Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has reportedly decided to implement a policy that will prevent West Bank Palestinian workers from riding in buses with Israeli settlers when returning from Israel.
Ya’alon told settlement leaders that under a new policy, West Bank Palestinians will only be able to return to the West Bank through the Eyal checkpoint near Qalqilya, out of the way of most major settlements, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday.
West Bank Palestinian workers are required to leave through Eyal, where they undergo security checks before entering Israel, but they are currently allowed to return home through any checkpoint, which enables them to ride on the same buses as Israeli settlers.
The measure seeks to better account for the thousands of Palestinian laborers who enter Israel on a daily basis by tracking their return back to the West Bank.
B’Tselem, a left-wing Israeli NGO, panned the move and called on Ya’alon to stop hiding behind pretenses and “admit this military procedure is thinly veiled pandering to the demand for racial segregation on buses.”
Ya’alon’s new order goes against current IDF policy, which has allowed West Bank Palestinian workers to ride on the same buses as settlers for the last three years, since Major General Nitzan Alon, then commander of the Judea and Samaria Division and now head of the IDF’s Central Command, decided to do away with the separate transportation systems and allow the West Bank Palestinians to ride alongside Israelis.
The IDF has said that the shared buses do not pose a security threat, as all West Bank Palestinians go through security checks.
While the settlers have come under harsh criticism for demanding segregated buses, Jewish residents of the area have contended that they do not feel safe and that Jewish women regularly experience sexual harassment at the hands of Palestinian riders.
Benny Katzover, head of the Samaria Settlers’ Committee, has said that the decision to allow Palestinians to ride the bus with settlers was a politically motivated move to harm the settlers.
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.