Segregation claims over Palestinian-only buses
Israel has been accused of encouraging racial segregation after a new Palestinian-only bus service was launched following objections by Jewish settlers who claimed Arab passengers were "a security risk".
From today, Palestinians travelling to day jobs into central Israel from the West Bank will be urged to board special buses at a checkpoint instead of the regular services used by Israelis.
The scheme was drawn up by the Israeli transport ministry after residents in two Jewish settlements complained that Palestinians travellers on the Trans-Samaria road – also known as Highway 5 – between the West Bank and Tel Aviv were a potential threat. There were also reports of overcrowding and fights between Israeli and Palestinian passengers.
The transport ministry insisted the move was "designed to improve the service for Palestinians entering Israel".
But some human rights groups called it "blatant racism" that resembled South African-style apartheid.
"They are institutionalising segregated services for Jews and non-Jews," said Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, an activist with Women For Civil Disobedience, an Israeli-Palestinian campaign group. "Many people don't class the Israeli situation as apartheid because for a long time, Israel refrained from the characteristics of petty apartheid, like separate roads, cafes and buses. This bus situation is a step in the direction of petty apartheid because people are being segregated in their daily activities."
Avner Ovadia, a transport ministry spokesperson, said there was no official ban on Palestinian workers travelling on public buses.
"Furthermore, the transport ministry is not authorised to stop any passenger travelling on these bus routes," he said.
But drivers with the Afikim bus company, which operates the Trans-Samaria route, said Palestinians attempting to use the regular services would be pointed towards a different bus.
"We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus, but from what we were told ... there will be checks at the checkpoint, and Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses," one driver told reporters.
Yirsael Maidad, a spokesman for the Jewish Settlers Council, said Israelis felt justified because of Israel's experience with suicide bombers. "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," he said.
"If you were to ask some young radical, he would say forcing Arabs to ride Israeli buses would be a form of colonialism. Having their own buses should be very much welcomed as part of a state-building process." (© Daily Telegraph, London)