Israel’s Transportation Ministry mulling separate buses for Palestinians

Bus lines created exclusively for Palestinians is another step in the fortification of the de facto system of segregation imposed by the Israeli government between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. 

Thousands of Palestinians travel from the West Bank to work in Israel every day using Israeli public transportation. The buses are overcrowded. At times there are tensions and confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli settlers can’t stand the sight of Palestinians anyway. So why not create a separate bus line for them? This is the logic behind a new proposal being considered by the Ministry of Transportation:  Additional bus lines exclusively for Palestinians that go between checkpoints in the West Bank and central Israel, as Walla reported on Monday (Hebrew).

Last August, Haggai Matar reported about an Israeli bus driver on his way from Tel Aviv to the settlement of Ariel who refused to take Palestinians on board, was then instructed by police that he had to by law, but ultimately kicked them off later on anyway. At the time, Haggai reported that Ben-Hur Akhvat, CEO of the Afikim bus company, which serves the settlements, said that the company regularly receives complaints from Jewish passengers who don’t wish to see Palestinians on the bus. “We are in ongoing negotiations with authorities regarding a possible alternative solution to the problem,” Akhvat told Haggai at the time.

Apparently they have found the solution, and authorities claim this is a win-win situation for all involved: For Israeli settlers, it is ideal since they won’t have to come into contact at all with Palestinians (the same Palestinians they have chosen to live next to/on top of).  For Palestinians who have work permits, it will ease their travel time by eliminating the need to transfer buses at the various checkpoints where they must undergo security checks.

Herzl Ben-Ari, head of the Karnei Shomron regional council in the West Bank, told Walla the proposal is not racial segregation, but rather a practical solution to an problem of overcrowding. According to the report, the Transportation Ministry insists that no decision has been taken to allocate buses exclusively for Palestinians, and that Palestinians with work permits won’t be legally barred from continuing to ride whatever public transportation is at their disposal.

That may be so, but in order to solve the problem of overcrowding, why not simply add more bus lines for everyone? Why the need to specify who they are for?  And according to Haaretz, the nearly 30,000 Palestinians from the West Bank who come to work in Israel every day are increasingly being forced off the buses by police, who say it is due to complaints by Israelis that they are a “security risk.” The police claim they must ensure Palestinian workers who enter Israel in the morning also exit in the evening and go back where they came from.

This is similar to the controversy regarding ultra-Orthodox Israeli men who try to force women to sit in the back of buses, I think the answer is the same: If you don’t want to see women, don’t ride the bus. If Israeli settlers don’t want to see Palestinians, then they not only shouldn’t be riding the buses, but shouldn’t be living in a settlement in the first place – shouldn’t actually be living in this region at all.

But lucky for them, Israel has gone to great lengths to build separate roads, separate water and sewage system, separate legal system, separate everything so settlers can live in total denial.  Settlers even build their houses with no windows, so as not to have to see their “enemy;” so as not to face the people on whose human rights they are trampling all over.  So at this point, separate buses really doesn’t seem that far-fetched a move, does it?

Israel's Transportation Ministry mulling separate buses for Palestinians
Carmel settlement near Um el-Hir, southern West Bank (Mairav Zonszein)

While the Transportation Ministry, the police, the bus company heads and the settler council leaders have or will claim that this is not racist, that it does not constitute the formal institutionalization of ethnic segregation, it makes no difference, because that is exactly what it is. Clear as day. And considering it is no secret that most Israeli Jews prefer ethnic segregation, no one should be surprised. When military control and occupation is the norm, it is only “natural” that a de facto reality becomes a de jure one.

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