'We call it the street of death'

Community says dangerous highway responsible for multiple fatal accidents, PA sets up c'tee to probe bus accident.

mourner hangs poster arabic bus accident 390 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
mourner hangs poster arabic bus accident 390
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Family members and neighbors gathered in a community center turned into a mourners tent in the Shuafat refugee camp on Sunday for the last day of the official mourning period, following the death of five children and a teacher in a horrific school bus accident on Thursday morning.
The prevailing feeling was one of anger: at the poor state of the roads in the West Bank that contributed to the accident; at the Palestinian Red Crescent and Israeli Magen David Adom ambulances for taking so long to respond; and at Israeli authorities for general confusion and lack of access.
In a room thick with smoke, neighbors came to pay their respects to a long line of families. The mourners said that the part they are most bitter about is that this was not the first time the highway was the scene of road fatalities.
“We call it the ‘Street of Death,’” said Jihad Abu Zneid, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in the Jerusalem/Shuafat region.
The accident occurred at the Adam rotary, a major intersection north of Jerusalem between Highway 60 and Highway 437.
“There have been many victims, even just from the Shuafat refugee camp,” she said.
The three-lane road has no barrier between oncoming traffic. Muhammed Ali, a neighbor of one of the young victims, said a barrier in the middle of the road would have prevented not just Thursday’s accident, but a number of fatal accidents on the same road.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad announced Sunday that he planned to set up a committee tasked with investigating the tragic accident.
Fayyad will give the committee two weeks to present their findings to his office.
The committee will be composed of senior PA officials, including the the chairman of the Palestinian Red Crescent and the interior, health, public works and housing, education and local government ministers, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
The accident occurred last Thursday when a truck smashed into the school bus, causing an explosion that ignited the vehicle.
Police suspect that the wet road conditions between the Adam checkpoint and Kalandiya caused the truck to swerve into the oncoming traffic, striking the bus head on.
The driver, who is in an Israeli hospital, will be questioned by police after receiving treatment.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a three-day mourning period following the accident, but Palestinian students will return to school on Monday. However, the Nur al-Huda school, the private elementary school where the students on the bus studied, will remain closed while the PA and Israeli police investigate the accident. The school has been widely denounced for taking the students on an outing in such inclement weather.
Many parents of students at the school are also trying enroll their children in different schools, said Nisreen Alyan, the director of east Jerusalem projects at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
“The parents are saying, ‘it is our right for the children to learn in a place that will promise the safety of our kids, especially after all we went through,’” said Alyan.
Nur al-Huda is one of the many private schools in east Jerusalem that sprung up to meet the needs of a population that is growing exponentially faster than the number of classrooms.
Despite the law mandating compulsory education, only about half of east Jerusalem students can get into municipality schools, according to ACRI figures.
The rest of the students study at “recognized but not official” schools, which received partial funding from the city, or at private schools.
The private schools have no oversight and are run haphazardly, sometimes in rented apartments or private homes, said Alyan.
These schools are not subject to the same safety regulations as municipality schools because there is no oversight.
The six victims from the accident – teacher Ola Julani, 37, and children Marwa Amireh, Lamis Hamdan, Abdallah Hindi, Milad Salama and Zaid Nemer – were buried over the weekend.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.