Between Colonialism and Apartheid: Plan to Ban Palestinians from Israeli Buses in OPT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked a controversial plan to ban Palestinian workers from riding the same bus lines as settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the West Bank, only hours after it was approved by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Netanyahu ordered the suspension of the plan after it was condemned by leaders of Hadash and Palestinians, with some likening it to the apartheid system in South Africa.

Defense Minister Ya’alon’s security edict would have prevented Palestinian laborers, who cross the separation wall to work in Israel, from returning home aboard the country’s public bus lines. MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List) charged on Wednesday, May 20, that this is tantamount to a hybrid between colonialism and apartheid. The “security program,” would have required Palestinian workers to head home after work through the same IDF checkpoints from which they entered Israel. The three-month pilot program was initially to be implemented at four checkpoints in the West Bank, Israel Radio reported.

Palestinians demonstrate against “separation” in occupied West Bank Israeli buses.

Palestinians demonstrate against “separation” in occupied West Bank Israeli buses. (Photo: Al Ittihad)

The Hadash MK said the Defense establishment was caving in to pressure from settlers who have long complained about the presence of Palestinians on Israeli bus lines, and called such separation “unacceptable.” Khenin added that organizing “separate buses for Israeli settlers and Palestinians proves that democracy and occupation cannot coexist and breaches all international moral norms.”

According to Haaretz, Palestinians workers who would have entered Israel via one of the four checkpoints (Rayhan, Hala, Eliyahu, or Eyal) would have only been able to return to their homes via the very same checkpoint. They would have also no longer been allowed to ride on the same buses as Israelis to the West Bank. The pilot plan was expected to have lasted three months, after which it would have been reviewed.

Prior to Ya’alon’s plan, Palestinian workers who had entered Israel could return to the territories any way they chose. In central Israel, many thousands of workers who cross into Israel through the Eyal checkpoint often return to their homes on buses belonging to the transit company Afik which travel along Israel’s Route 5 to the West Bank settlement of Ariel. If Ya’alon’s plan had been implemented, the workers would have had to return to the Eyal checkpoint and from there transfer to Palestinian buses to reach their places of residence. This would have meant that even Palestinians who live close to Route 5 and work in Israel would have had to travel in a circuitous route north to the Eyal checkpoint, adding as much as two hours to their commute.

With the initial announcement of the currently suspended directive by the Minister of Defense, Human rights organizations had intended to appeal to the Supreme Court to repeal the order. In reaction to the directive, Attorney Michael Sfard, counsel to the NGO Yesh Din, had said: “If the Defense Ministry has in fact begun to implement a separation plan on buses to the West Bank, beyond the fact that the plan was implemented clandestinely out of fears that we might take steps to prevent it, this is a shameful and racist measure that causes Israel to deteriorate to a low moral point. We will fight this step with all legal means available.”