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In the Review’s October 19 issue, David Shulman writes about Nathan Thrall’s A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy. The book, which Thrall expanded from an article he wrote for NYR Online, recounts a 2012 accident in the West Bank, when an Israeli trailer truck collided with a bus carrying Palestinian kindergartners, killing six children and one teacher. Shulman observes that the tragedy is emblematic of life for those living under the occupation:
Because of the nightmarish maze of roads in the Ramallah area—some of them closed altogether to Palestinians, others blocked by army checkpoints to keep Palestinians without special permits from entering Israel—rescuers were slow in reaching the site of the accident….
This disaster, like today’s ongoing violence in the Palestinian territories in general, was a predictable, even inevitable, outcome of the occupation system in its quotidian forms.
Below, alongside Shulman’s article, we have collected Thrall’s original essay, as well as earlier writing about Israel and Palestine by Shulman, Edward Said, and I. F. Stone.
Nathan Thrall argues that the accident in which Abed Salama’s son died was a predictable, even inevitable, outcome of the Israeli occupation in its quotidian forms.
“There was no question but that he would take them back to Ramallah, though they were less than a mile from municipal Jerusalem, which had superior hospitals. Palestinian ambulances bringing patients to Jerusalem had to wait at the checkpoints for unpredictable lengths of time before permission was granted, or denied, to carry the victim on a stretcher to an Israeli ambulance on the other side. Scores of people have died…because the passage of Palestinian ambulances was prevented or delayed.”
“Because most of the liberal elite support a two-state partition, the starting point of their understanding is not the reality on the ground but rather their preferred ‘solution.’ I wanted to put aside these ideological framings and simply describe reality as it exists today: Israel not just controls but fully administers over 90 percent of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and the Palestinians have very limited autonomy in the remaining less than 10 percent.”
“No one who regularly visits the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel has to speculate about whether or not Israel is engaged in the routine abuse of human rights.”
“It is still hard for me to accept the fact that the very quarters of the city in which I was born, lived, and felt at home were taken over by Polish, German, and American immigrants, who conquered the city and have made it the unique symbol of their sovereignty. There was no place for Palestinian life, which seems to have been confined to the eastern city, which I hardly knew. West Jerusalem has now become entirely Jewish, its former inhabitants expelled for all time by mid-1948.”
“A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them.”