Thursday, November 18, 2010

not even "separate but equal"

There's a high-speed train route being built to link Tel Aviv with Jerusalem. Most of the route is within Israel but a section of it is to cross occupied territory. Construction has been going on for several years and continues today.

Americans who know their history, know of the Supreme Court decision of 1896 called "Plessy v Ferguson" in which it was decided 7-1 that "separate but equal" services were legal. In this case, African-Americans and whites could travel on the same train with different cars assigned to each. In other words segregation was legal.

But this train that is to run in Israel and across part of the occupied territories will be for Israelis only. Palestinians, part of whose land is being taken for the route, will not be allowed to ride. Here's a map.

In 1948, there were two Palestinian towns in this area but they were erased by Israel long ago, so no need to hold things up on that account. Those towns are truly gone, yet the Palestinians themselves are invisible to the Israeli government.

For example, the train route has been altered more or less to minimize objections from Israelis living along it. Palestinian objections have been entirely ignored. This isn't surprising given that Israeli settlers take Palestinian land on an almost daily basis without government objection.

A group of activists, both Palestinian and Israeli called Coalition of Women for Peace has produced a full report that isn't long and has many illustrations (like the map I used above). I recommend you look it over. The construction is moving right along.

Americans are rightly ashamed of Plessy v Ferguson for the terrible example it set, denying rights to one group of Americans. But at least that segregated group could still ride the train. For Palestinians, used to being denied the use of roads in their land, this train being exclusively for Israelis will be nothing new.

But why, fellow Americans, are we pouring money into a country that does this? As I've said before, have we no shame?


  1. In Oslo days the Israelis were considering construction of a raised highway linking Gaza and the West Bank, with no off points save in Palestinian territory. The hatred and fear was enormous even before the 2nd intifata. It exists on both sides, and has to be faced, somehow.

    Consider that, 50 plus years after Brown v. Board of Education, American schools are actually, overall, more segregated than in 1950. The Israeli right is acting on this "natural racial clumping." While I think some clumping is inevitable, I do not think it need lead to violence. We are afraid of ourselves, and the Israeli/Palestine conflict brings that fear to a boil. I have no solution, but do believe we must face what we, whatever we you will, have done, and could still do again.

  2. Interesting point about segregation, Greg. Here in my community, one of the first to start busing kids, the school in the African-American part of town was closed as a result because the kids were all "exported", nobody wanted to be "imported". There have been calls in recent years to re-open a school in the same area and let the racial profile of students fall where it may - meaning it would be all African-American as before.

  3. Where I am, in Phoenix, AZ, high schools and elementry schools have naturally seggregated three ways: Hispanic, African-American, and white. In high schools magnate programs, offering special courses to attract whites into the other schools, do not really work. So a predominately black school has a flying program--you can actually get a pilot's license at the end of the course, if you pass the test flight. While some whites outside the school boundary attended for that benefit, they segregated themselves within the school (perhaps helped by locals), and only a few "whites" traveled the distance for the pilot program in any case.

    It is my understanding that similar clumping, post busing, has happened in many parts of the nation. Arab and Jew self clumping will persist in Israel in the best of circumstances. That does not have to mean, however, a rabid racism. When the State abandons support for racial segregation, segregation will almost certainly continue; but the ferocity of racism can thereby be dampened. We cannot make people like one another, or even respect one another. We can, though, refuse to nuture their private race wars.