Palestinians pay traffic tickets promptly - for a reason
Thursday was not a good day for Majed Hamdi, a taxi driver from the Palestinian village of Salfit. At 8 A.M., he reported to the Shai District police to pay a NIS 100 traffic fine, but the gates of the police station at Ras al-Amud were locked.
"I'm dying to pay the fine, I want to pay it and get back to work," he says. A Jewish taxi driver would probably shake the gate and tell the policeman what he thought of the police. But Hamdi did not even dream of complicating his situation further. After all, his driver's license, the source of his livelihood, was somewhere behind those bolted gates.
The Palestinians have an excellent reason to pay their traffic tickets on time. The police law enforcement, including traffic violations, combines with the Israel Defense Forces and military authorities to create a prohibitive system of sanctions.
Shai District police figures show that 53 percent of the Palestinians who receive traffic fines pay them on time, compared to 45 percent of the Jewish drivers in the West Bank and within the Green Line. The district's traffic department says Israelis who commit traffic violations in the West Bank also face severe penalties. For example, a teacher from a settlement, who transported more girls in her vehicle than allowed, was sentenced to 18 months in jail after one of the girls was killed in an accident.
The accident figures in the West Bank are worrying. From the beginning of this year, 26 Israelis (Jews and Arabs) were killed in traffic accidents in the West Bank along 1,300 kilometers of road in Area C (in which Israel has security and administrative responsibility). During that period, 10 Israelis were killed in the West Bank in Palestinian attacks against civilians and security forces. The number of Palestinians killed in traffic accidents in Area C is 11, bringing the total number of people killed in traffic accidents to 37, 10 percent more than in the previous year.
According to B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 181 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the security forces in all of the West Bank, but there are no figures for the number of Palestinians killed in traffic accidents in areas controlled by the Palestinians. They are estimated at several dozen.
"Palestinian police do not enforce the traffic laws on roads in Areas A and B," says Superintendent Shlomi Sagi of the Shai District. "Truck drivers get used to speeding there in dangerous vehicles that are mechanically unfit to be on the road, and then pass to Area C, endangering everyone on the road. So do taxi and other drivers. The settlers also exceed the speed limit there, don't fasten seat belts or carry more people than permitted," he says.
"If your seat belt is not fastened and you get hit by a stone and your car overturns, you could get killed. So if you don't have your seat belt on, you'll get a fine, no matter what your excuse," says Sagi.
Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit said last week that he was enacting a law enabling the police to impound for 60 days a car whose driver committed a grave traffic violation, even if the driver is not the car's owner. Sheetrit spoke at the annual conference of the Or Yarok (green light) organization. Traffic experts in the audience smiled. Most of them believe the new law will fail in the first appeal against it to the High Court of Justice.
In the West Bank, law enforcement is more efficient, as it is free of the fetters of legislation and the High Court. All you need to sequester licenses and vehicles and impose even heavier penalties is an order signed by a major general.
In Majed Hamdi's case, for example, a traffic policeman fined him three weeks ago after finding a backseat passenger in his cab with his seat belt unfastened. Hamdi forgot about the report. Last week, he was pulled over again, this time because of a problem with one of his lights. The traffic policeman checked the computer and saw that Hamdi had not paid the previous fine. He made him park his car at the side of the road, took Hamdi's license and told him he would only get it back after paying the earlier fine. Hamdi hastened to pay it, because the next sanction could ruin his livelihood. A Palestinian who fails to pay a traffic fine is deprived of his entry permit to Area C. This means an economic death blow to professional drivers like taxi drivers or truck drivers.
Another reason for the prompt payment could be the desire to avoid traffic trials. In the West Bank, there is a clear separation between Jews and Palestinians regarding traffic laws. Jewish settlers receive a purple-colored report and are tried in traffic courts within the Green Line, by civilian judges.
"I have no doubt that if we applied in Israel a part of the sanctions we impose in the West Bank, it would contribute significantly to the fight against traffic accidents," Sagi says.