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'NY Times Magazine' article shows reality through Palestinian eyes

Ben Ehrenreich’s report from Nabi Saleh is a rare feature in a media world that has grown accustomed to telling the story of the occupation through Israeli eyes.

A Palestinian youth runs through a cloud of tear gas shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2012. The protest was held to mark a year for the killing of Mustafa Tamimi on December 9, 2011. (photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Of all the Hebrew-language media outlets, it was the liberal Haaretz that labeled Ben Ehrenreich’s excellent feature on the protest in Nabi Saleh as a “pro-Palestinian manifesto.” The piece, detailing the history of weekly demonstrations against the occupation in the tiny Palestinian village, was the cover story of the New York Times Magazine yesterday.

Ehrenreich’s piece is indeed “unusual,” as Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz – not because it is “pro-Palestinian” (if anything, Ehrenreich’s somber tone sometimes disguises the brutality and hopelessness of the situation), but because its point of departure is the plight of Palestinians under occupation, and not the internal Israeli debate over the future of “the territories.”

Stories dealing with the occupation in the U.S. media are often presented within a two-sided framework – either as a Rashomon of versions between Israelis and Palestinians (the “equal playing field” illusion) or as an internal Israeli debate between a moderate (aka “rational,” “moral”) peace camp and a “hardline” (“messianic”, “violent”) camp. The latter genre tends to speak the language of Israeli interests, to which the Palestinians are no more than an object (“if Israel fails to end the occupation, its own survival is at stake”). They miss the obvious sentiment that anyone can feel in the West Bank: regardless of the internal conversation within the Jewish public, the occupation is an Israeli policy, in which all adversaries – settlers, army, coalition and opposition – play a part. In other words, even when most of the media criticizes the occupation, it does so through Israeli eyes, and through the framework of Israeli criticism. But there are other ways to tell this story and what might seem like a “pro-Palestinian” bias is simply the “bias” of reality.

This is the also difference between The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras, the two Oscar-nominee documentaries that dealt with the occupation. Clearly, 5 Broken Cameras, which tells the story of the framers of Bil’in and their struggle against the confiscation of their land, has a broader appeal and a more humanistic message; it can be understood by everyone, everywhere. The Gatekeepers, on the other hand, is a very Israeli product that poses questions about policy. Both films are effective, but I prefer 5 Broken Cameras mainly because it puts the Palestinians in the center of the story, and I think this is where the conversation on the occupation should start – by describing the lives of real people who are subjected to it. But many thought The Gatekeepers had “better appeal” in the States.

I really recommend reading the Times feature from Nabi Saleh. The foreign journalist is a problematic and dangerous position to begin with, but at its best moments it has the ability to give a voice to those who are not heard – so that in the future, they can speak for themselves. Ben Ehrenreich’s piece is a fine example of such a success.

NYTimes reporter among arrestees in West Bank protests
Organized chaos and bare life (*): The non-story of the night raids
Nabi Saleh: A tiny village’s struggle against the occupation

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    1. directrob

      “I really recommend reading the Times feature from Nabi Saleh”

      One of the best …

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      Haaretz lists it as pro-Palestinian because it is pro-Palestinian.

      My favorite part of the article is when he describes a confrontation between few dozen masked shebab ranging in ages from 8 to 38 against 20 or more Israeli soldiers.

      First, there is the play on words of a ‘few’ dozen versus 20 even though the numbers were either the same or the Palestinians had superior numbers. Second there is the classification of a 38 year old man as a ‘youth’ versus 20 soldiers of whom the average age is probably about half that.

      Then there is the response to suicide bombings. Like, how can you blame someone for going out to murder Israeli civilians when they too have suffered? I presume this should give license to any Israeli soldiers or civilians that lost a loved one to Palestinians to go out and purposefully murder the maximum number of Palestinian civilians.

      Then there is the description of the casualties of suicide bombings. Fifteen people were killed, of whom 8 were minors. Not children mind you, but minors. Israelis don’t have children, they only have minors.

      Another wonderful passage – “In mid-November, Israeli rockets began falling on Gaza.” Really? Israeli rockets just magically began to fall on Gaza? This is a perversion of language given that it was rockets from Gaza that were continuously being fired at Israel. Where is the context? Are you Noam suggesting that the reality here is that Israeli rockets just suddenly started falling on Gaza?

      Come on. I know you are pro-Palestinian, but don’t pretend that the pro-Palestinian bias in this piece isn’t evident to you and that this is some kind of objective reflection of reality instead of the biased piece that it is. Reality my ass.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        For your sake, I hope you get paid to do this.

        Reply to Comment
      • carl

        only this? all your critics and arguments are here? lol

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Carl, you expect me to go line by line? I put in what stuck out. the whole piece was a pro-Palestinian hatchet job by someone who has repeatedly made his antipathy to Israel well-known.

          Reply to Comment
      • rose

        kolumn u make confusion between being pro-palestinian, and being pro-humanism/pro-justice.
        it is not because you are evil. it is simply because you don’t know the reality that you think to know.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Rose, The reality I know is the one where buses blow up on my corner and rockets fall on my aunt’s house. Don’t preach to me on what my reality is.

          This piece was not pro-justice. It was a work of pro-Palestinian propaganda. The way it presented suicide bombings and ignored Palestinian rockets on Israeli cities made this entirely obvious. How could you blame those poor Palestinians for trying to massacre Israeli civilians? They have it so tough. Boo hoo hoo. Which part of pro-humanism does that argument fit into and is it the same one that would likewise allow Israeli civilians whose life was devastated by suicide bombings to go out and murder the maximum number of Palestinian civilians? How can a pro-humanist argument be entirely one-sided when people die and suffer on both sides?

          Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            Where does the 46-year occupation fit into your interpretation of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            46 years of occupation of what state exactly?
            And why only 46? Why not 65?

            Reply to Comment
          • rose

            Trust me Kolumn, your “rockets” were a candy cake in comparison to the price that the local majority paid in terms of historical heritage, human lives, dignity.
            Again, you speak about a matter that you don’t know enough, but that you are convinced to know. This mainly happens because you ignore the history and the current daily life of ‘the other’.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            So now it’s Jews fault that they managed to win the war that Arabs unleashed.

            And not only that – Jews have scientists and military industries.

            Evil, evil Jooz.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Don’t give me that crap about belittling my own experiences and fears. Either you accept that there are two sides here or you are just as guilty as the author of the NYTM article of the arrogance of selling a single perspective and calling it reality. This kind of thing is known as biased propaganda.

            Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        It would be better to put aside all the pro- and anti- language and tell the truth.

        Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      I don’t prefer 5 Broken Cameras to The Gatekeepers. Roughly, it’s a case of one being more for the heart and one more for the head. Both are helpful in understanding what is happening in Israel-Palestine. But 5 Broken Cameras should ideally be seen first, as otherwise what the Gatekeepers are referring to in their oblique way will not be completely understood. Nor will why they, in contrast to most of our spanking new coalition members, are so certain that Israel, with only tactics but no strategy, has strayed in directions that are putting it on the road to disaster.

      I very much appreciated Ben Ehrenreich’s piece. I think it was pro-Palestinian – I believe purposely, unavoidably and rightly so – in the sense that it offers readers of a widely circulated publication (not a few of whom are Jewish) a real understanding of the people we are occupying’s degree of vulnerability, not just their determination. Notwithstanding K9’s crisp dismissals, it is completely unacceptable for a leadership that preaches superior morality to have manipulated the Israeli public into blind acquiescence with violent abuse, both physical and psychological, of people who have neither police to defend their rights as human beings, nor army to defend their property and are thus totally at the mercy of those who despise them most, denied even the legal right to protest their dispossession non-violently.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The Israeli leadership is not unified enough or ideologically consistent enough to manipulate the Israeli public. What manipulated the Israeli public was the obvious contrast between their leadership attempting to make peace with the Palestinians and in response getting a wave of genocidal attacks on Israeli civilians with the full support of the society they were supposed to make peace with. Even the so-called ‘non-violent’ demonstrators so lionized in the article at hand wouldn’t go so far as to condemn a tactic whose sole and explicit goal is to murder the maximum number of Israeli women and children. They just think it is ‘unproductive’, not mind you wrong. It isn’t according to them wrong to purposefully murder children on a bus as long as it serves their strategy, meaning all Israeli civilians are valid targets to be murdered by Palestinians in pursuit of their ultimate political goals which in themselves are hardly peaceful or non-violent. What else is required for an Israeli to understand that the Palestinians are not interested in living in peace with Israel other than to read an article in which a supposedly non-violent Palestinian leader cringes and equivocates when asked whether he supports the purposeful murder of Israeli children?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?”

      The article cites rocks as communication, and praises them for being less violent than suicide bombings, or genocide.

      And, as such, reveals the FAILURE of Palestinian “non-violent” movements.

      Gandhian, King principled non-violent movements rest on two fundamental principles.

      1. Civil disobedience is a means of self-assertion, self-respect (cited as the purpose of throwing stones, assert one’s dignity continually)

      2. Civil disobedience is a means of respect of the other. It declares equality, not a pendulum swing. It declares that “I care what happens after”.

      Non-violence accomplishes those two, and end to suppression with an end to warring.

      Rock-throwing doesn’t accomplish that.

      Palestinian resistance that is rock-throwing claiming to be non-violence is more of the same, not change.

      Ehrechman reveals his bias in declaring Abbas as “Israel’s enforcer”. It’s a lame accusation, that harms Palestinian unity, Palestinian determination, Palestinian success.

      Again, making things the same, not change.

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian proto-Gandhi’s were deported before 2000. Which is not to say they would have been effective if not. Gandhi is not some shelf product you buy and take home. Nonviolence is imperfect, with many internal failures. At best, it redirects energy from the greater violent options.

        Reply to Comment
    5. On which planet are national liberation struggles fought without savagery? Not Earth.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mandela never condemned violence as such; he also refused to condemn Gaddafi as G always supported the ANC.

        I would repudiate the suicide bombings toto. It is quite unlikely, though, that no more than an inefficacy arguement will ever gain traction. Nor will Israel ever repudiate the collateral excesses of the IDF, save to say that such means are no longer necessary. I believe, when Jesus died for others’ sins, he said nothing of his own.

        Blame must stop. If you see the genesis of social phenomena, you can do that. The key is how to prevent the phenomenon without creating another one, similar.

        Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster

        Do you mean that national liberation struggle must be savage to be efficient ? Or that their expected savagery is moraly acceptable because it is deemed more efficient ? Or that people should not be surprised about the savagery of a national liberation struggle ?

        At least you acknowledged the savagery …

        Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        On which planet does a country that has been attacked numerous times, unilaterally withdraws without having anyone of its own demands met?

        And on which planet does a country not retaliate if so called liberation forces attack its own civilian population savagely as you so eloquently put it?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Collective guilt produces injustice. Occupation apartheid (which actually DOESN’T require settlers) produces an Israeli win at the cost of incubating injustice and destroying hope. The more effective over time the occupation is at preventing violence within Israel, the starker injustice becomes. Occupation becomes soverign governance which becomes administrated apartheid which will generate rebellion as more Palestinian residents transition from children into young adults.

      Winning produces long term human rights violations which morph into civil rights claims. “One State” is not solution by outcome. I read Noam as holding that rights violations take on an existence beyond successful defense against suicide bombers and the like. Israeli win becomes constitutional crisis. And this seem, to me, inevitable.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Occupation apartheid

        There is no occupation and there is no apartheid.

        >at the cost of incubating injustice and destroying hope.

        Palestinians had destroyed hopes for justice and peace in 1919, 1947, 2000 and on other occasions.

        By the way – any Muslim society is inherently injust. Does that also mean that all Muslim societies are inherently hopeless?

        Reply to Comment
        • “There is no occupation and there is no apartheid.”

          Kafka, Trespasser, Kafka.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yeah, claims that there is “occupation” in complete disregard of the letter of law, are as Kafkaesque as it could be.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Trespasser, the expression “any Muslim society is inherently unjust” is pure religious bigotry. Don’t make such a comment again.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        According to Quran, Muslim women have less rights that Muslim men, Jews and Christians have less rights that either and pagans have even less rights than dogs.

        How is it a bigotry to point that out?

        Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Trespasser’s contributions to this site are invaluable. Nothing else more effectively conveys the depravity at the core of the Zionist mind.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Alice

      I dare not read any of the above comments as they are probably all against the article or at least the majority. But having been to Nebi Salah where before we’d even walked, we were gassed, I understand the emotions of everyone of these villagers. the Palestinians are humiliated,trampled on, stolen from, and I shall pray this Seder night for their freedom from the yoke of Israeli occupation

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        You dare not expose yourself to alternative views. How very brave of you.

        Reply to Comment
    9. myron joshua

      Noam, i do not buy your reading.but that is not the point. The questoin is what is the connection between this “resistance” and the real problems of Beit Ummar. Does it address the problem or even stem from them? what is the role of internationals in the creation of this violent activity? What would Issa Clybi r.i.p a serious Beit ummar activist (whose sons have been in jail for rock throwing say about it? How much army presence is there in villages in the area where rock throwing on civilian vehicles does not take place to the same extent? you are right, it is worth living here and knowing the people!

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mishkafofer

      Imagine Israeli planes bombing in Gaza. Air raid sirens scream, thousands of people rush to the shelters…
      Wait. There are no Air raid sirens in Gaza. There is no Air defense program and there are no shelters.

      Reply to Comment
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