Here are some of the headlines that appeared in papers worldwide earlier this week: “Israel introduces ‘Palestinians only’ bus lines, following complaints from Jewish settlers”; “Israeli buses for Palestinians spark accusations of segregation”; “‘A Palestinian Rosa Parks is needed’: Israel’s segregated buses spark outrage.” And here’s the headline that didn’t appear: “Palestinians thrilled: Finally, decent bus service for those who work in Israel!” That missing headline speaks volumes about the superficiality of global reporting on Israel–and also reveals, once again, how the Palestinians’ self-proclaimed champions often wind up making their lives worse.
Here are the facts everyone agrees on: Though Israel has barred entry to most Palestinians (for security reasons) ever since the second intifada erupted in 2000, tens of thousands have received permits to work in Israel after being vetted as low security risks. But for years, they had only two ways to get to and from work–take a shared taxi, which is expensive, or ride an Israeli bus, which is inconvenient: Israeli buses don’t serve towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority, so Palestinian workers had to commute to where they could pick up the bus.
This week, Israel finally took a first step toward solving this problem: It instituted bus service direct to central Israel from the Eyal crossing near Qalqilyah, to serve workers from that PA-controlled city and its suburbs. And as the Israeli daily Haaretz reluctantly reported–even as its editorialist denounced this “racist segregation”–most Palestinians are thrilled: “Thousands pushed onto the Tel Aviv line. There weren’t enough buses to meet the demand.” As one worker explained, the new buses will save him NIS 250 a month, more than a full day’s wages.
Moreover, as Israel’s Transportation Ministry pointed out, Palestinians who prefer to ride the old buses can still do so. De facto, because West Bank Jews and Palestinians don’t live in the same towns, most Palestinians will find the new buses more convenient, whereas Jews will prefer the old ones. But calling it “segregation” to have different buses serving Qalqilyah and Ariel makes about as much sense as saying that America has segregated bus lines because New Yorkers and Chicagoans ride different buses to get to Washington.
The real question, however, is why it took so long to provide this service. A major part of the answer, as with everything in Israel, is bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. But equally important is that the international response to the new bus service was utterly predictable–which constitutes a powerful disincentive to launching it. If every Israeli attempt to offer better service to Palestinians is going to spark cries of “segregation” and “apartheid,” Israel has an obvious interest in refraining from such attempts.
In short, the people who suffer most from the world’s knee-jerk reflex of denouncing every Israeli action are often the Palestinians themselves. But that doesn’t bother their self-proclaimed supporters; they couldn’t care less if Palestinian laborers continue to suffer from inconvenient, overpriced transportation. All that matters to them is denouncing Israel–even if it’s for the crime of providing better bus service.