The uproar caused by the decision to introduce separate bus lines for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank created the momentary illusion that racism, racial segregation and exclusion from the public sphere were not the norm. But these phenomena are present and intertwined as an integral part of the system known as occupation.
Perhaps there were times when it was more pleasant to see a Palestinian sit beside a settler from Elkana on a bus and imagine that things weren't so bad. But this just gave a false impression of enlightenment and equality, because the purpose of the Palestinian's bus ride was so vastly different from the Jew's, as was the place he came from. The separate bus lines are merely a visual expression of the complete segregation that exists in the West Bank between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in every aspect of daily life. This segregation is both physical and legal.
The questions we should be asking relate to the less apparent systems of segregation and exclusion, which are the result of Israel's decision to have its citizens live in occupied territory alongside a conquered population that has no citizenship. We have become so accustomed to these systems that it seems they are the way of the world. The separate legal system for the Palestinians discriminates against them on a daily basis. These systems also create geographic segregation which excludes Palestinians from their own lands and denies them basic civil rights.
Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank are separated in nearly every aspect of daily life. The Palestinians travel on a completely separate system of roads because they are forbidden from traveling along many roads that are designated for Israelis, either officially or because the dangerous roads that have been built for them do not connect to the main highways the Israelis use.
Not the real issue. Palestinian-only bus (Photo: AFP)
The famous example of Route 443 accurately illustrates the injustice: Palestinian lands inside occupied territory were appropriated with the High Court's authorization in order to build a road "for the benefit of the public." The Palestinians were later banned from traveling along this road. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court, which, in turn, ordered the State to allow Palestinian traffic on Route 443 – but on its terms and in accordance with security-related considerations. Palestinians hardly ever use this road, because the segment of the road on which Palestinian traffic is permitted leads nowhere. The Palestinians are still forbidden from using Route 443 to reach Ramallah through the Beitunia checkpoint.
Palestinians are also forbidden from entering settlements unless they hold special permits issued for them by the Coordination and Liaison Administration. Usually such permits are issued for Palestinians who work in construction in the settlements. A Palestinian who wants to complain about the separate bus lines at the offices of the bus company which operates them cannot do so because the offices are located in Ariel, which he is prohibited from entering.
With regards to criminal law, the Palestinians are also discriminated against. An Israeli and a Palestinian who commit the exact same offence in the West Bank are tried in different places and based on different laws, which discriminate against the Palestinian and violate his right to due process.
Palestinians charged with criminal offences are tried in military courts according to military law, while Israelis are tried in Israel according to criminal law. A Palestinian who is suspected of committed an offence will be held for as many as 96 hours before being brought before a judge, while an Israeli who allegedly committed the same crime will be brought before a judge within 24 hours.
These examples show that the debate surrounding the separate bus lines has taken the focus off the real issues, including the exploitation of Palestinians who work in Israel and the settlements. Has anyone ever wondered about the crushing poverty that sends tens of thousands of men to do jobs no one else wants to for ridiculously low pay? These Palestinians may even be cleaning the bathrooms of those who are so appalled by the Palestinian-only bus lines.
The author is an attorney in the Territories Department of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel