The headlines roll out, the journalistic warfare continues, and the Jewish State once more is cast in the starring role of “evil, Apartheid empire.” This time the story is that Israel is forcing the Arab Palestinians to ride separate buses from the ones Jewish Israelis ride.
The reality is exactly the opposite – there are no “Palestinian only” buses. Instead, with its new bus routes, Israel is reducing crowded buses, attempting to relieve ethnic tensions and security concerns, and is assisting Arab Palestinians enter Green Line Israel to work. But we’ll get to the facts – which exonerate Israel from “Apartheid” charges – in a minute. For right now you can rest assured that despite efforts to cast the Arab Palestinians in the role of Rosa Parks, a closer fit would be to cast the purveyors of this latest attack as peddlers of the Big Lie.
First, the hysteria:
One headline, from the magazine formerly known as Newsweek, and now known as – more accurately – the Daily Beast, “West Bank Buses Only the Latest in Israel’s Segregated Public Transport,” and one from the uber-leftist +972, “Israel’ new ‘Palestinian only’ segregated bus line,” and even the Israeli news media outlet YNet fans the flames: “Ministry launches ‘Palestinians only’ buses.”
The claims are exactly as you would expect them, and made by those whom you would suspect. For example, Jessica Montell is the director of the anti-Israel, pro-Arab B’tselem Rights group. “Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan,” Montell told Army Radio. “This is simply racism.”
And the far-leftist political Meretz party chairwoman Zahava Gal-On reamed Transportation Minister Israel Katz, demanding that he “immediately cancel the segregated lines in the West Bank. Separate bus lines for Palestinians prove that occupation and democracy cannot coexist,” she said.
What are the facts?
First of all, all Israeli citizens are permitted to ride all Israeli transportation vehicles, whether they are Arab, Finnish or Lithuanian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist.
Second, any non-citizen of Israel, just as is the case with every other country in the world, has to show identification when entering Israel’s official borders – it is true for American citizens entering Canada and Mexico, just as it is the case for citizens of the Palestinian Authority who wish to enter Israel.
Third, Israeli citizens who live in Judea and Samaria pay taxes, a portion of which subsidize the transportation infrastructure and vehicles, whereas Arabs who live in the PA towns do not. In fact, taxes paid by Arabs in Israel are turned over to the PA to support their infrastructure, which includes – or should – transportation services for their residents.
One consequence of the preceding points is that the Israeli bus lines travel from and to all areas in which tax-paying Israeli citizens live – from Jerusalem to Shilo, from Tel Aviv to Efrat, and so forth. The Israeli bus companies do not stop at, for example, the Arab town of Ramallah, just as they do not stop at non-authorized Jewish towns such as Givat Har-el.
WHAT IS NEW?
The bare fact: the Israeli government added two bus lines (so far, there was overcrowding on Monday, March 4, the first day the service was instituted, and the Transportation Ministry said more buses will likely be added) that will serve Arab Palestinian towns with transportation into central Israel. The Israeli bus lines previously did not stop in towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Despite the efforts of BDS advocates, there are tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians who work in different parts of Israel. Arab Palestinians with work permits would previously have to travel first to a place where the Israeli buses stop, or would be dependent on the much higher-priced Arab buses to get into central Israel.
So why the hysteria? Because some see this as an evil plot to segregate Jews and Arabs. But non-citizens are not entitled to use Israeli public transportation into central Israel without showing border identification, and prior to the provision of these new bus lines, Arab Palestinians were dependent on transportation services by “pirate” (Arab, by the way) companies which charged the Arabs far more than the Israeli lines do.
The new bus lines are not, as the misleading headlines suggest, only for Arab Palestinians, the restriction they have is that they only stop at Arab towns in the territories, where – few would disagree – Jews with or without special identification would not dare go for fear – a legitimate one – of physical violence. The fact remains that any Israeli citizens, Jewish, Christian or Zoroastrians, who live in the “Jewish” towns, were able to and did use the pre-existing bus lines.
Now that we have some actual facts in front of us, let’s go back to the issue of borders. The primary responsibility of any sovereign nation is the protection of its citizens. Israel, you may have noticed, has been under relentless attack from its Arab neighbors since it was re-born in 1948.
And let’s add into the mix the fact that one of the most “effective” forms of terrorism during the uprisings was the use of suicide bombers on Israeli buses. Hundreds of Israelis were killed and thousands were injured in a few dozen different bus bombings, all of which were perpetrated by Israel-hating Arabs from Israel’s neighborhood. And those were just the attacks that took place on buses or in bus stations. Those numbers don’t include the many times that number of Israelis murdered or wounded by terrorists who infiltrated Israel via its buses for the exclusive purpose of murdering or assisting in the murder of Jews.
Yisrael Medad, a citizen of Shilo and occasional spokesperson for the Yesha communities, told The Jewish Press that the issue is purely this: for someone with a blue identification card (i.e. a citizen of Israel), there is no problem. And there are plenty of non-Jewish citizens of Israel – at least 20 percent, in fact.
Anyone with an orange identification card (i.e. not a citizen of Israel), however, must go through security procedures in order to get on to a bus going into the sovereign state of Israel. Whether that happens when everyone is boarding the bus, or it happens when the bus arrives at a checkpoint, it must happen for security reasons and if an orange card holder – whether from Tahiti or Tulkarem – does not have the requisite evidence, they can’t get on the bus. This is the case with any entry into Israel: Ben Gurion if by air, or border crossings if by road.
Medad also pointed out there have been repeated efforts by agitators to paint Israel as an Apartheid state with an Apartheid transportation system – none of which has been based on reality. Not so long ago a stunt was attempted by what some clever public relations specialists dubbed the “freedom riders.”
“WEST BANK” “FREEDOM RIDERS”
On November 15, 2011, six Arab Palestinians boarded a bus at the psagot junction in Shomron (“West Bank”) amid great media fanfare. They called themselves the “West Bank Freedom Riders.” The media gullibly latched on to the label, and watched, flashed their cameras and gleefully scribbled their stories of racial segregation. When the six refused to show their identification documents at the Chizma checkpoint entrance to Jerusalem, they finally were forcibly removed and temporarily detained.
But here’s the rub: the real freedom riders, the people who actually risked life and limb – and sometimes lost both – to help overcome Jim Crow racism in Mississippi and Alabama and places like that were seeking equal rights for American citizens, not trying to extend privileges reserved for citizens – ones who present no security risk – to non-citizens.
What’s more, as Medad pointed out to The Jewish Press, the six Arabs were not denied the opportunity to ride the bus, they were simply not allowed past a checkpoint into Jerusalem because they refused to show identification. Anyone refusing to show identification would have been treated the same way.
One of the many ironies in this latest attack on Israel’s morality is that the efforts, like mushrooms in the dark, have grown and mutated. For a long time there was a repeated insistence that there are “Jews Only” roads in Israel. Amira Hass, of the hard left Haaretz, was one of the primary dispensers of that tall tale. Of course there are no “Jews only” roads in Israel, just as there are no Jews only buses or even ‘Palestinian only’ buses in Israel. But if you tell a big lie often enough, well, Goebbels was the master and look where that took us.
“The ministry has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from traveling on public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria,” said Avner Ovadia, spokesman for the Israeli Transport Ministry. She also said, mostly to deaf ears, that ministry officials are “not authorized to prevent any passenger from using public transport services.”
The bus company, Afikim, issued its own statement: “This plan aims to ease travel for Palestinian passengers and offer a solution that counters pirate bus companies that charge exorbitant prices.”
But for some people, and lots of journalists, no good motives can be imputed to Israelis.
There has been pushback to the explanation that the new bus lines were instituted in order to relieve crowding and to protect Arab Palestinians from exorbitant prices. Mairav Zonszein of +972 wrote, “That may be so, but in order to solve the problem of overcrowding, why not simply add more bus lines for everyone? Why the need to specify who they are for?”
The answer is that only Arabs live in the towns where these new lines will stop. And yes, security is an issue. A legitimate issue for a legitimate government.
On the other hand, there are Arabs-only buses throughout the Middle East, where no Jews are allowed. They’re in Middle Eastern locales like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and even in most parts of the PA-controlled territories. But that’s not a story likely to gain any traction in the media, even for those who apparently yearn to write a story of Apartheid in the Middle East.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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