Reviews for A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: Anatomy of a Jerusalem Tragedy

by Nathan Thrall

Publishers Weekly
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Journalist Thrall (The Only Language They Understand) offers a unique window onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this captivating profile of Abed Salama, a Palestinian phone company worker and political activist, on the day in February 2012 when his five-year-old son, Malid, was among the seven people killed in a traffic accident near Jerusalem. The driver of the semitrailer that crashed into the bus carrying Malid’s kindergarten class was blamed for the accident and sentenced to 30 months in prison, but investigators failed to spell out other factors that made the accident and its aftermath worse, such as badly maintained Palestinian infrastructure (the road was congested and poorly lit); the barrier wall dividing Jerusalem from surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods (checkpoints delayed first responders); and a bureaucratic system intended to restrict Palestinians like Salama (because his ID indicated that he had served time in prison—a stint resulting from his affiliation with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine—Salama was unable to cross into Jerusalem in search of his son). Through extensive interviews and research, Thrall reconstructs the day of the accident, interweaving stories of Jewish and Palestinian people involved, including a doctor and a teacher who helped rescue some of the children. But he also dives into the past, recounting Salama’s and the rescuers’ life stories and the history of the construction of the barrier wall. It’s a heart-wrenching portrait of an unequal society. (Oct.)

Library Journal
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This riveting account by Thrall (The Only Language They Understand) tells the story of a bus that sets out on a stormy day in a Palestinian neighborhood in the West Bank to take dozens of kindergartners on a field trip. The bus is rammed by a truck, overturns, and catches fire. In the absence of emergency vehicles or personnel, bystanders pull the children and two adults from the wreckage and take them to area hospitals. The parents of the injured children, including Abed Salama, spend the rest of the day trying to track down their children, several of whom do not survive. The book explores the backstories of many of the people who played a role in the tragedy and shows readers what daily life for many Palestinians is like, including the frustrations inherent in it. Palestinian neighborhoods are walled off and then denied typical municipal and infrastructure support, resulting in poor quality roads, vehicles that are not maintained or regulated, and checkpoints that delay needed emergency services. VERDICT An eye-opening and empathetic analysis of a profoundly personal tragedy. This deeply researched book is insightful as the author reveals the complex issues faced by Palestinians.—Rebecca Mugridge

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A powerful study of how a horrendous school bus accident in Palestinian Jerusalem underscored the oppressiveness of Israeli rule. In his second book, following The Only Language They Understand, Thrall, the former director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, clearly delineates how the accident that ended the life of Abed Salama’s 5-year-old son, Milad, resulted from many factors both accidental and systemic. Salama’s family lived in the narrow alleys of Dahiyat a-Salaam, a Palestinian neighborhood in Anata, separated by a high wall from greater Jerusalem, which restricted access to hospitals and schools. In February 2012, Milad’s private elementary school, Nour al-Houda, hired a bus company to take its kindergarten class on a field trip to a theme park on the outskirts of town. However, Thrall notes, “the company sent an illegally registered twenty seven year old bus to drive on neglected, congested roads, without proper lighting, a police presence, or a barrier between the lanes of oncoming traffic.” Moreover, in the chaos after the accident, the emergency response was delayed, no one knew which hospitals the children had been taken to, and the victims and responders were largely dependent on who had proper identification to reach the Israeli hospital through the roadblocks. In his deeply sensitive account of the families involved, Thrall delves into the history of the two Palestinian intifadas, in 1987 and 2000, and how the Israeli military’s vise grip around the neighborhoods increased, resulting in the massive wall separating Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli settlements. The driver of the bus was sentenced to 30 months in prison, “a remarkably lenient punishment for an act of gross negligence that killed seven people.” As the author shows, the true roots of the tragedy, in terms of the separation wall, transit permits, ID, and lack of proper Palestinian schools, were never addressed. A moving, often maddening portrait of the dire life straits of Palestinians in Israel. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Five-year-old Milad Salama has one simple wish: to ride the bus on his kindergarten field trip to the park. But Milad lives in the nether region of the “separation wall” between East Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian West Bank, where nothing is simple. There will be checkpoints and overcrowded, under-maintained roads. There will be an accident, with emergency vehicles stymied by jurisdictional squabbles and Kafkaesque rules about who may travel where. Thrall’s taut, journalistic account of Abed Salama’s daylong search to discover what has become of his son is an agonizing, infuriating, heartbreaking indictment of Israel’s occupation and how it makes ordinary life for Palestinians all but impossible. As Salama travels from hospital to police station to hospital, Thrall widens his lens to reveal the imposed chaos of Palestinian society where the right to a green West Bank ID versus a Blue Jerusalem one can literally mean the difference between life and death. Thrall, former director of the Arab-Israeli Project at the International Crisis Group, now a writer based in Jerusalem, tells the stories of heroic teachers, grieving parents, traumatized children, and blasť officials in an unforgettable and devastating symphony of pain and outrage and a demand for responsibility.