The mother of an 11-years-old girl of Ethiopian descent has filed a defamation suit against a bus drive who allegedly called her daughter a "monkey" and told her to "go to the zoo."
"How can a person humiliate her in front of her friends in this manner?" the mother, who is suing for NIS 139,800 in compensation, told Ynet.
"She was crying when she told me what happened and said, 'Mom, I don't want to go to school tomorrow. All of my friends heard (about this) and will make fun of me,'" the mother said.
Last January, the girl, who goes to school in the Jerusalem area, went on a school bus taking her and her friends to an extra curricular activity class. Towards the end of the ride some of the girls were noisy and wild; however the plaintiff was not among them. The driver took the intercom and called the girl "Hey, you, the monkey at the back!" The driver followed the girl after she got off the bus and continued to insult her by asking "where is the monkey?"
The driver then continued humiliating the girl in front of her friends and even offended her family. "Go behave this way at your parents home, oh, I forgot it won't matter as they are monkeys as well, so why don't you go to the zoo?" taunted the driver.
Ethiopians protest against discrimination in Be'er Sheva (Photo: Herzl Yosef)
The girl's mother said he daughter "was simply afraid of the driver. She told me that she and her friends just ran away. (The driver) went off the bus and actually sought her out and called her and the entire family 'monkeys.' She told me 'Mom, it's because I'm Ethiopian,' her tears were mixed with anger too."
The mother said that following the support her daughter received from her school, she was persuaded to return to school.
"In Ethiopia they told us 'you are Jews, get out of here, this is not your land and not your homes,' and there were even cases of assaults and burning of houses. All this time we felt only the land of Israel is our country and we thought we could raise our children with pride here. It's hard to encounter such phenomena here of all places, and this is not a rare case," the mother said.
In the statement of claim filed by the Unit of Legal Aid in the Justice Ministry and Attorney Shachar Katovitz from the Woolfson, Weinstein & Co. law firm, said that the girl felt humiliated and frightened by the driver, and that her friends urged her to run away out of fear he might hit her.
A teacher who was at the scene confirmed the story by the girl and her friends and ensured that a different driver takes the girls back.
The suit, that also includes the company the driver works for, also claimed that the driver humiliated the girl "in an unprecedented manner, while yelling racist curses at her in front of her friends, and this for one reason only: the color of her skin and her ethnicity."
The plaintiffs regard the driver's behavior even more serious due to the context in which they were said – the girl's young age, the age difference between him and the girl and her humiliation within the school surroundings.
The defendants are required to pay the girl the maximum amount set for defamation suits without the proof of damages.
The driver denied saying the comments attributed to them. "I gave my version to the police, it's all nonsense, I didn't say these things. People are trying to make easy money."
The manager of the transportation company called to apologize after the incident and said that the driver will no longer make the school children route. After three days the driver arrived to school and asked to apologize to the girl, but she refused.
Head of the Legal Aid Department in Jerusalem District Adv. Adi Komerino-Peled, stated that "this is a difficult case of racism. There is no place in a civilized society to degrade and discriminate a person for any reason."