Defense minister denies banning Arabs from buses

Moshe Ya’alon explains to Knesset new controversial security measures for Palestinian laborers

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday vehemently denied media reports that he’d ordered new security measures banning Palestinian laborers from using Israeli buses to travel to work inside Israel, clarifying that a pilot plan was aimed only at preventing workers from failing to return to the West Bank at the end of the day.

Ya’alon was prompted to offer an explanation for his directives after earlier reports said he had given in to settler demands that West Bank Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel be denied the use of Israeli buses.

“I have not made any decision from which it is possible to understand or imply the prohibition of Arabs traveling on public transportation in the West Bank,” he said. “The matter is related to Arabs traveling to work in Israel every morning, who are supposed to return to their homes in the evening.”

Ya’alon admitted that Jewish travelers on the buses had complained of feeling insecure when the vehicles fill with Palestinians at the end of the day, a situation made even more dangerous because within the West Bank those who don’t have entry permits can also access the buses.

Ya’alon said there are some 40,000 Palestinians with work permits who enter Israel every day via 13 access points. The new plan, to be piloted at the Eyal crossing, would require workers to return every day via the same entry point in an effort to keep track of how many really do go home.

Those who go to work in Tel Aviv or other central Israeli cities pass through the Eyal crossing near the West Bank city of Qalqiliya. Once through the crossing, the workers are free to move throughout Israel, and return to the West Bank by any avenue they choose, often via Israeli buses that service West Bank Jewish settlements.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had asked Ya’alon to explain the directive by November 9, the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday. The attorney general will examine the order to determine if it violates Israel’s anti-racism laws or constitutes a proportionate security measure.

The IDF Central Command, which has overall security responsibility for the West Bank, has maintained in the past that it did not believe the laborers, who undergo regular security checks, constitute a security threat on Israeli buses.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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