by Derek, Yanoun Team
Seeing the familiar apoplectic Facebook posts in response to a strike by tube train drivers in London this Christmas I was reminded of my first visit to Yanoun. We alighted from a service (minibus taxi) at the Za’atar junction, a busy roundabout on the edge of the city of Nablus, and our Brazilian guide Alex, from the preceding EAPPI group in Yanoun, gave us our first lesson in the transport politics of the West Bank.
“Settler bus stop” he said, pointing to an empty shelter with a bench, set back from the junction on a paved area, with two large concrete blocks in front of it. “We will wait there.” He continued, pointing to a group of Palestinians stood in the road about 30 feet ahead. As we walked around the shelter, I took in the guard tower positioned behind it.
Though I was a little slow to gather the implications of this set-up, it sank in eventually. Jewish Israeli Settlers (in this instance mostly from Tappuah settlement, which overlooks Za’atar) in this area have their own bus stops, which Palestinians are restricted from using, with the threat of force used to ensure compliance. Thus the Palestinians wait on the busy road itself, unprotected from the elements, to catch buses or taxis.
EAs pass the bus stop at Za’atar Junction. The manned guard tower overlooking the stop is visible in the background.
As we learnt, this single clear contrast is the tip of the iceberg. There are effectively two transport systems in the West Bank, but not two parallel systems that work along similar lines. Rather at every turn transport is less reliable, less safe and less comfortable for the Palestinian population than for the Israelis who inhabit the settlements. For example, according to a report by the Israeli peace group B’Tselem:
“In October 2010, there were 232 kilometers of roads in the West Bank that Israel classified for the sole, or almost sole, use of Israelis, primarily of settlers.”
The right of Palestinians to freedom of movement in the West Bank is severely constrained, not just by segregated busing and roads, but by measures such as checkpoints, permits and the separation barrier, 85% of which is not on the 1967 armistice line but inside the Occupied Territories. The situation is fluid, and 2012 saw the lifting of some movement restrictions in the West Bank. However as B’Tselem points out:
“the military continues to treat Palestinians’ freedom of movement as a privilege rather than as a right.”
There are a number of bus services that exclusively serve settlements and facilitate the movement of Settlers between the occupied territories and Israel, effectively discriminating against Palestinians and bolstering Israeli support to Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law.
Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the West Bank have confirmed that settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — which states that
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
The declared goals of these measures are security for Israelis, both those inside Israel and the 500,000+ settlers living illegally in the West Bank. Even taken at face value, such a comprehensive regime of measures affecting a specific population constitute collective punishment, also illegal under the fourth Geneva Convention. A 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice rules that:
“The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.”
Both the settlements and the measures taken to protect and sustain them violate the human rights of Palestinians. This reality is unavoidable, even when one wishes to do something as simple as catch public transport. Whatever the tube’s shortcomings, I know which system I prefer.
The ‘Settler’ bus stop at Za’atar. A Palestinian man waits by the roadside in the far distance.