Readers of the New York Times are often frustrated and offended by the pervasive bias in its coverage of Israel, in which the paper tends to present every conflict as an example of Israel refusing to take obvious action to alleviate a simple injustice. But every once in a while, the paper publishes what I like to call an “Imagine that!” story, in which its reporters finally delve into an issue and find that its pro-Israel readers were right all along.
Today, the Times carries such a story. I’m not sure it can top the best such article, which Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner co-authored in September 2009. Headlined “Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits,” Bronner and Kershner begin by repeating the sort of simpleminded conventional wisdom about “dangerous” Jews living in the West Bank. But then–four decades after the Six-Day War–the reporters ventured out to interview settlers. Here is what they found:
But scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands, produced a different conclusion. Divided, leaderless and increasingly mystical, such settlers will certainly resist evacuation but are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military. Their belief that history can be best understood as a series of confrontations between the Jews and those who seek their destruction, and their faith in their ultimate triumph, make them hesitant to turn against their own, even in dire circumstances.
Imagine that! Far from being on the cusp of armed rebellion, the relationship between the state and the settlers is peaceful. Even the “firebrands” are calm, respectful, God-fearing citizens of a state they love, protected by an army they revere and for which they are grateful.
Today’s story, written by Kershner, is in that same category. Called “Elusive Line Defines Lives in Israel and the West Bank,” the piece is about the 1967 lines, and how Israel treats them as a border in some respects but refuses to delineate them as official borderlines. It sounds like we’re going to read about how an aggressive, mendacious Israeli government is trying to have it both ways. But when Kershner ventures out to villages that straddle the lines throughout the country, she finds a different story: the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs prefer the lines to stay blurred as much if not more than the Jewish Israelis do:
The Green Line runs, unmarked, right through the [Bartaa] market, an imaginary wall separating two parts of a village that has long been inhabited by one extended family, the Kabha clan.
With Israel’s conquest of the West Bank in 1967, the hostile frontier evaporated and the two parts of Bartaa were reunited, the western part being part of Israel and the eastern part falling under Israeli military rule. Then, when Israel constructed the West Bank security barrier, which it said was essential to prevent suicide bombers, it looped the fence east of Bartaa, deeper into the West Bank territory. Although Palestinians see the barrier as a land grab, in this particular case, the villagers accepted it as the lesser of two evils, to prevent them from being redivided.
Imagine that! Were the line to become an official border–as the international community so desperately wants–Palestinians would be separated from their families, and in some cases be separated from their businesses as well. And so Israel’s decision to move the security fence was far from a land grab; it was exactly what the Palestinians there wanted–and this was done after Israel reunited the village.
Yaacov Lozowick’s post on Beit Safafa and its implications for using the 1967 lines to divide existing communities remains the gold standard on this topic. I don’t know if Kershner has read the post, but she seems to have finally internalized its main point–and something all reporters should keep in mind–with regard to the borders: it’s complicated.