A woman who reported being attacked by an ad-hoc modesty patrol aboard a Jerusalem bus has submitted an affidavit describing the incident as part of a petition to the High Court of Justice regarding the legality of sex-segregated bus lines.
Miriam Shear, who says a group of ultra-Orthodox men attacked her last year for refusing to move to the back of the Egged No. 2 bus in Jerusalem, has joined a group of women who are asking that the Transportation Ministry regulate the "mehadrin" lines, as they are known.
The group of petitioners includes American-born novelist Naomi Ragen, who says she was verbally abused by ultra-Orthodox men after she insisted on remaining seated in the front of a city bus.
Shear, who lives in Canada, made headlines two months ago, in a story that quickly gained international attention. She was on vacation in Jerusalem and was traveling to the Old City early on the morning of November 24 when she says she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women.
The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that violence was used against Shear, but her account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus, Yehoshua Meir, who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked "severe beating."
"When it comes to issues like transportation, which is a civil matter, there is a certain group imposing their values on everyone else in a violent way," Shear said this week in a telephone interview. "It's got to be stopped."
Though not defined by Egged as a sex-segregated "mehadrin" bus, women usually sit in the back of the No. 2 bus, while men sit in the front, as a matter of custom. Because the line is not officially sex-segregated, Shear was not one of the five women who submitted the petiton to the High Court. Her ordeal, however, is thoroughly described in the 55-page document that was submitted to the court.
"The Ministry of Transportation says that they are not involved, but this issue clearly needs to be regulated so that what happened to Miriam Shear does not happen again," said Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski, who submitted the petition. "We are not asking that these lines be cancelled, but there needs to be order and the issue needs to be checked. Many of these buses serve people who are not ultra-Orthodox and there need to be alternatives."
An estimated 30 bus lines are sex-segregated, but Erez-Likhovski says they are usually not labeled accordingly, so that women do not know where they are supposed to sit until they board. The mehadrin lines are often quicker and cheaper, she said, and in some cases, they are the only form of public transportation available to residents of some areas.
The petition, which was submitted last week, names the Transportation Ministry, as well as Egged and Dan bus companies, all of which were told to submit a response within 45 days.
On a mehadrin bus, women enter and exit through the rear door, and the seats from the rear door back are generally considered the "women's section." A child is usually sent forward to pay the driver and women must also be dressed "modestly."
In the weeks that followed the Anglo File report, Shear says that she was inundated by more than 3,000 e-mails regarding the incident. Most, she said, were supportive, but a "significant minority" accused her of provoking the incident. Many women, she says, contacted her to share their unpleasant experiences aboard the segregated buses.
Shear plans to return to Israel in the coming months to identify her alleged assailants. A police spokesperson said the incident is still under investigation.
Ministry spokesperson Avner Ovadia refused to comment on the petition and in a written statement said that the ministry "will provide a response to the court."
Dan spokesperson Eitan Fixman said the company is not currently operating mehadrin lines, though Dan had two sex-segregated lines in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak in recent years. "Dan operates according to directives issued by the Transportation Ministry," Fixman said.
An Egged spokesperson said the company's sex-segregated lines are operated "without creating elements of coercion within the bus. Therefore, the drivers are directed not to intervene in the passengers' seating arrangements and to allow the passengers work out an arrangement among themselves."
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