‘To the End of the Land’

David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
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David Silverman/Getty Images
A Palestinian taxi driver waiting for passengers near the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, January 2006. In the background is the separation wall, with a graffiti painting by the British street artist Banksy and posters for the 2006 Pal

The following is an excerpt from To the End of the Land by David Grossman, to be published by Knopf in September. In this passage a mother is accompanying her son, who is returning to duty in the Israeli army.

The convoy twists along, a stammering band of civilian cars, jeeps, military ambulances, tanks, and huge bulldozers on the backs of transporters. Her taxi driver is quiet and gloomy. His hand rests on the Mercedes’s gearshift and his thick neck does not move. For several long minutes he has looked neither at her nor at Ofer.

As soon as Ofer sat down in the cab, he let out an angry breath and flashed a look that said: Not the smartest idea, Mom, asking this particular driver to come along on a trip like this. Only then did she realize what she’d done. At seven that morning she had called Sami and asked him to come pick her up for a long drive to the Gilboa region. Now she remembers that for some reason she hadn’t given him any details or explained the purpose of the trip, the way she usually did. Sami had asked when she wanted him, and she’d hesitated and then said, “Come at three.” “Ora,” he’d said, “maybe we should leave earlier, ’cause traffic will be a mess.” That was his only acknowledgment of the day’s madness, but even then she didn’t get it and just said there was no way she could leave before three.

She wanted to spend these hours with Ofer, and although Ofer agreed, she could tell how much effort his concession took. Seven or eight hours were all that was left of the abruptly canceled weeklong trip she’d planned for the two of them—a trip meant to celebrate his discharge, now moot, because he had decided to go back on duty—and she realizes she hadn’t even told Sami on the phone that Ofer was part of the ride. Had she told him, he might have asked her to let him off today, just this one time, or he might have sent one of the Jewish drivers who worked for him—“my Jewish sector,” he called them. But when she’d called him she’d been in a state of complete frenzy, and it simply had not occurred to her—the unease slowly rises in her chest—that for this sort of drive, on a day like this, it was better not to call an Arab driver.

Even if he is an Arab from here, one of ours, Ilan prods at her brain as she tries to justify her own behavior. Even if it’s…


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