Road accidents increasingly common in Gaza Strip

Gazan sisters Samar and Sally Kreizm, and their friend Shahira Shuhaiber, had a car accident Aug. 18, which killed Samar and Shahira. Sally was seriously injured and is still in the hospital.

Samar had landed a job at Al-Nassr Pediatric Hospital in Gaza City a year before the fatal accident, and had shared her joy in a Facebook post. Finding a job in Gaza is no easy feat, but her joy, however, was short-lived.

The Palestinian community in the Gaza Strip was in shock following the accident. Many activists took to social media to express their sadness about the death of the young women, decrying what they called “roads of death,” “death accidents” and laxity in applying the law.

Fares Kreizm, father of Samar and Sally, told Al-Monitor, “Joy has died in our house. My daughter Samar has left us, while her sister Sally is bedridden in the hospital.”

He said, “Samar has died. Our concern now is that Sally will get back home safe. She is undergoing surgeries. She has fractures in her leg, pelvis, rib cage, and has bruises and wounds.”

Kreizm said his family is pursuing legal proceedings against the other driver, noting that local mediators have tried to intervene for the sake of reconciliation.

“But we requested the other party to contribute to Sally’s treatment cost. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear back from anyone except for a phone call from one of the mediators saying that the other driver’s family had been preoccupied and he could not get a clear answer from them. This made us even more adamant to proceed with the legal proceedings,” he noted.

Al-Monitor headed to the emergency room at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where several patients have been victims of car crashes during the month of August. Many of them, however, did not register their case as a road accident to avoid prison for the driver that caused the accident and to move forward with tribal reconciliation — and sometimes to be able to travel to Israel for medical treatment, because the Israeli authorities don’t accept victims of car accidents.

Tahani al-Khatib, 5, was lying unconscious in a hospital bed. She had fractures, bruises and wounds all over her small body. “We were going to go out for a walk. Tahani rushed out of the house to follow me outside and was hit by a speeding car,” the girl’s father told Al-Monitor, as he was waiting for her to have surgery.

“I hope she will recover soon. Doctors say that she needs urgent operations because of the fractures all over her body, and she may not walk normally for the next 10 years,” he said, adding that the driver who ran her over is a good neighbor. He did not register the case as a car accident, so the driver would not go to prison.

The father of Ali Hassan Hijazi told Al-Monitor that his 10-year-old son was hit by a car about a month and a half ago, and even though he has greatly improved he continues to receive treatment.

“I was on my way to work selling fruits and took Ali with me. On that day, I was expecting new goods. My son was hit by the truck driver. I carried him and hurried to the nearest hospital. He had a broken pelvis and bruises all over his body,” the father said.

He added, “Ali underwent intensive treatment and has greatly recovered. I dropped the charges against the driver, because I realize it was not intentional and I have known him for a long time. He also paid for all the medical fees.”

Brig. Gen. Tamer Shehade, director of the General Department of Traffic and Emergency Police in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the number of car accidents in the coastal enclave is decreasing, noting that the high population density, the large number of cars and narrow streets contribute to traffic accidents.

Commenting on the Kreizm victims, he said, “The issue is complicated. It could be [because of] a reckless driver or pedestrians. There are also other reasons, such as barriers set by shop owners that block vision and damaged road signs.”

Shehade said that some law violations could also lead to fatal accidents, such as driving in the opposite direction, crossing a red light, excessive speed and drifting, as well as assaulting traffic policemen.

He noted that some violations are less dangerous and do not pose a threat to the lives of citizens, such as expired driver’s licenses and insurance policies, which the police sometimes turn a blind eye to in order to alleviate the financial burdens on citizens.

Shehade added that so far in 2021, there have been 1,420 traffic accidents, 33 of which resulted in death, including seven cases in August. He said the number of accidents is much lower than in 2020, when 2,240 accidents were recorded.

Al-Monitor requested an official document of the statistics on traffic accidents, but Shehade refused to provide this. 

However, based on daily follow-up to the media and news reports, it seems that some 100 accidents occurred in August — as opposed to the seven Shehade mentioned — causing 10 deaths and at least five serious injuries.

Shehade said that the traffic police in the Gaza Strip totals 1,000. This is a rather small number given the high population density in Gaza, with more than 2 million people living in the coastal enclave and more than 140,000 cars on the roads.

He said that the traffic police are planning to raise awareness on traffic rules in coordination with government-owned media and via religious sermons in coordination with the Ministry of Religious Endowments, as well as seminars with the help of the Ministry of Education.

Regarding the applicable traffic laws, Amjad al-Agha, director general of Legal Affairs, Legislation and Research Department at the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Monitor that Traffic Law No. 5 of 2000 states fines and imprisonment periods for traffic violations.

Agha said that dealing with traffic accident cases and their repercussions does not fall under the Traffic Law only, but also under the Penal Code No. 74 of 1934. He explained that Article 112 of the Traffic Law stipulates that any unintentional car crash that causes death is punishable with two years in prison.

“But Articles 212 and 214 of the Penal Code stipulates that manslaughter is punished by life imprisonment, so the judge would decide on the case,” he concluded.

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