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Monday, March 4, 2013

Israelis Divided Over Separate Bus Lines for Arabs and Jews in Occupied West Bank

After passing through an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank on Monday, Palestinians boarded buses to take them to jobs in Israel.Uriel Sinai/Getty Images After passing through an Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank on Monday, Palestinians boarded buses to take them to jobs in Israel.

Israel’s transportation ministry introduced Monday what it billed as improved service for nearly 30,000 Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and commute to work each day in Israel: two new bus lines “designated” for their use. Israeli rights groups, however, denounced the move as the de facto segregation of public transportation in response to pressue from Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank but are unhappy about sharing buses with their Palestinian neighbors.

“Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” the director of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Jessica Montell, told Israel’s Army Radio. While settler leaders endorsed the plan to provide separate buses for Palestinians as necessary to prevent crowding and assuage fears of suicide bombers, Ms. Montell said, “This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.”

Under the headline, “Separate But Equal Bus Lines” the Tel Aviv daily Yedioth Ahronoth noted that Israeli activists from the group Peace Now heard echoes of the segregated public services for Africa! n-Americans in the 1950s in the plan. “The decision to separate bus lines in the territories is shocking and turns racism into the norm,” the activists said. “A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed to insist upon sitting on Jewish bus lines.”

The newspaper also reported that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz denied that the new bus lines mandated segregation since “Palestinians entering Israel will be able to ride on all public transportation lines, including all those already existing in the West Bank.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in November that the ministry might add new lines for Palestinians after a spate of reports that even residents of the occupied territories who had cleared rigorous security checks to obtain permits to enter Israel were being denied boarding by Israeli drivers or removed from buses by police officers in response to complaints from settlers.

Last October, one Israeli bus driver was caught on video refusing to allow a Palestinian man with a permit to work in Israel to board a bus from Tel Aviv to the West Bank used by Israeli settlers.

Video shot by the Israeli filmmaker Eran Vered for the Tel Aviv workers’ rights group Kav LaOved showed an Israeli bus driver refusing to accept a Palestinian passenger in O! ctober.

Despite assurances from Israeli officials that Palestinians would not be barred from buses used by settlers, rights groups said that such orders were already being issued on a routine basis. On Thursday, Haaretz published an account of one recent incident, recorded in the notes of an Israeli rights monitor at a West Bank checkpoint who wrote:

Police officer Advanced Staff Sergeant Major Shai Zecharia stops the bus at the bus stop. Soldiers order all the Palestinians off the bus. The first thing they do is collect all their identity cards as they get off. One by one, the Palestinians are told to go away from the bus stop and walk to the Azzun Atma checkpoint, which is about 2.5 kilometers [1.5 miles] away from the Shaar Shomron interchange. All of them responded with restraint and sadness, at most asking why. Here and there the received answers such as, ‘You’re not allowed on Highway 5,’ and ‘You’re not allowed on public transportation.’

Reuters reported on Monday that a police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, “said all Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution.”

The dispute over the new lines also illustrated the fact that Palestinians with work permits are allowed to travel freely inside Israel, but are prohibited from entering Israeli settlements near their homes in the West Bank, where they endure a range of restrictions on their movement imposed by the Israeli military, which still administers the occupied territories.

Commenting on the uproar over the separate bus lines, Yousef Munayyer, the director of The Palestine Center in Washington, suggested that it was strange that the issue had att! racted so! much attention, given that Palestinians have lived under Israeli military rule for almost five decades.

Another Washington observer, Jeffrey Goldberg, who i a staunch defender of Israel but a critic of the enduring military occupation, wrote that the issue illustrated that “Settlements are incompatible with democracy.”

Bus lines are just a symptom: Ultimate issue is political disenfranchisement. Palestinians should have a state, or the vote in Israel.

â€" Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) 3 Mar 13

Several critics of the new bus lines in Israel said they evoked not just the segregation of the American South but the apartheid regime of South Africa. Mr. Goldberg, who has long argued that the unchecked growth of Israeli settlements is undermining the possibility of a two-state solution, reminded readers in a 2008 Op-Ed that no less an Israeli patriot than former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once warned, “every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic stateor a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state.”