Israel's West Bank Segregated Roads

- by Fred Schlomka -

A letter to American Friends
The January 2019 opening of Israel's new segregated West Bank highway was a wakeup call to all defenders of liberty and democracy, yet it's unclear if the international public, especially Jewish Americans, fully understand the implications of transportation segregation in the Occupied West Bank. Does the Israeli rationale that separate roads will keep its Jewish population safe, really make any sense?

Or does it make no more sense than a similar 'solution' to political violence in the USA.  For instance - Imagine if there had been a completely different aftermath to the 1964  race-related Harlem riots that tore through New York City. Imagine if the city had planned and implemented a system of segregated highways in order to keep white New Yorkers 'safe' from the violence of people of color? Would that have been a rational course of action?

Yet this is exactly what the Jerusalem city government has managed to do, in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Transportation. Route 4370 by-passing Anata is part of the north-east ring road around Jerusalem. It is a 4-lane highway with a 25-foot concrete wall running down the middle, with two lanes on each side. One side is exclusively for Israelis, mostly Jewish settlers, and the other side is for Palestinian Arabs.

The Israeli side of the road enables Jewish settlers to save time driving to Jerusalem from their West Bank communities in northern Judea and southern Samaria. However their Palestinian neighbors are denied this access, and are funnelled into the Arab side of the road, which after several miles is closed off and tunnelled under the Israeli side, eventually exiting after several miles only into Palestinian West Bank communities, east and south of Jerusalem.

Ar Ram Segregation Wall alongside Route 60 in Jerusalem
This is the second road of this type to be built in Jerusalem . A section of Route 60, from Jerusalem to Ramallah, was a 4-lane boulevard until 2007, when Israel built a 25-foot concrete wall down the middle of the highway. In this case, the wall serves not only to segregate the road, but also to divide the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ar Ram. Drivers on the west side of the road have free access to Jerusalem and Israel, whereas Arab drivers on the other side of the same road are only able to access West Bank areas managed by the Palestinian Authority.

To continue the US analogy - imagine if the riots of the 1960s did not culminate in civil rights reforms for African Americans, and the violence in New York and other cities had escalated. Imagine if the roads leading to Harlem and the south Bronx had been blocked off by the government, and the only way to go from one neighborhood to another was to enter the 'Black Only' side of the Harlem River Drive, with no exits except to reach the other ‘colored’ neighborhood. To make matters worse, New York City and New York state governments, and Washington, declared this to be an acceptable solution for ‘peaceful coexistence’, much like the old Jim Crow laws were deemed by some to be acceptable in other parts of the USA. Imagine . . .

Israel calls these routes, 'Fabric of life' roads , putting an Orwellian spin in the middle of an ideology that segregates people on the basis of religion. Similarly in the USA, segregationists used to refer to the concept of ‘separate but equal’, which of course it never was, as it is not in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Route 4370 by-Pass road showing the Wall down the center
These roads are part of a long-standing policy of segregation by successive Israeli governments that has created a system of Arab reservations in the West Bank, populated mostly by stateless people who need permits to move outside their communities. The isolated reservations are surrounded by Israeli settler villages and towns with Jewish populations who have passports and full access to the rest of the country and the world.

In Hebrew the Israeli government calls its West Bank policies ‘Hafrada’ (הפרדה), which translates as ‘separation’. The translation of ‘separation’ in Africaans is ‘Apartheid’.

Keep in mind that the US street violence of the 1960s was largely tempered by the civil rights reforms. The conscience of white people finally motivated Congress to vote for structural political reform, eventually resulting in complete equality for all citizens – at least under Federal Law. Or maybe they just got scared enough to ‘grant’ equal rights to everyone, or perhaps a little of both.

Israelis are not motivated to follow this path, and the increasingly strident Zionist ideology of the state requires the maintenance of a Jewish majority at all costs, in order to continue the veneer of democracy. However this veneer has become wafer thin due to the continuing curtailment of basic freedoms and the opening of yet another segregated road.
- Fred Schlomka lives in Israel/Palestine and is Managing Partner of Green Olive Tours.


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