Tel Aviv woman says she was attacked after asking bus passenger to wear mask
‘She saw I was afraid, wanted to ensure I felt threatened’

Tel Aviv woman says she was attacked after asking bus passenger to wear mask

Sarah Nadav says she was hit in head with an energy drink, spat at, subjected to angry tirade after making request; advocacy group says it receives complaints daily

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Sarah Nadav, shortly after being attacked on a Tel Aviv bus (via Sarah Nadav)
Sarah Nadav, shortly after being attacked on a Tel Aviv bus (via Sarah Nadav)

A Tel Aviv woman says she asked a fellow bus passenger to wear a face mask, as required by law, and found herself subject to an angry tirade and a violent attack that resulted in broken skin and bleeding on her forehead.

“I felt destroyed,” Sarah Nadav told The Times of Israel, recounting how the enraged passenger threw an energy drink can at her head, and then proceeded to spit on her. “It was a blow to the head with a heavy can that was large enough to break my skin and give me a large bump on the head.”

The 45-year-old mother of two said: “I was in so much shock that I didn’t realize I was hit in the head until I took a picture of myself and saw it.”

Nadav said she had an operation just before the pandemic, making her at-risk to the coronavirus. For a time she had to be so cautious about infection that she self-isolated away from her children. The incident happened last week, during her first bus ride since the operation, and she said her nervousness was obvious, which is why she thinks the woman spat at her.

“She saw I was afraid and wanted to make sure I was as scared and threatened as possible — and she succeeded,” said Nadav.

Workers wearing protective suits disinfect a bus as a preventive measure amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shimrit Nothman, CEO of the public transportation advocacy group, 15 Minutes, said that she is concerned about the phenomenon of threatening and violent confrontations on buses when passengers ask each other to wear masks.

“We receive daily reporting from passengers about this matter,” she told The Times of Israel. “Some riders are too scared to intervene, and it’s really not their job to do so.”

Nothman wants to see increased enforcement of mask rules by police, but said this isn’t happening, which leaves health-conscious passengers feeling vulnerable. Some are too worried to take public transportation, and end up feeling like they have no way to get around, she said.

Nadav said she is dismayed by what she considers inadequate policing on buses — and said she was also disturbed by the dismissive reaction of a police officer who she approached with her injury, upon arrival at her destination, the beach.

“I went to a police officer bleeding from my head, showed her a picture of who did it, and she said, ‘We won’t be able to figure out who did it,’” Nadav said. She did not subsequently file a complaint.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, reached for comment, said that if evidence is presented, officers should be able to help in the case of assaults. Regarding the general issue of policing on buses he insisted that officers are taking enforcement of coronavirus rules seriously.

Inspectors talk to a man not wearing a face mask in the northern city of Safed on June 15, 2020. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

Nadav, a US-born economist who is part of an expert network of the World Economic Forum and author of a book on financial decision-making in crises, said that police efforts aren’t good enough. She argued that people who can afford cars can travel safely while those who can’t are subjected to unnecessarily high levels of risk due to poor enforcement of the health rules.

“Some people can afford to move around more than others,” she said. “If you’re on public transport you’re far more exposed to people who are potentially sick. Rules should be enforced by the police and instead people are policing each other and this is leading to violence.”

Asked how the incident started, Nadav said she asked the woman to move her mask from her chin to her face. “She responded by putting her face very close to me and said ‘What are you going to do about it?’” She said that the passenger yelled and swore at her — and she responded angrily.

Nadav said: “I didn’t want to push her off me physically, and the only thing I could think of was to spray her with some water to keep her away.”

Nadav admits that she “probably should’ve gone to the driver,” but said she felt “trapped” and remained in her place.

“She took my bag and threw everything on the floor, and threw the can of energy drink at me, leaving me bleeding on my head,” said Nadav.

Upon reaching the beach she went to the first aid stand to get checked for concussion. She added: “The next day I went to the doctor with a headache, and my head still hurts.”

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