Last month, in the early evening, as I drove on Jerusalem’s Route 1 in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, I was attacked by several Israeli boys. They were about 12 or 13 years old, in religious orthodox dress. They threw a ball of burning gas into my car while I was stopped at a traffic light on my way to attend class at the Israeli Institute of Psychoanalysis.
The Israeli police came to the scene to see what the disturbance was and the kids were still there. Rather than punishing the children and despite my distress, the police told me it was “only” a Purim toy. They then asked me to move my car or else they would issue me a ticket. Passing Arab drivers told me that these boys often harass drivers, spitting at Arab women and throwing stones at Arab drivers in that area. The police have done nothing about it.
I arrived at my psychoanalytic psychotherapy class thinking of all the Palestinian kids shot in the eyes or in the back of their knees or hit by settler’s cars because they had been accused of throwing stones at Israeli cars. Apartheid was a system of discrimination – a system similar to the system that controls every aspect of Palestinian lives here on our land. Every day that it goes unaddressed, my people are forced to take a step backward into unfairness and loss.
Last Thursday, a truck lost control in rainy weather and collided with a Palestinian bus carrying students. The vehicle overturned and caught fire, a blaze that devoured six small children and their teacher and critically injured several others.
Traffic accidents take place everywhere. Kids everywhere also die in unfortunate accidents. What was unusual about this tragedy is that it took place in what is called (according to the local apartheid system), “Area C,” near what Palestinians call Jabaa checkpoint and what Israelis call Adam square after the nearby settlement. Israeli emergency medical crews and a fire station are stationed less than three minutes away from the accident scene. In Area C, the Palestinian Authority has no power, and Palestinian construction is mostly prohibited by Israel. While Israeli settlements expand on Palestinian land, their residents traveling on well-constructed safe roads, Palestinians in these areas cope with run-down infrastructure and the absence of basic services.
A video taken in the first minutes of the accident shows that untrained Palestinian men and women rushed to the scene and used their bare hands, simple fire extinguishers from their cars and buckets of water to extinguish the large blaze in the bus. Others went into the burning bus and came out carrying burnt children, some of them transported to the hospital in private cars.
By the time ambulances arrived, the fire in the bus had been extinguished and the children had been evacuated. Eyewitnesses say ambulances arrived 45 to 50 minutes after the accident. The nearest Palestinian hospital, the Palestinian Red Crescent, would be 20 minutes away if it were not for the daily tangle of traffic created by Qalandia checkpoint at Ramallah’s southern entrance.
Benzion Oring, head of the Jerusalem office of Israel’s emergency service ZAKA, told Ynet that his disaster teams had trouble finding the scene at first because the area is near Palestinian villages. “We arrived at the scene after we made sure to get the necessary permits,” he said. Well, why don’t Israelis need all this preparation when entering the area to arrest a Palestinian? The soldiers manning the checkpoint only 100 meters from the scene would certainly not have waited around had the burning bus carried Israeli children.
Of course, Israeli media focused on the Israeli medical teams that did eventually arrive to help rescue the children and take a few kids to “good” Israeli hospitals, without mentioning that Israeli checkpoints and the wall delayed the rescuers. Nor was this the first accident in which Palestinian lives were lost because firefighters and medical teams were not allowed into Area C, or were delayed by Israeli checkpoints, curfews and walls.
Under the “enlightened” Israeli occupation, there are regulations for every type of discrimination and a law for every crime. People’s rights and chance of survival depends on where they live. Identity cards, identifying license plates, the ability to access to roads, hospitals and all manner of services are bestowed based on national identity. People are classified as superior and given full human rights, or inferior and left to survive on the leftovers of their occupiers.
This diminution of the value of human life, combined with the expansion of social repression and denial, is eroding Israeli society as well as that of their occupied.
Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and a psychiatrist. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter.