I’ve been having a love-hate relationship with my Waze. It has been sending me through unexpected neighborhoods, side streets, and back roads — which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view. It seems to want me to drive like my father — never sitting still, always looking for a way through traffic, no matter what that entails. My father has been known to drive up the sidewalk in order to get around a jam. If there is even the slightest hint of a hole that will let you move faster, he will go there, even if it ultimately takes you very out of your way. That’s not important. All that matters is moving. Right NOW. My Waze has clearly been inspired by his vision.
Last week, on the way to a wedding, Waze send me through some tiny alleyways in the Arab town of Beit Hanina, and what should have been a 45-minute ride become an hour and a half. It wasn’t entirely her fault. We had entered a street that had almost no traffic — just one car, stopped in the middle of the road, where the driver was having a friendly chat with one of the residents. Sure, take your time. You obviously have a lot to catch up on. I guess we’ll wait. So there was that.
But the traffic in Beit Hanina had another source: The Wall. That is, the “Israel West Bank Barrier”. Smack in the middle of the neighborhood runs this massive, grey concrete monstrosity that has turned major thoroughfares into driving nightmares. We passed by the street where my friend Sonia lives. Sonia, a Christian Arab Israeli married to an American, frequently laments the headaches brought by the wall. It does not have proper signage, traffic lights, or even stop signs around it, and as a result, creates constant gridlock. It was in fact constructed with zero input from the local residents and no concern at all for their needs. It is a completely political structure designed by Bibi Netanyahu’s right-wing team, aimed to create a de-facto reality about who is in Israel and who is out. I realize that the wall, begun nearly twenty years ago, has become such a part of the landscape that it is no longer considered even a news item. But that, of course, is just a Jewish perspective. Only those of us with the ethnicity that allows us to move freely have the privilege of not caring about it, not even thinking about it. But from the perspective of residents whose lives are viscerally blocked off on a daily basis by it, the wall remains news.
A few days later, Waze again sent me to the Wall. I was driving home from Beer Sheva to Modi’in, what should have been a straight and easy ride up the Six, when I found myself blocked and unable to get out of a street. Waze showed me that the trip was going to take twice as long as expected due to traffic. I thought, okay, she must know what she’s talking about; I’ll follow her suggested alternative. Waze then sent me on a long circuitous route through the beautiful forests in the south, a road which, for nearly half an hour, ran exactly parallel to the Wall. The truth is, I didn’t even realize that the Wall was so close to Beer Sheva. Israel is such a tiny country. I passed through breath-taking terrain, by Jewish settlements and Arab villages, not knowing exactly where I was, almost ready to move there. But the constant edifice to my right was that massive grey-concrete structure topped with barbed wire that reminded me that this country’s idyllic veneer is only reserved for certain parts of the population.
This Wall actually was in the backdrop of last week’s news, in its own silent way. Over on the other side of the pond, Biden’s America is trying to figure out what to do with the half-assed mess of a wall that Trump built on the border with Mexico. Trump often cited Israel’s supposed success with the border wall as an example of triumph over problems like rapists or terrorists. Indeed, as Israel heads into yet another election of yes-Bibi-no-Bibi, we are subjected to images of Bibi as the strong warrior prime minister, who has saved us all with his might and prowess. He cites the diminishing numbers of terrorist attacks as successes and credits the wall with this achievement. After a baffling period of incessant elections followed by Covid and all that came with it, Israelis don’t even have the energy or wherewithal to even debate this narrative. It’s taken as fact. The Wall is just part of the landscape, the way Bibi continues to be.
Driving alongside the Wall, while considering its impact on our divisive reality, made me very sad. Because I KNOW how terribly this reality has affected the lives of those on the other side of it. I’ve listened to the testimony of those unfairly stuck and unable to move around. I’ve read reports by important NGOs doing the holy work of documenting the inequalities and the stripping of basic rights. And last week, I felt the pain of Palestinian workers who were doing beautiful work on my house but whose lives suddenly stood still because the government decided to impose a closure. Yeah, the government can just do that. They play with people’s lives just because they can.
Policies like building a wall to keep out an entire population simply because of their religion, ethnicity or skin color are morally indefensible. It is a cruel and inhuman form of collective punishment. There are ways to keep Israel safe — but we need to find ways to do so without being racist. Without losing all sense of humanity. There are ways — we have just never tried them. It’s just easier, I guess, to build a wall.
Moreover, the fact that this Wall was heralded by one of the worst leaders the world has ever seen in order to advance indefensible policies should give us all pause. If the only one supporting you is a megalomaniacal, lying, narcissistic con-artist, you should probably reconsider your thinking.
But do any of the Israeli politicians running in the current elections even care about any of this?
One of the worst impacts of this Corona-fourth-election insane reality in Israel is that the Israeli public has stopped talking about actual issues. Discussions about equality, human rights, or the fabric of Israeli society have come to a near standstill. You can search but you will not find anyone in the mainstream Israeli media raising issues about the needs of Palestinians, or about the need to craft a different vision of Israeli society.
This reality has made it very difficult for me to have faith in our political system and in our current political leaders. Israeli politics feels so deeply corrupt, that the entire system needs an overhaul. I truly hope that when the next government is in place, that one of its first priorities is changing some of the rules of the game, so that the government can actually serve the needs of all the people who live here. I am eager to see our political culture of ‘what’s in it for me’ be replaced with a culture of ‘how can I serve the needs of the people?’ That is my dream. Politics of compassion. Politics of service. It works for PM Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and elsewhere. It can work here, too.
I am also waiting for a prime minister who brings a different vision for Israel, one in which all human beings matter. I’m waiting for a vision of Israel not just as a home for Jews, but as a diverse country that celebrates multiple religions, genders, and ethnicities. My soul craves that vision. It can’t come soon enough.
I hope that maybe one day, just as the Berlin wall came down overnight, maybe that will happen here, too. I can dream, can’t I?