Sayed Kashua’s “It’s over” is even more damning with these translation mistakes fixed
Sayed Kashua made a huge impact among Israelis recently when he wrote a column titled "It's over" (Hebrew: זה נגמר) in which he says that the dream of Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel is dead. Kashua is famous for being a Palestinian-Israeli journalist at the respected national paper Haaretz and the writer of the groundbreaking TV series Arab Labor (Hebrew: עבודה ערבית; Arabic: شغل عرب). But those who could only read his piece in what is a generally good English translation on Haaretz's website titled "Why Sayed Kashua is leaving Jerusalem and never coming back" missed some crucial details because of a few serious translation mistakes that should never have been made.
The crux of the article is that because of the hate crimes in Israel and the Palestinian territories (which led to the current extremely bloody war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza), the dream of coexistence is dead:
I was silent, knowing that my attempt at coexistence was over, that the lie I’d told my children about a future in which Arabs and Jews would share the country equally was over. I wanted to tell my wife that's it, it's over, I’d lost my little war, and everything people had told me since I was a teenager was coming true before my eyes. That everyone who had told me there is a difference between blood and blood, between one person and another person, were right. That all those who told me that I have no place but Tira spoke the truth. [Tira is Kashua's Arab hometown in Israel.]
ואני שתקתי וידעתי שהניסיון שלי לחיות חיים משותפים נגמר. שהשקר שסיפרתי לילדים שלי אודות עתיד בו ערבים ויהודים חולקים את אותה הארץ בשוויון נגמר. רציתי להגיד לאשתי שזהו, נגמר, שהפסדתי במלחמה הקטנה שלי, שכל מה שאמרו לי מאז הייתי בעצמי נער מתממש מול עיני. שכל אלה שסיפרו לי שיש הבדל בין דם לדם, בין אדם לאדם, צדקו. שכל אלה שאמרו לי שאין לי מקום אחר מלבד טירה דיברו אמת.
At a few points, however, the translation misses important details. Kashua writes about what to tell the real estate agent who apparently manages his rental units, and the Haaretz translation crucially mistranslates the line where Kashua considers taking the major step of telling his realtor to sell off his property in Israel:
I also have to call the realtor and tell him that the rental is no longer limited to a year — that the renters can stay as long as they want, because I’m not coming back to this building, not coming back to this neighborhood, not coming back to Jerusalem and maybe I won't be coming back here at all. Maybe I’ll tell the realtor that instead of renters he should look for buyers.
I also have to call my real estate agent, and tell him that the rental is no longer limited to a year – that the renters should be allowed to stay as long as they want. Because I’m not coming back to this building, not coming back to this neighborhood, not coming back to Jerusalem and maybe not coming back here at all. Maybe I’ll tell the realtor that instead of a rental, he should look for a place that’s for sale.
אני צריך גם להתקשר למתווך הדירות ולהגיד לו שהשכירות אינה מוגבלת יותר לשנה, שהשוכרים יכולים להישאר כמה שהם רוצים, כי אני לא חוזר לבניין הזה יותר, לא חוזר לשכונה הזאת יותר, לא חוזר לירושלים יותר ואולי לא אחזור לכאן בכלל. אולי אני אגיד למתווך שבמקום שוכרים שיחפש קונים.
Kashua also delves into what he sees as the problem: blood is cheap in Israel and the problem goes from the bottom to the top of Israeli society and is endemic to both religious and secular communities. The translator unfortunately misread הלאום 'the nation' as אלהים 'God' (the two words look similar on the page and it would be easy to mix them up when reading quickly), completely changing the point of this passage and undercutting the widespread indictment that Kashua is trying to make as he contemplates what to tell people in whatever country he might emigrate to:
And if they ask where my accent is from and what country I’m from, I will tell them that I come from a terrifying place where people in suits and uniforms call on the masses to hate, kill, plunder and take revenge, sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes in the name of the nation, but always for the sake of the children’s future.
And if they ask where the accent’s from and what country I’m from, I will tell them that I come from a scary place where people in suits and uniforms call on the masses to hate, kill, plunder and take revenge – sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of God, and all for the sake of the children’s future.
ואם ישאלו מאיפה המבטא, ומאיזו ארץ אני בא, אספר להם שאני בא ממקום מפחיד בו אנשים בחליפות ומדים קוראים להמונים לשנוא, להרוג, לגזול ולנקום, לפעמים בשם הדת, לפעמים בשם הלאום, והכל למען עתיד הילדים של המקום.
There you have it — my attempt at rendering Kashua's message into English. On the one hand, these mistakes are understandable as the product of working on a deadline and probably not having anyone do a line-by-line check of the finished translation against the source. On the other hand, these mistakes involve major changes to meaning that seriously distort Kashua's article. By making sure that each translation goes through editing and then proofreading, these kinds of mistranslations can be avoided!