Public bus driver Eyal Tzipori arrived in Bnei Brak on Sunday night with five passengers, precisely as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox extremists were clashing with police over the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions and crackdowns on unauthorized gatherings at synagogues and Haredi educational institutions.
Tzipori says and his passengers fled the bus when a group of youths started bombarding it with stones. With an apparent lack of police on the scene, the rioters then boarded the bus and set it on fire.
"I had a sense that if I had stayed, I would have died. That would have been the end of my life,” says Tzipori.
“In the moment you can’t really comprehend that someone is throwing stones at you. I thought they would stop there, but they didn’t. I was taken to hospital by two Magen David Adom paramedics who fought tooth and nail to get me out.”
Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party who was born in Bnei Brak, condemned the arson as "pure delinquency."
“We go to great pains to ensure the safety of our drivers and passengers," he said Monday.
"What happened on Sunday night was pure delinquency. The rioters who attacked the bus driver must all face the full force of the law. We understand the plight of the drivers and are in constant contact with them to create a safe atmosphere for them."
Following the riots in Bnei Brak, the Transportation Ministry instructed all bus companies to avoid entering certain neighborhoods in the city.
The police arrested four suspects after Sunday's riots, which also saw rioters throw stones at other vehicles including the car of Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein.
According to an eye witness, hundreds of rioters surrounded Rubinstein's car and he was only able to leave after tear gas was used on the mob.
"On Sunday night we had to deal with serious disturbances in the city of Bnei Brak, in which lawbreakers attacked civilians and caused extensive damage to property, including setting fire to a bus while attempting to harm emergency and rescue personnel and endangering the entire law-abiding population,” Israel Police said in a statement.
“In a targeted operation, police forces from Bnei Brak, reinforced by additional police officers from all over the district, dispersed the rioting crowd. We are working to identify the offenders and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
At an emergency meeting held Sunday night at Bnei Brak municipality, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said he had received a message from the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky.
"He told me to say on his behalf that these demonstrations should stop and he also urged the police to stop the terrible things that they are doing to the residents of Bnei Brak," said Gafni.
“This is a very difficult time with surging infection rates throughout the country, including the ultra-Orthodox public, and unfortunately we see that it is harming young people, mothers and babies.”