A tragic traffic accident last week has led to a remarkable effort at reconciliation between the families of the victims of the crash and the driver believed to be responsible for the accident.
Five Palestinian kindergarten children and their teacher were killed Thursday when the school bus in which they were riding was hit head-on by a truck that crossed into the oncoming lane. Another 20 children and adults were injured, several of them critically with loss of limbs and severe burns.
The children, residents of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat in the northern part of greater Jerusalem, were on a school outing in the West Bank when the accident happened, just beyond the concrete security barrier that separates the Jerusalem area from the Palestinian territories.
Israeli military personnel, police and ambulances responded to the emergency along with Palestinian paramedics. The children and injured adults were taken to both Israeli and Palestinian hospitals.
The crash came amidst a savage rainstorm that left large amounts of water pooling on roads not used to so much rainfall. It is believed that the driver of the truck, an Arab Israeli, lost control of his vehicle owing to the slippery conditions and possibly to the excessive speed at which the truck was travelling.
Just 24 hours after the accident, before any of the victims even had been buried, representatives of the family of the driver and the families of the victims met to begin discussions of compensation to the victims’ families.
To some it may seem almost crass to be bargaining about finances at a time like this, but Palestinians explain that the meeting is a matter of demonstrating immediately that there was no intent to harm on the part of the driver and thereby avoid a vendetta being carried out by grieving relatives.
Indeed, the families’ representatives quickly agreed to a hudna – or truce between the sides – and resolved to meet again after the funerals of the children and teacher that were conducted Sunday and Monday.
While the driver would have been insured, and payouts from the insurance company will undoubtedly be made to victims and families of the deceased, much as would be the case in Canada, this additional personal compensation is very common in Palestinian society. Members of the driver’s family will scrape together whatever they can and offer it to calm the victims’ relatives.
Vendettas, duels and revenge killings have been viewed as sanctioned in the Bible (an eye for an eye) and in the Code of Hammurabi. Though no longer common in the West, they remain a fact of life in relatively undeveloped Palestinian society.