Woman from Beit Shemesh bus: I was willing to sit in the back

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The woman at the center of attacks by haredi Orthodox men on public buses in Beit Shemesh told an Israeli newspaper that she was willing to move to the back of the bus after being asked.

Rachel Rosenfeld told Israel’s daily Haaretz on Thursday that she sat down in the front seat of the bus when it was empty and was carrying her two young children and a large bag.

Once the bus began filling up, a haredi couple explained to Rosenfeld, an Orthodox woman who immigrated to Israel from London, that the bus was segregated and offered to help her move to the back, according to the newspaper. Rosenfeld was visiting relatives in Beit Shemesh.

“I was willing to go to the back. I didn’t want to make it hard for them.” she said. “I was willing to respect them.”

Rosenfeld told the newspaper that the bus driver overheard the conversation and called the police of his own volition.

In the incident Wednesday afternoon, four haredi men blocked the bus, smashed the windshield and broke other windows with a hammer. Haredi assailants later stoned two other public buses driving through Beit Shemesh, smashing their windows as well.

Police reportedly detained a man who demanded that the woman move to the back of the bus and a haredi woman who tried to prevent police from detaining him. Two other men were arrested for blocking the bus.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry maintains a voluntary segregation plan for public buses under which riders may sit separately if they desire, but passengers cannot pressure other passengers to sit separately. The plan was approved by Israel’s Supreme Court.