On 28 February, an Israeli activist with Checkpoint Watch, a movement of Israeli women peace activists who oppose the Israeli occupation and the denial of Palestinians’ rights to move freely in their land, and who conduct daily observations of Israeli army checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, was at the bus terminal in Oraniot on highway number 5. At 5 pm, she writes, two police vehicles and two army trucks arrived at the terminal, and a sergeant ordered all the Palestinians to get off bus number 286, on its way to the Jewish settlement of Ariel. The soldiers collected identity documents and permits from all the Palestinian workers on the bus; the workers were told to get off, sit on the cold floor and wait. At first some of them managed to catch another bus (although they have to pay double fares), but the soldiers found out and made them march on foot for the Azoun-Othma checkpoint two and a half kilometres away.
It was cold, the sun had set. Most of these Palestinian workers had got up at three AM to catch their transportation to work inside Israel. Most live within a few kilometres and all they wanted was to be allowed to stay on the bus for a stop or two. They had paid the bus fare and 8,000 Israeli shekels (€1,670) for the permit. You have to work very hard before you can cover such expense and earn your first shekel.
The Palestinians were told by the soldiers ‘you have no permission to be on highway number 5’ – at long last an official admission that this is Apartheid Israel. Bus number 286 was the only way these workers could reach their workplaces, but of late the settlers complained – they didn’t want Arabs on ‘their’ buses. As a result, Israel has introduced separate buses for Palestinians only – so that they do not contaminate the racial purity of the Jewish settlers.
I am not entirely sure whether the separation between the colonising and colonised populations in Palestine constitutes the same level of Apartheid as in South Africa. But like in South Africa, this separation involves not only major political decisions, but also banal everyday practices, including allocating areas for residential construction, different legal systems, inequitable distribution of resources and separate bus lines for Palestinians and settlers who, remember, illegally inhabit Palestinian land.
According to Israeli law professor Aeyal Gross, special buses have been introduced ‘although by law a Palestinian with a permit to enter Israel cannot be prevented from travelling on regular buses’. He goes on to argue: ‘Occupied territory is meant to be managed by the occupying state as a temporary trust for the benefit of the local population. There are clear rules aimed at preventing the evolution of a colonial or apartheid regime. The way the State of Israel is managing the territories is a far cry from the way occupied lands are meant to be managed’.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government does not admit to banal Apartheid. Rather, its deputy ambassador in Dublin argued in a letter to the Irish Times last week that these separate buses are actually a positive development for the 30,000 Palestinian workers, allowing them ‘direct transport from their towns and villages to the border crossing’. She said nothing about the fines that Palestinians tried in military courts in the West Bank, often because they are caught without permits, have to pay. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, in 2011 alone Palestinians paid 13m Israeli shekels (€2.7m) in such fines, financing their own occupation.