Israel to run separate buses for Palestinians

Mon, Mar 4, 2013, 00:00

From today Israel plans to operate separate buses for Jews and Palestinians on some routes running from the West Bank into central Israel.

The buses will begin operating at the Eyal crossing, near the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilya, to take Palestinians to work in Israel. Fliers in Arabic advertising the policy were distributed in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, urging Palestinians to arrive at Eyal and use the designated lines.

The move follows complaints from Jewish settlers who claimed that Palestinian day labourers returning to the West Bank posed a “security threat”.

Almost 30,000 Palestinians, all with valid work permits obtained after stringent security checks, travel from the West Bank to Israel each day and are required to return on the same evening.

Security forces

It remains to be seen if the Israeli security forces will ban Palestinians from boarding “Jewish” buses. But a driver working for the Afikim company, which operates the new lines, said Palestinians travelling on “mixed” buses will be stopped at West Bank crossings and asked to transfer to a bus designated for Palestinians.

Prior to the introduction of the separate buses, human rights groups reported a number of cases of Palestinians being forced off Israeli-run buses travelling to the West Bank following complaints from settlers.

Transport ministry officials are not officially calling the new lines segregated buses, and stressed that the aim was to ease congestion on buses that carry both Palestinian labourers and settlers.

“We have not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from riding the public bus lines in Israel or in Judea and Samaria [West Bank],” said the ministry.

The ministry claimed the new lines will replace the “pirate” services that have been transporting Palestinian workers “at exorbitant prices and in an irregular fashion” and the cost of travelling to Israel will now be reduced from almost €8 to €1 or €2, depending on the destination.

When separate lines were first mooted last November, Jessica Montell, executive director of Israeli human rights group Btselem, said state-provided services must be available on an equal basis to all.

“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.”