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3 Mar, 2013 13:49

Israel launches 'Palestinians only' buses – reports

Israel launches 'Palestinians only' buses – reports

New bus lines connecting the West Bank with Israel have sparked controversy. Despite claims they are regular lines, Israeli media believe they were set up specifically for Palestinians, in order to segregate them from Jewish settlers.

Leaflets in Arabic have lately been spread around the West Bank Palestinian villages, calling on their inhabitants to use the new bus lines, which will go from Eyal crossing near the city of Qalqilya to Israel, Ynetnews reported.

The official reason for introducing new bus lines is that the existing “mixed” ones are overcrowded and conflict-prone. Around 30,000 Palestinians work in Israel and have to travel there every day.

Plans to put them on separate bus lines were first announced in November 2012, following several episodes of police taking Palestinian laborers off buses from Tel Aviv to the West Bank. The police acted on complaints from Jewish settlers, who claimed that Palestinians posed a security threat by riding the same buses as them.

The plan for separate buses for Palestinians was condemned by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem: “The attempt at bus segregation is appalling, and the current arguments about ‘security needs’ and ‘overcrowding’ must not be allowed to camouflage the blatant racism of the demand to remove Palestinians from buses,” executive director Jessica Montell said.

Palestinian labourers wait for work after crossing through Israel's Eyal checkpoint from the West Bank town of Qalqilya (Reuters/Nir Elia)

Transport officials have denied accusations they were aiming to segregate Palestinians from Israelis: "The Transportation Ministry is forbidden from preventing any passenger from boarding any line of public transportation, nor do we know of a directive to that effect. Instating these lines was done with the knowledge and complete agreement of the Palestinians,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Ynet.

However, drivers interviewed by the same source confessed that de facto segregation is inevitable. "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," said a driver working for Afikim, a company with a government tender to serve West Bank settlements.

Much of the web discourse on the news compared the move with similar practices in history, particularly the 'Jim Crow' laws that provided legal basis for segregation in the US between 1896 and 1965. “I believe this is worse than conditions in Montgomery that Rosa Parks felt intolerable in the 1950s,” says Middle East expert Pillip Weiss, the founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss.net.

Controversial survey results published by Haaretz newspaper four months ago revealed a majority of Israeli Jews believe they are living in an apartheid state.

Palestinian labourers wait for work on the side of a road after crossing through Israel's Eyal checkpoint from the West Bank town of Qalqilya (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Palestinian labourers pray after crossing through Israel's Eyal checkpoint near the West Bank town of Qalqilya (Reuters/Baz Ratner)