Why Israel's Segregated Buses are a Good Thing

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Ben Cohen
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A black only bus in South Africa

In mainstream circles it has been close to impossible to make comparisons between Israel and the Apartheid government in South Africa in recent years. In liberal circles, the plight of black Africans has always been a bit of a cause célèbre, whereas speaking out about discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, particularly in a post 9/11 world, has been markedly less fashionable. Coupled with extreme sensitivity towards Jews after the holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis doesn't exactly top of the list for cocktail party causes.

So while Israel is overtly colonizing Palestinian land and brutalizing its people in the name of security, the West, and American in particular, has remained largely silent on what is clearly a re-enactment of Apartheid South Africa.

This isn't to say that the situation isn't complex - the Palestinians are not blameless in the ongoing conflict, and surrounding Arab countries have not done nearly enough to construct conditions for a meaningful resolutions. But to anyone not invested in tribal loyalty (and with working eyes), Israel is occupying land that isn't theirs and is subjecting non-Jews to inhuman and degrading treatment on a daily basis.

And that is why the announcement that starting today, certain buses running from the West Bank into central Israel will have separate lines for Jews and Arabs, clears up any misconceptions anyone might have had about the state of Israel and its discriminatory policies towards Palestinians. It is a move that symbolizes Israel's continued advancement towards outright segregation that should now no longer be up for debate. Reports Haaretz:

The Afikim bus company will begin operating Palestinian-only bus lines from the checkpoints to Gush Dan to prevent Palestinians from boarding buses with Jewish passengers. Palestinians are not allowed to enter settlements, and instead board buses from several bus stops on the Trans-Samaria highway....The buses will begin operating Monday morning at the Eyal crossing to take the Palestinians to work in Israel. Transportation Ministry officials are not officially calling them segregated buses, but rather bus lines intended to relieve the distress of the Palestinian workers. Ynet has reported that fliers are being distributed to Palestinian workers notifying them of the coming changes.

The official line in Israel is that the segregated buses operate for the benefit of Palestinians. The transport ministry released the following statement:

"The new lines will lessen the burden that has formed on buses as a result of the increase in numbers of working permits provided to Palestinians, who are permitted to work in Israel and will contribute to the improvements of services, for the betterment of Israelis and Palestinians as one"

But the reality is that this codifies the separation of Palestinians and Jews - a trend that should alarm Americans in particular given their own history of racial separation. Writes Aeyal Gross in Haaretz:

On December 1, 1955 a black woman named Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat in the "colored" section of a crowded public bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger. The incident was the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a formative event of the U.S. civil rights movement. It led to the Supreme Court's 1956 decision extending the prohibition of segregation to public transportation and thereby reversing its 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.

In Israel, in contrast, we have returned through the time tunnel to 1896: Palestinians are being ordered off public buses in the West Bank, and on Tuesday the Transportation Ministry is to introduce separate bus lines for Palestinians, to keep Palestinians who are traveling to work in Israel from riding the same bus lines as Jews.

In the scheme of things, the segregated buses are the least of Palestinian's worries. Gazans are trapped in a virtual prison where they are subjected to routine Israeli military incursions, assassinations, economic strangulation and complete political isolation. The West Bank is littered with illegal Israeli settlements that disrupt daily life for Palestinians, and the hopes for a return to the pre-1967 borders for a Palestinian state are now virtually non existent. Israel has worked long and hard to create 'facts on the ground' - the ceaseless expansion of the state onto Palestinian territory, particularly valuable land where natural resources can be exploited.

But the move to create Palestinian only buses will make it far harder for proclaimed liberals and civil rights advocates to deny that Israel is openly discriminating against Arabs. The Palestinians have long had a PR problem in the West given the role Hamas and other militant Islamic organizations have played in the resistance to occupation. This is partly due to the disgusting use of suicide bombing and targeting of civilians has done immense damage to their cause, turning off almost everyone who would otherwise be sympathetic to their plight, and also due to sustained campaigns by Israel to discredit Palestinian claims to statehood. But now Israel is literally doing the Palestinian's job for them. The state is sanctioning such overtly racist policies that global opinion polls place the country alongside North Korea, Iran and Pakistan in terms of popularity.

As victims of thousands of years of racism, persecution and unimaginable brutality, one would hope that a Jewish state would rise above the behavior of its oppressors. But sadly, the victim has now become the bully and it can no longer pretend otherwise.