Yesterday, Israel launched two new Palestinian-only bus lines travelling between the West Bank and Tel Aviv. The Afikim bus company running the new service requires Palestinians to board and exit buses at border crossings in order to prevent them from travelling with Jewish passengers – something many people have said sounds a lot like segregation-era USA. The changes come as a result of Israeli settlers complaining about Palestinians riding the same buses as them to work.
"Since we ride buses with Arabs every day in Israel, it’s not a racist thing but for some strange reason, Arabs blow themselves up in buses and Israelis find that very unnerving," said Yisrael Maidad, proving that Israeli right-wingers aren't totally allergic to lulz.
Officials at the Israeli Ministry of Transport (IMT) have decided to ignore the claims that the bus line is a segregated service, instead claiming that it's an improvement for the Palestinians. Their argument is that currently Palestinians are either travelling around Israel in crowded and unsafe private vans, or overpriced unofficial buses. In a statement, they said, "The new lines are not separate lines for Palestinians but rather two designated lines meant to improve the services offered to Palestinian workers who enter Israel through Eyal Crossing."
Unsurprisingly, many are unconvinced. Especially since 29,000 Palestinians commute to Israel every day and there's only been one bus bomb in the last six and a half years. That came after Israel had spent eight days launching rockets into Gaza last November.
Israeli activist and journalist, Leehee Rothschild, explained her take on the bus service to me: “While Israel tries to make us think that this forced separation is meant to benefit the Palestinians, it can no longer mask the fact that it uses apartheid measures under an apartheid regime. It is apartheid because these segregated buses come as a result of demands by Israeli passengers who refuse to share spaces with Palestinians. It is apartheid because these buses leave and return to the military checkpoint, forcing their passengers to cover long distances by foot in order to reach them.”
Zahava Gal-On, Chairwoman of the centre-left Israeli party Meretz, explained her take on the situation in the wider context of relations between Palestine and Israel: “Separate bus lines for Palestinians prove that occupation and democracy cannot coexist."
Israeli law states that Palestinians with entry permits into Israel are legally entitled to use public transport, and police in the West Bank have maintained that that's the case. However, various Israeli bus drivers have since told local publications that Palestinians boarding buses used by Israelis will be asked to leave. Mind you, that's nothing new – there have been plenty of cases in the past where police have ordered Palestinians off Israeli buses.
Some have argued that this latest headline-snatcher overshadows the already pre-existing de facto bus segregation in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank. As it stands, many of the buses in the West Bank pass through Jewish settlements, to which Palestinian entry is prohibited by military decree. There are essentially two bus services operating in Jerusalem, and while they're not legally segregated, they are, in practice, racially divided.
Despite concerted efforts by Israel to appear unified and progressive, this latest official change to its transport network further reveals a society that is anything but.
More happy stories from the West Bank:
Watch - Catastrophe Day in the West Bank
Watch - Resistance in the West Bank