“A tribute to Palestinian school kids killed in a tragic bus accident in Ramallah”

By: Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh

A truck crashed into a Palestinian school bus, killing at least nine people including eight children

West Bank, February 17, 2012: We had a really bad day today.  Nine Palestinian very young children were killed and 40 other children injured (some severely) in one horrific fiery traffic accident today and another child was killed in a separate traffic accident. 

The day started with me breaking a glass and then having to talk to a lawyer about a notice I just received to go to military court on 1 April (more on this later as it becomes clear what I will be charged with).  Then I am rushing to do interview live on an international TV station then driving to Ramallah for an important meeting and then to my afternoon classes at Birzeit University. 

Well, I never made it to the Ramallah meeting because the road was blocked for this horrific accident; an Israeli licensed trailer truck (driven by an Israeli Arab citizen) carrying fuel hit the Palestinian bus carrying children on a trip head on and the bus turned over and burst in flames (the bus burned not the trailer!). 

This happened near the Palestinian village of Hizma and the villagers rushed to save the children. The Israeli cars could double back and go through the wall on the Israeli only roads.  We in the Palestinian cars had to wait as ambulance after ambulance took the dead and injured away

Forgetting about my own personal troubles, I thus started to think based on the issue of compassion and dignity more.  A story like this should generate compassion and it certainly helps us identify decent human beings (like the Israelis and Palestinians of all religions who helped save the lives of so many children). 

But why did so many ignore it or feel no compassion because it is not their children or belong to their self-identified (fictional) group.  A 33-year old Palestinian Khader Adnan is on his 61 days of hunger strike (because he is held without charge in so called administrative detention by Israel). How many will care if he dies or care now about him? Regardless of his background, isn’t he someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s son, someone’s uncle? Below is a letter from a friend about Khader Adnan’s situation. 

These and other stories that break our hearts do not seem to elicit even a blip of compassion and care from millions who may tangentially hear about these things.  Some people say there is “compassion fatigue” among some of us but I disagree. 

I believe once you have true compassion for fellow human beings you can never tire of it; compassion here is defined as compassion for all human beings not selected members of your “tribe”, “nation”, “religion” or other concocted group identity (to me this is the opposite of compassion). 

Watch the firsthand video of the horrible crash here ( disturbing scenes were blurred out) 

 Eleven years ago (4 June 2001), I published this letter in Haaretz titled “Sincere condolences” about another tragedy which is relevant here:

“Upon hearing the news of the wedding party turned to tragedy by collapse of the building in Jerusalem, my shock and sadness were intense. It only got worse and turned to tears when I later saw the video footage and read about the alleged construction problems. The video footage reminded me of the footage of my sister’s wedding. I was touched by the ordinariness and beauty of this event and then the tragedy that ensued. I grieve for the victims and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and with you all.

Please accept my sincerest and humble condolences. I am a Palestinian American who works for human rights, including the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and lands. I believe that all people of Israel/Palestine must and will eventually live in one democratic and secular state with a constitution that protects all its citizens and treats them equally.

We are so similar and it is a shame that political ideas (Zionism and other forms of nationalism) divided us. In 1967, as a 10-year old child in Beit Sahur, I witnessed something that still touches me to this day – a reunion between my grandfather and his Jewish best friend from high school. Two old folks who had not seen each other between 1948 and 1967. Two old folks who cried like children. Both are gone now. I thought of this, and how much I miss the wisdom of my grandfather as I saw the recent events and the tragedies and the victims of violence in our homeland.

My grandfather wrote to me in 1974 that if he was to give me one piece of advice for the future it would be to realize that the world changes and that we have to remove our own shackles, which come to us from society and culture. It is time we started thinking and reflecting carefully on the futility of separation, nationalism, and militarism.

It is time to insist on and teach ourselves to live together in equality and humanity. If the Berlin wall tumbled, Apartheid in South Africa was dismantled, and Europe is unifying, why can’t we do the same? Imagine if the billions of dollars we spend on weapons were spent to better our economies, desalinate sea water, develop closer relationships and friendships, and provide therapy for the over 17,000 injured in the recent violence.

In the midst of our tragedies, let us work together for a better world.

Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh teaches and does research at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universities in occupied Palestine. He serves as chairman of the board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People and coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour He is author of “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle” and “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment”


2 thoughts on “Compassion

  1. To me the central point of this article is this: “compassion here is defined as compassion for all human beings not selected members of your “tribe”, “nation”, “religion” or other concocted group identity (to me this is the opposite of compassion).”

    We are all encouraged to distinguish ourselves from people we are expected to think of as “other” than us. However if we become attached to these labels and forget the common humanity which lies under all these differences, then compassion for “us” is easier to feel than compassion for “them”. This happens in ordinary life, as with men/women, old/young, educated/uneducated, but also in a wider social and political context: dark skin/light skin, christian/jew, Polish/German, etc.

    In some sense the differences and labels are unavoidable, but many problems arise for individuals and societies when people think these ultimately minor differences are more important than the similarities we all share. Our group identity is not concocted, it can only be sustained by fixing our gaze at a few minor differences and refusing to look at our fundamental human identity.

    Unfortunately this intense focus on difference is fostered and encouraged by many of our “leaders”. It is no accident that the “leaders” of group X want all those in this group to think being an X is important. If we don’t think it is important, we probably would not listen to them and they would be out of a job. It is rare to find a leader who has an inclusive approach. In fact, you might even find that “leaders” who don’t care about the “other” don’t care much for their followers either. They are really more interested in their own power than anything else.

    I believe virtually all people have compassion and wish to express it. The problem is that social forces encourage us to put serious limitations on it, so we are unknowingly “guided” to restrict our compassion to those who are important to us, and thereby deny it to everyone else.


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