High Court dismisses petition seeking public buses on Shabbat
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High Court dismisses petition seeking public buses on Shabbat

Despite agreeing to withdraw suit, petitioners vow to continue 'struggle' for transportation on Jewish day of rest

Illustrative: Passengers boarding an Egged bus in Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Passengers boarding an Egged bus in Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Monday dismissed a petition to require public transportation on Shabbat after the state and petitioners agreed for the petition to be withdrawn.

As part of its reasoning for not wanting to hear the petition, the court noted that the petitioners, who included a number of liberal groups and MK Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party, had not properly petitioned the Transportation Ministry to run buses on the Jewish day of rest, which would have to come before a court ruling.

The court noted that no bus company had agreed to join the petitioners in pushing for the service.

Trains and public buses do not run in most Israeli cities with a Jewish majority, which secular residents have complained for years is a form of religious coercion influencing their quality of life.

Despite the High Court’s dismissal of the petition, a lawyer representing Reform Judaism’s Israel Religious Action Center said the petitioners would file an official request for public transportation on Shabbat with the Transportation Ministry.

“[We] need to hope that the Transportation Ministry will consider the needs of the sick, the elderly, those with disabilities and single-parent families in its decision whether to respond to the request,” Orly Erez-Likhovski was quoted by Channel 10 as saying.

“We will continue to act to ensure their rights to freedom of movement, equality and respect for all residents of Israel,” she added.

Erez-Likhovski also said the petitioners would be prepared to return to the courts if needed.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer (C) arrives at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem for a hearing about public transportation on Shabbat, on September 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zandberg criticized the court for not taking on the case, but also said the petitioners would continue to pursue their goal of public transportation on Shabbat through other avenues.

“Clearly this is a hot potato and very, very political, but the High Court definitely opened for us an opening to truly discuss the transportation needs on Shabbat and to receive a true answer,” she wrote on Facebook.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem about public transportation on Shabbat on September 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This is [just] one stage of the struggle.”

The High Court’s decision to dismiss the petition came after the state said in a letter to the court last week that there is no “vital need” for public transportation on Shabbat.

In its response to the now withdrawn petition, the state cited a current regulation allowing for public transportation on the Jewish day of rest for “essential” reasons, saying the petitioners argument did not meet the standard of “essential.”

As part of its opposition to providing public transportation on Shabbat, the state also said there are currently enough means of transportation available to the public on the Jewish day of rest and that the number of licenses allowing for the transport of individuals on Shabbat has increased.

Israel’s prohibition of public transportation on Shabbat is based on an understanding created in 1947 between future-prime minister David Ben-Gurion and the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represented the ultra-Orthodox community of that period. That status quo decision became the basis of many religious-life decisions in Israel, including the issue of public transportation on Shabbat.

Despite the state’s opposition to allowing public transportation Shabbat, a Channel 2 survey indicated that 73 percent of Jews in Israel support public transportation on the Jewish day of rest in some form.

AFP contributed to this report.

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