Dear Israel, This Is What Apartheid Looks Like
Palestinian workers board a bus. Photo by Moti Milrod
In what critics dubbed "a shameful and racist measure" - yes, another - Israel's so-called defense minister launched a pilot program preventing thousands of Palestinian laborers from riding the same buses as pristine Israelis to achieve “better control of the Palestinians," only to have the action reversed hours later following the outrage it deserved. Right-wing Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, bowing to longtime pressure by like-minded settlers, had proposed a similar move last October. This one called for Palestinians from the West Bank working in Israel to enter and leave through the same checkpoint, forcing them to take circuitous routes on strictly Palestinian buses that could add two hours to their already grim commute. Ya'alon argued - so nu? - it would "reduce security risks," though even the radical upstarts of the Israeli Defense Force have said those Palestinians, who already have work papers and spend their work day inside Israel anyway, pose no risk.
The ideas behind the proposal tell us everything we need to know about the right-wing Israeli mindset. Just listen. From Ya'alon: "You don't need to be a security expert to realize that 20 Arabs on a bus with a Jewish driver and two or three passengers and one soldier with a gun is a set-up for an attack." From Yigal Lahav Council head Karnei Shomron: "Arab travel on buses is a victory over the Jewish occupier...(It give them) "the experience of traveling with Jewish women." Topping it off, from Rabbi Ben-Dahan, now in the Defence Ministry, "I didn't say all Palestinians are terrorists, but I am saying all terrorists are Palestinians."
The move by what critics charge is "a government that is all settlers, all the time" was swiftly condemned by many as "a shameful and racist measure (that brings Israel) to a new low moral point." From opposition leader Isaac Herzog, “Separating Palestinians and Jews on public transport is a warrantless humiliation and a stain on the state and its citizens.” Hours after it was announced, the plan was frozen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it "unacceptable," most likely because even he figured out it would draw yet more international flak.
What's key here, though, is the recognition that separate buses are just more of the same, the tip of the Occupation iceberg. Under Israel's nationwide system of segregation, there's already an Apartheid Wall and apartheid economy and apartheid justice system and apartheid land distribution. Why not buses? The leader of Israel's left-wing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, put it clearly: “This is how apartheid looks. There is no better or nicer way to put it." Then she added the critical truthful context: "Separate buses for Jews and Palestinians prove that democracy and occupation cannot co-exist.”