Afikim bus company to have special buses for Palestinian workers commuting from the West Bank to jobs in central Israel; announcement follows complaints from settlers that Palestinians are a security risk.
Starting on Monday, certain buses running from the West Bank into central Israel will have separate lines for Jews and Arabs.
The Afikim bus company will begin operating Palestinian-only bus lines from the checkpoints to Gush Dan to prevent Palestinians from boarding buses with Jewish passengers. Palestinians are not allowed to enter settlements, and instead board buses from several bus stops on the Trans-Samaria highway.
Last November, Haaretz reported that the Transportation Ministry was looking into such a plan due to pressure from the late mayor of Ariel, Ron Nahman, and the head of the Karnei Shomron Local Council. They said residents had complained that Palestinians on their buses were a security risk.
The buses will begin operating Monday morning at the Eyal crossing to take the Palestinians to work in Israel. Transportation Ministry officials are not officially calling them segregated buses, but rather bus lines intended to relieve the distress of the Palestinian workers. Ynet has reported that fliers are being distributed to Palestinian workers notifying them of the coming changes.
Any Palestinian who holds an entrance permit to the State of Israel is allowed by law to use public transportation. Officials at the Samaria and Judea District Police have said there is no change in the operation of the rest of the buses, nor is there any intention to remove Palestinians from other bus lines. But Haaretz has in the past reported incidents when Palestinians were taken off of buses, and witnesses at checkpoints say that such incidents are ongoing.
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth is a member of Machsom Watch, a female advocacy group monitoring West Bank checkpoints. She says that recently, Bus 286 from Tel Aviv to Samaria arrived at a checkpoint filled with Palestinian workers. She filed the following report:
“Police officer Advanced Staff Sergeant Major Shai Zecharia stops the bus at the bus stop. Soldiers order all the Palestinians off the bus. The first thing they do is collect all their identity cards as they get off. One by one, the Palestinians are told to go away from the bus stop and walk to the Azzun Atma checkpoint, which is about 2.5 kilometers away from the Shaar Shomron interchange. All of them responded with restraint and sadness, at most asking why. Here and there they received answers such as, ‘You’re not allowed on Highway 5’ and ‘You’re not allowed on public transportation.’ Advanced Staff Sergeant Major Zecharia gave some vital information to one of the older Palestinians who had arrived there, telling him: You should ride in special vans, not on Israeli buses.”
In response to the report, the Transportation Ministry said it “has not issued any instruction or prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from riding the public bus lines in Israel or in Judea and Samaria. Furthermore, the Transportation Ministry is not authorized to prevent any passangers from riding those lines.”
“The two new lines that will be run as of tomorrow (Monday) are intended to improve the services to Palestinian workers that enter Israel via the Eyal Crossing,” the ministry’s statement continued, adding that the new lines will replace the “pirate” driving services who have been transporting Palestinian workers “at exorbitant prices and in an irregular fashion.”
According to the ministry, the new lines will depart from the Tzofim area near Qalqilyah and will transport workers to their places of work in the Sharon region and Tel Aviv, at “especially cheap prices.” For example, the tariff for traveling to Kfar Sava or Raanana will be NIS 5.1, and to Tel Aviv will cost NIS 10.6. This is compared to some NIS 40 that passengers have been charged by the private transportation services for each direction, the ministry said.
“The new lines will lessen the burden that has formed on buses as a result of the increase in numbers of working permits provided to Palestinians, who are permitted to work in Israel and will contribute to the improvements of services, for the betterment of Israelis and Palestinians as one”, the statement said.
The Samaria and Judea District Police have yet to respond to the report.