Suspending bus segregation won’t solve a thing

The bus segregation plan is but one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. 

Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Palestinian workers pray after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Qalqilya and Israel, January 4, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/

On Tuesday night the plan to segregate Palestinians and Israelis on buses in the West Bank was put into effect, reported Haaretz. On Wednesday morning the Prime Minister decided to suspend the program, following criticism.

When each development is more awful than the last, perhaps there are no more wise arguments to be made. Instead, I have documented the cycle of attitudes around this week’s example, which reflects, in broad strokes, the deadlocked mentality of the conflict itself.

1. The Israeli Defense Minister justified the separation with the following logic, quoted in Haaretz:

You don’t need to be security expert to realize that 20 Arabs on a bus with a Jewish driver and two or three passengers and one soldier with a gun is a set-up for an attack.

According to this, any Arab majority situation is a security threat to a Jew. Israelis inside the Green Line may soon view any bus with 20 Arabs, 2-3 Jews passengers, a Jewish driver and a soldier as a security threat to Jews, even though the soldier is the only one with a gun. They may then prefer to segregate buses inside Israel too.

2. Those who favor segregation will back it up with any case of Palestinian violence, which they link to the huge, historic and intractable problems. The collective voice will say this:

When they stop killing us, we’ll let them ride the buses together. Just this morning, there was a terror attack in Jerusalem. It is proof that if we hadn’t won in ’48 they would have slaughtered us.

It is true that a Palestinian driver charged into a group in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in what is presumed to be a terror attack, injuring two police officers. He was shot and killed.

3. Haaretz reports that the former Central (District) Commander had said that mixed buses do not pose a danger. He observed that Palestinians taking the mixed buses into Israel have work permits, and have been deemed safe enough to work among Israeli civilians inside the Green Line.

4. Those who support segregation will ignore #3, those opposed do not believe #2 justifies segregation, or argue that repressive policies contribute to #2. Points 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive for most Israelis.

5. The bus segregation plan is one policy in a massive system of occupation, which is growing not only geographically but also institutionally, politically and conceptually. It is a sprawling multi-ministerial task force with mechanisms so complex that policymakers don’t know how to manage it, hence the slow-motion development, implementation and backtracking on this single policy.

Read more: Segregation does not begin or end on buses

6. The ability of Palestinians to move freely around where they live and work has deteriorated severely and steadily since 1967. For the first 20 years, there was relative mobility around the whole region including Israel; movement has been choked off in stages each decade since the first Intifada broke out in 1987 and at present is more restricted than ever, especially given the situation in Gaza.

7. Associations with apartheid and images of Jim Crow are appearing with greater frequency lately. Recently, Israeli police fired water cannons at black citizens who were demonstrating against discrimination. Images of Birmingham 1963 rose in my mind. An American-Israeli friend thought the comparison exaggerated, and pointed out that the demonstrators had blocked the country’s main highway for hours earlier that day. But rationalizing it didn’t make the association go away.

8. If any foreign media criticizes the segregation plan or caught the story before Netanyahu suspended it, Matti Friedman will say there is a global conspiracy of the foreign press to make Israel look bad. Because writing about suspending a plan for bus segregation makes Israel look good.

9. The organization responsible for implementing the bus segregation is called the “Civil Administration,” which in effect is a body inside the Defense Ministry, responsible for the lives of regular people living under military law. Lately there has been some political wrangling over which party will control it – Jewish Home has formal control in the new government, which it wanted presumably to strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank. But Likud prefers de facto control, presumably so that it can strengthen Israel’s hold and presence in the West Bank.

10. Israelis who raise an outcry against segregation on buses will be criticized from the far-Left for hypocrisy and complicity, because they don’t embrace the right of return for Palestinians.

 11. Human rights advocates have promised to take the bus segregation plan to the Supreme Court. In the past, the Court ruled against the route of the separation wall, and ordered the re-integration of Road 443 following a decade of closure for Palestinians. After those rulings, the occupation continued.

 12. Supporters of a two-state solution will say this is a terrible development that highlights the urgency of reviving negotiations for a two-state solution.

 13. More critical supporters of an agreement will say that in the 25 years of two-state negotiations security has gotten worse for Israelis, occupation has gotten worse for Palestinians – and both sides have failed to sign an agreement. They will advocate for new models, such as a confederate political separation with relaxed borders and greater human rights emphasis.

Then the policymakers in the region and in Washington will say that such a thing is a utopian fantasy — a distraction from the pragmatic options already on the table following 25 years of negotiation. This is how they will sound: “We all know the outlines of the solution, it just takes political will.”

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