Monday 4 March 2013

History repeats itself

In Memphis, Tennessee, I once visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which has been built behind the façade of the Lorraine Motel where Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

One of the museum’s exhibits is a 1950s-vintage bus from Montgomery, Alabama, with racially segregated seating, similar to the bus in which Rosa Parks made her famous protest in 1955. The seat occupied by Rosa Parks is wired up so that, when you sit in it, an automated driver’s voice instructs you to move to the back of the bus.

I was reminded of this by today’s news from Israel and the Occupied Territories, where segregated bus services have started (see the Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and the Israeli daily Haaretz). The Israelis claim they are introducing Palestinian-only bus services to benefit Palestinian passengers, but a more likely explanation is the frequent ejection of Palestinians from regular buses because illegal settlers don’t like sharing buses with them.

Israel and its supporters may baulk at the description ‘apartheid state’ but, given the gradual transformation of the occupied West Bank into a series of Bantustans and now racial segregation on buses, observers can be forgiven for finding the comparison apt.

One such observer remarked, “Creating separate bus lines for Israeli Jews and Palestinians is a revolting plan. This is simply racism. Such a plan cannot be justified with claims of security needs or overcrowding.” The source of that quote? Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

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