Israel is launching Palestinian only bus lines that will ferry Palestinian workers from the West Bank to Israel. The service is aimed at encouraging the workers to us it instead of traveling with Israeli settlers on a similar route.
While anyone can use the buses officially, the ministry of transport has said that the new lines were created to better serve Palestinians.
The new services will be operated by Afikim and have allegedly only been advertised in Arabic. Information about them has also only been distributed in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, according to reports.
The Guardian reports that the ministry released a statement about the new lines in an Israeli newspaper, saying:
“The new lines are not separate lines for Palestinians but rather two designated lines meant to improve the services offered to Palestinian workers to enter Israel through Eyal Crossing.”
There were also statements made that Palestinians pose a security threat, because of frequent conflicts between the two sides. The “mixed” buses are also overcrowded.
But despite the assurances, Palestinians and critics of Israel are not so sure, notes Russia Today. Jessica Montell, executive director for Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, stated:
“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.”
There have been comparisons of the new Palestinian bus lines with segregation in the United States, as well as apartheid in South Africa. The notion of “separate but equal” bus lines has frustrated many Palestinians and human rights groups, though bus drivers along the route admit the change is inevitable.
One driver that works for Afikim stated:
“We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus, but from what we were told, starting next week, there will be checks a the checkpoint, and Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses.”
The transport ministry continued to assure that the new separate bus lines will “benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike.” The ministry added that it is against the law to prevent any passenger from boarding a bus. However, Israeli civil rights groups say that this is not true in practice.
Checkpoint Watch, one of the civil rights groups, monitors how the army treats Palestinians at checkpoints. The group has noted recent incidents where Palestinians were ejected from buses and told they weren’t allowed to be on them. Some Palestinian activists were also arrested in 2011 after they boarded Israeli buses in protest of segregation.
The conflict has subsided somewhat between Israel and the Palestinians, though the two groups are still tense. Israel launched an offensive against the West Bank last year after enduring several rockets landing in their land. Tensions also arose when the United Nations officially recognized Palestine as a non-member state.
There is no word on what the Palestinian response will be to the alleged attempt at segregating bus lines in the West Bank.
Do you think that the new Palestinian bus lines are an attempt at segregation, or are they meant as a way to cure the overcrowding on current lines?