An Egged bus driver was severely assaulted on Thursday in Rishon Letzion after asking a passenger to wear a protective mask, N12 reported.
The incident reportedly happened after the driver, Rahamim Cohen, requested that a passenger put on a mask while on the bus. The passenger complied, according to Cohen. "I raised my voice so he could hear, but he listened and everything was fine," he told N12.
However, another passenger apparently did not appreciate the driver's comments and began verbally assaulting him and making his way up from the back of the bus.
At first, Cohen tried to ignore the heated individual, who continued to approach the driver's booth. This, however, became impossible when the individual started assaulting him physically.
In his 34 years of experience as a bus driver, Cohen says he has never seen or experienced anything like the assault he suffered on Thursday.
"When he started attacking me, it was terrible, Cohen remembers. "I shrank in my chair, I couldn't do anything. I thought it was the end."
Luckily, Cohen's booth was reinforced with a glass barrier that prevented the suspected passenger from reaching him, despite his continued efforts. "I was praying that the glass barrier holds, and luckily for me, it did," Cohen said.
Referring to recent similar incidents, Cohen said that the phenomenon of bus drivers being attacked by passengers is becoming more frequent.
"It feels like attacking a driver is acceptable, that it's allowed," Cohen said. "It's not as if they attacked a police officer or anything," he added, saying that one of the reasons behind the concerning phenomenon is that the driver has several simultaneous responsibilities, including making sure that the health guidelines are maintained by passengers, which can often lead to situations like this.
In a statement issued following Thursday's incident, Egged called on the Transportation Ministry to find a solution that will better protect public transportation drivers.
"The incident that you witnessed today is yet another example of the impossible situation that Egged drivers have found themselves in during this past year," the statement read.
"Driving under a barrage of rocks being thrown at them, harsh physical assaults and as this case shows, scary and violent physical assaults as well. We won't accept this phenomenon. We call on the State of Israel and the Transportation Ministry to find a way of protecting public transportation drivers, the sooner the better," the Egged statement concluded.
Putting aside individual and unrelated incidents, several bus drivers have recently been assaulted during protests over the enforcement of lockdown regulations in Israel, specifically in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities and neighborhoods.
On January 21, Eyal Tzipori, an Egged driver from Jerusalem, was injured during riots in Bnei Brak. Prior to that, in early January, Superbus drivers announced that they were striking and refusing to drive in Beit Shemesh during the morning in response to a driver being assaulted by a teenager who refused to wear a mask.