U-turn? Netanyahu suspends Israeli bus ban for Palestinians within hours

Reuters / Mohamad Torokman

Reuters / Mohamad Torokman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended a ban on Palestinians from the West Bank taking Israeli bus routes to return home, just hours after the plan was approved by his defense minister.

The new regulations restricted Palestinian commuters to using the
same crossings for entering and leaving Israel.

“Under a three-month pilot project, Palestinians who work in
Israel will, starting Wednesday, need to return home by the same
crossings without taking buses used by [Israeli] residents”

of the occupied West Bank, an Israeli Defense Ministry official
told AFP earlier Wednesday.

Thousands of Palestinians take the bus to go to work in Israel
from the occupied West Bank. For the time being, Palestinians
could enter Israeli territory through one check point and return
via another one.

The new suspended plan includes just four checkpoints – at
Eliyahu, Eyal, Hala and Rayhan – separated one from another by
considerable distances. The new pending regulations imply that
all Palestinian workers should return to their homes every day
for security reasons and now cannot stay in Israel for the night.

Ahead of the attempt to introduce new rules, Defense Minister
Moshe Ya’alon told Israeli radio that the government “will
draw lessons from this experience at the end of the three-month
trial period.”

Human rights organizations have said they plan to appeal against
the new regulations to the Israeli High Court of Justice.

Israeli government plans for an Israeli bus ban on Palestinians
emerged in October 2014, when Ya’alon decided Palestinians
working in Israel should only be able to return home to West Bank
via a single crossing and should not be allowed to ride the same
buses as Jewish settlers.

Settlers have been campaigning for the ban for years.

READ MORE: Israel Apartheid? Palestinians to be banned
from West Bank settlers’ buses

The new rules were first set to be introduced in November, but
were then postponed until January 2015, due to “bureaucratic
issues at the Civil Administration,”
Haaretz reports.

The campaign for segregated bus rides has been conducted by the
Samaria Settlers Committee for years, citing what it calls
“security risks.”

“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,”

Ya’alon said.

“Arab travel on buses is a victory over the Jewish
Haaretz cited Karnei Shomron council leader Yigal
Lahav as saying, who also reportedly said that for Arabs this is
“the experience of traveling with Jewish women.”

The plan drew huge criticism from the human rights group as well
as local opposition politicians.

The first so-called “apartheid buses” in Israel were launched in
2013, when Palestinians commuting from the West Bank were urged
to board special buses. They were launched by the Transport
Ministry after some Jewish settlers feared their safety was at

“The decision to separate Palestinians and Jews on public
transportation is an unnecessary humiliation that is a stain on
the state and its citizens,”
Israeli opposition leader Isaac
Herzog wrote on his Facebook page, the Guardian reported.

The leader of Israel’s leftwing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On,
said: “This is how apartheid looks. There is no better or
nicer way to put it. Separate buses for Jews and Palestinians
prove that democracy and occupation cannot co-exist.”

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