Source: Huffington Post
Posted: 03/05/2013 1:18 pm EST | Updated: 03/05/2013 1:29 pm EST
Two Israeli buses that were part of a controversial “Palestinian-only” bus line launched earlier this week were torched on Monday night.
Agence France Presse reports that unknown arsonists set buses belonging to Israeli transportation company Afikim alight late Monday in the Arab village of Kfar Qassem.
“Two buses were apparently set on fire but we are looking into all possibilities,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told the news agency.
Following the incident, drivers were asked to remove the remainder of Afikim’s buses from the village, Ynet writes.
Afikim launched the separate lines this week to shuttle Palestinian workers between the West Bank and Israel. The bus routes run from the Eyal military checkpoint in the West Bank to Gush Dan and Tel Aviv, Haaretz notes.
Palestinians previously reached their work destinations via bus lines that connect Israeli settlements in the West Bank with central Israel. Haaretz explains that Israel had been looking into separate Palestinian buses for months, as representatives of the settlers had cited “security risks” when voicing complaints about shared Palestinian-Israeli transportation.
The segregated buses sparked a massive controversy after their launch on Sunday. Activists turned to the media to speak out against the initiative.
“Instead of fighting racism, this government is actually collaborating with the racist system and creates different buses for Palestinians and for Israeli settlers,” Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now told the Times of Israel. “In the West Bank, it’s not a democracy. It’s much closer to apartheid than to democracy.”
Palestinians, meanwhile, seem divided over the issue. Haroun Hamdan, a Palestinian blacksmith who works in Israel, welcomed the initiative. He explained to the Associated Press that sharing the bus with Jewish settlers is “humiliating, and involves a lot of suffering.”
In one instance, Hamdan said a female Jewish settler tried to order him off a bus that had come from the large Israeli settlement of Ariel but the bus driver refused to stop. He said his friends have had to walk 10 kilometers, or six miles, after being kicked off Israeli buses.
According to Israel’s Transport Ministry, the new bus lines are a “goodwill gesture” and the department stressed that Palestinians with work permits will still be allowed to take other public transportation lines, Times of Israel adds.
Bus drivers, however, have said that while there is no legal basis to ban people from mixed buses, “Palestinians will be asked to board their own buses,” according to Ynet.