Amid spate of attacks in south, ministers say throwing rocks at vehicles is ‘terror’

Transportation and public security ministers issue joint statement after bus driver was tear-gassed

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (L) and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev (R) (Flash90)
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (L) and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev (R) (Flash90)

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the stoning of vehicles is “an act of terrorism, pure and simple, particularly when it is against mass transportation where a single attack could claim many lives.”

The statement came amid a spate of incidents in which rocks were thrown at buses, particularly in the south of the country.

The ministers said they are committed to bringing perpetrators to justice.

“We will not allow this to continue,” Barlev said, adding that over the past two months law enforcement has been increased in the area and was “already showing initial results.”

The efforts were “leading to significant arrests and the quick apprehension of suspects,” he said, though acknowledging that “the true test is how residents of the south and road users’ feeling of security improves. The south is no longer lawless!”

Michaeli said she was briefed by Barlev on the steps being taken in the south of the country to bring “safety and a feeling of safety to the area, particularly the safety and security of road users.”

Screen capture from video of smashed glass on the floor of a bus that was stoned as it traveled from Tel Aviv to Eilat, November 30, 2021. (Twitter)

The statement followed a number of attacks on buses in the area as residents of the south called for better enforcement amid what they claim is a state of widespread lawlessness.

On Tuesday night, a bus driver was attacked with tear gas in the southern town of Lakia near Beersheba after he asked a group of passengers to wear masks.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday, the driver said that three Bedouin teenagers got on his bus without masks and refused his requests to don face coverings. Masks are legally required on public transportation.

“I politely asked them to put on masks. They told me okay and sat behind me but still without masks. I asked again. They refused and started cursing me. I stopped the bus on the side [of the road], and I told them that I would not continue to drive like that,” he said.

“One started cursing me. I realized he was coming to spray me and then I got off the bus so he would not spray on the passengers. He came out after me and sprayed the tear gas. I pushed him away and he threatened to throw stones, but his friends took him away,” he said.

Police arrived at the scene shortly after and are investigating the incident.

The bus driver was treated by Magen David Adom paramedics. There were no other injuries reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, rocks were thrown at a bus traveling to Eilat in the southern Negev region, smashing a window on the vehicle, in what the bus operator claimed was an attack on a symbol of the Jewish state. The Egged bus company blamed local Bedouin for the attack, saying such incidents were on the rise.

“Apparently these are young Bedouin rioters who have recently frequently been attacking Egged’s buses on the roads of the northern Negev for nationalist motives, apparently, due to Egged buses being perceived as a symbol of the Zionist regime,” Egged said in a statement, without clarifying how the company had reached that conclusion.

Egged said the “shameful phenomenon” has been on the rise, with dozens of recent incidents, and that aside from the serious damage to property and disruption of services in the Negev, such attacks inevitably include a threat to passengers.

The Israeli Bus Drivers Union, which is part of the Histadrut Labor Federation, urged an end to the “terror against drivers and buses” and called for drivers to be recognized as public servants, saying that such recognition will “protect their lives and the lives of the passengers and lead those who attack drivers and passengers to sit behind bars.”

Earlier this month another bus was attacked on the same road to Eilat and forced to end its journey in Dimona, where the passengers were asked to exit the vehicle at the city’s central bus station, the Israel Hayom daily reported. There were no injuries in that incident and a replacement bus eventually took the passengers to Eilat.

Speaking to Army Radio Wednesday morning, the mayor of the southern city of Dimona, Benny Biton, said the attacks were “nothing less than nationalistic terror.”

Mayor of Dimona Benny Biton attends a conference in Tel Aviv, February February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He said that the government, and in particular Barlev were “disconnected from the reality here.”

“We have been promised changes but they have done nothing. We are tired of being the backyard of the country,” Biton said. “These Bedouin mobs cannot be allowed to terrorize all the residents of the Negev.”

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