Iran,  Israel/Palestine,  Media

Google Imprisons Iranian Arabs in Israeli Jails?

I’m genuinely amazed by this one.

Here is a Google Translate of a statement, published by the Democratic Solidarity Party of AlAhwaz. The party is focussed on the interests of Iran’s minority Ahwazi Arabs, who are persecuted by the Islamic Republic. The article ends with the following statement:

“We hope all well and good and we wish to continue together to provide this humanitarian effort to liberate all our prisoners from Israeli jails. “

There is always an element of incoherence and silliness in these automatic translation engines. That’s the nature of language – it isn’t a substitution code, and context is everything.

However, Ahwazi Arabs are, of course, not imprisoned in Israeli jails. They’re in Iranian jails. The original sentence talks about prisoners in “occupation jails

So, why does Google translate the neutral word “occupation” as “Israeli”?

In Arabic, is the only “occupation” that is usually recognised, that of Israel? How does one talk about – say – the Western Sahara? Or indeed Iraq’s foray into Kuwait? And so on.

Does anybody here have an explanation for this?



Gsirrah explains:

The English phrase prison of the occupation would, in Arabic, be سجن الاحتلال
Google renders this as Israeli prison.
احتلال on its own, however, is translated as “occupation”.
It seems to be something to do with the root س ج ن as, if you take the noun for prisoner from that root (سجين) and combine it with occupation you end up with an Israeli prisoner but if you use another option – which is less common in the press – (أسير) then you end up with a prisoner of the occupation.

In answer to David T’s question, if you use the term occupation in the definite (الاحتلال) this does normally refer to Israel. In the indefinite this does not generally apply, nor does it to the adjective “occupied” (محتل). Google is not corrupting a “neutral term” – it is reflecting common usage in Modern Standard Arabic.

If you wanted to talk about the occupation of western Sahara/Kuwait/wherever, Arabic is perfectly capable of expressing that idea – by putting occupation into a possessive construction with the country being occupied.

For example, an article about WWII would talk in English about “the occupation of France” – in Arabic احتلال فرنسا or “occupation France”. Whilst in meaning occupation here is definite (thanks to its position in a possessive construction with the definite noun France) it does not have the definite article attached and therefore there are no Israeli connotations.

A parallel in Hebrew might be:

“shoah” (i.e. a disaster)
“The Shoah” (i.e. the Holocaust)

cf: Matan Vilnai