Following intense pressure from settlers, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has issued a directive that bans Palestinian workers from traveling on Israeli-run public transportation in the West Bank.
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The decision contradicts the stance of the Israel Defense Forces, which does not view the presence of Palestinians on West Bank buses as a security threat.
The new guidelines prohibit Palestinian workers from using buses that run directly from central Israel to the West Bank; instead they will have to arrive at the Eyal Crossing, near Qalqilyah and far from populated settler areas, and continue to their final destination from there.
The Samaria Settlers' Committee and local Jewish authorities have conducted an aggressive campaign in recent years aimed at banning Palestinian workers from public transportation used by Israelis in the West Bank.
Currently, Palestinian laborers who work in central Israel can enter only through the Eyal Crossing, where they undergo security checks and swipe a biometric I.D. card before continuing to their workplace.
The workers are not allowed to sleep in Israel, however they can return to the West Bank through various crossings. Hundreds of Palestinians who live in the central West Bank prefer to return on buses that run from Tel Aviv or Petah Tikva along the "trans-Samaria" road through the settlement of Ariel and on to their villages.
The settlers have tried on multiple occasions to prevent the Palestinians from commuting on those buses, and have released a video calling for them to be banned.
Ya'alon recently met with settler leaders and told them he has decided to change the current policy so that Palestinian laborers will have to return to the West Bank only through the Eyal Crossing.
The directive is scheduled to go into effect next month. Until then, the Civil Administration has been instructed to prepare for the change by informing Palestinian workers and offering them alternate transportation.
The GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon does not consider the Palestinian workers entering Israel to be a security threat, as they must obtain pre-approval from the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police in order to receive permits. They then undergo body checks at the border crossings. Alon also noted that terror attacks inside Israel, like the murder of soldier Eden Attias, were carried out by those without permits, not by authorized workers.
MK Moti Yogev, of the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi party, criticized the current policy after riding on one such bus. “Riding these buses is unreasonable. They are full of Arabs," he said.
"We have heard disturbing testimonies from girls who were harassed by Arabs during the bus ride," Yogev continued, adding that many Jewish residents of the area are avoiding those bus lines.
Previously, in response to the settlers' complaints, the Transportation Ministry added buses to the lines running from Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva to Ariel to prevent overcrowding. But the Transportation Ministry has said that, by law, Palestinians cannot be prevented from riding those buses.
The Civil Administration said that the matter is currently being handled. A security official involved in the preparations on Saturday told Haaretz that, "this is a significant security issue that has an effect on the security of passengers." Either way, he said, "no Palestinian will be prevented from reaching his destination."