File Photo: Palestinian workers stand under a shelter to keep dry from the rain as they wait for transportation after crossing from the West Bank town of Qalqilya to work in Israel, at the Israeli army's checkpoint near Kibbutz Eyal in central Israel, Nov. 3, 2009 (Photo: AP)
Israel's attorney general is questioning an edict issued by the country's defense minister this week that would effectively bar thousands of Palestinian laborers travelling home to the West Bank from taking public buses with Israeli settlers.
The decision would also require the Palestinian workers to travel only through specific military checkpoints when returning to their homes in the West Bank.
Israel's Justice Ministry said on Tuesday that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein called on Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to explain the directive, which was first reported on Sunday.
Weinstein asked for a clarification — and an explanation of the considerations behind it — by Nov. 9. According to the Haaretz daily, the new measure would be implemented in December.
The directive was welcomed by a group representing some Israelis living in the West Bank who had petitioned the minister, saying it was out of concerns for their safety.
Yaalon's spokesman Ofer Harel said the measure meant to ensure security.
"There is no prohibition to travel on buses with Israelis," Harel said. "The only thing is that the workers will have to return through the same crossing they came through, in order for there to be oversight and to reduce the chances of attacks."
"But there is no prohibition to travel with Israelis and we are not prohibiting Palestinians from working in Israel," Harel said.
However, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the ban is a discriminatory measure against the Palestinians, who will effectively be banned from using public buses. It said the procedure is "thinly veiled pandering to the demand for racial segregation on buses."
Every day, thousands of Palestinians enter Israel for work from the West Bank, territory Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and which Palestinians want as part of their future state.
Oren Hazan, from the West Bank settlement of Ariel, welcomed the decision, which he said came after months of petitioning by some Jewish settlers from the area. Hazan said the campaign was due to security concerns.
He said there was "rampant" sexual harassment of Israeli women by Palestinian workers on the buses and rejected allegations of discrimination.
"If you go to the U.S. border without a visa you would not be allowed to enter," he said.