Palestinian Workers Crowding West Bank Buses, Right-wing Activists Complain

Pro-settlement protests target two of the most right-wing Likud MKs - Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and his deputy, Tzipi Hotovely.

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Pro-settlement activists have launched a campaign against two of the Likud's most right-wing Knesset members over the crowding caused by Palestinian workers’ growing use of Israeli buses in the northern West Bank.

The activists accuse Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and his deputy, Tzipi Hotovely, of ignoring the distress the overcrowded buses has caused residents of the settlements. On Monday night, they plastered dozens of West Bank buses with giant stickers bearing pictures of the two Likud politicians and the slogan, “They don’t use public transportation.”

The stickers are just the first stage of the battle, the activists vowed.

The increase in the number of Palestinians working in Israel in the past year has led to overcrowding on the bus lines that travel between Samaria (the northern West Bank) and central Israel. The lines also serve major settlements, like Ariel and Karnei Shomron.

Right-wing activists are divided over how best to solve the problem. Some, like MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi), think Palestinians should be forbidden to ride the buses. Others simply think the frequency of the buses should be increased.

But, now, the battle has turned personal – in part because Katz and Hotovely wouldn’t have done as well as they did in last year’s Likud primary had they not won the votes of thousands of residents of settlements. “They boast of their support for the settlement movement, but ignore the daily harm caused to thousands of residents of Samaria,” said one activist, who asked to remain anonymous.

Though officials in the settlements have periodically called for separate bus lines for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank, they “haven’t contributed anything, because the ones responsible for the crowding are Katz and Hotovely, and the settlement leadership has protected them,” one activist charged. “The Samarian leadership is afraid to confront the minister and his deputy, even though they’re responsible for the daily suffering of the residents. We decided to take the battle into our own hands and focus on those directly responsible for the situation.”

“Our leadership prefers its narrow political interests, and those of the minister and his deputy, to the residents’ quality of life,” another charged.

In response to the residents’ complaints, the Transportation Ministry inaugurated a new bus line in March that picks Palestinians up at a West Bank checkpoint near Qalqilyah and takes them directly to work sites in Israel. The police were supposed to make sure the Palestinians used these buses only, for security reasons, but the rule has never been enforced. Palestinians continue to travel to Israel on the regular lines as well.

Katz’s office concurred with the activists that the cabinet’s decision to increase the number of Palestinians working in Israel has resulted in “the number of [bus] passengers exceeding the number of seats.”

However, it added in a statement, “The Transportation Ministry has done everything in its power to ease some of the overcrowding. It organized buses from the Eyal Checkpoint to workplaces in Israel for the Palestinians, but on the way home, everyone travels on the same lines, which creates crowding. At the same time, the Transportation Ministry added 31 buses to these lines to ease the crowding.

The problems about which the residents are complaining are not within the ministry’s jurisdiction, the statement continued. “First, the crowding is caused by giving permits in ever-growing numbers, which mandates finding solutions for the workers. The transportation minister warned about this matter in the cabinet meeting and demanded that the responsible parties deal with it. Second, the issue of the residents traveling jointly [with Palestinians] is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry.”

Hotovely said her area of responsibility was the war on traffic accidents, not public transport. However, she added, she has urged ministry officials responsible for public transport to find solutions to the problem, and the ministry did recently add another 30 buses on the line that serves Ariel.

Palestinian workers wait to cross into Israel at the Qalqiliya checkpoint.Credit: AP

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