Robert Mackey
The New York Times
March 4, 2013 - 1:00am

Israel’s transportation ministry introduced Monday what it billed as improved service for nearly 30,000 Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and commute to work daily in Israel: two new bus lines “designated” for their use.

Israeli rights groups, however, denounced the move as the de facto segregation of public transportation in response to pressure from Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank but are unhappy about sharing buses with their Palestinian neighbors.

“Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” the director of the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Jessica Montell, told Israel’s Army Radio. Although settler leaders endorsed the plan to provide separate buses for Palestinians as necessary to prevent crowding and assuage fears of suicide bombers, Ms. Montell said: “This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.”

Under the headline “Separate but Equal Bus Lines?,” the Tel Aviv daily Yedioth Ahronoth noted that Israeli activists from the group Peace Now heard echoes of the segregated public services for African-Americans in the 1950s in the plan. “The decision to separate bus lines in the territories is shocking and turns racism into the norm,” the activists said. “A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed to insist upon sitting on Jewish bus lines.”

The newspaper also reported that the transportation minister, Yisrael Katz, denied that the new bus lines mandated segregation because “Palestinians entering Israel will be able to ride on all public transportation lines, including all those already existing in the West Bank.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in November that the ministry might add new bus lines for Palestinians after a spate of reports that even residents of the occupied territories who had cleared rigorous security checks to obtain permits to enter Israel were being denied boarding by Israeli drivers or removed from buses by police officers in response to complaints from settlers.

Last October, one Israeli bus driver was caught on video refusing to allow a Palestinian man with a permit to work in Israel to board a bus, used by Israeli settlers, from Tel Aviv to the West Bank.

Despite assurances from Israeli officials that Palestinians would not be barred from buses used by settlers, rights groups said that such orders were already being routinely issued. On Thursday, Haaretz published an account of one recent incident, recorded in the notes of an Israeli rights monitor at a West Bank checkpoint who wrote:

Police officer Advanced Staff Sergeant Major Shai Zecharia stops the bus at the bus stop. Soldiers order all the Palestinians off the bus. The first thing they do is collect all their identity cards as they get off. One by one, the Palestinians are told to go away from the bus stop and walk to the Azzun Atma checkpoint, which is about 2.5 kilometers [1.5 miles] away from the Shaar Shomron interchange. All of them responded with restraint and sadness, at most asking why. Here and there they received answers such as, “You’re not allowed on Highway 5,” and “You’re not allowed on public transportation.”

Reuters reported on Monday that a police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, “said all Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution.”

The dispute over the new bus lines also illustrated the fact that Palestinians with work permits are allowed to travel freely inside Israel but are prohibited from entering Israeli settlements near their homes in the West Bank, where they endure a range of restrictions on their movement imposed by the Israeli military, which administers the occupied territories.

Commenting on the uproar over the separate bus lines, Yousef Munayyer, the director of the Palestine Center in Washington, suggested that it was strange that the issue had attracted so much attention, given that Palestinians have lived under Israeli military rule for almost five decades.


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