Israeli Arabs face inferior public transportation

Infrequent public transportation in Arab towns is holding back integration efforts, advocates say.

Abu Ghosh Bus stop 370 (photo credit: Ilene Prusher)
Abu Ghosh Bus stop 370
(photo credit: Ilene Prusher)
Every morning, Nama Abu Ghosh takes a 15-minute walk from her home in the village that shares her last name and heads for a bus stop in Telz Stone, the adjacent haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community also known as Kiryat Ye’arim.
Even though Abu Ghosh has almost twice as many residents as Telz Stone – 6,270 in the former versus 3,158 in the latter, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics – buses to the Arab village are much more infrequent.
“They have more buses than we do, and they come earlier,” says Nama Abu Ghosh, who works as a pharmacist at Sha’are Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, as she waits for the 7:10 a.m. bus from Telz Stone. Should she miss it, another one will be along in 10 minutes. She could wait for a different bus that comes to Abu Ghosh at 7:20, but if she missed that one, she would have to wait at least another half-hour for the next one.
The young mother of two, conservatively dressed with an Islamic headscarf covering her hair, often takes the bus back to Telz Stone as well, since it comes more frequently.
Public transportation is one of many areas in which those who live in Arab locales often receive inferior service to those in Jewish ones, even though Israeli Arabs pay the same taxes as their Jewish counterparts. In some parts of the North and South, the issue is even worse, making it difficult for many Arabs to get to urban centers offering more sophisticated, higher-paying employment. Along with overcrowded schools and poor public facilities such as playgrounds and community centers, access to transportation is expected to become a bigger issue during the election season.
Though having a bus to Jerusalem every half-hour isn’t bad, even that much is a recent improvement. Until last year, there was only one bus per hour from Abu Ghosh, or sometimes every 90 minutes. Residents, led by a group of university students, complained to the Transportation Ministry and started an online petition demanding more frequent buses, among other improvements.
Yousef Jaber, 21, a student at the Jerusalem College of Engineering, organized the petition a year ago. Things improved, though only just.
There are still seven buses leaving Telz Stone between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., and only two from Abu Ghosh, despite its bigger population.
Coming home, Jaber says he often takes a bus to Telz Stone because there’s one every 20 minutes, while the bus to Abu Ghosh only comes once an hour.
“They added a few lines, but the frequency of buses to Abu Ghosh is still limited.
An equally important problem is that there are very few stations,” he explains as he sits at one of the three bus stops on the main road through the village. This one has broken boards tacked up as a makeshift place for people to sit, and a second one has no seats or glass to keep out the elements.
“There are also no bus schedules available in Arabic, nor are there signs anywhere in Arabic about the buses,” he adds.
When universities and colleges go back into session next week, says Jaber, he’ll get a 6:45 a.m. bus to get to school at 8 a.m. Sometimes buses from Abu Ghosh to Jerusalem are so crowded at that hour that it’s hard to get a space, and sometimes the driver doesn’t stop at all.
A young woman named Maram Ibrahim, who takes the bus to work and school in Jerusalem each day, says her main complaint is the lack of bus stops in the village.
She takes a 15-minute walk down the hill to get to the station. At night, it’s longer, uphill and dark.
“I have to walk back alone at night in the dark, and I hate that,” she says.
In a report called “Public Transportation in Arab Communities,” published in June by the Abraham Fund Initiatives – an organization focused on promoting coexistence and equality among the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens – researchers showed the situation of Abu Ghosh to be typical of, and slightly better off than, many other Arab villages. Of 16 Arab municipalities studied, 39 percent of them were accessible by a bus that stopped only at a junction near the community and did not go inside, necessitating excessively “long walks, relying on a private car, or taking a taxi.”
Even in many of the larger Arab communities in the North, buses only drop people off at a junction on the main road, often far from the passengers’ homes, the report said. In Kafr Kara, some 35 km. southeast of Haifa, 95% of buses that pass the town of 15,000 will only drop passengers off at a junction on the busy main road.
In Umm el-Fahm, population 43,300, more than 80% of buses do the same, as do 68% in Shfaram, population 35,300.
Mohammed Darawshe, the co-executive director of the Abraham Fund, said at a Kafr Kasim conference on the issue last month that better integration of Arabs in the Israeli workforce – a stated goal of the government and part of a campaign to get hitech companies to hire more Arab workers – won’t happen without better public transportation.
“There isn’t and will not be real economic progress in Arab society [in Israel] without public transportation,” Darawshe said. “It’s a central tool for economic development and an also an important means for the advancement of the status of women, culture, art, entertainment, and more. It’s also important to put an emphasis on connecting Arab communities, and not just ensuring that every Arab community is connected with the adjacent Jewish community.”
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said at the same conference that “there is a dramatic overlap here – the population that most needs public transportation receives the least.”
He added that Israel now has a “huge opportunity... to make an enormous change.”