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‘You’re not allowed to use public transportation at all’: A report from Israel’s segregated buses

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Palestinian workers with Israeli work permit wait in line to broad a Palestinian-only bus after crossing the Eyal checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Qalqilya, March 4, 2012.
(Photo: Oren Ziv/

Editor’s Note: The following report is from February 28, 2013. Although it was reported that Israel would begin segregating bus service in the West Bank starting March 4, the practice has been in effect for much longer. Yeshua-Lyth explained in an email: “The practice of banning Palestinians from public buses has been in evidence for months. News of plans for ‘Palestinian only’ buses were in the Israeli press already in November. It seems that the coercing and harassment have the purpose of ‘educating’ Palestinians about the way to choose public transport. The announcement yesterday coincided with my Thursday report by coincidence, or perhaps it was rushed following the considerable uproar this report has managed to create. I have been listening to blatant lies on Israeli radio about the new buses being a ‘helpful measure’ for the workers all day yesterday. The fact remains that public transport is a system based on a grid serving people who should be able to choose their own routes. If you live in London you do not wish to be allowed on buses from Paddington to Oxford only..”

1 March 2013

I arrived at 4 PM at the bus terminal (near what is called the “Shomron Gate Junction”). Until five it looked like nothing was going to happen. Blessed boredom. Travellers get on and get off, including some who look like Palestinians. A military vehicle behind the bus honked with pointless violence and suddenly activated a siren, surely that was nothing more than the simple boorishness of the soldiers who are the lords of the land.

At five o’clock sharp the action begins: a policeman, First Sergeant Shai Zecharia, portentiously boards Bus 286, which is stopped at the station. Soldiers order all the Palestinians to get off. Right away they collect their ID cards upon their exit from the bus. That way they can’t go anywhere until they get permission. Nearly thirty workers, ages 30-50, obediently file out. The soldier/officer roars: “Udrub!” (Move!) And then: “Sit on your butts! On your butts!” They are then marched to the terminal fence and made to stand along it in a line, then to sit on the cold ground and wait. The soldiers check the green IDs (Arabic: hawwiye) and demand to see their “tasrih” (work permits). A lucky few get their IDs back and board another bus – complaining only about having to pay twice for the same trip. But our forces immediately block this channel: one by one the workers are told to leave the terminal and walk to the Azoun-Atme checkpoint, 2.5 kilometres from the Shomron Gate junction. By now it’s cold; the sun has set. Most of them got up at three in the morning for the trip to work. Their homes are only a few kilometres from nearby Ariel. All they ask is to be allowed to ride the bus for another two or three stops. They paid for the trip. And by the way, a “tasrih” costs 8,000 shekels. You have to work hard to cover that sum before you earn your first shekel.

IMG 1135
(Photo: Ofra Yeshua-Lyth)

The soldiers nabbed four workers who had dared to work without a “tasrih”. The short one venomously says, “They can spend some time in the Yoav fortress.” Then the next consignment arrives, about another 25 workers. The armed and heroic little guy is soon shoving them with both hands. The procedure is repeated: “Udrub”, on your butts, hawiyye, tasrih. Now move it to Azoun-Atme. Within half an hour about eighty men have been subjected to this humiliation by a few armed soldiers and one policeman. They all responded with restraint and dismay, at most asking the obvious questions and now and then getting enlightening replies, such as:

“You’re not allowed to be on Highway 5.” At long last: official confirmation that there are apartheid highways in Israel, despite all the denials.

“You’re not allowed to use public transportation at all.”

First Sergeant Zecharia provided the following crucial information to one of the older Palestinians: It’s better to travel in the special vans and not in Israeli buses. Palestinians claim that there has been an unwritten commercial alliance between some in the security forces and the Bedouins who operate the vans, which cost five times as much as the buses for short trips. For a trip of a few minutes, each one of them pays one or two hour’s wages.

I should note that the First Sergeant answered my questions as the law requires when I asked his name and rank, but he immediately declared that my questions were “causing agitation” and that “pretty soon” I too would find myself spending a few hours in the nearby police station.

On the way back, via the Ayalon Highway, my heart goes out to the thousands of Israelis who are delayed on the way home in Thursday evening traffic jams.

Questions and thoughts:

How many hundreds of Palestinians gone through this permanent institutionalized harassment this evening, at the end of a work week during which they cleaned, built, plastered and paved our Homeland?

What is the idea behind this harassment? How is it that workers represent no “security risk” in Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion from morning to evening, but their presence on a bus on the way home is a matter that requires the armed intervention of the soldiers of the “Israel Defence Force”?

Should not those who are constantly warning us that the Third Intifada will break out any moment have an interest in obedient and industrious workers being allowed to get home in peace? (Incidentally, I have heard this observation from the workers, who may be poor but are by no means stupid)

And furthermore: when a woman is told to “sit in the back” of a bus full of Haredim, Israeli society responds with anger and revulsion and we demand that the instigators of this obscurantist discrimination be stopped. But Palestinian workers are forbidden to travel in “our” buses – even in the back, and standing. And that is quite all right legally – unless something is very, very wrong with the law.

How fitting it is this evening to excoriate the unknown judge who beat his unfortunate children, and the judicial system that did not deal with him severely. Because, as everybody knows, civilization, progress, human rights, the rights of the child and equality before the law are our guiding principles.

Happy Apartheid Week to *all* of you!

This post originally appeared on Facebook. It has been translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall

Ofra Yeshua-Lyth

Ofra Yeshua-Lyth (b: 1950) Born and raised in Israel as a Zionist, Ofra served in the public relations department of the Israeli army. She was also a correspondent for what used to be Israel's second largest newspaper Maariv in Germany and in the US. Her book "Politically Incorrect: Why a Jewish State Is a Bad Idea"(2016) is an English version of a Hebrew book first published in 2004. A French version was published in 2018.

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32 Responses

  1. seafoid on March 5, 2013, 8:40 am

    You’re not allowed to be on Highway 5.” At long last: official confirmation that there are apartheid highways in Israel, despite all the denials.

    “You’re not allowed to use public transportation at all.”

    27.Not to stand by idly when a human life is in danger (Lev. 19:16) (CCN82). See Love and Brotherhood.
    28.Not to wrong any one in speech (Lev. 25:17) (CCN48). See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
    29.Not to carry tales (Lev. 19:16) (CCN77). See Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra.
    30.Not to cherish hatred in one’s heart (Lev. 19:17) (CCN78). See Love and Brotherhood.
    31.Not to take revenge (Lev. 19:18) (CCN80).
    32.Not to bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18) (CCN81).

    53.To love the stranger (Deut. 10:19) (CCA61). See Love and Brotherhood.
    54.Not to wrong the stranger in speech (Ex. 22:20) (CCN49).
    55.Not to wrong the stranger in buying or selling (Ex. 22:20) (CCN50).
    84.Not to delay payment of a hired man’s wages (Lev. 19:13) (CCN38).
    185.That the hired laborer shall be permitted to eat of the produce he is reaping (Deut. 23:25-26)

    280.Not to rob by violence (Lev. 19:13) (CCN35).
    281.Not to defraud (Lev. 19:13) (CCN37).
    282.Not to covet what belongs to another (Ex. 20:14) (CCN40).
    283.Not to crave something that belongs to another (Deut. 5:18) (CCN41).
    284.Not to indulge in evil thoughts and sights (Num. 15:39) (CCN156

    319.Not to bow down to an idol, even if that is not its mode of worship (Ex. 20:5) (CCN11).
    320.Not to prophesy in the name of an idol (Ex. 23:13; Deut. 18:20) (CCN27).
    321.Not to hearken to one who prophesies in the name of an idol (Deut. 13:4) (CCN22).
    322.Not to lead the children of Israel astray to idolatry (Ex. 23:13) (CCN14).
    323.Not to entice an Israelite to idolatry (Deut. 13:12) (CCN23).

    • Eva Smagacz on March 5, 2013, 11:40 am


      What does Torah has to do with Palestinians? What is practiced in Israel imbueds Jewish population with justice and morality exclusively, while everybody knows (sarcasm alert) that Gentiles, like the rest of animal kingdom, have no souls.

      • annie on March 5, 2013, 4:24 pm

        ah, it may be practiced by the state that way eva but i don’t think it speaks of all the people. it would be hard to be a human rights advocate and accept that. i’ve gotta believe there’s some good people there.

      • Eva Smagacz on March 5, 2013, 10:13 pm

        Annie, I know and agree – in every society there is a silent component that acts well, or indifferent, or evil depending on which way the wind is blowing.
        There is also a core of social and political thinkers and writers that are the leaders of new intelectual movements. Each country has them. Some pay a big price for their stance. These people are in Israel as well.

      • seafoid on March 6, 2013, 8:11 am

        There are rabbis as well who don’t agree with the system. Teachers and thinkers and mothers and fathers too. But the system is so dominant.

    • amigo on March 5, 2013, 11:55 am


      280.Not to rob by violence (Lev. 19:13) (CCN35).
      281.Not to defraud (Lev. 19:13) (CCN37).
      282.Not to covet what belongs to another (Ex. 20:14) (CCN40).
      283.Not to crave something that belongs to another (Deut. 5:18) (CCN41).

      These 4 stick right out.

      • seafoid on March 5, 2013, 4:22 pm

        The Mitzvot about idolatry are also very relevant. The Land is like an idol now. The way Netanyahu talks about it. Real golden calf style.

        The Mitzvot make sense mostly but in Erez Israel they are a licence to kill. It’s very sad. Thousands of years of living as well as possible and 3 generations of madness.

        It’s all upside down. There must be rabbis who can see what is happening.

      • American on March 6, 2013, 3:01 am

        “There must be rabbis who can see what is happening.”…seafoid

        I wouldn’t count on the rabbis if I were you , they’re over at AIPAC.


        David Kaufman
        In 2004 there were about a dozen rabbis at AIPAC. In 2013 there are 400. I was here in 2004 and have been here every year since #aipac2013

  2. justicewillprevail on March 5, 2013, 9:28 am

    Psychological harassment and public humiliation – a deliberate and long lasting policy of Israel towards Palestinians. And getting teenage conscripts to apply this cruelty is a suitable rite of passage for these greenhorns which will stand them in good stead throughout their privileged lives.

    Of course the hasbrats will try telling us it is not ‘official’ policy – here is another account:

    where Rachel Shabi concurs with this report, and dismisses any ‘official’ response that ‘technically’ there is no segregation.

    • seafoid on March 5, 2013, 11:07 am

      Shabi’s book about the Mizrahim is called “not the enemy” but many of the soldiers who run this odious and dehumanising system are Mizrahi.

    • MHughes976 on March 5, 2013, 3:19 pm

      Or they might say with that progressive figure Mr.Lapid that it would be nice to give the Palestinians their rights – not tteat them like slaves – but if that happened he would die. Them or us and all that.

  3. marc b. on March 5, 2013, 11:39 am

    looks like this story made the front page of NBC World News online.

  4. eljay on March 5, 2013, 11:58 am

    Time for the Zio-supremacist apologists to chime in and say it’s all necessary because, y’know, the Holocaust and suicide bombers in pizzerias and prayer-based “connections” to “next year in” Jerusalem and terrrrrrr and wiped off the map and self-(self-)determination and better than Saudia Arabia or Mali and Ahmadinejad and so on and so forth.

    But no mention of Zio-supremacist terrorism and ethnic cleansing; of the creation of an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State” in Palestine; of the Zio-supremacist state’s 60+ years, ON-GOING and offensive (i.e., not defensive) campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder; or of the Zio-supremacist state’s unwillingness to enter into sincere negotiations for a just and mutually-beneficial peace.

    Aggressor-victimhood is such a tough gig… :-(

  5. Kate on March 5, 2013, 12:46 pm

    Latest development on the segregated buses issue:

    Suspicion: Buses of company operating ‘Palestinian’ lines torched

    Following the uproar against its ‘Palestinian-only’ West Bank bus lines, two Afikim company buses caught fire on Monday night in Kfar Qassem.
    There were no reports of injury, and the police are investigating suspicions of arson.
    Due to the incident, the company’s drivers were asked to remove all buses from the Arab town, fearing similar occurrences in light of the protest against the new bus lines.
    On Monday morning, a riot broke out at the exit point of the Eyal crossing, adjacent to Qalqilya, after numerous Palestinian laborers could not get to work within the Green Line.
    They protested the fact that as of now, they must arrive at the crossing from far-off places in the West Bank since the new bus lines are their only means of entering central Israel….,7340,L-4352433,00.html

    • Avi_G. on March 6, 2013, 1:42 am

      Kate, though you’re not doing so, I’m certain many out there will jump to the conclusion that Palestinians torched these buses.

      Ynet seems to be implying guilt-by-proximity, not that the concept is anything new in Israeli society.

      The guilt-by-proximity is in reference to the buses being parked near or in the Palestinian town of Kufur Qassem (By the way, “kfar” is the Hebrew and Hebrewized name for this Palestinian town).

      Note: Kufur Qassem is west of the Green Line. It is a Palestinian town in Israel. It also happens to be the town in which Israeli forces massacred about 50 Arabs in 1956. That, however, is just an aside and bears no direct relevance to the issue at hand.

  6. Bumblebye on March 5, 2013, 1:01 pm

    Already two of the segregated buses got torched:

    “”Two buses were apparently set on fire but we are looking into all possibilities,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP news agency on Tuesday, saying the incident took place in the Arab-Israeli town of Kfar Qassem which lies very close to the Green Line.

    Police sources quoted by army radio said the buses had been torched as a protest against the new transportation system which came into effect on Monday.”

    • Avi_G. on March 6, 2013, 1:46 am

      Police sources quoted by army radio said the buses had been torched as a protest against the new transportation system which came into effect on Monday.

      It’s interesting that Israeli police ‘solved’ that crime within a few hours, but have so far shown an arcane inability to capture the culprits behind the attacks on the non-Jewish worker in Tel-Aviv and the mob attack on a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem, despite the attackers’ photos appearing all over the internet.

      So it begs the question, who did really torch those buses?

  7. Avi_G. on March 5, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Beside the obvious human rights violations that this article well-documents, the inevitable conclusion any reader should draw from this article is that there is no Green Line. The Line has been erased by Israel and the territory spanning from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River is now one, single state with Apartheid policies and practices.

    The only fault, here, however, is that this reality has been well-understood by Israelis for several years now. Non-Israeli Jews, as a group, will not acknowledge this reality for a while. The same community that sent would-be Prisoner X to serve in their beloved IDF, is the same community that lives in absolute denial of the realities on the ground.

    Jewish Nationalism.

    Myth vs. Reality.

    • Ecru on March 6, 2013, 4:43 am

      I don’t think I agree with you. Honestly I think most Non-Israeli Jews simply won’t openly admit in public that they know what’s going on.

      Pay attention to their triumphalism however and it soon becomes all too clear that many are not only aware, they happily condone everything Israel does. Seriously read some of the jokers on HuffPo for example and you come away with the idea they must masturbate to images and stories of Palestinian humiliation and only regret it’s not ALL “goys” under the IDF jackboot.

  8. Kathleen on March 5, 2013, 3:16 pm

    Looks like apartheid, walks like apartheid, because it is apartheid

    • pmb1414 on March 5, 2013, 5:21 pm

      You know it, I know it, so why do American taxpayers refuse to believe it?

      • Kathleen on March 6, 2013, 12:12 am

        One reason is so few of them access information outside of the MSM and they sure are not telling them the truth. But slowly but surely getting out there on the internet. Cspan’s Washington Journal.

      • Avi_G. on March 6, 2013, 1:49 am

        pmb1414 says:
        March 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        You know it, I know it, so why do American taxpayers refuse to believe it?

        American taxpayers will believe it the moment their own media stops lying to them and cease to serve the interests of a foreign state.

        In addition, Israel-firsters, Jews in particular, in the mainstream media will need to stop promulgating Hasbara.

  9. Woody Tanaka on March 5, 2013, 4:38 pm

    This story demonstrates the petty racism that proves that zionism is nothing more than an excuse for the torture and oppression of Palestinians.

  10. American on March 5, 2013, 6:20 pm

    I guess the next step might be requiring Palestine’s to wear green star arm bands like the nazis made the Jews wear yellow ones.
    Wonder when they’ll do that?
    Maybe we can get one of zionist on site to call Tel Aviv and suggest it.

    • a blah chick on March 5, 2013, 7:15 pm

      Wasn’t there a big blow up years ago when they were writing numbers on Palestinians prisoners’ arms? I seem to recall a big s**t storm about this and they stopped doing it.

      • American on March 6, 2013, 3:06 am

        I don’t know, I remember a big flap about Israelis tattooing themselves with concentration camps numbers like nazi Jewish prisoners ..which I thought was sick.

  11. a blah chick on March 5, 2013, 7:12 pm

    I ventured over to the Washington Post’s comment section on this story. The hasbarists are out in force defending their beloved Zion. The excuses/arguments are these:

    1. It’s for the benefit of the Palestinians.

    2. It’s a security issue.

    3. You people will criticize Israel no matter what they do.

    4. Any Jew who criticizes the buses is consumed with self-hatred, this includes the Shas party, the Metretz party and the editorial staff of Haaretz.

  12. Misterioso on March 5, 2013, 11:04 pm

    Ha’aretz, Feb. 26/13
    “As Lincoln abolished slavery, Israel must abolish occupation”
    by Bradley Burston

    “Occupation is Slavery”
    “In the name of occupation, generation after generation of Palestinians have been treated as property. They can be moved at will, shackled at will, tortured at will, have their families separated at will. They can be denied the right to vote, to own property, to meet or speak to family and friends. They can be hounded or even shot dead by their masters, who claim their position by biblical right, and also use them to build and work on the plantations the toilers cannot themselves ever hope to own. The masters dehumanize them, call them by the names of beasts.”

    “The day we went to see ‘Lincoln,’ headlines spoke of 15 Jewish youths nearly killing an Arab Israeli in Jaffa, bloodying his head and one eye with bottles and glass shards, sending him to hospital in serious condition. The victim was attacked as he re-filled his vehicle with water, in order to continue to clean their streets. His wife quoted the attackers as saying as they beat him, that Arabs were ‘trying to take over the country.’ ”

    Times of Israel February 21, 2013

    “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons.
    ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”


    “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in ISRAEL AND THE WEST BANK [my emphasis] today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.”

  13. Citizen on March 6, 2013, 7:27 am

    Since so many congress critters have received free trips to Israel, and some have gone multiple times, I wonder if any of them have ever witnessed these things. Have they ever gone to the WB and/or Gaza? Even near Gaza? Are they kept within a very guided and interpreted tour? Same for our honcho Christian Zionist leaders, and guys like Huckabee–he’s gone to Israel a dozen time, has his own cable TV show. I guess that’s a foolish, an ignorant question. I mean, I’d like to be inside their heads to watch how they mentally process being confronted, or even exposed to raw data. I imagine they look at the miserable Palestinians being treated like cattle, and immediately a stop sign pops up in their head, that says “Security,” or “God’s Will,” or “Chosen People At Work.”

  14. ramzijaber on March 6, 2013, 8:03 am

    From yesterday’s Haaretz Editorial:

    Occupied territory is meant to be managed by the occupying state as a temporary trust for the benefit of the local population. There are clear rules aimed at preventing the evolution of a colonial or apartheid regime. The way the State of Israel is managing the territories is a far cry from the way occupied lands are meant to be managed.

    Rather than express “concern” for the Palestinians by excluding them from Jewish bus lines, it would behoove the prime minister to immediately put a stop to this racist segregation.

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