Israel will open new “Palestinian bus routes” in the West Bank tomorrow after bowing to pressure from settlers who argue that sharing transportation is a security risk.
Officially, the new lines, operated by the Afikim company, are designed to ease pressure on the transport network that carries people from the West Bank into central Israel, which many Palestinians with Israeli work permits use each day. However, the Transport Ministry in Jerusalem has been accused of promoting segregationist policies after advertisements for the new routes were produced only in Arabic and distributed only in Palestinian villages in the West Bank.
The ministry insists that all bus lines are open to anyone, but the launch has followed pressure from the late Ron Nachman, former Mayor of the settlement of Ariel, who argued that Palestinians should be stopped from boarding buses going to the settlements. The new buses will not enter Jewish settlements and instead will terminate at the Eyal checkpoint. It is understood that the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) police force will deploy extra officers at Eyal.
One driver told the Ynet news service: “Obviously, everyone will start screaming ‘apartheid’ and ‘racism’ now. This really doesn’t feel right, and maybe [the ministry] should find a different solution, but the situation right now is impossible.”
According to Ynet, Palestinians who try to travel on the existing buses will be asked to get off. Avner Ovadia, spokesman for the Transport Ministry, said: “The ministry has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from travelling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria.
“The ministry is not authorised to prevent any passenger from using public transport services.”
One of the drivers interviewed by Ynet said that the development could bring its own problems. “Driving a bus full of only Palestinians might turn out to be tricky. It could be unnerving and it might also create other problems. It could be a scary thing,” he said.
Afikim issued its own statement: “This plan aims to ease travel for Palestinian passengers and offer a solution that counters pirate bus companies that charge exorbitant prices.
“As for any question about removing Palestinian passengers from buses, that has to be addressed by the enforcement and security bodies.”