21st century equivalent of Jim Crow laws in Israel?
March 7, 2013
A group of long-oppressed people — whose aforementioned oppression spanned the lifetimes of many generations — is being forced to use separate buses in order to maintain a sense of decorum in a given society.
It should. It sounds like something one would hear in a documentary about the civil rights movement, right at the part where the now infamous Jim Crow laws were being discussed. At this point in the documentary, they would talk about the Montgomery bus laws, and how figures such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. turned the former’s arrest into a massive boycott of the bus system and a major turning point in the long and complicated history of civil rights in this country.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an excerpt from something about the civil rights movement — this is present-day West Bank. Last week, the Israeli government chose to install buses and subsequent bus routes intended exclusively for Palestinians to use.
These routes cut strategically through the West Bank. And I use strategically as a euphemism here — they skip some major stops entirely. Why? The sole criterion behind this comes from the international equivalent of a Not In My Backyard parents’ association meeting — or some approximation thereof.
The origins of these bus lines came from a collective safety complaint from Israeli citizens living in the West Bank settlement of Hebron, whose legality is the subject of much debate. The citizens of Hebron recommended the measure to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government out of fear that bombs would strike their own buses.
Ironically, this action appears to provide incentive to do just that. With this act, the Israeli government is continuing a wave of measures that are, at best, preventive safety measures. At worst, they are exceedingly close to apartheid.
The laws are strikingly similar to the Jim Crow bus laws of the early 20th century, and the laws are so influential that some Palestinians are even calling for their own version of Rosa Parks.
There is one key difference, however — whites and blacks shared buses under Jim Crow.
These laws are morally reprehensible because they set a precedent as to how a society can treat people it considers beneath them. If Israel does not repeal these laws soon, extreme radicals on both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate may abandon peace negotiations altogether.
After all, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Charlie Spector is a contributing columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.