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Inciting Intifada: A New Low for the Times

The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.

As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:

That elite lives comfortably within the so-called “Ramallah bubble”: the bright and relatively carefree world of cafes, NGO salaries and imported goods that characterize life in the West Bank’s provisional capital. During the day, the clothing shops and fast-food franchises are filled. New high-rises are going up everywhere. “I didn’t lose my sister and my cousin and part of my life,” Bassem said, “for the sons of the ministers” to drive expensive cars.

Worse than any corruption, though, was the apparent normalcy. Settlements are visible on the neighboring hilltops, but there are no checkpoints inside Ramallah. The I.D.F. only occasionally enters the city, and usually only at night. Few Palestinians still work inside Israel, and not many can scrape a living from the fields. For the thousands of waiters, clerks, engineers, warehouse workers, mechanics and bureaucrats who spend their days in the city and return to their villages every evening, Ramallah — which has a full-time population of less than 100,000 — holds out the possibility of forgetting the occupation and pursuing a career, saving up for a car, sending the children to college.

But the checkpoints, the settlements and the soldiers are waiting just outside town, and the illusion of normalcy made Nabi Saleh’s task more difficult. If Palestinians believed they could live better by playing along, who would bother to fight?

That is an almost-perfect distillation of the choice before the Palestinians. On the one hand there is peace, prosperity, international integration, and political autonomy. On the other is armed struggle. As Ehrenreich notes, the “normal” life, the peaceful life, is “worse than any corruption.” Those are Ehrenreich’s words, and easy for him to say since he doesn’t have to stay there. But Bassem Tamimi, the subject of the story, confirms them. He says he didn’t struggle and fight and sacrifice for peace, for nice cars, for a college education for his children–for “normalcy” that is worse than any corruption.

But in fact the article pushes this line from the very beginning. The headline asks “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” Note the word “will.” There will be blood, says the Times; who will get the glory? Incitement is the only theme of the piece. Ehrenreich explains the origins of the Nabi Saleh-based protest movement, marching first in 2009. But, Ehrenreich laments, the “momentum has been hard to maintain.”

He and others like him are doing their part, though. The villagers march each Friday, “joined at times by equal numbers of journalists and Israeli and foreign activists.” It isn’t clear why journalists and activists merit separate categories here beside for the propagation of a silly illusion that perhaps assuages some of Ehrenreich’s guilt. The activists may speak words of peace, but they are, he writes, “young anarchists in black boots.” Ehrenreich notes that “a pilgrimage to Nabi Saleh has achieved a measure of cachet among young European activists, the way a stint with the Zapatistas did in Mexico in the 1990s.” It isn’t about the Palestinians; it’s never about the Palestinians. But Ehrenreich and the others make sure not to tell the Palestinians that as they shove the Tamimis into battle, stand back and take pictures, and then get on a plane and fly home.

Bassem Tamimi condemns the Oslo peace process that gave the Palestinian leadership authority but no real power, as he sees it. As a result, Bassem is paid by the Palestinian Authority to do nothing, so he can stay home and stay care of his ailing mother and still receive a paycheck. But that’s not what he wants. When talk turns to the first intifada, Ehrenreich tells us, Bassem “speaks of those years, as many Palestinians his age do, with something like nostalgia.” They miss the armed conflict. “If there is a third intifada,” Bassem tells Ehrenreich, “we want to be the ones who started it.”

Throughout the piece, Ehrenreich continually brings up the prospects of a new intifada. What are its chances? What will be the “spark”? Is the village ready? The villagers try to sell the line that they are nonviolent, but that doesn’t even convince Ehrenreich, who points out that in fact they throw grenades, Molotov cocktails, and rocks like the one that put a young child in critical condition last week. A more important point is that, as Ehrenreich notes, past intifadas have only escalated; no matter where or how they started, they quickly became more and more violent. There is no way the intifada Ehrenreich, the Times magazine, and the Palestinian villagers encourage will be nonviolent. So, again: why does the Times want an article like this? We probably don’t want to know the answer.



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