Emmanuel Bus Route Is Still Problematic

Dan waiting for more bulletproof buses

The problem of insufficient armored buses on the Emmanuel route will not be completely resolved until 22 more buses are bulletproofed, according to Transportation Ministry sources. The buses are being worked on and are in different stages of readiness so that they will gradually join the fleet that covers the territories in the coming months.

On Sunday, five buses belonging to private companies were rented and incorporated by Dan, in addition to the seven armored buses it already operates, after the firms and the cooperative resolved a dispute over financial arrangements. But, the solution is only partial, according to the sources. The main problem is that the buses belonging to the private companies are not available to the general public at peak hours, when they are being used for their primary purpose - ferrying children between schools and their homes in the settlements. Altogether, there are 150 bulletproofed school buses operated by private and regional companies.

On October 31, an agreement was reached between Dan and three private bus companies, but since it had not been implemented, the victims of last week's bus bombing on line 189 from Bnei Brak to Emmanuel were traveling on a non-bulletproof bus. Ten people were killed and 26 were injured in the attack. According to the agreement, from November 4 only bulletproof buses were to run on the Bnei Brak-Emmanuel line.

Nahum Gabai, in charge of transportation in the Civil Administration, sent a written summary of the agreement reached at the end of October to the chairman of the bus cooperative, Yoram Sharabi, the following day. Ten days later, he received written confirmation about the contents from Shmuel Rafaeli, head of the transportation division in Dan. The summary appears to contradict Dan's original denial - immediately after the bomb attack - that it had agreed to use bulletproof buses on line 89, between Bnei Brak and Emmanuel, and secondary lines such as line 189. Dan added at the time that it had been requested only to ensure that the buses were armorplated against stones and Molotov cocktails.

According to the summary of the agreement, the three private companies - the Samaria Development Corporation, Metaylei Barkanit and Metaylei Gvalim - agreed to the ministry's request, and that of the Samaria local councils, to rent the cooperative six bulletproofed buses until the end of January 2002, when Dan will receive the first of 12 such buses. The six rented, bulletproofed buses would operate on the route at all times, except for two times - in both directions - in the early morning hours, according to the arrangement which was made following the demands of Emmanuel residents.

In his letter from November 11, Rafaeli wrote, "The Dan cooperative agrees to the arrangement until it has received all the bulletproofed buses on February 1, 2002."

Further confirmation that the buses were due to begin operating on November 4 came from Lt. Col. Shlomo Vaknin, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Israel Defense Forces and who summarized the points of the October 31 agreement in writing. His version lends credence to the defense establishment's claim that it had demanded that Dan bulletproof buses on the Emmanuel line.

Following the agreement, the Emmanuel local council distributed a flyer to residents with the schedule of the bulletproofed buses, including the ill-fated 4.15 P.M. bus from Bnei Brak.

Local council head Yissachar Frankental told Ha'aretz that the contents of the flyer had been confirmed in a telephone conversation with Shlomi Bitansky, Dan's inspector in Ariel. "The bulletproofed buses did indeed begin running on the Bnei Brak-Emmanuel line according to the schedule we distributed, but from time to time there were slip-ups, as I learned from the residents," Frankental said. "When I approached Dan to ask about the slip-ups, they had various excuses. On the day of the attack, there was also a slip-up, but Dan tried to cover it up."

Rachel Gov-Arieh, in charge of technical arrangements at the local council, said that since Saturday night, Dan was operating the bulletproofed buses on the line after reaching an agreement with the companies about renting the buses.