Court urges panel to examine 'mehadrin' buses

High Court of Justice gives state 30 days to respond to proposal that Transportation Ministry establish forum to examine operation of segregated bus lines.

Bus Egged (photo credit: )
Bus Egged
(photo credit: )
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday gave the state 30 days to respond to its proposal that the transportation minister establish a forum to examine the operation of bus lines in which men and women sit separately. Today, Egged operates 30 so-called "Mehadrin" lines, though no overall planning or mapping was conducted beforehand and no formal decisions were taken determining that on these lines men and women would be seated separately. On January 14, the court held its first hearing on a petition filed by five women and the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center protesting the conduct of men toward the petitioners, who had refused to sit in the women's section located at the back of the bus. They also protested that the Transport Ministry had not researched the situation in the first place and established criteria for determining which lines should be separated. Furthermore, they protested the fact that the buses on these lines lacked signs informing passengers that men and women sat separately on them. The court pointed out that in 1997, a committee headed by Nahum Langenthal, then director-general of the ministry, had studied the matter and approved in principle the idea of gender separation on lines that served the haredi population. However, the proposal included many details, and called for a gradual process of introducing the lines and for the innovation to be monitored to see what problems arose and how to solve them. In 1999, the Egged bus cooperative began introducing separate-seating buses. Today, there are 23 intercity bus lines and seven urban lines in which men and women sit separately. The rules of conduct on these buses have been drafted or publicized by haredi rabbis. In these guidelines, there is no mention of the fact that those women and men who sit apart choose to do so and do not have to if they do not want to. The Transportation Ministry has not monitored the lines since they began operating, including whether the arrangement is in fact voluntary or whether women who insist on sitting in the "men's section" are mistreated. Thus, the court concluded that "a forum should be quickly established by the transportation minister [Shaul Mofaz] and that it will hear both the haredim and the petitioners and others who feel like them." The court told the state that if it decided to create such a forum, it should inform the court that it had been established, how many members it had and what its prerogatives were. Attorney Einat Horowitz, who represents the petitioners, said she was happy the court had agreed with the petitioners about the need for such a forum and strongly urged the ministry to appoint such a panel. "We expect the state to reply to the proposal in the affirmative and to refrain, for the time being, from introducing any more lines until the matter is dealt with properly," said Horowitz.