mapping, cartography, getting lost

I am usually a pretty good navigator, and I understand the position of the sun and the direction and length of shadows vis-à-vis the time of day and the points on a compass. But I am used to roads having names or numbers, and those names being printed on a map.

One map I had was good for seeing the overall picture but was terrible for roads.  Another map I had was great for understanding where the barrier wall was and where it is being built, but was also terrible for roads. And, even if a map told me the number of the road I was supposed to be on, the road itself was never marked. Google sometimes helped, but I couldn’t browse while I drove, so its usefulness was limited as well. So I just drove around and sort of muddled my way from here to there.  I once passed the same PA checkpoint three times trying to get from one part of Beit Sahour to the other.

The most detailed map for driving in the West Bank was, ironically, the one I came across after I left: the Hertz map that came with a car we rented in Tel Aviv.  It actually had color coding for which roads are Palestinian and which are for Israelis and which can be used by both. I spent much of my time clueless of these distinctions though, and probably benefited a lot from the racial profiling that was done any time a person wearing a uniform peered in to my car. I was reluctant to bring much intentionality to my wanderings. I got lost constantly, both by accident and on purpose.

Israel is smaller than New Jersey or Tuscany, and the West Bank is smaller than Delaware. There are settlements everywhere. Imagine driving from Hoboken to Bayonne, or Jersey City to Elizabeth, or from Colle Val d’Elsa to Siena, and passing two hilltop settlements on your way, knowing there are several others just beyond the ridge of hills that skirts the highway.

The settler access road to Tekoa, below, is well lit, while the highway right next to it, which is used by both Palestinians and settlers, is not lit at all. The road signs indicate only the settlements. While I was driving here, the road itself seemed to be telling me that it was not interested in communicating with me; if my destination was Palestinian, I either needed to already know where I was going, or hope for kindness from strangers.

There are two systems of roads, one fast and one slow, one with adequate signage and the other without, one new and one old, one well-lit and the other dark.  One system is superimposed upon the other and sometimes coincides with it, sometimes run parallel to it, and sometimes crosses over or under the other. I found myself thinking of panopticons and ghettos; and the difference between architecture that emerges organically over time from a landscape, and that which is planned in advance, and formulaic.


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