Saturday, October 31, 2020

Israel moves to segregate buses

Juicebox Gallery

By Felix Black - March 09, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Life under Occupation]

Photos by Lazar Simeonov.

This week Israel established a de facto racially segregated bus service on a route from the West Bank into Israel.

Palestinians traveling to work from the Eyal checkpoint next to Qalqilya have been told to board the different buses, as they will not be allowed to ride on the buses that carry settlers from the West Bank to Israel. Previously, the workers boarded daily taxi or rode on the settler buses running from Tsofim. 

Two buses were torched in the city of Kafr Qasim on Tuesday as the move sparked angry condemnation from inside and outside the region. Bus drivers from Afikim, the company running the new segregated service, were told by local authorities to park their vehicles outside the Arab-majority city.

Some indicate that the buses were set alight by Bedouin taxi drivers who have lost a substantial income as Palestinian workers now use the new buses.

The creation of the service follows complaints by settlers in the West Bank who considered Palestinians sharing the settler buses as a 'threat’ and formed a security risk. Several Israeli Transportation Ministry officials have proclaimed the move is designed to relieve the pressure on Palestinian commuters after there were reports of overcrowding and fighting between Israeli and Palestinian passengers in recent weeks. 

Over 40,000 Palestinians cross the Green Line into what is now called Israel to work on a daily basis, the highest number since the second Intifada. Eyal checkpoint typically issues 5,000 permits, but often peaks at 10,000 on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Any Palestinian who holds a work permit (limited to one-day entrance only) for Israel is allowed by Israeli law to use public transportation. Avner Ovadia, a Transportation Ministry spokesperson, said there was no official ban on Palestinian workers travelling on public buses. He stated that they do not have the authority to issue such orders.

Yet drivers from Afikim state that Palestinians attempting to board their buses will be directed towards the new service. 

It is extremely unlikely that the Israeli state will intervene in this enforced segregation, thereby perpetuating the unofficial system of apartheid functioning throughout Israel. Yariv Oppenheimer, from the Peace Now organisation, stated, “Instead of fighting racism, this government is actually collaborating with the racist system and creates different buses for Palestinians and for Israeli settlers.”

There is little doubt that the new bus service and the South African apartheid or civil rights movement in the United States bear several resemblances. 

Yet Palestinians boarding the buses expressed general positivity towards the service.  One commuter remarked, “It is better, half the price [of the taxis and more convenient.” Usually the workers would be forced to walk to bus stops on the highway to board the settler buses, but the new service picks them up directly outside the checkpoint. 

We have also demanded separate buses to take us back to the [Eyal] checkpoint after work,” another worker said. 

It is important to note that a large police and security forces was present next to the buses, with one agent interrupting media discussions to provide the official policy. Yet the above dictum was coordinated to reveal some rare honesty. 

The differing interpretations of the new bus service offer a difficult analysis for Palestinians and international observers alike. Yet the definitive connection between this case and a common trend of ethnically segregated public transport services throughout Israel and the West Bank provides a lens through which to better understand the new service.

“This is a goodwill gesture”

The Israeli state is framing the initiative as a “goodwill gesture” to serve Palestinian workers. There are even plans to expand the service should the launch prove successful. 

Yirsael Maidad, from the Jewish Settlers Council, explained how the justification for new service, to relieve pressure, is coupled with Israel’s experience in dealing with suicide bombers. The Council also stated how forcing Arabs to ride Israeli buses could be interpreted as a form of colonialism and having their own buses would help towards the Palestinian state-building process. 

However, this rationale is undermined by Israel’s continued commitment to “pretty Apartheid” and a simplistic definition of segregation. Despite claims made otherwise, Israel has power over all parts of the West Bank, including Area A, which is officially recognised as under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. The power may not always be observable, but it is most certainly detectable. 

In this sense, the word segregation must take on a wider definition, in which the land called 'Israel’ and the land called 'the West Bank’ are both segregated entities controlled by the Israeli state. In both areas, the Palestinian-Arab populace are harshly discriminated against and are subordinate to the Jewish population. 

In the West Bank, the Jewish settlers are the unofficial rulers. They have decided where they want the roads that connect their settlements. They can dictate who can ride on the buses that travel on these roads. The Israeli government’s policy of colour-coded I.D. cards and number plates to assign who is allowed on these roads is also in the favour of the settlers.

According to B’Tselem, Israel has created a system of separation, with two systems of law in the West Bank. In August 2012, an Israeli Egged bus driver refused to allow Palestinian passengers on board until ordered to do so by the police. He later forced them off the bus upon entrance to a settlement. While Palestinian citizens of Israel can officially travel on all forms of public transport, the on-the-ground situation and embedded racism presents a different reality.

Finally, the framing and endorsement behind the move legitimates status quo as 'normal.’. Palestinians riding the buses will now get far cheaper, calmer and less crowded journeys into work, providing an upgrade in their service, but at the price of being racially segregated. 

Co-option into this normality is one of Israel’s most powerful tools in controlling the occupation.

In this sense, the “goodwill gesture” is just another form of underhand policy to divide and alienate Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank. 

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