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Photos: Israel's new 'Palestinian only' segregated bus lines

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

Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits attempt to board a new Israeli bus line for Palestinians only, after crossing the Eyal checkpoint near the West Bank city of Qalqilya, March 4, 2012.

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.

Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits wait to be picked up for work after they cross the Eyal checkpoint.

However, “several bus drivers told Ynet that Palestinians who choose to travel on the so-called ‘mixed’ lines, will be asked to leave them.” The same article goes on to report that:

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.

Workers try to keep warm near a campfire while awaiting transportation in the early morning cold near Eyal checkpoint.

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.”

Palestinian workers wait in line to board an Israeli bus line only for Palestinians, after crossing the Eyal checkpoint.

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.

Palestinian workers with Israeli work permits wait to board a new Israeli bus line for Palestinians only, after crossing the Eyal checkpoint.

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.


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    1. rsgengland

      I think probably the best way to prevent this is for the Palestinian Authority to prohibit Palestinians from working in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Dubliner

        But if they did that they’d have to get up off their backsides and start creating jobs.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Avramele

      I’m waiting for the Foreign Ministry press release explaining why Rosa Parks would be understanding of these actions. What’s next? An Israeli watermelon festival the week of Obama’s arrival?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Haifawi

      Can anyone tell me if I am accurate in describing the old procedures and the new procedures?
      I assume that the Palestinians with permits are not allowed to ride the bus through the crossings into Israel, right? So before today, they would cross at Eyal, which was unserved by buses, and have to take “pirate” transportation to work. On the way home, they would take Settler buses back to the West Bank and (if lucky) be able to get off somewhere near where they lived.
      Now, they have buses serving Eyal, so they have reliable transportation in the morning, except they “have” to return to that checkpoint in the evening, which for most is more inconvenient I guess.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        I think the last thing they are interested in is “convenience” for Palestinians, despite the hype. They want them piped through Eyal and this will guarantee that they are.
        Before, the settlers were inconvenienced by the document checks on, and disembarkations by, Palestinians on the way across. Now their newly-purged – pardon the expression – buses will get them to and from where they want to go, faster.

        Which brings me to the status quo we are told the country favours and that Bibi wants to maintain. There is no status quo, it’s moving down a very specific road all the time. To maintain the status quo there would have to be sufficient push to counter that from the other side.

        Reply to Comment
    4. I was wondering, why aren’t the usual hasbara trolls commenting on this post? Too hard to deal with?

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        I’m about as far from a hasbarist as they come, but I really don’t see how this is such a terrible thing. The occupation/colonization/apartheid regime is terrible, but this is just making that regime more convenient.

        Reply to Comment
        • sh

          It’s yet another signpost, that’s all. It’s already being dressed up as a generous act to help Palestinians being ripped off by their own. The country will probably swallow that gratefully too and return to cloud-cuckooland without further ado.

          Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Thinx: I wonder, has anyone done a check on what it costs a settler per kilometer on the West Bank public (Ministry of Transport) transport that shuttles him or her to and from Israel’s main population centres? On average, do they pay the same per km as the rest of us do?

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        It’s 7 NIS from Jerusalem to Kiryat Arba. And this is on an armored bus that burns much more gas.
        I think these “Palestinian” buses will also be subsidized (and Tel Aviv-Beer Sheva is also subsidized, only 13 NIS).
        Haifa is pretty much shafted. 42 NIS to Kiryat Shemona??? When TA-KS is 47!!!

        Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Okay, Ami, I’ll comment for you. This is typical of the ‘progressive’ hypocrisy….’progressives’ don’t care about human rights and don’t care about making things better for people, they just have their ‘bash Israel’ agenda and to hell with the people involved. The Palestinians like the service, it is cheaper and faster and they are not prohibited from travelling on the Egged buses if they want. Just this morning, two of the buses were torched in Kfar Qassem, presumbaly by other drivers who have been ripping the workers off up until now.

      I am waiting for the usual complaints about how the Palestinians workers in Israel are “exploited”. Don’t forget that if Israel didn’t allow them to work in Israel, the same ‘progressives’ who would complain about exploitation would say it is racism that is keeping the workers out.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Palestinians working in Israel are only exploited because of the permit regime which is tied to a specific employer (and so prohibits a laborer from freely searching for another employer if mistreated) and the criminal negligence of the relevant authorities of investigating and prosecuting labor law violations. If both of these things were fixed (permitting free-association with an employer and prosecuting labor law violations) then even though the Palestinians are paid less, it wouldn’t be exploitation.
        There. Stick your false dichotomy in your Amud and smoke it.

        Reply to Comment
      • The new bus line was implemented because certain passengers complained, and those passengers were not Palestinian. It will take a lot of sugar to coat that.

        “The Palestinians like the service…”

        When was the last time you spoke to a Palestinian, any Palestinian? That’s a serious question. I don’t think you’re in much of a position to talk of what West Bank workers like and don’t like, need and don’t need – at least not until you’re prepared to visit a checkpoint, talk at length with people who use them, or even read about Palestinian experiences without having the immediate knee-jerk reaction of, “You’re just writing this to make Israel look bad.” It seems that you look for a way to support current policy without ever having to feel uncomfortable. You can have only one of those things.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Joanne Ventura

      I am very very very disappointed that after all the Israel has endured, the hatred, genocide and displacement. They are not compassionate and understanding towards the Palestinians. Love, respect breeds, understanding and peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You mean that Israelis are not “compassionate and kind” and the such like the Palestinians? Then please explain to me why the Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose having the border between Israel and the Palestinian entity redrawn as to include their population in the Palestinian territories. Why do you think they believe they are better off living as Israeli citizens if Israel is so bad?

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ


          Why would the Israeli Arabs join Palestine. I mean it’s not like Palestine is an independent country, it’s the gutter and will be so for the coming years since Israel keeps it that way. In a system of segregation and racial hierarchy, you’ll be mad to become a Palestinian. Are you mad?

          Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You are right Israel should learn how to become a compassionate, tolerant society from our neighbors like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq and Pakistan. The certainly exemplify love and tolerance.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Leen

      I hate to spoil your fun comparing Israel to Syria and the like, but how about you compare it to oh I dunno, Denmark, Sweden or Switzerland? A country that is actually considered a liberal democracy?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Dan

      I’ve been defending Israel against the charge of apartheid for years. But that’s just a ridiculous position now. Yes, my country has become an apartheid state. Thank you, Bibi.

      Reply to Comment