Wednesday 21 February 2024

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, by Nathan Thrall: Book Note


A terrible accident occurred in the West Bank (Palestine) in 2012.  An ill-maintained truck driven at very high speed in very dangerous weather crashed with a busload of pre-schoolers on their way to a park for an outing. One of those pre-schoolers was Milad, the son of Abed Salama.  This book explores the accident and everyone involved in it, including parents, other relatives, the truck driver, the bus driver, rescuers, and doctors. The author, Nathan Thrall, interviewed all these individuals.

Thrall details Abed’s search for his son, once he learns of the crash. Abed searches in hospitals all over the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem. He is constantly delayed in his search by road-blocks, questioning by Israeli soldiers, and the circuitous routes that Palestinians have to take in order to get around the West Bank without wandering into any settler, military, or otherwise reserved (for Israel) territories. All the other parents and relatives experience the same problems, although those with Blue ID cards, indicating they are Israeli citizens, are somewhat better off.

The men in this book have terrible patriarchal attitudes. Abed himself is self-destructively impulsive. He does not marry Ghazl, his first love, after a jealous sister-in-law tells him Ghazl’s father disapproves. Instead of confronting the father and finding out he actually favours the marriage, Abed calls off negotiations. He impulsively marries someone else he doesn’t love, then some years later, after they’ve had four daughters, he decides to take a second wife without telling the first. The third wife is Milad’s mother. Another father of a child who dies in the crash blames his wife for letting the child go on the trip. When she asks for a divorce, the father demands, and receives, full custody of their remaining children as well as the entirety of the $200,000 compensation the Israeli government pays because the dead child was an Israeli citizen (no such compensation was offered to non-citizen Palestinian residents of the West Bank). The husband of one of the doctors involved, a high Fatah official, gives her no help at all raising their children while she learns both Russian and Romanian so that she can complete her studies as an endocrinologist.

Although the proximate cause of this tragic accident was the truck driver’s unsafe driving, the ensuing deaths were also caused by what can only be called apartheid in the West Bank. The 27-year-old truck itself would have been in better condition if the Palestinian owner had had more resources to repair his truck. More importantly, it took ages for either Israeli or Palestinian emergency vehicles to arrive at the scene of the crash. If the Palestinians had been throwing stones, several parents remarked, Israeli soldiers would have arrived at the site immediately. As it was, Israeli fire and medical vehicles took over an hour to reach it.  Meantime, Palestinian emergency vehicles were blocked by segregated roads and checkpoints.  Even getting ambulances through checkpoints to access hospitals within Israel itself was difficult.

Recently I also read Daniel Sokatch’s “Israel for dummies” book, Can we Talk About Israel? A Guide for the Curious, Confused, and Conflicted  Sokatch is the CEO of the New Israel Fund, which tries to help all citizens of Israel and promote peace among them. I am

proud to say I am a regular donor to the NIF, which Netanyahu has denounced as a foreign organization that endangers “the security and future of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.”  Sokatch argues that “Israel proper does not resemble an apartheid state: the Israeli-occupied West Bank does.” (chapter 20). Abed Salama’s search for his son Milad shows us in excruciating detail how vindictive and harmful Israel’s apartheid policy in the West Bank was, long before the current war. 





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