Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Israel's top legal officer has ordered Moshe Ya'alon, the country's defence minister, to explain a decision that effectively bans Palestinian workers from travelling to their West Bank homes on the same buses as Jewish settlers
The demand, from Yehuda Weinstein, the Attorney General, follows criticism that the move – officially justified on "security grounds" – amounted to racial segregation. Ya'alon's order will make it illegal from December 2014 for Palestinian laborers working in Tel Aviv and central Israel from boarding the Trans-Samaria bus, which travels through the occupied West Bank to the settlement of Ariel. Instead they will have to enter the West Bank through the Eyal checkpoint, far removed from many Palestinian populations centers, and then continue on separate buses. The defense minister's justification contradicts the stance of the Israeli army, which has said that it does not consider the Palestinian workers' presence on the buses a threat, since only those who have been given security clearance are allowed into Israel. Now the Attorney General's office has asked the defense ministry to list the facts and considerations – including legal advice – that prompted Ya'alon's decision, amid criticisms that he was motivated by a desire to curry favor with settlers' groups. The liberal Haaretz newspaper accused him of "kowtowing" to settler opinion while giving ammunition to those who characterize Israel as an apartheid state. "The minister's decision reeks of apartheid, typical of the Israeli occupation regime in the territories," the newspaper wrote in an editorial headlined Welcome Aboard Israel's Apartheid Bus. "One of the most blatant symbols of the regime of racial separation in South Africa was the separate bus lines for whites and blacks. Now, Ya'alon has implemented the same policy in the occupied territories." A source in Ya'alon's office defended the move as purely a security-related matter. "Its purpose is to supervise the entries and exits into Israeli territory, thereby reducing the chances of terror attacks inside Israeli territory," the source said. Israel's transport ministry came under fire in 2013 for introducing "Palestinian only" buses from Israel to the West Bank following complaints from settlers. The latest controversy came as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, hit back at international criticism of a decision to proceed with plans to build 1,060 new settlers homes in East Jerusalem, which is claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital. The European Union and the United States both condemned the move – apparently agreed in an attempt to appease pro-settler ministers in Netanyahu's coalition – as harmful to prospects for peace. Netanyahu dismissed the criticisms as disconnected from reality. "The EU and the US are applying a double standard when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said on a visit to the port city of Ashdod. "When Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority] incites murder of Jews in Jerusalem, the international community remains silent. And when we build in Jerusalem, they become indignant. I don't accept that. Just as the French build in Paris and the British build in London, Israelis build in Jerusalem."