AG Demands Clarification on Palestinian Bus Ban

Call for review over decision to bar section of the Palestinian population from Israeli-funded buses sparks fury from MK.

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Tova Dvorin,

Afikim bus
Afikim bus
Hillel Meir

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has called for clarification from Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Monday, after the Minister stated Sunday that he would ban Palestinian Arab workers from state-funded buses in Judea and Samaria following years of debate over the issue. 

Deputy Attorney General, Dina Zilber apparently turned to the Attorney for the Ministry of Defense, Ahaz Ben-Ari, on Monday afternoon, asking for clarification of Ya'alon's statements.

The request, which was made on Weinstein's behalf, asked for the background behind Ya'alon's decision and the full details of the considerations taken into account for the order, as well as the position of security officials on the subject and all the legal considerations weighed by the Ministry. 

"These clarifications are needed in order to form a legal position by the Attorney General regarding these decisions," Zilber stated. 

Ya'alon made the decision Sunday to ban some Palestinian workers from boarding the buses after a public hearing in November 2013 by MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) on the "nightmarish" state of travel in Judea-Samaria made clear the full extent of the crisis. That crisis has since intensified following a Central Command decision to allow the workers to take the buses, which are subsidized by Israeli taxpayers. 

In April 2013, Central Command decided to allow tens of thousands of Palestinian Arab workers to travel on the region's public transportation systems between Judea and Samaria and other parts of Israel, and allowed an additional 5,000 workers to be employed in workplaces outside of Palestinian Arab areas. 

In addition, due to years of not enforcing policies preventing Palestinian Arabs from moving illegally between regions in Judea and Samaria, tens of thousands have been taking public transportation within the region without proper documentation. 

All of these measures were enacted without consultation with the Ministry of Transportation, and without enacting counter-measures to add buses to existing lines and new routes for an increasing number of possible destinations. 

As a result, Israeli taxpayers in several communities along the roads leading out of Judea and Samaria, and along the road between Karnei Shomron and Kedumim, have been prevented entirely from alighting buses returning from the Center to their communities. 

At the November hearing, several Jewish women gave testimony, as well, over the harassment they suffered at the hands of the workers, and their inability to escape their assailants due to overcrowding. 

The danger is very real: car travel is too expensive for many families, due to both a 150% sales tax on new vehicles in Israel, and gas prices topping 7.66 shekel per liter ($6.50 per gallon). Bus travel and hitchhiking have become the primary means of travel for thousands of residents across 1949 Armistice lines. 

But the Transportation Ministry and Central Command justified the decision to allow the workers, who pay no taxes, to continue using state money to travel between the PA and Israel - despite the fact that Israeli teenagers, mothers, and soldiers were being denied seats due to overcrowding and often faced threats if they did manage to board - claiming that it was a practical necessity to disprove claims of "apartheid" against Palestinian Arabs in Judea-Samaria. 

Yogev (Jewish Home) fired criticism at the request shortly after the appeal was made public, noting that the issues of overcrowding and security breaches, as well as sexual harassment, have been rampant on Judea-Samaria buses for years. 

"I invite the Justice Minister and Attorney-General to leave the office and join me for the journey by bus one Thursday to Samaria before making their opinions known," Yogev said.