The fact that a plan to segregate Jews and Palestinians on buses in the territories has now been frozen admittedly brings a sigh of relief. But it’s impossible to conclude from this that Israeli policies in the territories are free of moral shame and disgrace.
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This impression is strengthened by what Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who proposed the plan, said on Wednesday: that he has no intention of canceling it. Ya’alon’s claim that the plan is meant to serve security needs is unconvincing. That’s because it was drafted first and foremost to appease the settlers, who wanted not to have to share buses with Palestinians.
Segregation on buses has great symbolic power: It recalls the trauma of racism against blacks in the United States and South Africa. Therefore, removing it from the agenda was important to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because he didn’t want to cause a global outcry.
A move so blatantly racist would have sparked harsh criticism of Israel’s policy of occupation, and the world would have understood this decision in the only way it could be understood – that Israel had decided to institute an apartheid regime in the territories.
But despite the fact that this insane decision has been iced, it’s clear that segregated buses are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath this visible tip lies an established policy of separation, anchored in the very foundations of Israel’s rule over the territories. This rule stipulates freedom of movement for Jews but restrictions for Palestinians; permits for houses only in specific communities, rather than an egalitarian permit system based on just and fair criteria; eligibility for social benefits and welfare services for one side only; dispossession of the other side from its lands; and of course, different legal systems for people who live in the same territory, including different court systems, different punishments and more.
Segregated buses attract attention that the daily practices of the occupation don’t manage to attract. For instance, the dispossession of Palestinians from the village of Sussia in the South Hebron Hills, which was recently approved by the High Court of Justice, hasn’t sparked an outcry similar to that sparked by the bus plan, even though it is tainted with the same injustice.
Thanks to the ostensibly temporary nature of the occupation, the international community assists the Israeli segregation regime by averting its eyes. Such injustices would not be viewed with understanding if they were directed at Jews anywhere in the world. Moreover, the expansion of the settlements and the strength of their supporters in recent governments prove that the occupation is far from ending. Therefore, it must be treated as a permanent intrusion.
And the defense minister’s dangerous plans must be rejected immediately.