Two buses belonging to a company that operates in Judea and Samaria were set on fire late Monday in the Israeli Arab city of Kafr Qasim, located about twenty kilometers east of Tel Aviv, near the Green Line. Police suspect that the act of arson came in response to a government decision, enacted Monday, to operate bus lines designated solely for Palestinian day workers who enter Israel from the West Bank.
No suspects have been apprehended so far in the case. The drivers of all public buses that operate in the Judea and Samaria area were instructed to park their vehicles outside the city.
In light of the sharp objection elicited Monday by the decision to operate the Palestinian-only bus lines, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz clarified later that day that Palestinians were permitted to use any public bus line they wished, including the ones used by settlers.
On Monday, the Afikim bus company began operating the new lines, designed to facilitate travel for Palestinians who possess work permits to work inside Israel. On their first day in service, the buses were crowded with Palestinians who boarded at the Eyal border crossing, upon completing a routine security check. Due to the obvious overcrowding, the ministry has decided to double the number of buses in the new lines.
The new service elicited outraged responses around the world on Monday, which Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On waging a personal attack on the transportation minister. "According to reports," she said, "the decision to segregate the Palestinian passengers from the Jewish passengers came on the heels of complaints, made by Jewish settlers, of too many Palestinians on the existing bus lines."
On her Facebook page, Gal-On took a harsher tone: "This is what apartheid looks like," she wrote. "And no, there isn't a more polite or palatable description for it."
The Arab media also objected to the new service, drawing a comparison to the civil rights movement in the U.S. "Does the world need another Rosa Parks?" asked the pan-Arab media outlet Al-Arabiya. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that "Israel launches Palestinian-only buses amid accusations of racial segregation."
The Transportation and Road Safety Ministry, for its part, rejected accusations of apartheid in the public bus system and stressed that the new service was designed to help the Palestinians. According to the ministry, the new lines aim to eliminate the phenomenon of pirate bus lines whose drivers habitually charge Palestinian travelers exorbitant amounts for transportation to central Israel. Travel on the public bus lines costs only a handful of shekels.