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20 May 2015

Israel Calls Off Palestinian Bus Segregation Plans: Nobel Peace Prize Likely



TEL AVIV—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped a plan that would have barred Palestinians from Israeli public buses in the West Bank following a tide of criticism that it would be a moral embarrassment and would undermine the country’s international standing.

The policy, which was about to be implemented on Wednesday, was one of first decisions by Mr. Netanyahu’s newly inaugurated conservative government. It would have required Palestinian day laborers returning home from jobs inside Israel to take separate buses after crossing back into the West Bank instead of the public transportation used by Jewish settlers who live in the territory.

Opposition Israeli lawmakers criticized the defense ministry’s plan as something akin to South African apartheid.

“The proposals are unacceptable to the prime minister,” a senior official in Mr. Netanyahu’s office said. “He spoke this morning with the defense minister who agreed that the whole matter would be shelved.”

The shift would have complicated Israel’s standing abroad at a time Mr. Netanyahu already faces questions about his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli leader has also been put on the defensive by Palestinians’ unilateral push for statehood recognition in international organizations.

Palestinian laborers said they had been informed by their Israeli employers that the new busing arrangement would go into effect on Wednesday. Had the plan gone into effect on Wednesday, it would have coincided with a visit to the region by two high-profile international figures: European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini and Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA. Mr. Blatter, who began a two-day visit on Tuesday, was trying to mediate a solution to a Palestinian initiative to have Israel suspended from international soccer.

Tzipi Livni, a dovish former Israeli foreign minister and a member of the parliamentary opposition, wrote in a Facebook post that the government’s last-minute about-face was evidence that the plan was made under political pressure from settlers and not based on security considerations.

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Just last week President Obama unveiled the historic statue of famous civil rights icon Rosa Parks whose activism helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, credited with propelling the civil rights movement to victory.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden today assured the right-wing pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), that Obama loves Israel enough to bomb Iran. He reminded the crowd of 13,000 AIPAC supporters that “no president has done as much to physically secure the state of Israel as President Barack Obama,” who “is not bluffing” about using military force against Iran, to which he received a standing ovation.

The Obama administration’s love for Rosa Parks and condemnation of segregation stands in stark contrast to his unwavering support for Israel, which leads me to the conclusion that Obama has yet to be informed of Israel’s latest policy towards the Palestinians, which journalist Anna Lekas Miller reported on today for the Daily Beast:
Today, Israeli bus company Afikim will begin operating a “Palestinian-only” bus service to transport Palestinian workers to central Israel. Previously, Palestinians holding permits to work in Israel would use Israeli buses to travel to work there. Now Palestinians who try to use the Israeli buses will be requested to use the Palestinian bus instead. Although the Israeli Ministry of Transport cites overcrowding as the official reason for instituting segregated buses, a source from inside the ministry told Yedioth Ahronot that the decision was prompted by complaints from Israeli settlers that Palestinian riders could pose a security threat to other passengers.
Lekas, whose stellar on-the-ground reporting on Palestine should be read regularly, points out that this latest segregated bus maneuver is only the latest in a long line of Israeli Jim Crowesque and Apartheid policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank (both occupied by Israel):
To begin with, the Palestinians who are being asked to take the segregated buses are the privileged few with permits to work in the state of Israel. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank are not even able to travel to Israel on a segregated bus; their only options are to find work in the West Bank, which can be very difficult, or to sneak in and illegally work in Israel, which is low-paying and can result in arrest and imprisonment if they are caught. 
In addition, segregation between Israeli and Palestinian passengers on public transportation is hardly new. In Jerusalem, the “Central” bus station operates buses connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Dead Sea and several Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. These buses do not have to stop at checkpoints—as the passengers are Israeli citizens, soldiers and settlers. Some of these buses—the settler buses—are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, and thus often travel the city half empty. It’s easy for these buses to have a set schedule. The bus station itself is indoors, air-conditioned and even equipped with a Kosher McDonalds. 
But to travel from Jerusalem to a Palestinian city in the West Bank, buses leave from the Nablus Road Bus Station, the Palestinian bus station tucked behind the Old City of Jerusalem. These buses connect Jerusalem to Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and several other smaller Palestinian towns and villages. They have to pass through checkpoints, often forcing passengers to disembark completely while Israeli soldiers check their identification to make sure that they are not where they are not supposed to be. None of the buses are subsidized by the Israeli government—and therefore can only leave once they are completely full, often brimming with passengers standing in the aisles. It’s next to impossible for the buses to have a set schedule. The Nablus Road station itself is outdoors, unkempt and chaotic. 
One of the only mixed modes of transportation in Israel is the Jerusalem Light Rail—which, as it was originally built to connect surrounding Israeli settlements to central Jerusalem, is hardly equally inclusive to Palestinians. Historically, when the light rail system was first constructed, it uprooted several Palestinian neighborhoods, further displacing many Palestinians who once lived in Jerusalem. Now, though the train passes through several traditionally Arab neighborhoods, the stations are named in Hebrew rather than Arabic. Although Palestinian passengers are free to take the light rail as they please, many experience violent verbal or physical harassment from Israeli passengers. Just last Monday a group of Jewish religious students attacked an Arab woman at the Kiryat Moshe station, violently shoving her and forcibly removing her hijab—or traditional headcovering—in public.
Speaking to the celebratory crowd gathered at the US Capitol last week, President Obama said of Rosa Parks, “She defied the odds and she defied injustice…she helped change America and change the world.” I wonder if he would speak as highly or even acknowledge the courage of a Palestinian who refused to exit a jews only bus to protest Israeli segregation. Just kidding, we all know the answer to that.

Still, it’s remarkable how willingly blind America’s political class has proven itself to be on the issue of Israel.

It’s far easier to condemn Jim Crow when all the hard work and sacrifice of brave activists like Rosa Parks is in the past. Real courage is the willingness to stand up against modern day injustices as they happen. It seems that the President and 99 percent of Congress are nothing more than a bunch of pathetic cowards.

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