In recent years several lines of the Egged Co-operative Bus Company in a number of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox have slowly but surely become segregated. Ultra-Orthodox men sit in the front of the bus and ultra-orthodox women sit in the back of the bus. In some extreme cases there is even a curtain between the two sections of the bus. There has been an Israeli Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice – BAGATZ) ruling against the practice and recently a female bus passenger was paid damages by the Egged Bus Co-operative because she was forced to sit in the back of a segregated bus.
As a general rule, I don’t ride Jerusalem buses. I am a middle class car owner and prefer my own ride. The two experiences I am sharing here are those of two different friends of mine, on two different Egged bus lines that run through secular and religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem. In the first instance my male friend took bus line Number 26 from Hebrew University on Mount Scopus (in eastern Jerusalem) to the Nayot neighborhood (in south-central Jerusalem). He paid his fare and found a place to sit towards the back of the bus. A few stops later as the bus was entering Bar Ilan Street, (which runs through several heavily ultra-orthodox neighborhoods), a woman in normative ultra-orthodox style of dress got on the bus. She politely asked him if he would mind moving to the front of the bus. My friend looked around saw that there were other places available on the bus, noted that the woman was neither special needs, old or pregnant and politely responded that he was happy where he was sitting and that he wasn’t willing to move. The lady proceeded to sit down at a distance from my friend.
In the second instance a female friend of mine was returning from a shopping trip in Jerusalem city center to her home in Kiryat Menachem neighborhood (in south-western Jerusalem) via Egged Bus Number 19. The bus she was on was nearly empty and as it reached the second stop after she had boarded a woman in normative ultra-orthodox style dress got on the bus. The woman was anything but polite and aggressively demanded that my friend move to the back of the bus! My friend a proud Syrian-born Jewish woman refused. The woman in ultra-orthodox dress began yelling at her in Hebrew saying things such as “You don’t know how to honor G-d! You must move to the back of the bus!” The bus driver had to stop the bus and intervene in order to prevent a physical encounter between his two female passengers.
I know that two isolated incidents really aren’t all that significant. But I am a Jerusalemite and also know that sometimes in Jerusalem all it takes is just one incident to start a frightening and ugly trend. Carrying, as I do, the memory of American segregation and discrimination on buses and in other public places, I am confused and frightened by these two incidents. Are the actions of these two women examples of submission to degrading standards for women? Is requesting voluntary segregation a reflection of what some Ultra-Orthodox view as the “correct place” for women – that is the back of the bus? Are these two examples shared by different friends of mine just odd co-incidences? Or are they examples of the use of internalized oppression? Yes, internalized oppression because in both cases the requests to segregate came from women passengers on the bus.
I am writing this blog post praying that I am wrong and that these are “just” two very unusual co-incidences. I am wondering: are other bus riders in Jerusalem having similar experiences? If you have had a similar experience please don’t shrug it off and remain silent about it. If this is happening on a larger scale than the two examples I have given, it needs to stop! Please do use your voice to stand up against bus segregation, call Egged Bus Co-operative and let them know about it, right now!