Israel 'suspends' plans to segregate Israeli and Palestinian bus travellers in the West Bank

Part of a three-month pilot programme under Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon

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The Independent Online

Israel has suspended a pilot programme at the last moment that would have segregated Israeli and Palestinian bus travellers in the West Bank.

The programme was intended to prevent Palestinians from riding common buses with Israelis in the West Bank and limit their exit to the same checkpoint through which they entered Israel, according to local newspaper Haaretz.

The three-month pilot, under a directive from Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, was estimated to potentionally add as much as two hours to some Palestinians’ commute as their travel options are constricted through Rayhan, Hala, Eliyahu and Eyal checkpoints.

A spokesperson for NGO Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group providing legal assistance to Palestinians, called the pilot “a shameful and racist measure that causes Israel to deteriorate to a low moral point.”

The pilot, announced yesterday but suspended just hours later today, comes following a campaign by right-wing organisation the Samaria Settler Committee and centre-right politician Oren Hazan for segregated travel in the West Bank.

Deborah Hyams, an Amnesty International researcher who focusses on the region, said: “People hearing the news that this directive has been suspended could get the mistaken impression that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been lifted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“The Israeli authorities must end all arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - and in the Gaza Strip," she told The Independent.

Last October Defence Minister Mr Ya’alon appeared to accept the campaign’s claims that mixed transport was a security risk and banned Palestinian workers from travelling on Israeli-run public transport in the West Bank.

"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," Mr Ya’alon told Haaretz last year.

Previously Palestinian workers could enter and leave Israel by any checkpoint.

The change flies in the face of the views of GOC Central Commander, responsible for regional Israeli Defence Force units and brigades in the West Bank, who refuted claims common buses are a security risk.

Major General Nitzan Alon maintained that as these workers were in Israel they were already – should they be dangerous – in a position to conduct an attack, irrespective of their travelling method.

The pilot progamme was intended to be introduced in January, but was delayed after legal considerations saw three further checkpoints (Rayhan, Hala, Eliyahu) added to prevent possible Israeli High Court appeals.

Michael Sfard, a legal counsel to Yesh Din, told Haaretz that the organisation will contest the step with “all legal means available.”