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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?

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.

Bus company backs driver who refused Palestinian passengers on board

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    1. I can already hear the defences. “How can you possibly say Israel is like the segregated South/apartheid South Africa, there’s no comparison. Israel is being considerate, trying to reduce the overcrowding, making sure these labourers are able to sit down after their hard day…” The unwillingness to see clearly goes far beyond a desire to avoid having to see Palestinian faces on a bus.

      I’m interested to see that Herzl Ben-Ari is trying to peddle ‘overcrowding’ as the excuse, since it suggests that he’s aware of just how flimsy the security canard looks now. (Not that this one is any more credible and sophisticated.) I think we’re getting to the point where people will no longer be able to deny what’s going on, even to themselves, and will have to consider instead whether they’re prepared to support it openly.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mitchell Cohen

      As someone who lives in a settlement (as Vicky pointed out in another thread just today), this article does not make sense to me. No small number of residents in settlements have Palestinians in their home all the time doing renovations. So, the same people who have no issue seeing Palestinians in their homes for hours on end can’t stand seeing them for about forty minutes on a bus. Something doesn’t add up here.

      Reply to Comment
      • There’s a difference. It’s one thing to have an Arab in to repair your rooftop or to sweep your streets or to clean your toilet. It’s another thing entirely to have him sitting next to you on public transport. “I’ve got no problem with them so long as they know their place.” That kind of thinking.

        Recently I was reading Nicholas Frayling’s book on peacemaking in Northern Ireland. He quotes an anecdote involving a black American man speaking to a white neighbour: “But didn’t you see how we lived?” “We weren’t allowed to see.” Of course black men and women had been menial labourers in white homes, but the nature of their expected work actually helped to eclipse them and their lives further from view, even though the stark painful facts were right there for everyone else to see – had they only wanted to. And it’s the same here. There’s no contradiction.

        Reply to Comment
        • Max Gluckman, an Anthropologist from the 40-60’s, has an analysis about segregation and subordinace in “The bonds in the colour bar,” looking at British colonial Africa. But he argues where many, here, colonial whites, have special relationships with a few of the subordinate, segregation becomes self stabilizing. One treats one’s own–subordinates–well, and that’s enough.

          Reply to Comment
        • Mitchell Cohen

          Don’t know….I really couldn’t give a darn who sits next to me on the bus, as long as they don’t bother me from catching up on my sleep when commuting between my two jobs….But, that’s just me I guess….

          Reply to Comment
          • Mitchell Cohen

            Oh, BTW Vicky, there are Jews who also clean other people’s toilets. I am one of them. Yes, as a second job I clean houses. Being the price of food is going up by the week and Israel Electric keeps raising the price of electricity, so that their employees can still get electricity for free, I have taken on extra work cleaning for the past couple of years. I have also worked in construction. So, to put the “progressive” stereotype to rest, there are Jews that do this “Arab” work.

            Reply to Comment
          • I know that there are Jews who do it too. I also know that there are Jews who move into settlements because they’re hard up and it’s affordable. But this doesn’t alter one jot the point I was making: people who are happy to have an Arab doing menial work in their home (and it is overwhelmingly menial work) are not necessarily going to be happy to have that same person sitting next to them on the bus. We saw this same thing happen in the Deep South; the guy who was good enough to do your housework couldn’t share your transport. There were enough white people who cleaned toilets too at that time, but did that change anything about the nature of segregation and how it worked?

            I think I’ve trodden on a nerve here, and if I’ve upset you, I apologise. I don’t have anything particular against you; you seem like a kind man. I don’t have anything particular against settlers as a group, as it’s possible to live in Tel Aviv and still be mired in occupation up to your neck – location isn’t the most relevant thing. Indifference is, and silence. I brought up where you live in the other thread because the discussion was on democracy and you have a ringside seat on undemocratic rule, not because I think you’re that much more culpable than anybody else. But you do have a better view. To talk about democracy when you’re within easy walking distance of Artas and to express surprise over a request for segregated transport when you’re just down the road from us in Bethlehem seems strange to me.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mitchell Cohen

            Vicky, can I come visit you in Bethlehem one day? The answer is no because I am forbidden from doing so. I will be glad to take a picture of the sign that forbids me and all other Israelis from entering. Do I blame YOU for this? Of course not. Maybe they will have another soccer game between Israelis and Palestinians in Efrat one day. That is probably the closest we will come to seeing each other in the near future.

            Reply to Comment
          • http://wp.me/aWR4n-mO

            That sign? This particular photo of it was taken by an Israeli friend the last time she visited me. You and your family would be more than welcome to visit also. I mean that. Feeding you might be a bit of a difficulty (I presume you’re kosher) but getting you past the sign wouldn’t be such an issue. It would certainly be far simpler than persuading me to attend any football match anywhere.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mitchell Cohen

            Vicky, yes that’s the sign. Maybe one day I will come visit you. I just don’t know if I am ready yet. Not because I don’t think you are sincere and would be a great host. I am just not there yet. I guess I agree with you about “football” (aka soccer). Not exactly my favorite sport either. Do you run by any chance?-)

            Reply to Comment
          • I understand that. I have a couple of friends who are in the same place. It’s not easy. But the invitation’s there if/when you want it.

            Running? If there’s something to run away from. 😛 My balance is off, so generally I prefer to be in water than on my feet. I do like to walk though.

            Reply to Comment
      • higan

        You know what’s ironic. The Palestinians you refer to, those renovating settlers’ houses are the rightful owners of the land upon which these houses were built. It is their land.

        Regarding the article, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Israel is an apartheid state so this is only natural.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          By what law exactly do they own any land?

          Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          I think that it would be best for all if after the UN vote ALL Palestinians would be denied work in Israel.

          Indeed, why should they be allowed?

          There is not international law obliging Israel to employ anyone, so a lot of trouble could be save if Palestinians go and work elsewhere – or create jobs by themselves – as any normal nation would.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Apartheid will have to grow before it fractures; so too the Israeli bit of the Bank economy must also grow first.

      That’s why all one can do now is set up conditions to be actualized in the future.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sam

      Leaving aside all the issues over apartheid and segregation, from a practical perspective, isn’t this just essentially a bus service for migrant workers that serves their communities? And they’re not prohibited from using the settlement buses if they’re more convenient? For example, someone from Anabta who works in Gush Dan, currently takes a service to the Tul Karm checkpoint and then some sort of employer-arranged transportation once inside Israel. On the way home, currently there aren’t any buses serving the entrance to Tul Karm, so this person takes a settlement bus to a West Bank intersection, and then hails a service. Wouldn’t it be better if there were buses serving the checkpoints to Palestinian cities? (It would help me visit my Palestinian friends easier at least)

      Reply to Comment
      • And the justifications have arrived, with an incredibly subtle, “I’m not racist, I even have black friends!” tacked on to the end.

        Jewish passengers have complained about having Palestinians on the bus. The bus company has said that it is ‘in ongoing negotiations with authorities regarding a possible alternative solution to the problem’. So this is between a group of Jewish passengers, the bus company, and the Israeli authorities – there is not one word about obliging bosses wanting to ferry their employees from the captive labour market (not ‘migrant workers’) into Israel on private transport. Passengers en route home are being ordered off the bus a few km before their stop, to satisfy complaining settlers, and are having to walk the rest of the way, so it isn’t that there is no convenient stop for them.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Aaron Goldberg

      I love this Website! I wish you guys and gals had a Streaming Podcast like Democracy Now! so I can listen on my Internet Radio down here in Australia! Thanks!

      Reply to Comment