Israel’s new segregated bus lines
+972 Magazine, Mar 4 2013
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 Yesha. Additional new lines for Palestinians only are also planned. 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 glaringly obvious in practice. And the racism underlying such measures is hardly concealed. A Haaretz report displays a cropped, uncredited Active Stills photo as its illustration. They’ll be hearing from our lawyer. Haaretz confirms that while official policy may prohibit discrimination, incidents are commonplace. Haaretz has in the past reported incidents when Palestinians were taken off of buses, and witnesses at checkpoints say that such incidents are ongoing. 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:
In 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? 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.
Separate but equal bus lines?
Itamar Fleishman, Ynet, Mar 4 2013
Tension, delays and chaos ensued this morning as segregated, Pals-Only bus lines came into operation in the West Bank. A riot broke out at the exit point of the Eyal crossing, adjacent to Qalqilya, after numerous Palestinian laborers could not get to work within the Green Line. They protested the fact that as of now, they must arrive at the crossing from far-off places in the West Bank since the new bus lines are their only means of entering central Israel. Israel launched two Pals-Only bus lines in the West Bank on Monday. The ministry opened the lines, to be used by Palestinian laborers travelling between the West Bank and Israel, after settlers complained that Palestinians on mixed buses were a security risk. Jessica Montell of B’Tselem said on Army Radio:
Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan. This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.
Fauzi, who lives in the village of Zaita, adjacent to the West Bank city of Ariel, requested to arrive to work in Israel and was also delayed at the Eyal crossing. He expressed his frustration regarding the situation and said:
I can’t make any sense of all this chaos. I need to drive an hour and a half just to get to the bus, and now it is not clear if there are even enough buses.
Ibrahim, from the West Bank village of Bidya said:
It is impossible for to make it all the way here. I need to leave an hour and a half earlier because I live far from the Eyal crossing, and if I miss the bus my whole workday is gone.
Additional laborers who arrived at the crossing, verbally confronted Transport Ministry and Afikim bus company representatives, who were guarded by police officers who arrived at the scene to maintain order. Rights groups voiced concern that Israeli police at checkpoints in the West Bank would remove Palestinian passengers from regular bus lines and order them to use the new ones. Police spokesman Rosenfeld said all Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution. He said he did not know whether and how this might affect Palestinian travel on regular buses. Herzl Ben-Zvi, mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement, said the new lines “answer the needs of all passengers, Palestinians and settlers” because they would relieve overcrowding on buses in the area.
Israel introduces Pals-Only bus lines following complaints from settlers
Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, Mar 3 2013
Starting on Monday, certain buses running from the West Bank into central Israel will have separate lines for Jews and Arabs. The Afikim bus company will begin operating Palestinian-only bus lines from the checkpoints to Gush Dan to prevent Palestinians from boarding buses with Jewish passengers. Palestinians are not allowed to enter settlements, and instead board buses from several bus stops on the Trans-Samaria highway. Last November, Haaretz reported that the Transportation Ministry was looking into such a plan due to pressure from the late mayor of Ariel, Ron Nahman, and the head of the Karnei Shomron Local Council. They said residents had complained that Palestinians on their buses were a security risk. The buses will begin operating Monday morning at the Eyal crossing to take the Palestinians to work in Israel. Transportation Ministry officials are not officially calling them segregated buses, but rather bus lines intended to relieve the distress of the Palestinian workers. Ynet has reported that fliers are being distributed to Palestinian workers notifying them of the coming changes. Any Palestinian who holds an entrance permit to the State of Israel is allowed by law to use public transportation. Yesha 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. Ofra Yeshua-Lyth of Machsom Watch filed the following report:
When Bus 286 from Tel Aviv to Samaria arrived at a checkpoint filled with Palestinian workers, Yesha Police Sgt-Maj Shai Zecharia stopped it and soldiers ordered all the Palestinians off the bus. They collected all their identity cards as they got off. The Palestinians were told to walk to the Azzun Atma checkpoint, which is about 2.5 km away from the Shaar Shomron interchange. All of them responded with restraint and sadness, at most asking why. Here and there they received answers such as “You’re not allowed on Highway 5” and “You’re not allowed on public transportation.” Zecharia gave some vital information to one of the older Palestinians: “You should ride in special vans, not on Israeli buses.”
In response to the report, the Transportation Ministry said:
The Ministry has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from riding the public bus lines in Israel or in Yesha. Furthermore, the Transportation Ministry is not authorized to prevent any passangers from riding those lines. The two new lines that will be run as of tomorrow (Monday) are intended to improve the services to Palestinian workers that enter Israel via the Eyal Crossing. The new lines will replace the pirate bus services who have been transporting Palestinian workers at exorbitant prices and in an irregular fashion. The new lines will depart from the Tzofim area near Qalqilya and will transport workers to their places of work in the Sharon region and Tel Aviv, at especially cheap prices. For example, the tariff for traveling to Kfar Sava or Raanana will be 5.1 shekels, and to Tel Aviv will cost 10.6 shekels. This is compared to some 40 shekels that passengers have been charged by the private transportation services in each direction. The new lines will lessen the burden that has formed on buses as a result of the increase in numbers of permits to work in Israel provided to Palestinians, and will contribute to the improvement of services for both Israelis and Palestinians.
After some reflection, and maybe a quiet word with the owners, Levinson has decided it’s all kosher:
As Israel’s separate bus lines start rolling, some Palestinians don’t seem to mind
Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, Mar 4 2013
Khalil, a resident of Hebron, is a construction worker who is helping to build a new housing project in Petah Tikva. He has to sleep in Qalqilyah during the week to get to work, returning to his family only on the weekends. He gets up at 3 A.M. and heads to the Eyal crossing near Qalqilyah, where he pays the driver of a pirate van 15 shekels for transportation. On Sunday, Khalil heard on the news that there would be a new bus transporting Palestinian laborers to and from the crossing point and he was pleased. The bus will cost him 8.80 shekels. “That’s nothing,” he says. It’s a savings of 12 shekels in each direction, 250 shekels a month. Since he earns 200 shekels a day, that’s a significant amount, he says. At 4:20 Monday morning, he is already waiting for the special bus that will take him to work. The activity on the ground Monday morning highlighted the upside to the reform. Thousands of workers who had been exploited by “pirate” vehicle drivers finally got good-quality, well-organized service from the state. It took the workers a few minutes to understand where they needed to go and which buses were headed where, but they quickly asked to get on one of the two lines. The first is to Ra’anana and Kfar Sava, and the second is to Petah Tikva, Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv. Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand. After a few minutes, came the complaints and suggestions for improvement. One man working on the Meier-on-Rothschild luxury tower asked why the Tel Aviv bus stopped at the northern train station and did not continue on to the Central Bus Station. A group of workers looking to get to Herzliya asked why the Ra’anana–Kfar Sava line wasn’t extended to Herzliya. Many wondered about the buses’ return times. Several workers asked for buses to run on Fridays as well, since they pay “pirate” drivers even even on Fridays. Representatives of the Afikim bus company and Lt-Col Adel Masalha, the district coordination liaison, noted all the comments and promised changes in the near future. A team from the Israel Police’s Special Patrol Unit and several police officers supervised the commotion. Police officials fear reprisals from the “pirate” van drivers. For years, hundreds of small vans waited for the workers at the crossing. On Monday, those drivers looked on as the buses rolled away with their jobs. Perhaps in another week or two the van drivers will lower their prices or maybe they’ll just look elsewhere for a livelihood. At least on its first day, the reform’s more problematic side wasn’t evident. The point, as has been mentioned, is to prevent Palestinians from returning home through Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Samer, from a small West Bank village, goes to the Eyal crossing point every day, returns on Bus 286 from the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to Ariel and travels on Route 5, the major highway to the settlements. He gets off the bus at the Gitti Avissar interchange, and walks to his village. From time to time, police officers would take Palestinians off the buses and send them on their way on foot. Now there is an even greater effort to remove them from the buses, supposedly because they are not allowed to travel on Route 5 without undergoing an inspection. But the real reason is that this way they will return directly to the Eyal crossing point. Samer, for his part, said he would still try to return via Route 5 this evening, since it significantly shortens his travel time.