Editorial

Restore Arabic to Israeli City’s Buses

The conduct of the Transportation Ministry and Be’er Sheva’s mayor creates a dangerous precedent, whereby the writers of a few posts are given the power to withhold other citizens' basic rights.

A bus going to Be'er Sheva stops in the Bedouin town of Hura, August 4, 2016.
A bus going to Be'er Sheva stops in the Bedouin town of Hura, August 4, 2016. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Be’er Sheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich is extremely sensitive to the needs of his city’s Jewish residents. When a few of them wished to see a halt to the use of Arabic announcements on the Dan company’s Be’er Sheva bus lines, Danilovich quickly implored the Transportation Ministry to remove the offending “hazard.” The Transportation Ministry, headed by MK Yisrael Katz, willingly complied and ordered the bus company to cease using Arabic-language announcements.

It took just one week, since this bus company began operating in the city, for Be’er Sheva residents, the mayor and the Transportation Ministry to erect a dam to keep Arabic out of the city’s public space. All it took was a few angry posts from residents – “As far as I know, Be’er Sheva is not an Arab city;” “It looks like I’m living in Hebron,” and others – to spur the mayor to action. Danilovich’s explanation: “When bilingual announcements are implemented throughout the country, they will also be implemented in Be’er Sheva.”

Be’er Sheva, a metropolitan center for tens of thousands of Arab citizens, is not keen to serve as an example for other cities. The Arab citizens who live in and around the city will continue to “enjoy” the status of tourists who aren’t entitled to announcements in their language, which is also an official state language.

The problem with the conduct of the Transportation Ministry and Be’er Sheva’s mayor isn’t just that it removes an important aid for Arab citizens who use the city’s public transportation. It also creates a dangerous precedent, whereby the writers of a few posts are given the power to withhold other citizens' basic rights. This is certainly a basic right, also considering that some of this population is not literate and is not adequately served by the written signs in Arabic.

Worse, this precedent is a warning signal to all public transportation companies that dare consider introducing Arabic announcements on their buses. The position taken by the Transportation Ministry — that signs and announcements in Arabic will be implemented in locales where more than half of the residents are Arabic-speakers, is also unacceptable. Arab citizens also use bus lines outside of Arab areas.

This stance shows that the Minister Katz and the Transportation Ministry are trying to circumvent the law concerning the status of the Arabic language, and in so doing serve as an example to other government ministries. The position taken by Mayor Danilovich, who takes pride in his activity on behalf of the Bedouin in the Negev, is also disappointing. This wrongheaded policy should be immediately reversed. The Transportation Ministry should rescind its directive to the Dan Be’er Sheva bus company, and Be’er Sheva’s mayor should restore the Arabic language to the city’s buses.