During the global protests known as “Israel Apartheid Week,” the Israeli government launched a segregated bus service, forcing Palestinians in the West Bank to travel only on buses designated to them
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Two new bus services were launched in Israel on March 4, separate bus services for Palestinians and for Jewish colonists in the West Bank.
Between late February and the end of March, Palestinian solidarity groups in campuses around the world commemorate the “Israel Apartheid Week”, a week of events to raise awareness to the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians by Israel and to demand equal rights.
In South Africa especially, it was noteworthy that the African National Congress Youth movement and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) both endors the event and join the protest against apartheid in Israel/Palestine.
Israeli officials deny the existence of apartheid, but surely an accusation by South Africans who have had firsthand experience with racial segregation cannot be easily dismissed.
And indeed, as if on cue, the Israeli Ministry of Transportation launched a new policy just as protestors around the world called to end apartheid in the area: separate bus lines for Jews and for Palestinians.
Over the past 20 years, the Israeli authorities developed a complex array of mechanisms to separate between the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the illegal Israeli colonies. The Israeli colonists, nearly all of them Jewish, command approximately 70 percent of the West Bank, although they are less than a fifth of the West Bank’s population.
Such mechanisms include checkpoints, special roads for the colonists on which Palestinians are not allowed to travel, the Wall of Separation, and numerous fences and obstacles.
SOLDIER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It’s forbidden. Go from here.
MAN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But from here it’s easier.
SOLDIER: This is for Jews here. Only for Jews.
MAN: And there it’s only for Arabs?
SOLDIER: Exactly. Get going.
HEVER: In November 2011, Palestinians launched the “freedom Riders” Initiative in protest of the separation. Palestinians insisted on riding in buses in the West Bank. There is no official legal restriction preventing Palestinians from using the public transportation services, but in practice, bus drivers tend to drive past the bus stations if they see that Palestinians are standing there waiting for the bus.
Because Palestinians are not allowed to approach the colonies, they have to make the trek on foot to a few stations placed outside the colonies. The colonists usually use the bus stations inside the colonies, and so the bus drivers can drive past Palestinians if they wish.
But over 30,000 Palestinian workers who are employed inside Israel have no choice but to keep trying. They take the hours-long journey into Israel and back every day in order to make a living, because the job market in the West Bank is plagued by high unemployment.
In the past decade there was no case in which Palestinian passengers attacked the colonist passengers, and yet colonists continued to send complaints that they have to share the bus with Palestinian passengers. These complaints increased after the “Freedom Riders” Initiative.
One colonist wrote that “On the buses there are more terrorists than Jewish residents, and they all attack the poor driver.” Another wrote, “I can’t go visit my parents in Ariel because I’m afraid.”” “The buses are full of Arabs,” added a third. “There are many monkeys in the bus”,” wrote a fourth.
Israel Katz, Israel’s minister of transportation, responded to these racist remarks by launching new bus lines for “Palestinians only.” At the same time, soldiers were instructed to take every Palestinian they find on a normal bus off of the bus and put them onto separate Palestinian-only buses.
An added benefit of the separation for the Israeli occupation policies is that the Palestinian-only buses can be stopped at checkpoints, and all the passengers can be required to undergo prolonged and humiliating security checks, all this without delaying the regular buses, which can drive past without delay, carrying the privileged colonists to their destination.
Unlike the apartheid regime in South Africa, Israeli apartheid policies are more concealed. No law exists which prevents Palestinians from taking buses inside the West Bank, but the soldiers have clear instructions not to allow them.
An Israeli couple challenged the ethnic separation by getting on the Palestinian-only bus inside Israel. The driver tried to prevent them from getting on the bus, but admitted that he had no authority to prevent them from taking the bus. However, he told the couple that after picking up Palestinian passengers, he is not allowed to make any stops until he reaches the occupied Palestinian territory.
A few critical comments made in the world media about the apartheid buses have been covered by the Israeli press, which raised some concern that such overt discriminatory policies can hurt Israel’s image in the world.
The apartheid bus lines are operated by the Afikim company, which is a privately owned company operating in the occupied West Bank and serving the colonies. Two of the buses belonging to the company were set on fire on March 5 as they were parked during the night, possibly a retaliation for the humiliating segregated bus lines.
This is Shir Hever for the Real News.
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