Mid-July 2014, in the West Bank. The segment of Road 60 that stretches between Hebron and the checkpoint at the gates of Jerusalem is open tonight for both Palestinians and Israelis. 20 year old cars, with the print “No god but Allah” on the rear windows silently sail the road, very aware of Israeli army vehicles, standing on the margins every few kilometers. Drivers from the settlements are more careful than before, but would not stop picking up hitch-hiking strangers. One thing everybody on this road surely has in common tonight – everybody’s talking about the war in Gaza.
Operation “Protective Edge” begun about ten days ago. Hundreds of Palestinians have already died. In neighboring radio frequencies, their death is being reported in different languages, different words. One can tell which driver on the road heard what by looking at the cars’ license plates; if it’s green and white, it means the Palestinian driver probably listens to an Arabic news station, and he hears that hundreds have been martyred. If the license plate is black and yellow, it presumably means a Hebrew station is playing at the car, reporting that the IDF has destroyed more terror targets today.
Then, a crash.
Efrat junction has known car collisions before, and as long as people will keep on ignoring traffic lights, it is not going to stop. This was a high speed clash, and the smashed cars made a few uncontrollable circles on the road. Moments pass. A settler exits the ruins of one of the cars. Worried people stop their cars at the sides of the road, and approach the cars to offer help. This is neither a place nor a time to be out of a car; at any time, a Hamas missile from Gaza could find its way here, as it already has a few times, and there’s no shelter on this highway. The front of the second car is completely wrecked, but the rear green and white license plate is still visible. Three members of a family exit the car: a sheikh and his wife who sat in front, and their 20 years old daughter who sat in the back. Her faced is smeared with blood, and she is quietly crying.
The sheikh is most stressed about losing his old Subaru, and he engages in an angry exchange of accusations with the Israeli driver. Two settlers approach the sheikh’s daughter and give her water. “At Beseder?” they ask her – are you okay – but she doesn’t speak Hebrew. “Dam?” one says and points to the nose. “Dam” means blood in both Arabic and Hebrew. The daughter cleans her face with the water. The bleeding stops. One settler does know some words in Arabic and manages to ask the daughter if “Koolshi tamam” everything’s ok. The daughter’s words confirm, but her voice is trembling and her body shaking.
Someone calls the emergency services – both health care and the police. It’s a dangerous place and there’s a possible hazard of an attack by angry settlers or Palestinians against the other side. An Israeli ambulance is the first one to show up. Using sign language, the paramedic understands that the sheikh’s daughter is generally okay, but she’s pregnant, and has to be taken to a hospital for a checkup. He cannot do that, as he’s not allowed to take her to Palestinian hospitals, and she’s not allowed into Israeli ones, so she must wait for a Red Crescent ambulance to pick her up.
An army vehicle is next to arrive, to secure the area. While the two arguing drivers almost don’t notice the soldiers, the sheikh’s daughter panics, and starts to cry. For her, soldiers arriving never means good news. The settlers try to calm her down and tell her that the soldiers won’t do anything to her, but they can’t find the words in Arabic. They manage to tell her and her husband, who has also just arrived, to go wait on the side, away from the yelling and the soldiers, until the Palestinian ambulance arrives.
20 minutes have passed and the Red Crescent ambulance evacuates the daughter with her husband. The Palestinian ambulance was probably delayed at a checkpoint. The sheikh and his wife walk home by foot. The Israeli driver is still at the scene, waiting for a tow truck. The mixed crowd disperses, starts their cars and turns on the different news stations again, each according to their license plate.
I would return to the car too, but the car I was hitch-hiking with is long gone, left by the time I approached the sheikh’s daughter and called up the emergency services. The woman who brought the water does have a car, and I ask if I could come with her. She kindly agrees to make the detour, and as I sit in the car, I notice that I’m still wearing a heart-shaped “Stop the Killing” sticker on my T-shirt – I forgot by now that I put it on earlier, at a demonstration I was returning home from. Tomorrow morning I’m registering for an Arabic course, I decide. This cannot happen again; I cannot let myself be unable to speak to so many people who live on the same land as I do. I get off the car, not far from home, and start walking, followed by the tired, yet alert eyes of IDF soldiers. It is 1:30 A.M, Mid-July 2014, in the West Bank.