Beit Shemesh: Haredim arrested for telling woman to sit in back of bus; riot ensues
Ultra-Orthodox shatter Egged bus windows after haredi couple detained for demanding female bus passenger move to rear; at least three other buses attacked. Moved passenger says bus driver made 'big deal out of nothing'
Haredim in Beit Shemesh struck an Egged bus with hammers on Wednesday, about an hour after an ultra-Orthodox couple was detained by police on the same street for demanding that a woman sit in the back of the bus.
The bus's windows were shattered, but police said no one was injured in the incident, which occurred at around noon.
The commotion began when a haredi couple delayed the bus and demanded that a female passenger move to the rear. Police were alerted to the scene and took the couple into custody.
In addition, two haredi men were arrested for rioting and blocking the path of a bus. At least three buses have been attacked with stones since the incident occurred.
Photo: Rotternik journalists' group
Fares, the driver of bus no. 417 said, "I stopped at a station where a number of haredim were standing. I thought they wanted to board the bus so I opened the doors, then two of them blocked the bus. One of them took out a hammer and began shattering the windows. There were many women and children on board. I tried to drive forward a little to scare them. After a few seconds they moved and we continued on our way."
'Much ado about nothing'
Moshe, Beit Shemesh resident who was detained by police, along with his wife, under suspicion of trying to enforce male and female segregation in public transportation, said that his wife "calmly" asked a female passenger on the bus they were riding to sit in the back of the bus and that the passenger immediately obliged.
The Beit Shemesh resident said it was the driver who instigated matters when he called police and would not continue the route until the haredi couple was cuffed and arrested. Rachel Rosenfeld, the passenger who was asked to move, also said that the arrest was unnecessary, but pointed an accusing finger at other haredi men on the bus, saying they taunted the driver following the incident.
"It was much ado about nothing, really," said Moshe, "it's the 497 bus route which is 'kosher' and 99% of its passengers are haredi. A religious American woman was sitting in the front seat, so my wife quietly explained to her that it is customary for women to sit in the back of the bus and offered to help her. The woman said right away, 'I'm sorry, I didn't know,' and she had her children promptly moved to the rear."
Moshe said that the bus driver then inexplicably started to make rude comment at him and his wife. "He stopped the bus, called the police, and wouldn't keep driving until he saw us handcuffed." His version of the story was brought to light in the haredi newspaper, Hadash B'beit Shemesh.
Rosenfeld, the moved passenger, is a religious resident of Beit Shemesh. She told Ynet that, as she has only recently moved to Israel, she didn't know the nature of the haredi bus route, which goes from Beit Shemesh to Bnei Brak, and so sat with her children at the front of the bus.
"A woman came up to me and told me the bus was 'kosher,'" Rosenfeld said, "and I told her I didn't know what that meant. She said it's customary for women to sit in the back of the bus, and I told her I had no problem with that, only that it'd be difficult to move with the kids and my bag. She offered to help me and we moved to the back.
"Right then the driver got mad and said he would call the police, and there were a few men there who were looking for some action maybe and they provoked him," Rosenfeld added. "After two stops, police came and arrested the couple. After they were arrested, the police officer came up to me and asked me what had happened. I told him they were making a big deal out of nothing and the couple was kind to me. We eventually kept on driving, and got to Bnei Brak. Later we heard they threw stones."
'Bullies unleashed their wrath'
Egged spokesman Ron Ratner slammed those who claim that "the bus driver is the one to blame and that there was no need to call the police in order to restore public order."
Ratner added that according to High Court of Justice and Transportation Ministry instructions, drivers are obligated to turn to police in any incident of forced gender segregation accompanied by violence – verbal or physical.
"The couple that was taken for questioning will deliver its version to the police, and if it indeed turns out that they had nothing to do with the incident I believe no legal proceedings will be launched against them," the spokesman noted.
According to Ratner, the bus company found was appalled by the fact that "several bullies unleashed their wrath after the incident on a bus loaded with families and children, as they smash the windows of the bus, causing injuries to one of the passengers and fleeing the scene after wreaking havoc." He added that he hoped the police will find the assailants and bring them to justice.
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