Israeli Arab Community Grapples With Loss After Fatal Crash Near Haifa

The northern villages of Dir al Assad and Iksal are mourning members killed in Wednesday's deadly accident near Haifa, in which six people died, and 15 were injured. Experts weigh in on what may have caused the tragedy.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The residents of the villages of Dir al Assad and Iksal did not need to wait for the official police report to comprehend the extent of the damage of the horrific accident Wednesday evening in Nesher. Six people were killed and 15 injured when a truck lost control and veered into several cars.

Four of those killed were in a transit vehicle carrying workers from Dir al Assad; other passengers injured in the accident hastened to report to their families. Local council leader Nasr Sna’allah said that almost immediately it was clear that most of the passengers from Dir al Assad and nearby Ba’ana had borne the brunt of the crash.

The workers, most of whom were young men, had been working in the area of Tirat Hacarmel and were on their way home. As the vehicle stood at a traffic light, it was crushed by the truck. Some of those injured immediately phoned Dir al Assad, as did drivers who recognized the vehicle. The subsequent pictures and identification of the vehicle left little room for doubt as its passengers.

Throughout Wednesday evening, residents of Dir al Assad gathered outside the homes of those killed. Sana’allah convened an urgent council meeting and a day of mourning was declared in the village. Many did not go to work Thursday and many shops remained closed.

“There’s a dreadful feeling," said Sana’allah. "We sat and looked at one another helplessly and thought about those workers whose only sin was to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time and were crushed. It’s horrible. Unfortunatley, this village has known quite a number of disasters, including road accidents. But four dead in a single blow and several more seriously injured – this is something we hadn’t yet experienced."

Former Kadima Knesset Member Ahmed Dabbah, a relative of two of those killed, said, “It’s a bitter fate that they were killed together and will be buried together. This is a difficult hour for all of us." He went on to describe how each of the men killed worked to support his family and dreamed of saving for the future. "All of it has been cut down in a single blow."

Dabbah said he was among the first to receive a call and went to the hospital with several others. When they didn't find the victims there, they realized the worst. A call from Abu Kabir, where the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv is located, confirmed their fears.

Riad Darawshe of Iksal, 40, decided on Wednesday to drive in his own car to the building site where he worked in the Denya neighborhood of Haifa rather than ride in the contractor’s transit vehicle; his nephew Ahmed joined him for his first day of work. The two of them were on their way home when the errant truck crushed the vehicle and went up in flame, said their relative Tewfik Darawshe. Riad and Ahmed were killed on the spot and their family received word of their death almost immediately. An inhabitant of the village who was at the scene of the accident recognized the car right away and phoned friends and relatives.

Riad was the father of two daughters and a son. Their funeral was to be held on Thursday in Iksal following afternoon prayers.

The horrifying accident once again raised issues of the working conditions of truck drivers and those that operate heavy vehicles.

“They must not blame the driver,” says Issam, a resident of the north who has been driving a truck for 22 years and often drives on the road where the accident occurred. “We are talking about a very complex story. In most cases the trucks are owned by companies, especially when it comes to drivers in Arab society, and they aren’t owned by the driver himself. This means that the maintenance is the employer’s responsibility.

"There is also the issue of the driver’s experience and skill. I am certain that if it had been a skilled driver who was familiar with the road conditions, maybe he would have behaved differently even if he had loaded more than is permitted [onto the truck]."

Issam also suggested that the police have a responsibility to hold the owner of a vehicle responsible when it is stopped for maintenance issues, not the driver. Drivers, he said, just want to support their families and are afraid of being out of a job.

From information that Haaretz has received regarding the driver of the truck, who survived and is being questioned, it appears there are suspicions that the brakes were worn out and the vehicle was overloaded. Additionally, it seems the driver was not familiar with road conditions and was unaware that there was a steep slope that causes wear on the breaks and which may have led to the loss of control.

Experts in operating heavy vehicles, who were contacted by Haaretz, say a skilled driver could have controlled the truck, even one overloaded and with weak brakes. According to them, the tragic outcome of the accident was the result of a chain of mishaps ranging from technical failure to human error.

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