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West Bank and East Jerusalem buses are already segregated

Yes, the suggestion to segregate buses is disgusting. But it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that, if we consider Israel/Palestine as one continuous territory under a system that privileges Jewish Israelis, there is already de facto bus segregation on the ground in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

One of the three large bus terminals in East Jerusalem that serve Palestinian residents. From this station, lines head to Sur Bahir, Atarot, and elsewhere. Sur Bahir is a Palestinian village of East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed after the Six Day War in 1967. Palestinian residents pay taxes to Israel like Jewish Israelis but have a special bus to the area. Atarot is also occupied land and a large industrial park is found there, where many of the businesses are Jewish-owned. Yet Palestinian workers take a separate bus line to Atarot from their Jewish bosses and coworkers.

No, I’m not Palestinian. But I experience this segregation every day because I work at a Palestinian university in Area B. Every morning, I make the trip to East Jerusalem, where I head towards the “Palestinian buses.” Sure, there are Israeli buses that head into the West Bank, too. But they only serve the settlements. They do not serve all of the people who are under Israeli control.

And no matter where one lives in the West Bank, Israel is in control. Israel controls the borders, the water, the air space, and the checkpoints—including the one that my bus passes through every day.

Many of the people on the bus with me are Jerusalem residents. This means that they pay taxes to the Israeli authorities. Or, if they’re students—and most of the passengers on my line are—their parents pay taxes. Despite the fact that they pay into the same system as Jewish Israelis, the transportation system available to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem take into the West Bank is separate and unequal from the one that Jewish Israelis take into the West Bank.

Outside of one of the entrances of the “Central Bus Station” in East Jerusalem. The driver hangs out the window to make sure there are no children crossing in front of the small bus.

It starts with the station itself. While the Arabic and Hebrew signs say that it’s the “Central Bus Station,” East Jerusalem’s tachana merkazit bears little resemblance to the one Israeli settlers use to go to the West Bank. That Central Bus Station, which is located in the city center, is indoors. It is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. It’s clean.

In East Jerusalem, a lone street sweeper does his best to keep the Central Bus Station clean. There is an overhang to protect passengers from the rain as they wait for the bus. But the station is open otherwise—hot in the summer, cold in the winter.

The “Central Bus Station” in East Jerusalem where Palestinian residents of Jerusalem catch buses to the West Bank, including the line I take to Area B.

While Israeli buses destined for the West Bank leave on schedule regardless of whether or not they’re full—because they’re heavily subsidized—the Palestinian buses have to wait until there are enough passengers on board that it’s worth it. This can make punctuality difficult. It also adds extra time onto the trip. As the bus to school leaves when it’s full, I get there early so I don’t miss it. A handful of students and I usually end up sitting half an hour.

And say there is a strike at the university but a small number of students still want to go to class. Since a majority isn’t going, those students usually find that their bus line to the school is cancelled for the day, so they have to find an alternative way to get there.

I cannot imagine an Israeli bus headed to the West Bank simply shutting down for the day because there aren’t enough passengers. In fact, when I reported on Israeli settlements for Al Jazeera, I took a bus out to the West Bank that was half empty.

So, when the Palestinian bus is full, it heads out, making its way through East Jerusalem, past bus stops where Jewish Israelis who are also West Bank-bound stand, waiting for their separate lines. At a red light, we might even be next to one of those Egged buses, full of Jewish Israelis. It’s odd for me, as a Jewish Israeli myself, to look out the window of the Palestinian bus—where the driver is listening to Arabic news or music—and into the Israeli bus, to know that we’re all headed in the same general direction, that the people are right there, just a car over, but that none of us can touch each other. We’re in glass and steel cages to make sure that our separation from one another is absolute.

And the two separate and unequal lines enter the West Bank, passing settlements, and then they split as the Palestinian bus heads towards Area B. There’s the illusion of autonomy, save for the occasional Hebrew road sign. But it doesn’t last for long—while Area B is under Palestinian administration, it is also Israeli security control and Israeli soldiers and military jeeps are a common sight here. The army can “serve” the area. But the bus lines can’t.

Coming back in, segregation hits home again. As settlers and Egged buses fly through the checkpoint, an Israeli child-soldier uses his gun to wave the Palestinian bus over to the side. The passengers, myself included, get down and file into a cage reminiscent of something sheep would be herded into as they were lined up for slaughter. Israeli border police check the empty bus, and then check IDs of the tax-paying East Jerusalemites as they board.

I remembered that segregation is the norm recently when, as I flashed my teudat zehut, a soldier-girl realized that I was a Jewish Israeli. “What are you doing here?” she whispered to me, in Hebrew. I guessed that she worried that the Palestinians might hurt me if they knew my status.

I shrugged, “I work in Area B.”

She hesitated, staring at my ID. She couldn’t seem to wrap her head around the idea that there would be a Jewish Israeli on the Palestinian bus.

“I teach at the university,” I continued. “I go through this checkpoint every day.”

She glanced at the girls in hijab behind me and leaned close to me. “Take care of yourself,” she whispered.

Related posts:
Israel’s Transportation Ministry mulling separate buses for Palestinians
Bus company backs driver who refused Palestinian passengers on board

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    1. Yaron

      The article states that taxes are being payed, but is that true? Don’t a lot of Palestinian Jerusalemites boycott taxes?

      Another thing: I don’t know what the journalist wants to tell me. Under this story lurks the idea of apartheid, without it being mentioned. But hey! Didn’t we favor a two state solution? In that case, the situation as described will be more or less the same (disregarding the closing of some Israeli settlements). Also Belgium and France have different bus systems, yet no one complains about apartheid. There are borders there too, with (well, once) checkpoints. That the Pals bus is a bit backward in your opinion is not Israel’s fault or responsibility and it should not be. You will neither find airconditioned bus stations in Amman or Baghdad.
      On the other hand, if you are in favor of keeping the West Bank Israeli and integrating Israeli and Palestinian society, your story makes more sense. In that case, you enter a different realm, one where we acknowledge the ragged situation of the Pals of which Israel carries full responsibility, but as an occupying power.

      Reply to Comment
      • You make a good point about inequality. The article reads as if Palestine were not under occupation, but rather a part of one single state with Israel.

        For those who do accept the fact that there exists an occupation: While Israel has (as I understand it) a legal obligation to enable a functioning Palestinian economy, including buses, it has no legal obligation whatsoever to improve the standard of living of the occupied population, much less to bring it to equality with Israel’s.

        There’s also no legal obligation to integrate the occupant’s population with that of the occupied in public places. In fact, given the security situation, there’s arguably even a security obligation to try to keep them separate on public transportation.

        That’s if you actually believe that there’s an occupation.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jan

          @Aaron – May I remind you that the Palestinians under Israeli control pay taxes to Israel and do not receive the same benefits as do Jewish Israelis. That, dear Aaron, is apartheid in action.

          Reply to Comment
        • Rauna

          Aaron, you have the legal obligation to end the occupation.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      Wow, it’s almost as if the territory were occupied or something.

      Reply to Comment
    3. “As settlers and Egged buses fly through the checkpoint, an Israeli child-soldier uses his gun to wave the Palestinian bus over to the side.” This with Aaron Gross the 1st, shows how security efficiency will continue to articulate effective apartheid, always to be benefit of everyone’s “security.” The young female soldier who warns our journalist to “take care” simply believes that the segregated system prevents personal attack irrespective of standard security fears. The alienation induced by the segregated system legitimizes itself in imagined catastrophe. The wall being built and reenforced is as much social as material.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      “Israeli child soldier”
      Words are poisonous when wielded with an unstated ,but particular,agenda .
      Most soldiers in the world are in their late teens and early twenties.
      Of all the articles I have read of this writer , this comment must be one of the most provocative and insidious.
      What is she trying to say or imply.
      Is she trying to make some form of comparison with something .
      Maybe she should consider that
      “Israeli child soldiers” don’t strap belts of explosives to themselves and walk into civilians areas before detonating themselves like some.
      Getting back to buses though , segregation implies legal restrictions on different peoples using different services.
      This is patently not the case here,
      despitet the writers attemps to claim otherwise.

      Reply to Comment
      • James Bishop

        ‘“Israeli child soldiers” don’t strap belts of explosives to themselves and walk into civilians areas before detonating themselves like some.’

        No, you’re right, they don’t. The Israeli military drops American made high explosives from American made airplanes indiscriminately on huddling Palestinian civilians in a concerted campaign to drive them off land they have occupied for hundreds of years. You complain that the people you are abusing are fighting back. It is terrible, in your view, that they don’t just accept your brutality in the way your ancestors did in Europe.

        Reply to Comment
    5. K. FRIED

      Thank you for your post. I am trying to find a bus from the Central bus station in West Jerusalem to Hordos Gate in the Eastern city but nothing comes out of the Israeli bus sites.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rishaky

        @K. Fried You are right, there are no buses to Herod’s gate from Jewish CBS in Jerusalem. The best you’ll get is to take the train and get off at ‘Damascus Gate’ station and walk the 10ish minutes. Good luck.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Woody

      I always found such a stark difference between the bus systems. It’s the beginning of layers of inequality as one heads East in Jerusalem.
      The Palestinian “buses” run some of the same routes as the – what to call them, Jewish buses? The enforcement of this separation seems to be social, but the police do step in. Foreigners and Jews can get on the Palestinian bus – most people seem accepting – never saw a problem on one. I know from stories even in Tel Aviv, that Palestinians get in trouble entering the – other – buses, not sure how it is in East Jerusalem – though the “Freedom Riders” action revealed the state enforces this segregation.
      Now they want to make a separate bus system for the buses in the West Bank. The interesting thing to note about this is that it is a bus system for workers – Palestinians who go inside of Israel to work. Most everything else is already segregated and these new lines are just to ferry the exploited labor force back and forth, right? I get the feeling that these will be highly securitized buses – they don’t let non-Palestinians cross at some of the worker-border-crossings/checkpoints, so I also suspect Mya won’t be able to ride on one of the new ones.

      Reply to Comment