Waze Consults Israeli Army to Prevent Misdirected Drivers in West Bank

In addition to updates to the navigation app, speed bumps have been added in confusing spots to get drivers to pay more attention to their surroundings

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Cars drive past the Jewish settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, December 22, 2008.
Cars drive past the Jewish settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, December 22, 2008.Credit: AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

After a series of wrong turns, the Israel Defense Forces and navigation app Waze are recalculating their route. Israeli army officers in the West Bank are giving representatives of the company a field tour so that Waze can update its driving directions.

The IDF's Judea and Samaria Division is working with the developers of the popular app to better warn drivers in the West Bank against entering Palestinian cities and villages in Area A, which is under complete Palestinian control.

There have been a number of instances in the past year where civilians and soldiers have gotten confused on the road and erroneously entered Palestinian areas. In these cases, the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank coordinates with Palestinian security forces to get the Israelis back to Israel. According to the army’s data, in 2015 the Palestinians returned 13 soldiers and some 550 civilians to Israel after they entered Area A by mistake. In the past the IDF has been critical of soldiers who relied on Waze, and for a time even forbade the app.

Senior army officers of all West Bank brigades recently completed a series of meetings with Waze employees. The officers took company representatives on tours of the area, focusing on place where Israelis would often get confused and enter Area A by mistake. The result of these expeditions is that the app has been updated. Now, when drivers approach any confusing points from which they could easily enter Area A, the navigation system will issue a warning that the driver is entering a dangerous area. These spots include the entrances to Nablus and Jenin, the Qalandiyah area, the parts of Gush Etzion bloc, near the towns of Sa’ir and Beit Fajar, and the Tul Karm region.

This is not the only step the army has taken. It has added speed bumps and notched lines in areas where drivers, particularly those using navigation apps, are likely to err in order to slow them down. The IDF hopes that drivers will have more time to pay attention to their surroundings and notice, for example, the warning signs that appear at the entrances to Area A, where entrance to Israelis is forbidden by the order of the Central Command. An electronic sign has been erected at the Einav junction near Tul Karm in an effort to get drivers to pay attention to their route.

Eighteen months ago, a driver and a squad commander from the Oketz unit who were navigating with Waze erroneously entered the Qalandiyah refugee camp in a military vehicle; locals reacted violently. When a firebomb was thrown at the vehicle and set it on fire, the two decided to leave the vehicle and split up. One hid in a nearby courtyard while the other walked toward the settlement of Kochav Yaakov.

The soldier who remained in the camp had his cell phone with him and kept in touch with his commanders, but contact with the second soldier was lost. As a result, the Central Command invoked the Hannibal procedure, which is ordered in the event of a suspected kidnapping of a soldier and entails using massive force to prevent him from falling into enemy hands. The soldier was located more than an hour later.

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