An Israeli bus driver garnered praise after refusing demands by passengers on Tuesday to remove an Arab man from her bus whom they thought was suspicious.
Ruti Tehrani, 54, was driving the 129 bus from Tel Aviv to Petah Tikva on Tuesday when passengers began complaining about an elderly Arab man who started talking to himself in Arabic shortly after they passed Dizengoff Center, not far from where last week’s deadly shooting took place. The passengers suspected he was a terrorist and demanded she remove the man from the bus.
“I’m aware of the current security situation,” she told Channel 2, “but there’s a limit to everything.”
Tehrani recounted that she approached the man, asked him if he needed assistance, and discerned immediately that he was feeling ill and didn’t pose a threat to anybody. She said she informed the other passengers that she had no intention of removing the man from the bus and would continue on the route. If they wanted to get off the bus, they were welcome to.
Shelley Dvir, one of the passengers on the route, said in a (Hebrew) Facebook post that half the passengers got off the bus at that point. She recalled that she asked Tehrani for her name, saying she intended to write a letter of commendation to the bus company for “the humanity with which she behaved and that she didn’t succumb to pressure.”
Dvir’s post was quickly shared hundreds of times and earned thousands of likes.
“Here in the company everyone’s equal — Jews and Arabs. My upbringing was to respect everyone and not discriminate against anyone,” Tehrani, a three-year employee with Dan Public Transportation, said. She stood by her decision, saying “I am proud of what I did.”
The Dan company said in a statement it considered Tehrani’s behavior “a model and an example… It’s a great pride for us as a company and for all the drivers and public in general.”
The incident came in stark contrast to one several days earlier when a group of Jewish Israeli travelers forced Greek national carrier Aegean Airways to remove two Arab co-nationalists from a flight from Athens to Tel Aviv for fear that the pair could be terrorists.
During the incident Sunday, the Israelis stood up and prevented the flight from taking off, the airline said.
“An initially small group of passengers very vocally and persistently asked for two other Israeli passengers to be checked for security issues,” Aegean said in a statement.
As the airport was about to close, the Arab passengers were offered a night in a hotel at the airline’s expense and were promised seats on a flight to Israel the following morning.
Some of the Israelis demanded that the Arabs’ luggage be checked as well, but that request was not met.
“While it is indeed unfortunate that they were possibly racially profiling the customers, indeed their fellow Israelis… safety must be first,” Aegean said.
By the time the police arrived to check the two passengers’ passports, finding nothing suspicious, the outcry had spread.
“It started with 3-4 people and by the end there were 60-70 people standing up, demanding that the pair disembark,” a company spokesperson said. “The pilot said anyone who does not feel safe to fly should disembark, and would not be compensated.
“But by that stage, the two men were in a poor state and wanted to leave themselves,” the spokesperson added.
They were compensated for the incident and flew to Israel on an El Al flight on Monday.
“We thank again the two Israeli passengers that agreed to disembark for their understanding and collaboration and we apologize for the whole episode which was indeed extremely unfortunate,” Aegean said.
AFP contributed to this report.