A bus incident in Beit Shemesh got out of hand and resulted in arrests, stone throwing, and a furor in the media.
When Rachel Rosenfeld, 27, boarded a bus in Beit Shemesh en route to Bnei Brak, it was empty she said, and she took a seat with her two children. At a later stop, a chareidi couple boarded. The woman politely informed Mrs. Rosenfeld that it was a mehadrin bus, and the latter said she had sat down because she was traveling with two young children and several packages. The chareidi woman offered to help her, and she amenably moved towards the rear of the bus.
Rosenfeld is observant, but as a newly arrived resident in the area, was unfamiliar with the separate seating policy, and said that at first “I didn’t know what it was about.” After the woman explained the mehadrin system to her, she said, “I respect that and I had no problem to move, I just said it was hard for me with the children and the bags. She offered to help me and we moved.”
The bus continued on its way, and to the surprise of the passengers, when they reached the Heftzibah neighborhood, four police vehicles surrounded the bus. The bus driver had summoned them, and when the officers boarded the bus, the driver pointed at the chareidi couple and said they had caused a ruckus. The officer asked the man to get off the bus, and the man related what had happened. He also said that the passenger who was asked to change her seat could confirm it. The officer did just that, and she confirmed that nothing had happened, and that she had no hard feelings against anyone.
But for some reason, the story did not end here. The police demanded that the young chareidi man accompany them to the police station, and they detained him. His wife got off the bus to find out what was going on, and was also detained immediately because she “disturbed an officer trying to do his job,” as the police said.
The two were questioned for several hours at the police station, where they repeated the story and that no one had been offended or coerced, and were then released.
The story in the media spoke of harassment and violence. Political condemnations came pouring in and the rhetoric grew heated. But the above story was substantiated by the “victim” in numerous interviews with radio stations and newspapers.
Rosenfeld told reporters that when the woman asked her to move, “the bus driver got very annoyed and threatened to call the police. Two stops later, the police came and arrested the couple. The officer then asked me what happened, and I told him the woman was very nice to me and that they were making an elephant out of a fly. We then traveled further to Bnei Brak.”
Meanwhile, word got out that police were on the bus with regard to the seating policy.
Some local fringe elements, riled up by the incident, threw stones at Egged buses. Police arrested two men in the disturbance. Egged subsequently suspended service in the neighborhood for two hours. Residents were furious at the collective punishment imposed by Egged, claiming it was unjustified to punish thousands of passengers who had done nothing wrong.
Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said in response: “The claim that the bus driver is to blame for this conflict and did not have to call the police to make order in a public place is a mockery.” He claimed that the High Court ruling and transportation ministry directives are that there should be no initiated separation of genders on public transportation, and that seating on the buses should be a voluntary matter and that everyone can choose where to sit. Drivers have been instructed to contact police in any case of coercion accompanied by verbal or physical violence. “The couple that was detained will give its version to the police and if they had nothing to do with such a thing then I believe no steps will be taken against them.”
Ratner added that all claims of the chareidim should be directed at the fringe youth who grew wild, and who are staining then name of an entire community.