No one is moving to the back of the bus
Wave of gender segregation and harrasment on buses in Israel
Amidst continued gender segregation, Hiddush VP Shahar Ilan calls for investigations against "modesty" criminals.
Women's organizations activists sitting in the front of the segregated buses. 30.09.2009. Photography: Shiran Dadon
In the past week, there was an increase in cases of harassment against women travelling on public buses between Tzfat and Ashkelon. To those who might have hoped that the phenomenon of gender segregation between men and women on buses was in decline, the events of this past week have unfortunately proved otherwise.
On Monday, Noa Kanteman, a young religious woman who studies in Tzfat, took the bus to Ashdod to visit her sister who lives in the coastal city. When she boarded the bus, Kanteman sat in the first row, but as more ultra-Orthodox passengers also got on, she began to receive malicious comments from them. "Everyone who got on the bus told me to move to the back, they said I was impure and yelled that everyone should say the Traveler's Prayer very loudly because there's an impurity in the bus," she said. "One man stood very close to me, asked me to move to the back and said it won't do. He scared me so I decided to turn to the police. My sister called the Ashdod police and I got a call from them moments later."
In response to the harassment, Shahar Ilan, Vice President of Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel, called on the police to "bring the guilty parties to justice in this terrible humiliation that Noa Kanteman went through. Egged Bus Company must investigate the bus driver who continued to drive despite the disruption on his bus."
"We must charge these thugs with criminal sanctions for claiming to "act in the name of God" as well as the transportation companies that prefer to turn a blind eye and not confront these "modesty" criminals."
A few days later, Rinat Am Shalom, an ultra-Orthodox young woman with a baby, boarded the same bus linefrom Tzfat to Ashdod and sat in the fourth row of the bus. She experienced similar yelling and threats from many of the ultra-Orthodox male passengers. Despite the continued harassment, Am Shalom did not move to the back of the bus, where the rest of the women were sitting.
With the increase in these occurrences, Ilan commented, "It is a disgrace that separated bus lines continue and it turns back the societal standing of women in Israel to feudal standards. Once again, simple bus rides have become a difficult trauma for more and more women. Therefore, we must charge these thugs with criminal sanctions for claiming to "act in the name of God" as well as the transportation companies that prefer to turn a blind eye and not confront these "modesty" criminals."
In both cases, the buses were operated by Egged. The company released the following statement: "Egged operates according to the Israeli High Court of Justice's guidelines and allows all passengers to sit wherever they may choose. Bus drivers are instructed to refrain from getting involved in seating arrangements unless there is an extreme situation. In this instance, that was not the case."
Though this week clearly exhibited that segregated bus lines are still prevalent in Israel, Hiddush's VP Shahar Ilan remains hopeful that they will come to an end. "We must hope that Yesh Atid will make sure that the elimination of separated bus lines and other occurrences of religious fundamentalism in Israel will be high on their priority list. There is no doubt that the voters are expecting it."