This post appeared yesterday on the Palestine Center blog Permission to Narrate:
When I heard the tragic news this morning about an accident involving a school bus near Jab’a that left several young Palestinian school children dead I was devastated by the details and began to think about how scared those children must have been and how difficult life will be for the families of those involved going forward. It is sad and horrifying any time innocent people, especially children, die or get injured.
I remembered taking the school bus on a daily basis here in the States from elementary school all the way through high school. Our buses always stopped at railroad tracks, even when there was no trains in sight or approaching. It was a policy to stop and have the bus driver open the door and look both ways. At the time, it seemed like an over-cautious waste of time to me but I know it reflects the utmost need to protect society’s most valuable assets; it’s children.
So as I continued to listen to the details I went from being sad, to confused and finally, to angry. Something didn’t make much sense to me. Here are some of the details reported from
The bus was carrying children from a kindergarten in the Shuafat refugee camp on their way to a field trip to a park near Ramallah.
According Shuafat residents, the kindergarten children travelled in two buses, each holding about 80 passengers, including teaching staff and crew.
The bus had set out from a Palestinian school in Shuafat in east Jerusalem to the Ramallah area for a day trip, carrying some 60 children. It turned around and headed back because of treacherous weather conditions. It was struck by the truck en route to east Jerusalem….
The accident occurred just after 9 a.m. at Kikar Adam, a major intersection north of Jerusalem between highway 60 and highway 437.
The children on the school buses were from the Shufaat refugee camp. Shufaat is inside the municipality of Jerusalem. Their destination was toward Ramallah which would mean they’d have to pass through Kufr Aqab, another Palestinian locality inside the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem.
I know this gets complicated, so maps help to simplify things. In the map on the right, you can see where Shufaat is and where Kfur Aqab is. Kufr Aqab is essentially the gateway to Ramallah from the Jerusalem municipality. The green route, in my estimation, signifies the most logical, shortest, straightforward and safest route to get from Shufaat to Kufr Aqab. However, the bus didn’t go that way.
The buses filled with Palestinian school children instead followed, again in my estimation, the red route, which is longer, far more rural, more dangerous, out of the way, narrower, more curvy and hillier than the green route. The yellow circle is an estimation of where, based on the Jerusalem Post’s account, the accident happened. So why on earth would a bus filled with Palestinian children take the red route instead of the green route?
Because even though both Shufaat and Kufr Aqab are part of the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem, the infrastructure of apartheid, in this case the wall, makes the safest and most convenient route unavailable to these residents of Jerusalem because they were born in the wrong neighborhood- a Palestinian one – on the other side of the wall.
Have a look at this next map to the right where the green and red lines are my estimations of the different routes as in the map above, but this version includes a thick black line indicating where the wall exists preventing Palestinians from taking the safer, more direct route in green.
I want to be clear, the children that died today died in an accident. This accident was most likely a direct cause of poor weather conditions and I’m not placing blame on Israel or Israelis as the direct cause of this accident. Rather, what is important to note here is that the infrastructure of occupation regularly forces Palestinians into inconvenient and, in many cases, unsafe conditions where the likelihood of dangerous events increases. Accidents can happen anywhere, especially when weather conditions are bad, but there is little doubt in my mind that the chances of such a thing happening decrease when you are spending less time on the road in a safer more direct route.
As a Palestinian, you can not travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem, for example, without taking a long and often dangerous drive circumventing Jerusalem and going nearly as far as Jericho to do it. For many locals, this is just something they have gotten used to. Sure the road is more dangerous, but it is something they do regularly so they may forget how much safer one can be taking other routes if they were available.
As someone who spends most of my time in the United States but visits the region often I have taken both the red and green routes on different occasions and it is easy to notice that the green route is much, much safer.
This is life in Palestine. This is occupation. No one should have to get used to it. If we can learn anything from this tragedy today it is that even when there are no soldiers, incursions, weapons or settlers involved, the very infrastructure of occupation increases the risks and challenges facing Palestinians on a daily basis.