Israel Introduces ‘Palestinian Only’ Bus Lines
Starting this week, certain buses running from the West Bank into central Israel will have separate lines for Jews and Arabs. This change was due to complaints by Israeli settlers, who use the bus company Afikim to go between settlements in the West Bank and Israel.
Haaretz reported that the settlers were concerned about security risks from riding the bus from Tel Aviv back to the West Bank with Palestinians, who often work in Israel and use the buses to go to and from work. After heavy complaints from settlement mayors, Afikim is putting two new bus lines into operation. The lines have been advertised exclusively in Palestinian areas, and will depart from an area near Qalqilyah and will transport workers to their places of work in the Sharon region and Tel Aviv.
Creation of what Ynet news critically called a “separate but equal” bus line has been condemned by human rights groups as discriminatory. “Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” said Jessica Montell, director of B’Tselem, Israeli human rights group. “This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.”
However, the Transportation Ministry is framing the change as a benefit for Palestinian workers, and District Police have insisted that any Palestinian holding a permit will still be allowed to use the Israeli bus lines. Additionally, the change could uncover benefits for the thousands of Palestinian workers, many of whom experience exploitation by “pirate” vehicle drivers.
But Afikim buses have a history of removing Palestinians arbitrarily. In 2012, Haaretz reported that one of its buses stopped at a police roadblock and all the Palestinian passengers were ordered off of the bus, forcing them to walk several miles back to their villages.
This practice is not uncommon; police commonly cite security issues as reasons for expelling Palestinian passengers from public buses. Concerns are that this type of occurrence will only be more prevalent once the Palestinian bus lines begin operation. In 2011, several Palestinian activists were arrested and caused controversy after they boarded Israeli buses in the West Bank to protest bus segregation.
Palestinian passengers on Monday expressed approval of the low bus prices, but complained about the two new lines’ lack of service to certain areas and extreme over crowdedness, which Afikim said will improve soon.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Ariel060.jpg