The last day in the life of Milad Salama

By Nathan Thrall, published in The New York Review, 19 March 2021.

One man’s quest to find his son lays bare the reality of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.

This article, from the New York Review of Books, explains the history and the ethos of the Israeli settlement programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territory through the prism of the death of a Palestinian five-year-old boy in a traffic accident on the north-eastern outskirts of Jerusalem

On the day before the accident, Milad Salama could hardly contain his excitement for the kindergarten class trip. “Baba,” he said, addressing his father, Abed, “I want to buy food for the picnic tomorrow.” Abed took his five-and-a-half-year-old son to a nearby convenience store, buying him a bottle of the Israeli orange drink Tapuzina, a tube of Pringles, and a chocolate Kinder Egg, his favorite dessert. 

Early the next morning, Milad’s mother, Haifa, helped her fair-skinned, sandy-haired boy into his school uniform: gray pants, a white-collared shirt, and a grey sweater bearing the emblem of his private elementary school, Nour al-Houda, or “light of guidance.” Milad’s nine-year-old brother, Adam, old enough to walk to school on his own, had already left. Milad hurried to finish his breakfast, gathered his lunch and picnic treats, and rushed out to board the school bus. Abed was still in bed.

On most days, Abed worked for the Israeli phone and Internet service provider Bezeq. But that morning, he and his cousin had plans to go to Jericho. They stopped at the nearby butcher’s, in Dahiyat al-Salaam, “neighbourhood of peace,” beneath the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The owner, Atef, was a friend of Abed’s, and it was unusual for him not to be at the shop. Abed asked an employee to check where Atef was. Atef lived in a different part of municipal Jerusalem, Kufr Aqab, a dense urban neighborhood of tall apartment towers that, like Dahiyat al-Salaam, is cut off from the rest of the city by an Israeli military checkpoint and a grey twenty-six-foot-high concrete wall. To avoid the daily traffic jams and what are sometimes waits of several hours at the Qalandia checkpoint, Atef drove to his work through a far more circuitous route, following the snaking path of the separation barrier. 

Atef reported that he was stuck in horrible traffic. It was a wet, grey, and extremely windy February morning in 2012. He said there appeared to be a collision ahead of him, on the road between the Qalandia and Jaba checkpoints. A few minutes after hearing of Atef’s delay, Abed received a call from his nephew: “Did Milad go to the picnic today? There was an accident with a school bus near Jaba.”

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Nathan Thrall is the author of The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017). He lives in Jerusalem.

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