus as it was held up at the checkpoint. There was no trouble during the bus's short journey from Psagot. One Jewish passenger, Hagit Segal, editor of Makor Rishon, a right- wing daily newspaper with a large settler readership, said: "I have no problems with Arabs travelling in a Jewish bus. The problem is that I can't take an Arab bus to go to Ramallah or Nablus."

Mr Segal, who said he had travelled from the Ofra settlement, north of Psagot, claimed that if he went to Ramallah "I would be killed". Another elderly Jewish settler said: "I don't want to go in the same bus as terrorists." He then said he did not object to Arabs travelling on a bus with Jews but to them "raising the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organisation] flag".