Jerusalem’s Bus Drivers Are Sitting Targets

They can only guess who might be the passenger planning to attack them.

Tirza Flor
Tirtza Flohr
Palestinian mourners attending the funeral of bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni in the West Bank town of Abu Dis, near Jerusalem.
Palestinian mourners attending the funeral of bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni in the West Bank town of Abu Dis, near Jerusalem. Credit: Reuters
Tirza Flor
Tirtza Flohr

About 20 years ago, when suicide bombings were frequent, buses were blown up, dozens killed and hundreds injured, I found myself using public transportation quite often. It was frightening, but that was the only way I could get to the university. Then, one day, the security guards began riding the buses too. They had a permit to peek into people’s bags, to ask them for their identity cards, to verify who they were and what the purpose of their journey was.

But what I remember most vividly is one occasion when there wasn’t a security guard on the bus. Two seats in front of me sat a young man who had entered the bus at the same stop as I did, across from the university. After a few stops the seats were full and passengers were standing in the aisles. Yet no one sat in the lone vacant seat next to the young man. Something else was going on too. Whispering. The type that you could notice above and beyond the routine chit chat. The whispering intensified, eventually reaching the driver. At the next station he stopped the bus, stood up and approached the young man. “Open your bag,” he demanded. The young man refused. He did not understand what the driver wanted from him; the passengers were glaring furiously. Finally he got it. “I’m not an Arab,” he told the driver, “I’m not an Arab.” The driver eased off, and the bus moved on. I am not sure who else among the passengers, except for the young man, felt deep shame.

When I read Nir Hasson’s article on the violent attacks against Arab bus drivers, this memory resurfaced.

Why? It’s not the same thing, these are not the same cursed times. These are different cursed times. But then, as here and now, the bus drivers are in danger simply because they are bus drivers, and Arabs are the targets of hostility simply because they are Arabs.

In recent weeks, Hasson reports, 40 Arab bus drivers who work on Egged routes in Jerusalem have quit in the wake of the wave of violence against drivers. Another 60 Arab bus drivers have not quit yet, but have stopped coming to work. How can a bus driver work if the passengers endanger his life? He can’t get off at the bus stop or even change places. Like a sitting target he can only guess who will decide to attack him, curse him, spit on him, beat and injure him. He knows which neighborhoods are habitually troublesome, maybe he even recognizes the dangerous passengers. And then what? The troublemakers get on the bus, pay for a ticket, and ride with him until the last stop so they can lynch him. Because he is an Arab. You’ve proved you are not an Arab? Then maybe they won’t beat you. But it is possible a “kosher” Jewish driver will get hit in turn by a volley of rocks — in a different neighborhood. A pluralistic city, Jerusalem is, there is violence for everyone.

Egged did not ground its buses in protest over these attacks, not in Jerusalem and not in any other city. Nor did any other public transportation company. Like 20 years ago, buses continue to travel even under fire. The right to movement and mobility, like people’s need to earn a living, keeps them running. The right to work in your profession without having your life threatened — that is already a different matter. For that you need to hire security guards.

Security guards on buses will not change the situation. It will not stop the racist violence, it will not eliminate the hatred; nor will it bring peace. But it would reduce the sense that murder is allowed.

So why don’t they do it? Apparently the decision makers don’t ride buses. And they are not Arabs either.

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