Monday, October 24, 2005

Right of way

If there were a prize for drivers' etiquette in the Arab World, Palestinians would run away with first place. In Iraq, drivers almost never stop at intersections (to be fair, when I was there the traffic lights didn’t work). In Egypt, drivers do not slow down for pedestrians; they will only honk as they are about to run you over. In Jordan, they might slow down slightly, but they certainly won’t stop.

In Palestine, cars will brake or even stop in a busy street to yield for pedestrians. Even so, they rarely honk. I asked Sameer, my colloquial Arabic professor, why.

“I’ll tell you why,” he said, “because of the Israeli occupation.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Israelis taught us how to drive.”

During the Israeli military and civil occupation of all Palestinian areas, between 1967 and 1994 (the Oslo peace accords established Palestinian civil authority over most Palestinian towns and cities, which began in the mid-1990s) Israel imposed stiff fines for traffic violations. This retrained Palestinians how to drive, Sameer said, and now politeness on the road has become something of a tradition.

Wearing seatbelts, however, hasn’t yet caught on. About the only time Palestinians seem to wear seatbelts is when they drive on roads built for Jewish settlers, but often shared with Palestinians. They are patrolled by Israeli police.


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