Activists: Hebrew-only Bus Signs Show Gap Vis-a-vis Arab Citizens

Knesset panel discusses claims of inaccessibility of bus lines as well as signage. Transportation Minister: Translation of bus stop signs into Arabic, English due to be completed in summer.

A new electronic, Hebrew sign at a Haifa bus stop, February 2016.
A new electronic, Hebrew sign at a Haifa bus stop, February 2016. Rami Shllush

Electronic signs announcing the arrival times and destinations of buses have recently been posted at some stops in Haifa – but they are written only in Hebrew. So far approximately 20 such signs have been erected and, according to the Ministry of Transportation, 200 additional ones will be installed over the next three months around the city, and the translation of the electronic signs into Arabic and English is due to be completed by August.

In the meantime, at a meeting of a Knesset subcommittee on transportation on Monday, it was revealed that 600 million shekels ($150 million) are missing from government coffers in order to close existing gaps in the public transportation serving Arab communities across the country.

In 2002 the High Court of Justice ordered five so-called mixed cities to add Arabic signage in their municipal areas. This followed a petition filed by the Adalah legal center for Arab minority rights and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, demanding that Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ramle, Lod, Acre and Upper Nazareth add Arabic to all directional, warning and information signs on roads and at stops. Haifa was excluded from the petition since some Arabic signage existed there.

“Lack of access to information and the exclusion of Arab citizens harms the entire population since it creates inequality,” says social activist and theater director Ari Remez.

“Six years after an amendment to the transportation law there are still signs lacking in the language of one-fifth of the population,” says attorney Shada Amer from the ACRI. “It’s strange that [in many areas in] a mixed city like Haifa, with a large Arab population, there are still no signs in Arabic.”

The Haifa municipality says that it is abiding by Transportation Ministry guidelines. The ministry says that it is in the process of translating the information posted at bus stops across the country into Arabic and English.

Various discrepancies between Jewish Israeli and Arab sectors were discussed at Monday's meeting. Attorney Amer noted that according to ACRI, only 5,000 out of 30,000 bus stops were accessible in terms of language to the Arab Israeli public, and another 100 electronic signs have yet to be translated into Arabic.

A representative of the Knesset research and information center said that women are the main consumers of transportation in the Arab sector. She noted that a 2011 State Comptroller Report pointed to defects in dealing with infrastructure, but noted that to that end, between 2010 and 2015 more than 2 billion shekels ($500 million) was allocated to Arab municipalities. The criticism of a lack of information in Arabic was mentioned during the session, as was a complaint by students that transportation from Arab communities to colleges in the north is deficient.

A Transportation Ministry representative responded that 125 million shekels were to be allocated this year to the Arab sector, and that 50 new bus lines would be opened, and 101 other ones upgraded, with expanded routes and improved frequency.