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Blame It on The Rain

On Thursday, February 16th 2012, the state of Palestine experienced a national tragedy. Yet even in this politically turbulent landscape where the people are accustomed to the violence and tragic events that accompany 64 years of war, nothing could have prepared them for what happened on that day. After having just emerged from 29 days of continuous rain in January, the first time that it has rained to this magnitude in nearly 47 years, Thursday morning began with heavy fog cover and torrential downpour that limited visibility to only 3-4 meters. Driving to work, I could have sworn that someone was literally pouring water on my windshield. Yes, it was that bad.

Palestinian and Israeli rescue teams at the site of the tragedy.

At 8:30am, two buses carrying 150 kindergarten children from Shu’fat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, under Israeli control, had just left the Hizma checkpoint and were travelling towards Ramallah for a class trip to a public park, in torrential downpour. Wait it gets better; near the highway intersection between Jaba’ and Qalandia refugee camp, one of the buses collided with a semi-truck that was traveling from the other direction and swerved into on-coming traffic. At impact the bus, filled beyond legal capacity with roughly 60-75 children, overturned and burst into flames. It was first reported that 42 children were injured and 10 children, trapped in the flaming wreckage, burned to death. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, has since stated that 5 children and 1 teacher perished. It took 40 minutes for Israeli government and Palestinian authority ambulances, several firefighter companies and rescue helicopters to arrive at the scene. Most of the dead were charred beyond recognition.

As soon as the accident happened, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were fed raw video footage, photos and brief news-bytes from hundreds of civilians with camera phones whom had converged at the accident to watch and just as quickly as the information was passed out through the internet, Israelis and Palestinians began pointing fingers at each other and politicizing in this tragedy. Hamas released a statement that referred to a “Zionist Truck” that intentionally targeted Palestinian children. Meanwhile Israeli extremists posted racist comments on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official Facebook page and on Twitter praising the bus accident as revenge for the Fogel Family’s murders at the Itamar settlement in March 2011, while others commented that it wasn’t a big deal because “it was just Palestinians that died.”

Still others further politicized the event by blaming either Israel or Palestine or both for the fact that Arabs and Israelis are segregated and forced to use separate roads under an on-going “apartheid” and many Arabs quickly jumped into frenzy at the fact that “all Israelis” were celebrating the deaths of innocent children, when they were clearly not doing so. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his sorrow for what had happened and offered to help the families. PA President Abbas did the same, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad instituted 3 days of mourning and instructed the PA Ministry of Education to reform policies for field trips effective immediately across all Palestinians schools, public and private.

I hope that if anything would  come out of this tragedy, it would be the reminder that we’re all on this earth for a short period of time, which I think shouldn’t be wasted on pointing fingers and engaging in conflict.

Now, there is a reason that an “accident” is called an “accident.” Call me crazy, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it was an unintentional act. We can blame the truck driver for being a wreckless driver, we can blame the school officials for scheduling a trip to an outdoor park in torrential downpour, and we can even blame them for filling a bus with 60-70 children when it was only intended to seat about 30. If we want to, we can even blame the treacherous roads, the lack of a real transportation authority and enforced regulations in the West Bank, we can blame the occupation, the segregated roads, the so-called “apartheid state,” the settlers, the PA ministries, the Israeli government. Heck, we can even blame Mercedes Benz for producing an inferior passenger bus if we dug deep enough. However, what’s the point? There are five little kids sleeping in freezers in one of 5 area hospitals and parents who have no idea if the black crispy corpse their looking at is their child or the child of the other parents.

Sometimes at the end of the day, an accident is just an accident. It has nothing to do with war, or occupation or on-going conflict. Sometimes it happened just because it happened and most Israelis and Palestinians can agree on that point. While there was finger pointing on both sides, the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, were horrified about what happened and have been expressing their grief and condolences to the families of all those involved. No child deserves to die in such a horrendous way, or any way for that matter.

It should also be recognized that Israeli paramedics and the local IDF battalions were at the scene helping their Palestinian counterparts to sort out this mess and for that, this Palestinian thanks them for their assistance.

I hope that if anything would  come out of this tragedy, it would be the reminder that we’re all on this earth for a short period of time, which I think shouldn’t be wasted on pointing fingers and engaging in conflict.


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