The Conspiracy

The Road To Apartheid Is Paved With…License Plates?

Growing up, my family used to take a lot of road trips.  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.  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.  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.  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.  And best I can gather, these aren’t terrorists’ cars that take me to and from Kfar Hastudentim.  In fact, I’m assuming my lovely tour guide would be very pleased with my choice of taxis.

The problem is, I’m not.  It pains me to see this yellow monopoly on Israeli highways.  These thoroughfares are almost universally restricted to citizens of Israel, while Palestinians are forced to endure checkpoint after checkpoint.  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.  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.  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.Masa Israel logo

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3 Older Responses to “The Road To Apartheid Is Paved With…License Plates?”

  1. josh jacobs
    May 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    Sam I’m afraid I’m going to have to take issue with a couple of your points. First of all it is hardly apartheid as there is no racial or ethnic element to it. Israeli Arabs may freely drive where they please and have the same benefits of citizenship as their christian and jewish neighbors. No the issue is one of nationality and citizenship. The palestinians of the territories are not israeli citizens nor is there any desire from either side nor intent from the Israelis to make it so. Obviously this creates a distinction. The issue then becomes obvious as the security situation is factored in along with the uncontested results of the security and differentiation measures. The issue of security thus established it only becomes an issue of if you think parts of the WB will be annexed and should be as I do.

  2. Noah
    May 7, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    Josh: While you are correct that Israeli Arabs can in theory drive on settler roads, this does not negate the fact that there is an ethnic component to the segregation of roads in the West Bank. In practice, Israeli Arabs do not use these roads. They were built on behalf of Jewish settlers, and are used almost exclusively by Jewish settlers (they connect Jewish settlements to each other and Jewish areas within the Green Line). In practice, virtually all Arab travel within the West Bank is restricted to winding, circuitous, poorly serviced roads, and hampered further by checkpoints and closures. There is a perfect correlation between a traveler’s ethnicity and the infrastructure he is permitted to use — two sets of roads (not to mention water, electricity, etc.) for two ethnic groups, separate and vastly unequal — and this is disturbingly resemblant of apartheid South Africa, even if the analogy is not perfect.

    You are correct that Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and do not wish to be so. However, this only strengthens the case that Israeli policy towards Palestinians is apartheid-like. Palestinians are non-citizens because Israel has made them such — for over 40 years (2/3 of its existence), Israel has neither offered them full rights within Israel nor a credible promise of having a state of their own. This apparently permanent non-citizenship is as bad or worse than the second-class citizenship of blacks in apartheid SA. By placing settlements and settlers-only roads between Palestinian population centers, Israel has denied Palestinians the chance of ever having a contiguous, viable state where they can move freely to visit relatives, conduct business, or pursue an education.

    The security rationale for Israel’s discriminatory infrastructure is not convincing either. Checkpoints and the fence/wall are the only elements of this policy that have anything to do with security, and the vast costs of those for innocent Palestinians rival or outweigh the benefits Israelis derive. Civilian infrastructure has nothing to do with security. The pattern of Israeli settlements and roads makes it clear that Israel’s purpose is to annex those territories. Barring Palestinians from settler roads may keep settlers safe, but the reason the settlers and roads are there in the first place is to lay permanent claims. Aside from being incredibly unjust, this colonization and discrimination ultimately worsens Israel’s security by (a) provoking Palestinian resistance and (b) undermining support for Israel abroad.

  3. William Stoker
    December 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Josh: you seem to advocate a one-state solution for the WB. I'm interested in learning about your views on citizenship entitlements for non-jew occupants of the annexed WB.

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