Israel has been accused of promoting racial segregation by introducing ‘Palestinian-only buses’ from today after complaints were apparently made by settlers that mixed buses are a security risk.
The Transport Ministry said the two new bus lines, which will run between the occupied West Bank and Israel, is an improvement in the service but rights groups described the move as racist.
The left-wing Haaretz daily newspaper reported the ministry opened the lines after Jewish settlers complained of the dangers of having Palestinians on regular buses.
The buses, operated by the Afikim company, have been introduced for the thousands of Palestinians who travel between the West Bank and Israel for work.
Jessica Montell, director of the B’Tselem rights group, said on Army Radio: ‘Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan.
‘This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.’
The new lines have been advertised in Palestinian villages, according to Ynet.
The Transport Ministry said the move will ‘improve public transport services for Palestinian workers entering Israel’ and replace pirate buses charging them ‘exorbitant prices’.
‘The Ministry of Transport has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from travelling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria,’ it said, referring to the West Bank.
‘Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport is not authorised to prevent any passenger from using public transport services.’
Rights groups, however, voiced concern that Israeli police at checkpoints in the West Bank would remove Palestinian passengers from regular bus lines and order them to use the new ones.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said all Palestinians returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution.
He said he did not know whether and how this might affect Palestinian travel on regular buses.
Herzl Ben-Zvi, mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement, said the new lines ‘answer the needs of all passengers – Palestinians and settlers’ because they would relieve overcrowding on buses in the area.
But a driver told Ynetthat that Palestinians will be ‘asked to board their own buses’.
He added: ‘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.’
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and maintains a network of roadblocks in the territory.
Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, for a future state – a claim supported by most world powers, which view the settlements as illegal.