Segregating the evening commute to the West Bank

Jews and Palestinians who commute from the West Bank to work in central Israel each day will soon ride separate buses home. Let’s not give too much credit to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, however. The decision to segregate the evening commute wasn’t all that creative. He only completed his predecessors’ decision to segregate the morning commute.

Palestinian workers wait in line to board an Israeli bus line meant for Palestinians only after crossing the Eyal checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel proper. (Photo by
Palestinian workers wait in line to board an Israeli bus line meant for Palestinians only after crossing the Eyal checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel proper. (Photo by

It’s not really segregation. Not on paper at least. Or at least the paper doesn’t use the word “segregation.” In practice, however, people of one national origin will not be allowed to ride on the same bus lines as people of another national origin — for the benefit and at the request of one group, at the expense and against the desires of the other. Call that what you will.

Here’s how it works. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the de facto and de jure sovereign ruler of the West Bank, could have easily ordered his generals to revise Israeli military law to legally ban Palestinians from riding on the same buses as their Jewish Israeli neighbors. (It’s important to remember at this junction, no pun intended, that we are talking about two groups of people who live in the same place — the West Bank — and who each day commute back and forth to their workplaces in the same place — central Israel.)

If that military order had been issued so explicitly, however, it would actually be called segregation and understood to be segregation by the general public, which at least in theory, sometimes opposes segregation. If the defense minister had written such an order it probably would have even used the Hebrew word “hafrada,” which inconveniently means both separation and segregation. That wouldn’t have looked good. So Ya’alon found another way, one that didn’t require him to use such politically loaded words.

Read more on Palestinian laborers working in Israel

Instead, the defense minister ordered that Palestinian commuters return to their West Bank homes through a specific, dedicated checkpoint — a different checkpoint than the Jewish commuters with whom they shared their evening bus rides until now. Technically speaking, Palestinians with valid work permits are still allowed to ride Israeli buses; they just aren’t allowed to go through the checkpoints through which those buses pass. Which means they will have to travel a different route, and therefore, ride separate buses.

Let’s not give too much credit to Ya’alon, however. The decision to segregate the evening commute wasn’t all that creative. He was only completing his predecessors’ decision to segregate the morning commute.

See more photos of the segregated checkpoint here.

Palestinian workers board a new segregated bus line at the Eyal checkpoint, March 4, 2012.
Palestinian workers board a bus at the Eyal checkpoint, March 4, 2012. (Photo by

On the sidelines of Ya’alon’s decision, an argument took place between two people in uniform about whether the segregation is necessitated — or even motivated — by security. According to Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, who happens to be the commander in charge of the Israeli army’s entire operations in the West Bank (or in other words, the occupation), Palestinian and Israeli commuters sharing buses poses no security risk, Haaretz reported Sunday. Another man in uniform, one who apparently has neither name nor rank, declared that the only considerations in the new policy are security considerations. Go figure.

Don’t expect a huge fallout

The new policy will have only a couple of effects, neither of which are significant enough to endanger the two-state solution or move a single foreign government to change the course of their Mideast foreign policy.

First and foremost, the new segregated evening commute will do exactly what it was designed to: segregate the evening commute. Jewish settlers will be able to enjoy their ride home from Tel Aviv through the fertile West Bank foothills of Palestinian olive country without the annoyance of having to listen to other commuters speaking Arabic. Haaretz quoted MK Moti Yogev (The Jewish Home), a settler himself and member of the Israeli parliament’s ruling coalition, after riding one of the yet-to-be-segregated buses: “Riding these buses is unreasonable. They are full of Arabs.”

The second consequence is just slightly more politically correct, or less, depending on how you like your racism, civil rights and labor conditions. Palestinian laborers, who are forbidden from remaining inside Israel proper at night, will be forced to take longer routes home to their families every evening. Already, they arrive at the checkpoint before the crack of dawn in order to make it to work in the morning. Just another hardship of the occupation — nothing to write to the UN about.

As Amjad Iraqi wrote here on +972 when the morning buses were segregated last year:

This is certainly not the worst case of state-sanctioned discrimination in the Occupied Territories, and it won’t be the last. What makes the bus case notable, however, is that it starkly presents the pervasiveness of the state’s segregationist mentality by evoking the memory of the infamous buses under the Jim Crow laws of the southern United States.

On a related note, Arab minority rights organization Adalah filed a lawsuit against the segregation of an Israeli youth soccer league along Jewish-Palestinian lines. The decision to segregate the Jewish and Arab youth teams into different leagues was apparently made in response to complaints by Jewish parents, according to a statement by Adalah.

Palestinian-only buses serve to incentivize segregation
Photos: Israel’s ‘Palestinian only’ segregated bus lines
West Bank and East Jerusalem buses are already segregated