Car Trouble and Patriarchy in Palestine
“It is your fault! I have the right of way and you didn’t stop!” says Abu Hisham, the Palestinian driver, who just sideswiped my car, sliding his side doors into my blinker.
“I was already in the middle of the road! Where should I go?” I respond angrily.
“No, I tried to drive around you as much as I could. A little farther and I would have driven into the shop!” retorts Abu Hisham.
“But I was in the road already! Why didn’t you stop?” I try to reason with him.
“I hit the breaks, but you can’t see the scratches because of the ABS in the car,” mumbles Abu Hisham to a crowd of Palestinian men who huddle at the accident scene. All men. And me.
Eventually Abu Hisham, a Palestinian man in his 50s, decides to call the police. In the meantime, I go into my car and start making phone calls to my insurance company. Both of us are on our phones trying to resolve the accident with third parties.
Nelly, my insurance agent, asks me, “So the other driver has a Palestinian-registered car?”
“Yes. It has a white and green license plate,” I tell her. She already knows I have an Israeli-registered car (with a yellow and black license plate).
“As far as I know, as an Israeli citizen, you have no obligation towards him. But I have never encountered such a case involving an accident with a Palestinian car, so I recommend you call my supervisor, Ghanem,” and she proceeds to give me his number.
I call Ghanem immediately and he asks me to exchange the following information with Abu Hisham: “Car license number, name of insurance policy, address, ID number...and the name of the driver.” Ghanem pauses with his list to explain that “sometimes in the PA (Palestinian Authority), the drivers are not necessarily the car owners, so make sure you have both his details and the necessary car information.” And he continues with the list: “Address, ID number, name of insurance company, policy number, agent’s name and phone number.” He elaborates that this is what he needs in order to process the accident through the insurance company.
Another man, a Palestinian police officer, arrives on the scene on his motorbike. He talks with Abu Hisham while I am on the phone with the insurance company. He seems to know Abu Hisham from the way they kiss and shake hands.
He walks over to me and taps on my windows, agitated. He is bothered that I didn’t drop everything and step out to greet him, but I was on the phone with my agent. He knocks on the car window again, indicating his impatience and need of my attention.
“What should I do with the police officer? The other driver called him,” I ask Ghanem quickly.
“Palestinian police cannot do anything when there are no casualties involved. Pay him no attention. He has no authority over you,” he replies.
As I exit the car, the police officer stares at me saying, “This accident is your fault.” His tone is determined and authoritative, and he seems confident in his decision. He demands that Abu Hisham and I pass him our identification cards and follow him to the police station.
“Hold on, officer. Why should I follow you to the station? I never said that it wasn’t my fault or that I won’t settle. I am not interested in going to the station. I have a list of information I need to collect from Abu Hisham so that my insurance can handle it.”
“Are you insured for the West Bank?” Abu Hisham asks.
“Yes. My insurance agent said to take this information,” and I wave my little notebook to show him, “and it will cover it.”
“She doesn’t have insurance here,” claims Abu Hisham.
The police officer asks, “You want to resolve it between you or come to the station?”
I feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. They are both making demands of me, convinced of my guilt, and the men on the side watch this gendered spectacle play out, their morning entertainment. It is as if their sex lends them more legitimacy and authority, and I simply have to oblige them.
Along with my disadvantaged gender, when it comes to car accidents, I am also an Israeli citizen and Palestinians from the PA think we, Palestinians from Israel, have more money. As a result, he is trying to milk the situation and get as much as he can from this accident. I sigh to myself, thinking Abu Hisham hit the jackpot when a young Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship slammed into his car.
What can I possibly do, I wonder?
To be continued...