Maybe Waze Should Determine Israel's Borders

There's no reason for optimism for Israel-Palestine. So why do I cling to hope?

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Illustration. Credit: Amos Biderman
Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

I knew I had a great idea, a brilliant idea, one so great that I put my notepaper and pen back into the bag after having taken them out, thinking there was no point writing down such a fantastic idea, as it could never slip from my memory. And here I am, trying to reconstruct the events of the past week, step by step, like someone who has lost the key to his house and is trying to retrace his steps to the critical point at which he lost it, but without success.

There are moments when I think it was an idea that had to do with the Jewish sanctity of life, the sincere form of Jewish mourning in contrast to the sheer greed that characterizes Palestinians. You know, I was surprised to discover that I’m still appalled to hear such blatantly racist concepts. I should have become inured long ago. Besides which, it’s possible that I agree with the first part of the statement: that the Israelis and the Jews really do sanctify life. The problem is that those who cling to this theory are thinking of the sanctify of Jewish life exclusively. So sanctity of life in this sense is mainly a quality of chosen-ness and superiority.

Could it be that that’s the idea underlying the legislation to eject MKs from the Knesset, and the persecution of the country’s Arabs? Probably not, but in any case I’ve come to terms with the fact that straight criticism is no longer effective. Not in realms in which the prime minister is convinced that he’s doing the residents of East Jerusalem a favor by settling in the heart of their communities. There’s no point. “There’s just no point,” I found myself saying, in fact, to students in a class on the theme of “art and activism.”

“You’re wrecking the class,” the teacher whispered to me when I told the students that there isn’t always a place for hope, and that the power of the written word is an illusion in an era that respects only force and might.

“This is a class about hope,” he told me, “and about using anger to bring about cultural change through art.”

In the meantime, Ted Cruz won the primary in the Republican state where I was a guest and where students are legally permitted to come to school with a weapon. Sometimes I find myself, against my better judgment, watching the speeches of the Republican candidates on television. Sometimes I am surprised that many media people and “the world” in general are afraid of what Donald Trump says but ignore the ideas of his rivals in the party. To me they sound more dangerous because, in contrast to the man of the televised delusions – who sells people what they want to hear – the other, serious candidates running against him are marketing their beliefs and their ideology.

In this case the knockoff is preferable to the original, the deliberate liar is preferable to the person who thinks he’s uttering truths. How can one tell young students in the literature department that there is a point and a purpose in writing and in academic research and in studying the humanities and the social sciences, when most residents of their state vote for a man who describes their state as being under existential attack and promises to deal with immigrants and fight the health-care law to his last breath?

And how many times do we hear the phrase “American people”? Everything is in the name of the people and its glorification, the selling of the people to the people. And the people, it turns out, lap it all up, because that’s apparently the nature of the people.

Or maybe it was an idea that came to me in Winnipeg, when a student asked for my opinion about the indigenous peoples of Canada. I said that regrettably, I don’t know enough about the place, about its history or about Canadian society and its attitude toward those people today. I apologized for not being able to give an answer that I could stand behind. After the event, the student explained that thousands of native women are disappearing in Canada, that this is a phenomenon whose true scale is being revealed daily. Occasionally bodies are found, but women are disappearing and it’s not clear whether they are being killed or sold or what happens to them.

“Thousands?” I remember that I couldn’t believe my ears. “You said thousands?”

“Yes,” the Canadian student replied. “At first they thought it was a few thousand, but gradually they’re starting to realize that the numbers are far higher.”

But that wasn’t the idea I was trying to remember, because apart from stunned shock, I had nothing to say to the native student who had asked for my opinion about his people’s situation.

Maybe it was the Waze incident in Qalandiyah this week? What I understood from the news was that there’s a serious flaw in the navigation app, because it doesn’t warn soldiers which locales they are allowed to enter and/or forbidden to enter. Never mind that it was a refugee camp, and one of “their people” was killed, as the news reports from Israel stated. They then referred back to the lynching story in Ramallah from 2000, when two soldiers-whose-lives-are-sanctified were cruelly killed. “Almost a lynching,” the newscasts said this weeks in the reports about another miracle, ignoring the lynching that actually took place in Qalandiyah.

So maybe this is the idea: to let a navigation app determine political borders and explain where Israelis are allowed or forbidden to enter without a laissez passer. I wonder what Waze looks like in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Does it also specify forbidden places? Is there an icon for walls, fences, checkpoints, highways that are accessible and others that are verboten? Does the app there have a button called “occupation rules” that blocks out an area and calculates a route that continues to shrink indefinitely?

“You need to say something about hope,” the teacher in the “art and activism” class requested politely. I tried to think hard and come up with a source of hope, even if it’s irrational. I tried to evoke good friends, neighbors, colleagues. I tried to be honest with myself, but I couldn’t come up with a concrete reason for optimism, not in Israel/Palestine, not in the Middle East, not in the Midwest to which I will soon return.

I tried to overcome the powerful feeling that there’s no longer a safe place to escape to. And it wasn’t clear to me at all how it is that I still cling to hope, how it is that I still believe that life can be made better overnight. How it is that the world looks so dark sometimes, yet is filled with such good people.