Mea She’arim bus, orthodox
An Egged bus making its way through the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim. Photo by Emil Salman
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Bus service was restored last week to Jerusalem's Mea She'arim after a hiatus of nearly two years, in which there was no public transportation within the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. The Egged bus cooperative had halted service due to ongoing sabotage and violence by a group of religious extremists known as the Sicarii; they threw rocks and bottles at passing buses and punctured their tires.

A special police unit has been created to protect the buses and their passengers. Last Monday the new unit faced its first test, after someone threw a rock at a passing bus from inside a neighborhood synagogue. Eyewitnesses related that as soon as the rock was tossed, it became clear that some of the passengers were actually plainclothes officers.

"Suddenly three guys jumped off the bus and ran into the synagogue, after the suspect," said a resident who was present but asked not to be identified.

The Sicarii say their motives are religious: They say the "immodest" advertisements on the sides and backs of the buses, as well as the failure to impose gender segregation among passengers, offends them.

An earlier attempt, in January, to restore bus service to Mea She'arim failed after a few days: Acts of sabotage returned almost immediately. Since then Egged and Israel Police officials had been discussing how to bring the buses back into the neighborhood.

Representatives of the Sicarii have said they will continue to use violence to keep out the buses.

"It's difficult for us to fight to keep the buses from entering the neighborhood, because the police are battling us with all their might right now," said a man who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. "But if there are indecent advertisements on the buses we will fight at any price, we will not be deterred," he added.

In a response, the Jerusalem police department said it will not permit "any damage to Egged vehicles and will take harsh action against anyone" vandalizing or damaging buses passing through Mea She'arim.

Egged declined to issue a response.

On Thursday a man thought to be a key member of the Sicarii was charged in connection to an attack by about 100 men and boys against a family in the neighborhood.

The arrest earlier last week and the indictment of Yosef Meir Hazan was considered a victory for police in their ongoing war against the Sicarii. Hazan, 21, was apprehended after a five-month manhunt.