A 42-year-old Egged bus driver convicted of indecently assaulting and falsely imprisoning a 15-year-old passenger will spend 36 months in prison, the Haifa District Court ruled on Tuesday.

Muhammad Abd al-Halim Zuabi, from Kfar Manda in the Western Galilee, assaulted the schoolgirl, now aged 17, after she boarded his route 205 “Kav Layla” night bus in Haifa in July 2010.

In addition to the three-year prison term, Judge Zaid Falah sentenced Zuabi to an eight-month suspended sentence, and ordered him to pay the victim NIS 20,000 compensation.

In passing the sentence, Falah said Zuabi, whom Egged has since dismissed, had abused his role as a driver to harm the complainant, who had simply wished to take the bus home late at night.

Falah recalled how Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav had said that the Kav Layla project was important, because it helped young people enjoy the northern city’s nightlife and return home safely.

The Kav Layla buses, operated by the Transportation Ministry, run from midnight until 4 a.m. in several major cities, on routes between popular recreation areas and residential areas. The project was designed to allow young people to go out safely late at night, without risks such as drunk driving or latenight hitchhiking, and without having to spend money on fuel or taxis.

According to the indictment, the complainant asked Zuabi whether he could stop the bus for her in Haifa’s Merkaz Hacarmel residential district, where she could switch to another bus line to take her home. There was only one other passenger on the bus at the time, the indictment said.

However, when Zuabi reached the girl’s bus stop, he did not stop to let her disembark and drove on to the next stop, where the other passenger got off.

Zuabi then told the girl she was “beautiful,” and that he had noticed how she had kissed her boyfriend at the bus stop.

He stopped the bus and sat down on a passenger seat, asking the girl to join him, but when she refused, Zuabi indecently assaulted her. Only after some time did he drive back to the girl’s neighborhood.

During the trial, Zuabi denied the charges against him and blamed the complainant for lying about the night’s events.

In Tuesday’s court hearing, the judge sharply criticized Zuabi for arguing in court that the complainant had made up the story of the assault.“Let the defendant and his ilk know that women’s bodies are not there for the taking, and that if they cause a woman harm, it could well result in a painful punishment,” Falah said.

Zuabi had damaged society as well as the complainant, Falah added, because as a result of his actions the public may be deterred from using public transportation.

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