U.S. Politics and the Economy

Israel’s Segregated Buses

By Ofra Yeshua-Lyth

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.

March 1, 2013. I arrived at 4:00 P.M. at the bus terminal (near what is called the “Shomron Gate Junction.”) Until five o’clock 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, portentously 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 kilometers 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.

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 have gone through this permanent institutionalized harassment this evening, at the end of a workweek 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 Defense 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 Haredim1, 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.

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

Mondoweiss, March 5, 2013

1 The most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism