JERUSALEM, March 4 Israel launched two
Palestinians-only bus lines in the occupied West Bank on Monday,
a step an Israeli rights group described as racist and which the
Transport Ministry called an improvement in service.
The left-wing Haaretz daily reported the ministry opened the
lines, to be used by Palestinian labourers travelling between
the West Bank and Israel, after Jewish settlers complained that
Palestinians on mixed buses were a security risk.
"Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and
Palestinians is a revolting plan," Jessica Montell, director of
the B'Tselem rights group, said on Army Radio. "This is simply
racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security
needs or overcrowding."
The Transport Ministry said the two new lines would "improve
public transport services for Palestinian workers entering
Israel" and replace pirate buses charging them "exorbitant
"The Ministry of Transport has not issued any instruction or
prohibition that prevents Palestinian workers from travelling on
public transport in Israel nor in Judea and Samaria," it said,
referring to the West Bank.
"Furthermore, the Ministry of Transport is not authorised to
prevent any passenger from using public transport services."
Rights groups, however, voiced concern that Israeli police
at checkpoints in the West Bank would remove Palestinian
passengers from regular bus lines and order them to use the new
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said all Palestinians
returning to the West Bank would be searched for stolen
property, describing this as a routine Israeli precaution.
He said he did not know whether and how this might affect
Palestinian travel on regular buses.
Herzl Ben-Zvi, mayor of the Karnei Shomron settlement, said
the new lines "answer the needs of all passengers -
Palestinians and settlers" because they would relieve
overcrowding on buses in the area.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war
and maintains a network of roadblocks in the territory.
Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and
East Jerusalem, for a future state - a claim supported by most
world powers, which view the settlements as illegal.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alistair Lyon)