Israel’s attorney general orders explanation of Palestinian bus ban

Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, has called for an explanation of a proposed order that would prevent Palestinian workers from riding Israeli buses.

On Tuesday, Weinstein ordered Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to explain the new guidelines, which will effectively ban the workers from the buses they ride to their homes in the West Bank.

The new rules, announced Sunday and slated to take effect in December, mandate that Palestinian workers return to the West Bank only through the Eyal crossing, near Kalkilya in central Israel, and continue on to their homes from there.

Government officials insist that the proposed order was issued for security reasons alone.

“The decision will not prevent Palestinians from going to work and continuing to make a living,” an employee of the defense minister’s bureau told Haaretz. “No one is stopping the Palestinians from continuing to work inside Israeli territory and reaching their destinations. The opposite is true. This is purely a security-related matter.”

Jewish residents of the West Bank and their local governments have waged a vociferous campaign over the last few years to prevent Palestinians who work in Israel from using Israeli public transportation in the West Bank. Among their reasons, they cited a lack of room on the buses for Jewish residents of the West Bank and Jewish female passengers saying that they have been harassed by the Palestinian laborers.


New guidelines prevent Palestinian workers from riding Israeli buses

New guidelines issued by Israel Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon will prevent Palestinian workers from riding on Israeli public transportation in the West Bank.

Under the new guidelines announced Sunday, all Palestinian workers must return to the West Bank through one crossing, the Eyal crossing located near Kalkilya in central Israel, and continue to their homes from there. Very few Israeli buses reach that area of the West Bank. Palestinian workers are not allowed to stay overnight in Israel.

The guidelines will go into effect next month, according to Haaretz. Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank reportedly is exploring other options to provide the Palestinian workers with appropriate transportation.

Jewish residents of the West Bank and their local governments have waged a vociferous campaign over the last few years in order to prevent Palestinians who work in Israel to use Israeli public transportation in the West Bank.  Among the reasons given for keeping the Palestinians off Israeli buses is lack of room on the buses for Jewish residents of the West Bank, and Jewish women passengers saying they have been harassed by the Palestinian laborers.

Unnamed security sources told Israeli media that the new guidelines are not being put into place to keep Palestinians off Israeli buses, but to make tracking their entering and exiting Israel easier.

Egged reportedly to forego human images on Jerusalem bus ads

The Egged bus company will not use images of either men or women in advertisements on its Jerusalem buses.

The decision comes after controversy over featuring women in ads, Haaretz reported Monday.

The Canaan Media advertising company had appeared to drop plans to place advertisements for the Yerushalmim movement on Egged buses in Jerusalem featuring photos of women and the slogans “Jerusalem women, pleased to meet you” and “Because Jerusalem belongs to all of us.”

Israel’s Supreme Court had ordered the bus and advertising companies to go ahead with the ad campaign, despite fears that the buses would be vandalized in haredi Orthodox neighborhoods.

Egged reportedly decided not to feature any people in ads so as not to be accused of excluding women.

Haaretz reported that in a late July letter to Canaan Media’s CEO, Egged marketing manager Eyal Yehiel wrote that “Jerusalem-area advertising will be only on the rear of buses, there will be no advertising on buses’ side panels. In the Jerusalem area there will be no human images at all, though in other parts of the country it will be possible to use such images.”

Israel takes gender fight to buses, billboards

The women turned heads as they got on Jerusalem’s No. 56 bus on a November weekday.

Startled ultra-Orthodox Jewish men looked away as the group mounted a challenge to growing gender segregation in the holy city by boarding the public vehicle from the front door and sitting in its first rows.

As the male passengers averted their gaze, adhering to a traditional edict to avoid sexual temptation, a religious woman at the back of the bus shouted at the protesters: “Deal with the drugs, the crime and prostitution in your own communities first.”

Buses and billboards, where some advertisers avoid posting images of women to prevent vandalism, have become the latest battlefields in the fight for the soul of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The boarding of bus 56, one of several segregated routes crossing ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city, is just the latest attempt by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), to end separate seating.

“The new fad is to distance oneself from women as a way to measure piety. The idea that sex is dirty is not part of Judaism. We have to plug this leak before it spills over,” said Anat Hoffman, IRAC’s executive director.

But a religious woman on the bus, who gave her name only as Bracha, said there was no humiliation in sitting in the rear.

“It is a response to secular extremism. Look how their women parade along the beach in a degrading way,” she said.

Black-garbed ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Charedim, make up only about 10 percent of Israel’s population of 7.7 million, but their high birthrates and concentration in Jerusalem, where official figures show 26 percent of adult Jews consider themselves Charedim, have stoked fears among the country’s secular majority of religious interference in their lifestyle.

The concerns have also spread beyond the city. A group of Israeli generals wrote to the Defense Ministry on Nov. 14 saying the military must not give in to Orthodox demands to prevent the mixing of men and women in the ranks.

Nissim Hasson, vice president of sales at Zohar Hutzot advertising company, said ads showing women in Jerusalem are routinely vandalized.

When it comes to women on posters and billboards, he said, the holy city demands a different set of rules.

“Jerusalem is a symbol, a capital, built on mutual respect, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. If you want to be tolerant in this city, you cannot advertise women,” Hasson said.

Advertising its winter collection, an Israeli fashion company cropped out a female model’s head and cleavage from posters it put up in Jerusalem. In other Israeli cities, the full image ran.

The self-censorship prompted Uri Ayalon, a rabbi who is not a member of the ultra-Orthodox community, to start a Facebook campaign called “Uncensored” in which six women had their photos taken for 150 posters that were put up on Jerusalem billboards.

“We object to the sexist use of women in ads. But it is also important to me that my two daughters grow up in a place where they are not occluded because they are women,” Ayalon said.

Tzaphira Stern-Assal, a secular mother of two who volunteered for the photo shoot, said she once put an ad for a dance class in the window of a dance school she runs, only to see it defaced the next day, along with posters of a dance group, with graffiti that read “Blasphemy.”

Whenever the school’s curtains are left more than one-third open, Stern-Assal said, Charedi men soon show up and start banging on the windows.

“It happens all the time,” she said. “Do they want it to be everyone’s city or just the Charedis’? We want to live in dignity, not to be ashamed and hide behind curtains.”

A sidewalk barrier to segregate the sexes went up in October in the Mea Shearim religious neighborhood of Jerusalem during the celebration of a Jewish holiday, mirroring the separation of men and women in Orthodox synagogues.

Secular activists who came to inspect the partition said they were chased away by residents, some of whom threw stones.

Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem councilwoman, appealed to the Supreme Court against the barrier, which ordered it dismantled.

She was subsequently fired by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, in what political commentators called a nod to the ultra-Orthodox community’s powerful punch in municipal elections.

“Segregation has been happening for a while. What’s new is that the pluralistic public has woken up and is fighting. We won’t stand it any longer,” Azaria told an interviewer.

She said a social change movement that swept through Israel in the summer, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand economic reform, has emboldened those battling segregation.

“The public dares now to say its piece. The penny has dropped,” she said.

Reliant on religious parties to help form governing coalitions, Israeli leaders have largely steered clear of cutting welfare subsidies to large ultra-Orthodox families, in which many of the men engage in religious studies full time.

Critics have pointed to the burden they put on the Israeli economy, but moves to cut the payments would spell political trouble for any of the country’s major parties.

Addressing the religious-secular divide, the Supreme Court ruled this year that women traveling on public buses cannot be ordered to sit in the back.

Signs in Jerusalem buses now say people have a right to sit wherever they wish and that harassing passengers could be a criminal offense.

Critics say that in practice, dozens of bus lines are still gender segregated and that women who want to sit at the front are often subjected to verbal and sometimes physical assaults.

One Charedi woman, who asked not to be identified, said she tried to buy a public transport pass in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, only to be turned away and told the ticket stand was for men only.

Her husband said they received threatening phone calls when word got out that they had lodged a complaint about the incident.

“Separation is important, but in places where it makes sense, like the beach. Now there are calls for it on the light rail. There are segregated grocery shops and sidewalks. There’s no basis for it in Jewish law, and it’s getting more extreme,” he said.

Yakov Halperin, head of ultra-Orthodox Yehadut Ha Torah faction in Jerusalem’s municipality, said people should stay out of the Charedi community’s business.

“If that’s what they want, in their neighborhoods, they have the right to ask for it,” he said.

“In Sodom and Gomorrah, which were annihilated because of the corrupt generation, there were those who kept the Torah’s laws and put up fences in order to protect themselves,” he said.

Israeli workers strike cut short by court

Israel’s main labor union ended a brief strike that shut down major sectors of the economy on Monday, following a labor court injunction that limited the action to just four hours.

The Histadrut Labour Federation, the umbrella body for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, was looking to strike for as long as it took to reach an agreement with the government over the status of contract workers.

The union had threatened to shut down Israel’s airports, ports, banks and the stock market indefinitely, but accepted the court decision and limited the strike to Monday morning.

Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was closed for two hours and about a dozen flights were delayed or canceled. An airports authority spokesman said operations were swiftly returning to normal.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange started trading about an hour late and will stay open an extra half hour.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called on the Histadrut to cancel the strike, which also affected trains, buses, universities, government ministries and municipalities.

The disagreement focused on the status of contract workers.

The Histadrut wants the government to provide full benefits to 250,000 contract workers—such as cleaners and security guards—who have worse terms than staff directly on government payrolls.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has said he was willing to accept “models from developed welfare states like Sweden, Finland and Holland” where he said such workers are employed through contractors, but they have better conditions.

The labor court instructed the parties to hold intensive talks to find a solution and report on progress by Thursday.

“We hope that the government and employers will use the days allotted by the court to hold real and serious negotiations to reach agreements,” Histadrut leader Ofer Eini said in a statement.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Gender segregation still OK on Israeli buses, with caveats

Gender segregation on Israeli public buses may continue as long as passengers agree, the country’s Supreme Court ruled.

The practice will still be allowed on dozens of bus lines serving the haredi Orthodox community, known as Mehadrin lines, as long as passengers are not coerced and no violence erupts, according to the ruling issued Thursday.

The finding adopted recommendations made last year by a Transportation Ministry committee which found that the Mehadrin lines should be allowed as long as the segregation was voluntary and women were not forced to sit in the back of the bus, Haaretz reported. The state had accepted the finding.

The legal opinion was in response to a lawsuit filed in 2007 by a group of women and the Israel Religious Action Center, an organization of Israel’s Reform, or Progressive, movement.

“A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his ruling. “They must sit wherever they like.

“As I now read over these lines emphasizing this, I am astounded that there was even a need to write them in the year 2010,” he added. “Have the days of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who collapsed the racist segregation on an Alabama bus in 1955, returned?”

The judges ordered the Egged bus company to institute the new rules during a 30-day trial period, during which time the Transportation Ministry must hold undercover and open inspections to ensure that the rules are being followed. The company also must establish complaint centers for women passengers, according to the ruling.

Women’s groups and the Israel Religious Action Center told reporters that they were pleased with the decision, which they said shows that the court endorses the idea that segregation is illegal.

Seattle buses to carry ‘Israeli war crimes’ ads

Buses in downtown Seattle will carry advertisements about “Israeli war crimes” to mark the second year since the Gaza war.

The Seattle Midwest Awareness Campaign has paid $1,794 to place the advertisements on 12 buses beginning Dec. 27, the day Israel entered Gaza to stop rocket attacks on its southern communities, according to Seattle’s King 5 News.

The ads feature a group of children looking at a demolished building under the heading “Israeli War Crimes: Your tax dollars at work.”

Advertisements are accepted for Seattle buses as long as they do not publicize pornography, alcohol and tobacco, and as long as the images and material used don’t interfere with public safety or incite a riot.

“As a government, we are mindful of the provisions in state and federal constitutions to protect freedom of speech,” King County Metro Transit spokesperson Linda Thielke told King 5 News. “So we can’t object these campaigns simply because they offend some people.”

Bus Girl

The fictional Carrie Bradshaw saw her image on a bus placard because she wrote a popular sex column.

But Carol Taubman sees her image go by each day on the side of MTA buses for a very different reason.

Three years ago, Taubman, an industrial real estate broker, participated in her first Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, a 60-mile event that begins in Santa Barbara and ends at Zuma Beach in Malibu. She signed up not only for the physical challenge, but also because her mother, Rebecca Bekhor, is a breast cancer survivor.

After three months of training and raising $7,000 in sponsorships, she walked the three days with a friend, and found the experience exhilarating and deeply moving.

The following year she assembled a team of 25 women — the “Bosom Buddies” — and raised in excess of $110,000.

“After the 2002 Walk I thought I had hung up my running shoes and then the bug hit me again,” she said.

Last year she opted for new scenery, and so, together with a friend, Taubman walked her 60 miles in San Francisco. This year Taubman was sure she’d had enough — until last week.

That’s when Taubman’s daughters, Laura and Dani, spotted their mom on the side of a bus advertising the 2004 Walk. Organizers had serendipitously selected a candid photo taken at last year’s walk that showed the fit, enthusiastic Taubman in joyous midstride, making her the walk’s unofficial poster girl-around-town.

“Laura told me that I need to walk again since I’m on all the buses,” Taubman said. “Oy! I think she’s right.”

To join thousands — and probably Taubman — at the Oct.
8-10 walk, go to .