The bus arrived in this Jewish settlement just 65 minutes after leaving Jerusalem. It was an uneventful trip along the narrow, winding road that dips and rises through the hills of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The bus had roared out of Jerusalem after several stops in the city to take on passengers who filled its seats and stood in the center aisle. Traveling south, it had skirted the city of Bethlehem and flashed by the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp before it reached more sparsely populated farm country.
From the windows, the passengers could see Arab women working in fields and olive groves, and on a ridge high above them the town of Efrat, one of the many burgeoning Jewish settlements of the West Bank. Getting off here, Iris, a young Israeli woman and a newcomer to the settlement of Qiryat Arba, smiled brightly.
"I educated myself not to be afraid," she said. "I say to myself I don't have to be afraid in my own country."
On a recent sunny and pleasant afternoon, almost no one on Bus No. 60 of the Egged Bus Cooperative admitted to being afraid. But everyone understood the question. In the quiet, continuing struggle over the West Bank, Bus No. 60 is both symbol and reality of the Jewish presence, and a target for Palestinian anger and frustration.
It is often the target of rocks and stones that come hurtling out from behind the low, cramped houses of the Dheisheh refugee camp just south of Bethlehem. Sometimes when the rocks fly, passengers on the bus, some of whom are almost always armed with automatic weapons, have fired in the direction of the camp.
After the rocks and the bullets, in what has become a routine cycle of life in the West Bank, a curfew is usually imposed on the camp's residents.
In mid-September, Bus No. 60 was the target of a more serious attack. Traveling in early evening darkness, about a mile south of the refugee camp, the bus was struck by a burst of fire from a Soviet-made AK47 assault rifle. Four passengers and the driver, plus two Arabs who were driving in a car behind the bus, were wounded.
The driver, Avi Reuven, lost his right eye in the attack. A few weeks later, when Jewish settlers held a religious celebration in the Arab city of Hebron, Reuven was treated as a hero in the battle for control of the West Bank.
The September incident has served as a catalyst for a renewed upsurge of demands by the West Bank settlers for the use of capital punishment against Arabs who attempt to kill Jews. The settlers are also demanding the destruction of a portion of the Dheisheh refugee camp to move it out of rock-throwing range of the main road that connects Jerusalem and Hebron.
The continuing growth of the Jewish population in the West Bank means the roads of the territory carry more and more vehicles bearing yellow Israeli license tags. These tags are easily distinguished from the light blue tags of vehicles registered to Arab residents of the West Bank. For Palestinians, especially youths who live in the squalid refugee camps that border the main roads, they are the easiest, often the only, target at which to strike.
Such attacks are rare given the amount of Jewish traffic in the territory, which has been under military occupation for the past 17 years. The buses assigned to Route 60 between Jerusalem and Hebron travel on the hour, 18 hours a day, five days a week, and usually there is no trouble.
When there is, however, the settlers of the territory cry for harsher measures. These same settlers, nonetheless, continue to express faith that eventually Jews and Arabs will live peacefully side by side in the West Bank.
Removal of all of the refugee camps from any proximity to the road network has been suggested more than once as the best solution.
"What is needed is the right kind of punishment," said Rachel Klein, a small, soft-spoken woman who serves as a spokesman for the settlers of Qiryat Arba. She rides Bus No. 60 twice a day from the settlement to her job as a social worker in Jerusalem.
"These stone-throwers are not children, and their punishment should be deportation," she said. "If they're not happy here, they should leave.
"For attempted murder, and certainly murder, there should be capital punishment. We feel it is like a war on the roads and we are the front line. Then, they should take away the first three rows of houses in Dheisheh, at least, to see if this has any effect."
There was no sense of being on the front line on a recent day as Bus No. 60 rolled south toward Qiryat Arba, the large settlement that is adjacent to Hebron. The passengers included a higher than normal proportion of orthodox religious Jews who are drawn to the West Bank for religious reasons.
But there were also a number of high school students returning home from classes in Jerusalem; women who had been to the main market in Jerusalem and carried heavy plastic bags jammed with groceries; and two soldiers, a young man and a young woman who sat together. One man got on the bus gingerly, carrying six dozen eggs in cartons tied together by a string.
Miriam, a young mother who cradled her baby in her arms, admitted to a sense of fear as she rode the bus. She quickly spotted a stranger on the bus and became more suspicious when he scribbled words in a notebook.
"After the shooting incident, everyone is suspicious," she said. "Of course I am afraid. You have to be. This bus already took a lot of hits."
In fact, the bus she was riding on was the one hit by gunfire in September. The driver, Avi Raviv, pointed to a bullet hole in a plastic divider between his seat and the passenger area.
"The problem is not us," he said, "the problem is with the security forces. The government puts too many limitations on their use of firearms. The Arabs know the instructions to the Army better than I do."
Raphael Blumberg, 29, an immigrant from Baltimore and a passenger on the bus, said most settlers favored heavier security patrols along the roads. But he said he did not think it necessary to put a soldier on board every bus that travels on Route 60 because so many of the settlers were armed.
"There is probably a gun or two on the bus now," he said. He was right. At least two civilian youths were armed, one with an aging Army rifle, the other with a modern M16, the standard combat rifle of U.S. military forces.
"You are either going to go crazy or take it as a part of life," Blumberg said of the risks of riding Bus No. 60. In response to a question, he said he did not think it would always be like this in the West Bank.
"As a religious Jew, I like to believe we will come to some kind of equilibrium, and there will be total peace," he said. "The status quo won't go on forever."