In the same week that the President of the United States and Congressional leaders unveiled a statue of Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol honoring the woman who refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Israel inaugurated its latest version of segregated busing.
Defenders called it a security measure, critics called it racism.
Israel has begun two Palestinian-only bus lines in the West Bank in response to demands from settlers opposed to riding with Arabs. Not everyone agreed with the Transport Ministry’s description that this is would “improve public transport services for Palestinian workers entering Israel.”
What’s really going on is the government bending to settlers’ complaints that letting Palestinians on their buses was a security risk. The Transport Ministry said Palestinians would not be prohibited from using public buses in the West Bank and inside Israel. Human rights groups said the segregation is racist and unjustifiable.
A police spokesman was quoted saying all Palestinians returning to the West Bank from Israel would continue to be routinely searched for stolen property.
This is not Israel’s first experience with segregated busing. Bus lines that served only ultra-Orthodox areas have long been gender segregated. The Supreme Court two years ago ruled that forced segregated buses were illegal but allowed them to continue on a voluntary basis. But even beyond those neighborhoods, ultra-Othodox men often harass women passengers on public buses, demanding they move to the rear, and when they refuse the women have been spit on, cursed and shoved by haredi men.
This comes at a time when thousands of pro-Israel activists are in Washington spreading the message about our two countries’ shared values. Apparently not all values.