Jerusalem's light rail is expected to reach its final destination this month after endless delays and wide public criticism. But judging from what happened to L., an ultra-Orthodox woman, it may not serve everyone.
Last month, the 26-year-old woman took a stroll with her husband on Yaakov Meir Street in the haredi neighborhood of Geula. They spotted two stands selling light rail tickets and decided to stand in line.
L.'s husband had no problem purchasing a ticket, she says, but "when I asked them to issue a ticket for me, the representative replied, 'We don't serve women. You can receive service in a different stand two-three blocks away.'"
A man waiting in line told L. that the women's stand was located on Reshit Hokhmah Street.
"In spite of my anger, I turned to Reshit Hokhmah Street, where there was only one stand. After waiting in line for a long time, I finally received the ticket. I felt humiliated and was flooded with feelings of anger and offense. It's not the beach or a swimming pool; it's a public transportation ticket."
Light rail on Jaffa Street, earlier this year (Photo: Guy Assayag)
L. adds, "I'm willing to respect other people's religious customs, as long as they respect me. I'm haredi, but I won't be refused public service just because I'm a woman.
"There's a handful of haredi extremists who have turned modesty into the most important thing in Judaism and are forcing it on a large group. Many haredi women and men are against this."
Following the incident, L. arrived at the offices of the Kolech association, which helps religious and haredi women, and filed a lawsuit with the Small Claims Court against CityPass – the light rail franchisee in Jerusalem.
She says she approached the person in charge of public transportation at the Jerusalem Municipality about a month ago but received no response. She also appealed to the Transportation Ministry and was told that "the matter is being looked into".
L.'s story illustrates how private companies give in to haredi pressure and make it possible to keep women away from the public space, although in January the High Court of Justice ruled against segregation on buses and ordered public transportation companies to let women get on the bus from the front door.
According to an arrangement approved by the court, any segregation will be performed with the women's consent and without coercion or acts of violence against female passengers.
Attorney Ricky Shapira-Rosenberg of the Israel Religious Action Center, who helped L. file the claim, told Ynet: "L.'s courage and her decision to complain and file a statement of claim for being humiliated is admirable."
Attorney Shapira added that "according to the High Court ruling, which clearly declared sex segregation illegal in the State of Israel,
there is no doubt that the law has been violated. But the letter of law is not the only thing we're concerned about, as keeping women away is morally wrong too."
Does everyone deserve similar service? Light rail (Photo: AP)
According to Attorney Shapira, "L.'s decision to turn to Kolech shows that the haredi public is not made of one piece as the transportation companies think. Large groups within the haredi public are unsatisfied with the segregation and believe it violates women's right to dignity and equality."
A CityPass official confirmed to Ynet on Monday that the company operates segregated stands in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, but claimed that women received the exact same service.
The CityPass company said in response, "CityPass issues tickets to all residents of Jerusalem in stands stationed across the city with the aim of meeting the needs of the city's different populations, including the haredi sector. Issuing a ticket requires taking a photograph. In the haredi sector, a man issuing the tickets cannot take a picture of a woman buying a ticket.
"Due to this sensitive issue, CityPass has accepted the request of haredi leaders that on the stand located on Yaakov Meir Street, in the center of Geula neighborhood, tickets would be issued to men only.
"We are talking about one stand out of 40 stationed across the city. Another stand serving women is located two minutes away."
The Transportation Ministry said in response, "First of all, the operator is responsible for issuing tickets, and in this case it's CityPass. However, after receiving the complaint, The Transportation Ministry ordered CityPass to end this arrangement immediately, if it indeed exists."