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Shir Hever, economist at the Alternative Information Center, says segregation begins five seconds after disembarking in Israel and there is blatant racism of various kinds isolating Arabs

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Last week, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was forced to instruct his defense minister to shelve a project segregating the bus lines for Palestinians and Israeli settlers due to heavy condemnation from several Israeli politicians, as well as human rights organizations. Nevertheless, racial profiling and discriminatory inspections at checkpoints, airports, and bus terminals remain normalized in Israeli society under the banner of security. Here to discuss this with us is Shir Hever. He recently returned from Israel, but today he is joining us from Göttingen, Germany. He, as you know, is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. Shir, as always, thank you so much for joining us. SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: Shir, you just recently returned to Israel after a few years. When you return in this way, certain things stand out upon your return. What did you observe? HEVER: I think when somebody enters Israel, it takes exactly five seconds to see the first manifestation of apartheid. As soon as you leave the airplane, you see there are security guards with shiny vests who pick from the people leaving the aircraft people who seem like young foreigners–the highest-risk group for political activists who might be coming to Israel-Palestine in order to protest. And they are immediately taken aside and interrogated by these security cards, while the rest of the passengers can just walk by. That’s the first instance that you see, only five seconds after disembarking from the plane, how apartheid is being implemented in Israel. But that is actually not very new. This policy’s been in place for about ten years now. What is interesting is how many of the segregation policies that were implemented on the street level, on day-to-day lives of Israelis, have been rolled back a bit in a way that doesn’t affect the entire population but focuses specifically on people that look like they might be Arabs, people with dark skin. And that’s something that you see very clearly in the central bus terminal of Jerusalem, Israel’s biggest city. The central bus terminal is one of the most fortified locations in Israel. It has airport-level security, where people just wanting to take the bus have to have their luggage scanned by machines, and they have to be inspected individually by the security guards. But now all the security guards stand on the side and just look at the people coming into the building. And if these people look like they have dark skin, like they might be Palestinians, they’re taken aside, and they have to go through all the scans and show their documents. But people who don’t look like that are just waved through. Now, this is something that has been called, in apartheid South Africa, small apartheid. There’s been a very interesting article just the other day by an Israeli jurist that mentioned this distinction between small apartheid and big apartheid in South Africa, where the small apartheid is what you see, like segregated benches, separate water fountains, that sort of thing, while the big apartheid is the segregation in human rights and in the freedom of movement, that that’s actually much more significant. What we saw with the minister of defense decision to have segregated bus lines so that Palestinians would not be allowed to get on the same bus as Israelis–when I say Israelis, I should be a bit more clear. We’re talking about colonists in the illegal colonies in the West Bank. This regulation seems to make this small apartheid, where you have segregation on the daily life, too much to bear. And you said before, this policy was canceled because of pressure by human rights organizations and by Israeli politicians. But in fact it’s not that there is a big outrage in the Israeli public against such blatant racism. The worry of these people who spoke up against this policy is how it would look to the rest of the world, how will the world react when this apartheid would become so visible. Well, it’s a bit absurd, because the apartheid is already completely visible. Anyone who visits Israel-Palestine will see it. You see it in Jerusalem. You see it in Tel Aviv. You see it on the street. You see it wherever you go. There is simply segregation between the different populations. Palestinians are not allowed to travel freely inside Israel, while Israelis have a lot of freedom of movement, and they can enter even into the West Bank and walk almost wherever–. PERIES: Shir, one of the things that The New York Times reported is that Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed to be surprised by the introduction of this pilot project, as they put it. And I was wondering whether this was in fact true, and also whether this is a result of having had to appoint the kind of people he’s had to in his cabinet as he took office. HEVER: Well, in the previous government, the same minister of defense has implemented the same policy. To say that Netanyahu is surprised is very unlikely, because he knew that his defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, has already tried to implement this policy once. And it failed precisely because of the same reason, because it was immediately covered by a lot of international newspapers and international news agencies, where they said, well, this is obviously apartheid; segregation based on race and ethnicity is something that maybe should not exist anymore in modern society; and they had to scuttle the project. The pressure to come forward with this kind of project comes from the right-wing organizations representing the colonists in the West Bank. They are claiming that the mere presence of Palestinians on the bus is a threat to their security, is making their bus ride uncomfortable or unpleasant, and they want the Palestinians out of their sight. Moshe Ya’alon, the minister of defense, was simply acquiescent to their pressure. And this is the second time he’s doing that. And I think he believed that after the recent elections, the Israeli government is now more right-wing, the Israeli public has given a vote of confidence to the extreme right in Israel, so that the public will be willing to accept this policy, which almost passed already in the previous government. But I think Moshe Ya’alon himself is a bit of an odd character here, because he himself is not part of those colonist organizations. The colonist organizations want to have segregation in the buses, but they want to have it everywhere. They want to say that all of what they call Israel, which includes all the occupied territory, which includes all of Palestine, they want to say all of this belongs to Jews and only to Jews, and Palestinians should be only tolerated under extreme security conditions. And yet Moshe Ya’alon, however, made a statement defending his policy in which he said, why is it so strange that Israel wants to have security checks for people entering its borders like any other country would want to check people entering its borders? His statement, which he gave to The Jerusalem Post, was very surprising because he tacitly admitted that the Palestinian territory in the West Bank is not part of Israel. And that’s something that the colonists who pushed for this policy certainly didn’t want to happen. And I think Netanyahu didn’t want this kind of statement either. PERIES: Now, finally, does this have anything to do with the European minister for foreign affairs arriving in Israel? By this I mean the way in which Netanyahu has dealt with this in asking for it to be retracted. HEVER: Well, Netanyahu is certainly very good at political timing. He understands that in the European Union there’s been discussions brewing over implementing sanctions against Israel, trying to force Israel to recognize its obligations under international law and to make Israel accountable for the violations. But the European foreign ministers have said, we have to wait until the elections, we can’t be seen as if we are interfering in the political process in another country, so we will wait with all these discussions and all of these possible sanctions. Now the elections are over. There’s a new government–it has just been approved. And there’s nothing to keep the European Union from pushing forward its policy. And Netanyahu doesn’t want this particular moment to be marred with very obvious and shocking violations of human rights. PERIES: Shir Hever, thank you so much for joining us today. HEVER: Thanks, Sharmini, for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.