A new Israeli bus line will serve only Palestinians. Officials claim it’s not segregation, but the ongoing experience of discrimination faced by Palestinian workers speaks for itself.
Photos by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org
Early this morning, Palestinians from the West Bank with permits to work inside the state of Israel crammed onto bus lines specially created for “Palestinians only” — instead of using the same public buses used by Israelis. The Israeli Transportation Ministry launched the new bus lines today, for travel from the Eyal checkpoint to Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba and back to the checkpoint, after settlers complained about Palestinians using the same buses as Israelis on their way to and from work inside Israel.
Such measures may be shocking to those unaware that in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, separate-but-unequal bus lines already exist, as detailed by Mya Guarnieri. But, as with the many forms of de facto discrimination in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, these buses are not legally segregated. So predictably, Israel’s transportation minister insists that, even with the new bus lines, “Palestinians entering Israel will able to ride on every public transportation line, including existing lines in Judea and Samaria [Israeli terms for the West Bank occupied Palestinian territories]”. Additional new lines for Palestinians only are also planned.
While officially the new lines are considered “general bus lines,” Ynet learned Saturday that their existence has been made public only in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, via flyers in Arabic urging Palestinians to arrive at Eyal crossing and use the designated lines.
The Transportation Ministry defended the plan, saying it was the result of reports and complaints saying that the buses traveling in the area were overcrowded and rife with tensions between the Jewishand Arab passengers.
A ministry source said that many complaints expressed concern that the Palestinian passengers may pose a security risk, while other complaints said that the overcrowded buses cause the drivers to skip stations.
The ministry has also gotten reports of scuffles between Jews and Arab passengers, as well as between Palestinians and drivers who refused to allow them to board their bus.
This latest example is but one of many where segregation is not explicitly spelled out in official Israeli policy (though sometimes it is), but is otherwise glaringly obvious in practice (emphasis added):
Legally, however, there is no way to stop Palestinians from boarding “regular” lines: “We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus, but from what we were told, starting next week, there will be checks at the checkpoint, and Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses,” a driver with Afikim – the company that holds the routes franchise for the area – told Ynet.
And the racism underlying such measures is hardly concealed:
Another driver said that, “Driving a bus full of only Palestinians might turn out to be tricky. It could be unnerving and it might also create other problems. It could be a scary thing.”
A Haaretz report (which displays a cropped, uncredited Activestills photo as its illustration — they’ll be hearing from our lawyer) also confirms that while official policy may prohibit discrimination, incidents are commonplace:
Officials at the Samaria and Judea District Police have said there is no change in the operation of the rest of the buses, nor is there any intention to remove Palestinians from other bus lines. But Haaretz has in the past reported incidents when Palestinians were taken off of buses, and witnesses at checkpoints say that such incidents are ongoing.
Also reporting on routine harassment faced by Palestinian passengers on Israeli buses, Haggai Matar gets to the heart of the matter:
The official state bodies – ministry, police and army – all stick to the dry question of whether or not Palestinians are allowed on the bus in Tel Aviv. The answer here is indeed yes. But the people who have to live daily with the reality of occupation – Palestinians and the settlers (including the bus company, which has its headquarters in Ariel) – expose the deeper layers of Apartheid: the separate checkpoints for different people, the racial profiling security system, the permit regime, and the route of the bus which is planned only for Israelis.
While new buses may remove the latter layer from Matar’s list, the question asked by Mairav Zonszein while the Transportation Ministry was still considering this measure late last year stands: “[I]n 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 her conclusion is more relevant than ever:
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.