For a country fighting allegations of racism and apartheid against its Arab citizens, introducing a “Palestinian-only” bus line for workers entering Israel from the West Bank may not be the smartest move.
The line came into operation Monday and immediately had Israeli human rights groups up in arms.
Zahava Gal-On, the leader of the leftist political party Meretz, demanded that the transport ministry “immediately cancel the segregated lines in the West Bank.”
“Separate bus lines for Palestinians prove that occupation and democracy cannot coexist,” she added.
Jessica Montell, director of the B’Tselem rights group, also criticized the move. “Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” she told Army Radio.
Palestinians with entry permits to work in central Israel must now all converge on one single crossing point, at Eyal near Qalqilya, where the new line operates, leading to delays.
A riot broke out Tuesday morning when Palestinians discovered there were not enough buses to take them all to their jobs in Israel.
According to Gal-On and other sources, the move follows pressure from Jewish settlers, who also cross from the West Bank into Israel to work, and who objected to sharing their buses with Palestinians.
Their reason: Fear that Palestinians could leave bombs on the buses and blow them up.
There are already roads on the West Bank that Arabs are not allowed to use — for security reasons according to the Israelis.
And while the rights groups agree that there are legitimate security concerns, they also claim that “security” is a cover-all concept that leads to blanket discrimination against Arabs.
One Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharanot, quoted an Israeli Peace Now activist as saying: “A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed to insist upon sitting on Jewish bus lines, (someone) who won’t surrender to discrimination.”
The bus firm, Afikim, responded that it would provide more buses to avoid rioting, while the transport ministry issued a statement pointing out that it “has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from traveling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria,” Israel’s way of describing the West Bank.
However, now that the “Palestinian-only” line exists, rights groups worry that Arabs will be turned away from other buses.
The bottom line is that what may or may not be a legitimate security concern has been turned by bureaucrats into another weapon for Israel’s critics.
Martin Fletcher is the author of “The List,””Breaking News” and “Walking Israel.”