Growing up, my family used to take a lot of road trips. Â During these journeys through America, my siblings and I would whittle away the hours by cataloging the various license plates we encountered along the highways and biways of our nation.
There was a points system that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say that Alaska and Hawaii each commanded a whopping 100. Â The other point values were doled out with great exasperation by my mother, whose road trip duties constantly shifted between navigator and ring referee to mine and my brother’s backseat brawls.
Since then, I never knew different colored license plates could spur that much acrimony until I landed in Israel, and my tour guide explained very matter-of-factly the hierarchy of Israeli license plates. Â Her exact words were something along the lines of, “never, ever get into a car with _____-colored license plates.”
Now, I don’t remember exactly what color I was supposed to avoid like the plague, but it wouldn’t matter anyhow. Â Outside of military, police or U.N. vehicles, every car I’ve seen – and every car in which I’ve ridden – has bright yellow plates. Â And best I can gather, these aren’t terrorists’ cars that take me to and from Kfar Hastudentim. Â In fact, I’m assuming my lovely tour guide would be very pleased with my choice of taxis.
The problem is, I’m not. Â It pains me to see this yellow monopoly on Israeli highways. Â These thoroughfares are almost universally restricted to citizens of Israel, while Palestinians are forced to endure checkpoint after checkpoint. Â A settler’s 15-minute commute becomes for a Palestinian a two-hour ordeal, complete oftentimes with harassment and mistreatment.
I don’t throw out the A-word lightly, but this discrimination brings about memories of Apartheid, with its bantustans and heavy restrictions on movement. Â Government policy has effectively isolated each Palestinian town, while ‘thinning out’ others in what one NGO worker has called “incremental displacement”.
And with settlements continuing to crop up between Arab outposts, the possibility of a viable separate state becomes more and more unlikely. Â As Jewish settlers zoom overhead along Route 60 or Highway 443, Palestinian minibuses rumble along winding dirt roads below, for all intents and purposes, trapped in their own hometowns.
And all this because their license plates aren’t yellow.
Sam Melamed is a Masa participant, participating in Career Israel, one of Masa Israel‘s 160 programs.