Shaked Rappaport, 15, and her friends from Kibbutz Hatzor Ashdod left to go camping near the Sea of Galilee on Sunday morning. When they boarded the bus from Ashdod in the south of the country to Kfar Tabor in the north, they did not imagine that the driver would require the girls in the group to cover their bodies due to the presence of ultra-Orthodox passengers on the bus.
"We wanted to get on, and the driver asked us to cover up and sit in the back," Shaked told Ynet. "We got on, and covered ourselves with the blankets we brought for the campsite. Then the driver announced to the three boys who came with us to move to sit in the front. He separated us. We were shocked, we felt humiliated."
When the bus made a bathroom stop at Sira Junction, the girls tried to talk to the driver. "We told him that it's not legitimate that we can't sit with our friends and dress the way we want," Shaked explained. "This is a free country, and that everyone should live in the world the way they want. We sit quietly and don't disturb the other passengers. He replied that we live in a world of kibbutzniks , that this is not the real world and that it is not legitimate for us to be exposed like this."
Shaked and her friends also tried to talk to the ultra-Orthodox passengers.
"They didn't understand what the commotion was about and said it didn't bother them," she noted. "One of them told the boys that everything was fine, and that they could sit next to us. Even at the stop itself, in line for the bathroom, we talked to them and they said everything was fine - but the driver insisted that he was speaking on their behalf."
The driver claimed to the girls that this was a bus line intended for the ultra-Orthodox.
After one of them told the driver that she felt humiliated, he replied: "Tell it to the news. With this stupidity, you have no religious people at home. You live in a kibbutz, cut off from the world. You live in a Jewish state and you have to respect the people who live here. The fact that you live In the kibbutz and they brought you up like that, I'm sorry for you."
You have to understand this way, this is the Jewish state. This is where you live, and this is what is happening now in this country
The driver added: "This is the last time I argue with you, you children. You will grow up and maybe you will realize that the education you were raised on is the worst possible education. When you get on a bus with religious and ultra-Orthodox people who respect your way, you have to respect them. You have to understand this way, this is the Jewish state. This is where you live, and this is what is happening now in this country."
When they tried to tell him that Israel is a democratic country, he interrupted them. "No democracy. What you are doing is not democratic," he said. "If you came and commented on what I told you, as far as I am concerned, you were not raised in the way of human beings. Do what you want with that. What is happening today in this country is because of your opinion. I convey, therefore, an opinion that you might pass on to your parents at home as well."
The group Bonot Alternitiva (Building an Alternative) commented on the incident, saying that "this is not a mistake, it is a policy. The Israeli government is actively working to exclude and erase women from everywhere, and the spirit of the commander penetrates everywhere, as this incident proves. There is one captain who steers this dangerous ship, and he is the head the government."
"The exclusion of women in the public sphere is nothing new, and recently there have more and more cases where women and young women of all ages are humiliated and harassed by men, just because they are not dressed modestly," the group said.
Hila Peleg, 21, a resident of Ashdod, planned to get on a bus passing through the city last Wednesday morning. The bus driver of the Afikim told her that on that day, the line was for ultra-Orthodox men only.
"I came to get on the bus, I knocked on his door and he told me 'no'. That I can't, because I'm a woman and it's an 'only for ultra-Orthodox men' line," she said. In another case on last Monday, also in Ashdod, Peleg had to remain standing - because an ultra-Orthodox man refused to allow her to sit next to him, according to her.
Iris Amit, 50, a mother of three children from Ashdod, said that her daughter and her two friends had planned to travel by bus to a concert in Jerusalem. She says the driver told them: "I'm not sure you should get on." The children, who were pressed for time, got on anyway - and soon realized that there was a separation between women and men on the bus.
"They shouted at them 'Woman! Woman! No iPhone here! One man even covered his eyes, and a child hid his head in his father's chest. Another woman urged them to move to the back of the bus and cover themselves," she said.
Minister of Transportation Miri Regev said in response that: "There is no place for excluding women in Israel, neither in public transportation nor anywhere else. The State of Israel is a democratic country that does not accept discrimination on the basis of gender. Any attempt to exclude women on a train, bus, plane or any other means of transportation will be met with a response. It is difficult. It is our duty to preserve the dignity of all human beings, and of course the dignity of women – all the more so in the public sphere. I have instructed the ministry's public transportation division to act so that these cases do not recur. If you encounter discrimination in public transportation, do not hesitate to report it to us."
The Nativ Express company said: "We learned about the details of the case from media inquiries, and we intend to thoroughly investigate the facts with the subcontractor company that performed this trip for Nativ Express, and take all the necessary steps in a determined attempt to prevent the recurrence of such cases. However, and under the caveat that a thorough examination has not yet been carried out, it will already be said that at the basic level Nativ Express condemns every behavior that excludes or harms any passengers on the basis of sex, race, nationality or mode of dress, and it is not correct to put up with phenomena (however sporadic and unusual they may be) such as those described by the reporter
"It should also be noted that the company regularly briefs its drivers on, among other things, proper behavior toward the traveling public and their duty to allow a free, safe and comfortable boarding and travel for every passenger, while maintaining the passenger's privacy. The conduct on the part of the subcontractor's driver, as described by the reporter, blatantly deviates from its instructions to the company's drivers and those working in it service."
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called on Nativ Express to fire the driver. “It is not Iran here,” Lapid said in a statement.
First published: 21:24, 08.13.23