In yet another return to the controversy over the exclusion of women, Ashdod police detained over the weekend a 17½-year-old haredi (ultra-Orthodox) youth after a young woman complained of threats and insults on an Egged bus ride from Ashdod to Safed.
Ashdod police are still looking for another suspect who allegedly participated in the incident and Safed police are also attempting to locate additional suspects.
Noa Kantman, a 22-year-old student from Safed, was on her way to visit her sister in Nir Galim, a community near Ashdod. "I got onto the bus and sat next to the driver. Some haredim also got on the bus, and they began telling me that I needed to move to the back of the bus, the place for women.
"I didn't leave my seat, and at some point, when the bus stopped near Hazor, one of the haredi boys got off, saying that he was getting off the bus because there was an abomination on it. After dealing with insults and catcalls, one of the passengers stood in front of me and I felt threatened; his stance was aggressive. I call my sister and asked her to tell the police that I was afraid."
When Kantman arrived in Ashdod, the police were waiting and she was asked to point out the suspects. "I only identified one of the young men, and he was taken in for questioning." The young man confessed and was released on bail.
It is important to note that Kantman is a Modern Orthodox woman. She was traditionally dressed, including wearing skirt, when on the bus. "My outfit was appropriate and I did not do anything that the haredim can claim was provocative. Their behavior is not related to religion. Religion does not command the exclusion of women."
Egged issued a statement that the incident is being dealt with by police, in addition to their own internal investigation.
A number of similar incidents have occurred in Israel over the past two years, including one on a bus from Jerusalem to Ashdod and another in Rishon Lezion, both in December 2011. These and other related incidents have brought the issue of ultra-Orthodox communities' behavior into the public eye.