Monday, January 1

A personal plea. For your children's sake.

It was a sad, but simple event. Or so it seemed. Here's the report I called in to The Jerusalem Post Internet desk:
Jan. 1, 2007 9:44 | Updated Jan. 10,:50
Man seriously injured after hit by car in J'lem

A pedestrian was seriously injured after being hit by a van on Derech Hebron in Jerusalem Monday morning. The man, apparently an Arab in his mid-20s, was struck at the intersection near the Talpiot industrial area shortly after 9 a.m.
Bystanders administered first aid on the scene until a Border Police team arrived, along with an ambulance.
Police were still questioning the driver of the van after the victim was evacuated to Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Karem hospital.
No war or terrorism, no other casualties. Just another scrolling Internet headline that could have been written about a traffic accident anywhere in the world Or was it?

The difference, for me, was that I crossed the intersection, heading towards the shopping district scant moments after the accident took place:

As I waited for the crosswalk light to turn green, I heard a car horn suddenly blare, and then glanced down near the curb, across the intersection in the southbound lane. I saw what, at first glance, appeared to be a pile of old clothes lying in the street.

It's bitterly funny sometimes, how the mind refuses to accept what the eyes clearly see.

After a few seconds I noticed a head and arms in the crumpled mass, and then disconnectedly realized that I was looking at the broken, unmoving body of a young man, a rivulet of blood from his right ear joining a more copious flow from beneath his head on the pavement. The ripped left leg of his work-stained jeans exposed what appeared to be a broken thigh, with both knees and ankles folded at unnatural angles. His cap and what looked like a wallet were thrown a few meters to the side; his shattered cellphone was lying under his right foot, equally shattered.

That's what the brief called "seriously injured." I though you should understand what those two words, "seriously injured," can really represent in a news brief.

Two male passersby were beside the casualty, one gently patting his shoulder and quietly talking with him, in an effort, perhaps, to keep him conscious, as the second spoke into his cellphone, summoning an ambulance. They didn't move him from the street where he lay, afraid they might cause even greater injury.

As I waved down the oncoming traffic, two transit buses, like the one that hit the pedestrian, edged by slowly, cautiously, on their way to nearby Bethlehem.

Bus passengers at the nearby stop averted their eyes, as others covered their mouths in horrified dismay. A man held tight to a stunned, trembling woman on the traffic island, who, on the verge of tears, kept repeating, “I saw it all...” Close by, the driver of a sedan rigidly stood outside her vehicle, refusing assistance, as she tightly clutched the door's window frame, watching the scene unfold with tears running down her face.

A short time later, I again passed through the intersection, this time on a bus, and looked out at the accident scene as we turned the corner where the collision took place. The ambulance had evacuated the victim, and I saw police investigators talking with the van's driver. Vehicles carefully eased past, as a few rubberneckers watched from the sidewalk. The cap and wallet were gone, but the pool of blood remained.

Hebron Road, along with several other major streets and thoroughfares in the capital has seen it's share of such accidents. Many are due to the changes in traffic patterns as the route for the city's light rail system is installed; one morning, one-way streets become two-way, and roads and sidewalks are regularly ripped open, and pedestrians dare speeding buses, dump trucks and taxis as to who can cross the intersection faster. There is only one footbridge over the busy road, located a few hundred meters to the south. It connects a school with the Arnona neighborhood.

Hebron Road is also a major traffic artery running from Bethlehem and Gilo in the south, to the city center in the north, and at midmorning resembles a racetrack straightaway more than a street with traffic lights and crosswalks. Although several kilometers of new fencing keeps people from cutting across between intersections, the traffic islands themselves are often crowded with children, women with strollers, and people carrying shopping bags, all waiting for the lights to change. The gusts from vehicles cannonballing by, only what feels like scant centimeters away, is intimidating.

The victim could have been anyone's son, brother, uncle or friend. He looked to me like any of the young Israeli Arabs or Palestinians that throng the auto-repair garages, shops and restaurants nearby. Just someone rushing by, hurrying to get to work, but at the wrongest instant.

As 2007 begins, consider the above as a personal plea from me to you to resolve to drive more carefully, and more aware. ”V'shamartam meod l'nafshotechem” - “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much" (Deuteronomy 4:9) isn't just a Biblical piety.

It means slow down.

It means ease your foot off the gas pedal.

It means watch your kids as they cross the street, and teach them to look both ways twice. At the very least.

"S'h'lo nid'a od da'ava." "May we know no more sorrow."

For more: Metuna.

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