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Netanyahu cancels controversial ‘apartheid’ buses plan, but there have been segregated West Bank buses for years

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Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu axed a plan that would segregate buses between Palestinian and Israeli riders in the West Bank, however, since 2013 Israel has already had in place a segregated line that transports Palestinian workers into Israel. The reason? Settlers did not want to ride with Palestinians. And canceling that route was not debated as high-ranking Israeli officials showed outrage over the Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s three-month pilot plan to add separated routes.

President Reuven Rivlin said the new program caused “unthinkable separation” and opposition leader Issac Herzog said it was “an unnecessary humiliation, and a stain on the face of the state and its citizens.” Leader of the far-left Meretz party Zahava Gal-On posted an image on Facebook of racially segregated restroom signs where one read “whites” and another, “non-whites.”

Screenshot of Zahava Gal-On's Facebook page.

Screenshot of Zahava Gal-On’s Facebook page.

Yet two years ago Israel’s ministry of transportation and the Afikim company established buses for Palestinian laborers only, even through at the time the Israeli military stated the Palestinian workers posed no threat to Israeli passengers. Segregation for the purpose of security is legal under Israeli law, but discrimination is not. The army referenced that all Palestinian workers with entry permits to Israel undergo stringent background checks. Moreover Palestinians laborers are allowed to ride any bus once inside of Israel.

The segregated buses depart from the Eyal Crossing, a northern West Bank checkpoint where Israelis are not allowed to pass. Once boarded, Palestinian workers zip to a series of mid-size Israeli cities on route to a turnaround point in Tel Aviv.

When the bus launched critics decried it as segregated, yet the ministry of transportation insisted the line was for general use. Even so the boarding area is closed to Israeli citizens. Only Palestinian workers with permits can reach the bus stop.

Within the first month the “workers only” bus launched, I attempted to board it at the first drop off point inside of Israel. Chasing down the green and white vehicle outside of Kfar Saba’s central bus station, the driver told me I could not ride. He said it was for Palestinian workers only. For everyone else it was “forbidden.” At the time I reached Afikim to confirm if Israelis and non-Palestinians are banned. They did provide a comment.

During those first weeks the workers-only route opened Palestinian passengers told me they preferred the new line. This was not because they were keen to ride without Israelis next to them. In informal conversations workers told me the segregated bus was cheaper and around 45 minutes quicker than other forms of transportation departing from the same area. Haaretz calculated the tickets were a fourth of the cost.

Conversely, the settler group that lobbied for the most recent segregated bus progam did so because they said, they did not want to ride with Palestinians. Haaretz discovered a 2013 transcript of the government meeting where they made their request. Settlers cited minor instances such as when a Palestinian refused to give up a seat for an elderly Israeli passenger. Councilmen from the Karnei Shomron settlement Yigal Lahav claimed for Palestinians, riding with Israelis was a “double victory” because:

“[F]or the Arab, first, in terms of the convenience and the cost of the ticket. And second, I think that it’s a kind of victory over the Jewish occupier – that he can just do as he pleases on the bus. As soon as he gets on, he’s won because he controls the bus of the Jews. And the third, and worst, thing is he gets to ride with Jewish girls. I’m telling you, it’s just a matter of time before it ends with someone getting killed.”

When then Justice Minister Tzipi Livni read the meeting minutes published in Haaretz last October, she said the proposal looked as though it was for “apartheid” buses.

“I read the transcripts of what was said in that Knesset committee. It’s intolerable, the claims that they [the settlers] need their own buses, because one [Palestinian] didn’t get up for a woman or an elderly person, and another wasn’t nice to them. This is apartheid!” Livni said.

“[I]f we’re talking about settler pressure, that it’s not convenient or pleasant for them in the very places they sought to live, where there are Palestinians – that’s something I find unacceptable, and I’ll work against it. This is discrimination that’s forbidden by Israeli law,” she added.

Presently Palestinian workers return to Israel by whatever method they want: riding in private cars, taxis, Palestinian owned bus lines, or Israeli bus companies. Although most do not use Israeli buses. There are a myriad of reasons why they are pushed into separate transit systems. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Israelis and Palestinians live in different communities, administered under separate laws; there are no mixed localities in the West Bank. Often settlers reside in gated towns where a Palestinian would need a special permit in order to enter. Likewise it is illegal under Israeli law for Israelis to enter Area A of the West Bank, an Oslo delineated region that encompasses every major Palestinian city, and is under the security and civilian control of the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, a Palestinian using an Israeli bus in the West Bank is faced with many challenges. If a line runs through multiple settlements, unless he were to have entry permits for each of the cities, he could not board. Similarly an Israeli is not allowed not ride a Palestinian bus that makes any stops inside of Area A of the West Bank.

In response there are two bus lines in place for decades in the areas of the West Bank closest to Jerusalem: one Palestinian operated out of East Jerusalem and one Israeli. The Palestinian buses pick up from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and then head into Israel. The Israeli buses pick up from the settlements and then head into Israel. They do not service Palestinian towns in the West Bank or the East Jerusalem neighborhoods on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. And so, even without a blanket law of segregation, the routes that are in place leave little room for intermixing.

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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21 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    May 21, 2015, 10:29 am

    I have to say that reading the settlers’ justifications for why the untermensch need to be separated has made for lively entertainment. At first they raise the specter of SECURITY! but very quickly the real reasons come out. One man said the buses were needed because his pregnant wife got on one and none of the Arab men would give her a seat! Another man was concerned about all the reckless eyeballing (I love that phrase) of young innocent Jewish women. Who knows where that will lead? First you let them ride the buses next thing you know they’re shacked up with your daughter in a secret apartment in Netanya! Then there was the women who was upset because two Palestinian dudes on a bus were laughing at her in Arabic. Well, she doesn’t speak Arabic but she’s pretty sure that is what they were doing.


    • Citizen
      May 21, 2015, 11:19 am

      What’s pathetic is US taxpayers pay for this stuff & are unaware–compare how the US main media supported the Civil Rights movement here.

    • bryan
      May 21, 2015, 3:10 pm

      Sounds like another one of these existential threats to me. Unless you can reserve seats next to a couple of gays from Tel Aviv, you either risk sitting near to couple of guys who might be speaking Arabic (one of the official languages of Israel) or near to a couple of Orthodox Jews who will be enormously anxious that you might be menstruating. Is life that complicated in Israel, or have other countries simply found ways of addressing these life-threatening situations?

  2. ckg
    May 21, 2015, 11:24 am

    I posted this NPR discussion on a different thread after Boomer mentioned it:


    NPR’s Robert Siegel talks to Lahav Harkov, Knesset reporter for the Jerusalem Post, about the politics around a plan to require Palestinian laborers from the West Bank to ride Palestinian-only buses.
    SIEGEL: This is a case of Palestinians who have jobs in Israel going home in the same bus on the West Bank as settlers. How common is that degree of closeness between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors? I thought the highways even were separated on the West Bank.

    HARKOV: Well, it’s interesting. There are highways that Israelis can’t go on, but there aren’t really highways that Palestinians can’t go on. So the separation is usually the opposite of what people might think it would be…

    Siegel, of course, did not challenge her.

  3. Marnie
    May 21, 2015, 1:02 pm

    This fear of losing their women to Palestinian men or African men is nothing new. It’s probably the basis for most of the conflict here. It sure was the cause of thousands of lynchings in the United States and the reason that segregation lasted as long as it did. Why does everyone have to suffer because of the inferiority complexes of some white guys? And there are plenty of Jewish women who are looking at Palestinian men with a lot of interest and why not? Forbidden fruit is all the more tantalizing because it is forbidden. Lehava = Dumb ass men who can’t keep a woman happy.

    • amigo
      May 21, 2015, 1:52 pm

      “And there are plenty of Jewish women who are looking at Palestinian men with a lot of interest and why not? Forbidden fruit is all the more tantalizing because it is forbidden “Marnie

      Can,t have Jewish women in Israel discovering Palestinian men are just like any other men.It,s best that they continue to see Palestinian men as terrorists and wife beaters .Neither can these women be allowed to hear the other side of the story and learn just what Israel is all about.

      No sireee , the tribal secret must be kept within the sect and guarded at all costs.The narrative as presented over decades must not be watered down.Jews are better than anyone else and are chosen by God to be an example to the rest of us.

      Where and when did God,s plan go awry.Does he ever check in to see if his plan is working.

      • Marnie
        May 22, 2015, 4:18 am

        Amigo –
        This situation just reminds me of the US during the period from the end of the civil war until, well, now. From the book A Death in the Delta, The Story of Emmett Till by Stephen J. Whitfield: “Certainly the dread of miscegenation remained powerful. Not long after Till himself was born, Gunnar Myrdal published his landmark study, An American Dilemma. When he and his team of social scientists asked white southerners to choose among 6 categorities in gauging what they believed Blacks most wanted, first was “intermarriage and sex intercourse with whites”. (Among Blacks, incidentally, that category ranked last.) Continuing nevertheless to claim keen insight into the souls of Black folk, the author of You and Segregation (1955), Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia, conjectured with confidence that “The ultimate aim and goal of NAACP leaders in the present segregation fight is the complete intermingling of the races in housing, schools, churches, public parks, public swimming pools and even marriage”.

        a blah chick said it perfectly “It’s all about controlling the sexuality of Jewish women and Arab men”, as it was (is) in the United States, controlling the sexuality of white women and black men.

      • ziusudra
        May 22, 2015, 4:18 am

        Greetings amigo,
        …when & where did God’s plan go awry. Does he ever check in….

        He was forever mute, ne’er answering the supplications of anyone.

      • talknic
        May 22, 2015, 8:41 am

        @ amigo
        “Where and when did God,s plan go awry.Does he ever check in to see if his plan is working”

        Yes, he was at the Holocau …. hey wait a minute

      • eljay
        May 22, 2015, 9:34 am

        talknic, could you please tell me who performs that “O, Lord / O, God” song that’s part of your video? I found its “raw-ness” curiously captivating. Thanks.

      • talknic
        May 22, 2015, 12:10 pm

        @ eljay

        ” could you please tell me who performs that “O, Lord / O, God” song ..”

        Sorry, I promised not include credits for the same reason I use a pseudonym

      • eljay
        May 22, 2015, 6:34 pm

        || talknic: … Sorry, I promised not include credits for the same reason I use a pseudonym link to ||

        Understood. :-)

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick
      May 21, 2015, 7:57 pm

      Has Lahava ever addressed the issue of Jewish men swapping bodily fluids with gentiles? Aren’t most of the women in Israeli brothels gentile?

      It’s all about controlling the sexuality of Jewish women and Arab men.

      • talknic
        May 22, 2015, 8:48 am

        @ a blah chick “It’s all about controlling the sexuality of Jewish women and Arab men”

        A large number of Israeli Jews today are of Arabic descent. Strands of their DNA are woven deep into our Jewish Israeli fellows – See more at:

  4. amigo
    May 21, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Slightly off topic but,

    ” Obama: Netanyahu’s anti-Arab remarks likely to have foreign policy consequences
    President says because U.S. is close to Israel, Oval Office had to speak up about Israeli PM’s Election Day comments lest it lose credibility.

    The U.S. president made it clear during the interview with the American periodical on Tuesday that Netanyahu’s portrayal of Arab voters as “an invading force that might vote” is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy.”

    “When something like that happens, that has foreign policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” he said.

    Obama remarked in the interview that despite the confrontations with Netanyahu over the past number of years, most of the American Jewish community still voted for him in the 2012 presidential election.

    “What I also think is that there has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government,” he said. “So if you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.” Haaretz

    More very frank comments from Obama at !,

    No pay wall.

  5. amigo
    May 21, 2015, 5:10 pm

    From Haaretz –editorial.

    “But despite the fact that this insane decision has been iced, it’s clear that segregated buses are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath this visible tip lies an established policy of separation, anchored in the very foundations of Israel’s rule over the territories. This rule stipulates freedom of movement for Jews but restrictions for Palestinians; permits for houses only in specific communities, rather than an egalitarian permit system based on just and fair criteria; eligibility for social benefits and welfare services for one side only; dispossession of the other side from its lands; and of course, different legal systems for people who live in the same territory, including different court systems, different punishments and more. ” haaretz

    More at !

    No pay wall.

    • Boomer
      May 21, 2015, 8:23 pm

      amigo, thanks for the link to Haaretz:

      “Such injustices would not be viewed with understanding if they were directed at Jews anywhere in the world.”

      I don’t recall seeing an equally clear and cogent statement in any of the U.S. newspapers I read.

  6. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    May 22, 2015, 8:43 am

    It bears reminding that the plan has only been “suspended” not killed. Suspended like the Prawer plan which they are getting ready to restart.

  7. no.kidding
    May 22, 2015, 10:44 am

    I particularly enjoyed Ya’alon’s justification for the plan: “Every well functioning country…. has the right to check those who enter or leave it’s borders!”

    Presumably, then, the Palestinians will be carrying out similar checks on Isarelis entering their side of the border!

  8. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr
    May 23, 2015, 1:01 am

    I’m being picky here, but for the record it’s not quite true that “Israelis and Palestinians live in different communities…; there are no mixed localities in the West Bank.” The exception (the only one I know of, if you don’t count the Old City of Jerusalem as part of the West Bank) is Hebron. The biggest Jewish settlement there, Kiryat Arba, is a more or less separate suburb, but the other four settlements are essentially just apartment buildings in the middle of the Palestinian population.

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