Settlement Leader Rejects Demands to Fire Israeli Arab Bus Driver

Residents of Gush Etzion settlement bloc demanded the bus driver be dismissed after word got out that he would work as a school-bus driver in the settlement of Elazar.

Residents of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Jerusalem are demanding a bus driver be dismissed because he is Arab. The head of the regional council has rejected the demand.

The driver, an Israeli Arab, is employed by the Gush Etzion Development Company. The company is an agency of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.

The development company operates a bus service for local school children and employs dozens of drivers. The employee in question was hired several months ago to perform a range of tasks, but word got out that he would work as a school-bus driver in the settlement of Elazar.

In a letter, Elazar residents objected to the Israeli Arab's placement as a school-bus driver in the settlement.

Acknowledging that Jews and Arabs are "cousins," the residents said that the regional council "apparently wants to save a few pennies at the expense of the safety of our children, or perhaps for another reason, regional peace, eating baklava in Hebron, hummus in Bethlehem or a real vision of the end of days."

The residents stressed that the complaint was not motivated by anti-Arab racism but rather by what they said were legitimate concerns for their children's safety. They said that if a member of the driver's family were detained by the army, it was impossible to know how what the driver might do as a response.

Moshe Cohen
Tomer Appelbaum

The secretary of the settlement of Elazar, Yossi Kaufman, told Haaretz: "[Residents of] Elazar have approached the regional council and requested that the settlement's buses not have an Arab driver. If army directives require a guard for an Arab entering the community, there can't be an Arab school-bus driver. If someone wants to earn a living, be my guest. In fact, Arabs built the houses in Elazar. When it comes to children, that's an issue of safety. We were notified that the driver is not Arab and that was the end of the story."

At the same time, the right-wing Komemiyut movement wrote to the Gush Etzion Regional Council asking that the council stop employing Arabs. The movement's board members include Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba, against whom an arrest warrant was issued after he supported a book justifying the killing of non-Jews under some circumstances.

"In recent years we have been disabused of our innocence and know that to inherit the land, we must see to it that our enemies are not given a source of livelihood," wrote Komemiyut chairman Moshe Cohen. "Whereas otherwise, heaven forbid, we will meet a fate similar to the fate of the Jews of Gaza, who were ultimately expelled from their land because they were left very few in number in the heart of a massive number of Arabs."

In response to the objections, Shaul Goldstein, the head of the regional council, sent a letter to area residents. He said employing Israeli Arabs is not an "innovation" of the regional council, adding that 40 percent of public drivers in the country are Arab and that the situation is similar in the construction industry. He said hundreds of Arab workers come to Gush Etzion settlements every day to work.

"Arabs in the State of Israel are employed in every field: doctors, economists, gas-station attendants, construction workers, teachers, Knesset members ... and drivers too," he wrote.

Goldstein also noted that racist discrimination in employment is illegal and that as long as education encouraging manual labor is not being provided, "this is not the ideal reality, but that's the situation."