One Way Israeli, One Way Arab

Jun 08, 2009
*Special to asia!

It may not be the most cost-efficient way of running a transport network, but developing parallel bus systems means Jews and Arabs living in the same city need never meet.

There are two ways of travelling within Jerusalem and the West Bank. There is the Israeli state bus system – used almost exclusively by the Jewish – and there is the minivan system for the Arabs which pick up passengers at the bus stops used by the state buses.

In an unscientific experiment for, this reporter took an Israeli bus from Jerusalem to the West Bank town of Hebron and an Arab minivan back. These are routes taken by Jews from the settlements in West Bank travelling to Jerusalem for work, and Arabs living in Jerusalem working in the West Bank. This is an illustration of the distinct lives Israeli Arabs and Jews live.*

Apart from the amount of time taken (1 ¼ hours)

there was little in common on the two journeys.


hebron sign

Two ways to Hebron, the Israeli and the Arab

The Israeli bus service has an online bus schedule which lists the destinations and timetables for its routes. Boarding the bus, the fare is given to the driver who then keys into a machine that would dispense a computerised ticket.

Going from Jerusalem to Hebron on a Wednesday morning, the service from the Central Bus Station passed through Jewish neighbourhoods where the signs went from being in

Arabic and Hebrew and sometimes English, to purely Hebraic. It was a direct service on an air-conditioned coach bus of double-layered, possibly shatterproof glass windows. While the passengers were checked as they entered the Central Bus Station, the ones that caught the bus from the designated bus-stops on the route went on mostly unhindered.

The Arab mode of transport is slightly less straightforward. For a start, travel between Hebron and Jerusalem requires a change in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem-Hebron leg is served by yellow shared taxis or sheruts, in the form of either regular sedans or old station wagons. In the latter, the passengers in the back pass the fare to the ones in the middle row who then hand it forward onto the driver. No tickets are given. Neither are there timetables. The sherut leaves when it is full.

Pulling into Bethlehem, it is another round of waiting. Minivans serve the Bethlehem-Jerusalem leg, and have route numbers on the front, as they function as local buses in Jerusalem as well. While they do not use the state buses, Arab Israelis can wait at the same state bus stops for these minivans. The minivans have a conductor on board who collects the fare and tears off a paper ticket from a booklet, and windows that can be opened. If someone wanted to board the bus, they just had to stick out their hands.

There was no bus stop to run to.

Entering into Jerusalem, all on board have to go through a checkpoint. The elderly are allowed to remain on the minivan, while an Israeli soldier boards and inspects the interior. The other more able-bodied passengers have to alight and stand in a line to have their blue Israeli I.Ds looked at by the soldiers.

In Jerusalem, it then continues to pick up more passengers, serving as a local service to the terminus in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood, just across from the Old City.

In their own ways, both sides have devised a system best suited for their respective cultural sensibilities. With the two systems, it is completely fathomable that the two communities do not meet or interact, when using public transport. From within Jerusalem to the West Bank, they have found ways to completely segregate themselves from the other in their homes, offices, schools and even on the roads.

Jerusalem may stand as a single city, but even if it has not been divided, walls have been erected between the Israeli Arabs and Jews.

With such aversion towards each other, could they ever co-exist?


*The Arab bus is used by Israeli-Arabs with a Jerusalem ID to travel within the West Bank and Israel. For the purposes of clarity, the Arab-Israeli population in Jerusalem with Israeli identification will be named as “Arabs” and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank as “Palestinians” - as is practised in all articles. It should however be noted that Israeli-Arabs also call themselves Palestinians and consider “Israeli-Arabs” as an occupational term used by Israel.


This is the first of a three-part series on the divided of city of Hebron, where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are living segregated in close quarters to each other, creating a largely tensed situation for both sides in the West Bank.


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi