Segregated Buses Make A Comeback, This Time in Israel

It was in December of 1955 when Rosa Parks, who President Obama recently celebrated, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the “colored” section of the bus to a white man in a public bus in Alabama.

Not only did Rosa Parks' bravery lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but it also led to the Supreme Court extending the prohibition of segregation to public transportation. By 1960, for the most part, segregation in public transportation had ended. In Israel, however, it seems we’re going backwards as the country plans to impose pre-1960 styled Palestinian-only bus lines following complaints from Jewish Settlers who feel traveling with Palestinians is a personal security risk.

When speaking of Rosa Parks last week, President Obama said, "She defied the odds, and she defied injustice." But something tells me that a Palestinian man or woman who would ever dare to follow in Parks’ steps wouldn’t be seen as a champion of justice or liberty, but rather would be seen as a terrorist or a “security risk” by both the Israeli government and the U.S. And as the U.S. continues to pride itself for its unwavering support for the Israeli state and its current conservative government, it continues to turn its back on its support for what the U.S. once stood for — “justice and liberty, for all.”

Last November, following complaints from Jewish settlers that Palestinians riding the same buses as them were posing a security threat, Police began ordering Palestinian workers with legal work permits to travel into the settlements off of the buses from the Tel Aviv area citing “security reasons,” although that ambiguous term has yet to be defined or clarified in this instance. The Palestinians were stripped of their ID cards which the police took to the checkpoints and were forced to walk several kilometers to the nearest check point in order to find taxis to take them to their West Bank homes.

This also wasn’t the first time this happened — in fact, it seems it’s common practice by Israeli police to make sure the Palestinians are not staying in Israel over night and to ensure that Israeli’s riding on the bus aren’t suffering from the security threat of having a Palestinian sit in the same vicinity as them.

Moreover, although the latter could be a viable concern, apart from the blast on the bus in Tel Aviv during the last Gaza offensive, there hasn’t been a suicide attack on the Israeli bus service for nearly six and a half year despite the fact that 29,000 Palestinians commute to Israel on a daily basis.

The Israeli transport ministry holds that the move isn’t to enforce de jure segregation, but rather is “designed to improve the service for Palestinians entering Israel.”

However, most people, including several human rights groups aren’t convinced and believe that it is “blatant racism,” resembling the South African apartheid.

“They are institutionalizing segregated services for Jews and non-Jews … Many people don’t class the Israeli situation as apartheid because for a long time, Israel refrained from the characteristics of petty apartheid, like separate roads, cafés and buses. This bus situation is a step in the direction of petty apartheid because people are being segregated in their daily activities” said Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, an activist for an Israeli-Palestinian campaign group Women for Civil Disobedience.

Moreover, drivers with the Afikim bus company which will be operating the route said that although they aren’t allowed to deny anyone service, Palestinians trying to use the regular service buses will be pointed to board their own buses and there will be checks at all checkpoints.

On the other hand, as the AIPAC annual policy conference nears and U.S. policymakers topple over each other to proclaim that they love Israel more than the last person, it is highly unlikely that Israel will face any criticism from the U.S. at all. Instead, U.S. law-makers will continue to show their unwavering support for Israel while simultaneously abandoning many of the values this nation stands for.