TERRA INCOGNITA: Segregating fact and fiction

Every single story about the “segregated Palestinian only” bus lines was based on ignorance of the actual situation.

Palestinians hold a flag in the West Bank 300 (photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinians hold a flag in the West Bank 300
(photo credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
The Twainist witticism of the “lie traveling halfway round the world while the truth puts on its socks” was never more true than with regard to this week’s story about Israel inaugurating “segregated bus lines.”
This story began with Israeli media reporting Sunday: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinian only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers” (Chaim Levinson, Haaretz). The mainstream newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported on “Separate but equal bus lines?” the next day.
The foreign media took its cue from the Israeli reports – in many cases, such as at Al Jazeera, the Israeli reports were re-printed almost verbatim.
At the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey wrote, “Starting today Palestinians travelling from the West Bank into Israel have their own bus lines.” She claimed that “according to Haaretz, the two new non-mandatory public bus lines will start from checkpoints and run north toward Tel Aviv.”
The Times in London claimed “‘Apartheid’ anger as Israel starts separate bus lines in West Bank.’” The ‘Lede’ blog at the New York Times claimed: “Israelis divided over separate bus lines for Arabs and Jews in occupied West Bank.” According to the author the Transportation Ministry introduced the bus service for “30,000 Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and commute to work daily in Israel: two new bus lines ‘designated’ for their use.”
At Australia’s The National, the article explained, “It is the first time that Israel has, in effect, introduced Palestinian-only buses in the West Bank since taking over the territory in...
Daily Banter writer Ben Cohen claimed that “starting today, certain buses running from the West Bank into central Israel will have separate lines for Jews and Arabs,” and Salon.com reiterated, “Certain buses for West Bank commuters will have segregated lines.”
The media hype was perfectly scripted to fit the narrative that is every Israeli leftist’s dark fantasy and every anti-Israel activist’s dream: Apartheid and the “Old South” alive in well in the Holy Land.
Philip Weiss at the blog Mondoweiss noted, “The story reminds us of the Jim Crow South, and a heroic chapter of American history.” Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On claimed: “Separation on buses based on ethnicity was customary in the past in racist regimes around the world.” A Peace Now spokesman claimed: “A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed to insist upon sitting on Jewish bus lines.”
EVERY SINGLE one of these stories about the “segregated Palestinian only” bus lines was based on ignorance of the actual situation, and most of the stories were brimming with inaccuracies, to a degree bordering on unethical reporting. What is interesting is that the source for almost all the information in these reports was the original two Israeli reports.
The assumption is that Israeli sources, being on the scene, report the news accurately. However the reality is that the two initial reports in the Israeli press were crafted to provide a manipulative narrative, to fit an agenda.
Why did Yediot title its article “Separate but equal”? No one at the Transportation Ministry or the bus company suggested that these lines were supposed to be separate or equal. In fact the ministry and company categorically denied that there was any directive saying Palestinians must take certain buses: “the Ministry of Transport is not authorized to prevent any passenger from using public transport services.”
The website of the bus company, Ofakim, shows that the No. 211 bus route begins near Kalkilya and travels to Tel Aviv with stops in Petah Tikvah, Bnei Brak and elsewhere. It doesn’t indicate that it is a “Palestinian only” bus or that Jews may not ride it. Ofakim claimed “We are not allowed to refuse service and we will not order anyone to get off the bus.”
Why did the press not title the articles “New buses servicing Kalkilya prompt accusations of segregation”? This is, after all, the real story.
The new bus lines were not inaugurated, as some reports claimed, to serve all the Palestinians in the West Bank, or “30,000” workers (in fact the new lines serve around 1,300 people daily). They were created only to serve the needs of workers who come from the area of Kalkilya and usually used buses that serve the Jewish communities in Samaria. This is a major corridor for Jews and Arabs who commute to Gush Dan to work.
Nothing clearly prevents Jews from waiting for bus No.211, one of the new lines, along with the Arab workers, and nothing obvious prevents Arabs from commuting to a bus stop near a large Jewish community, to take a bus serving Ariel for instance. There is no “segregation,” no “separate but equal.” No one is “sitting at the back.”
MANY IN Israel’s media purposely exaggerated the issue to bring attention to themselves in the international spotlight. They know foreigners presuppose Israelis actually know more about Israel than others, and in manipulating this issue the Israeli press abused the trust put it in it by legitimate news organizations that rely on it for information.
Like an advertising company creating slogans, some in Israel’s media will create catch phrases like “Palestinian only buses” so that they will be picked up abroad; Israel’s news organizations can then put the very phrase they invented in quotes, as if it were a term referring to a real phenomenon. This is what happened in Haaretz, where the editorial bashed the “new routes to racism” and an op-ed by Aeyal Gross claimed the country was “on the bus to Israeli apartheid.”
Israelis, primarily on the Left, wallow in the need for “another Rose Parks.” This is part of a culture that wants to relive the 1960s and, absent of actual heroes today, invents “modern-day Rosa Parks” to fulfill the dream of being modern “freedom riders” (last year “Rosa Parks” was also invented, to oppose the haredi bus lines’ discrimination against women). This is why “Plessey v. Ferguson” is the new catch-word in Israel in referring to the buses.
Tin-pot intellectuals are waxing about how 2013 is a repetition of 1896, when the US Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was acceptable. Ignoring the fact that there is no equal and there is no separate, the pundits pretend to “educate” the Israeli public about this issue. Now people can be heard in the streets talking about “Plessy,” and yet no one knows the least bit about the actual case, just as they don’t know the least bit about bus lines 210 and 211.
THE MOST biting aspect of the current demagoguery is that it ignores a fundamental hypocrisy. Israel’s coffee-house smarties whine about the “segregated buses” without wondering just who are these 30,000 Palestinian workers who wait in lines at 4 a.m. to board the “segregated” bus to Tel Aviv.
Aren’t they the Palestinians who built the towers in Ramat Aviv for some of the very same people who object so strongly to the buses? The people who talk about “Rosa Parks” don’t want an actual boycott by the Palestinians, as happened in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that Rosa engendered in 1955 – because then there would be no one to do the dishes in the restaurant.
They demand that Israel’s public buses not serve the Palestinian population, deriding any service as “apartheid,” in order to make the Palestinian workers’ lives as hard as they can be; the workers must pay three times more to ride “shared taxis” to Tel Aviv.
That is the brutal reality: Palestinian workers are underserved by their employers in Israel. Construction companies don’t provide vans to go pick them up in Kalkilya or Hebron, instead the workers get up at 3 a.m., or even sleep at relatives’ houses, to catch the few buses and “pirate vans” that help get them to work. It is a situation rife with abuse of the poor and vulnerable, a system that buses 210 and 211 were supposed to help alleviate.
Likewise, there is no evidence that the Israeli public so angered about “segregated” buses has ever demanded that its public bus system serve Palestinians or even Israeli-Arabs in Israel. There are few public buses in Israel that serve the Arab community except in mixed cities (Jaffa, Haifa, Ramla and Lod). The public and press decry segregation when it can point fingers at two bus lines, but doesn’t ask questions about the routes of lines throughout the country, many of which manifestly discriminate against large Arab locales, such as Umm el-Fahm, Nazareth and Rahat.
Has anyone objected to this discrimination, that has been the pattern for 65 years? Has anyone wondered why east Jerusalem’s bus station serves only Arab communities in the West Bank while west Jerusalem’s bus station services Jewish ones? Two communities might be side by side, but the way to get to them is separated by miles.
Yet, that is not segregation, not separate but equal. No Rosa Parks required. Why? Because a challenge to that system might require an entire re-ordering of all the public buses in Israel. Instead, it is easier to get rid of lines 210 and 211, the “apartheid” lines, because they dared to serve Arab workers and provide them with a cheap way get to work.