Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nabi Saleh

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:

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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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If “Problem” Is Zionism, Peace Isn’t West Bank Activists’ Goal

With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

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With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

Ehrenreich is a curious choice to write an in-depth piece on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for the supposedly objective Times. If the piece seems incredibly skewed toward the point of view of the Palestinians, it’s no accident. Ehrenreich has never made any secret about his view about the State of Israel: he thinks Zionism is the moral equivalent of Nazism and believes the Jewish state should not exist. He stated as much in a 2009 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times titled “Zionism is the problem.” In that piece he didn’t merely repeat the canard that Israel was an apartheid state but actually said the racist South African government compared favorably to the Jewish state.

The author thinks it’s an injustice to say that denying to Jews the same rights that no one would think to deny to every other people on the planet is anti-Semitism. True to the beliefs of his Marxist grandparents, he thinks all nationalisms are bad, but he sees the destruction of the one Jewish nationalism as a priority. The piece is a farrago of distortions, not the least of which is the notion that a single secular state to replace Israel could guarantee the rights or the safety of Jews there. But the main takeaway from it is that he has no interest in even arguing the merits of a two-state solution or lamenting the fading chances of such a deal. That’s because he agrees with Palestinians who continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s why Ehrenreich’s paean to the demonstrators of Nabi Saleh is so patently disingenuous. The people of the village resent the existence of the neighboring Jewish community of Halamish that has been there for 36 years. They dispute ownership of a spring that exists between the two and may have a good case that one of their number actually owns it–though the article only tells us the Israeli government says the Jews have not been able to establish their rights to it. But their real issue—and Ehrenreich’s—is not about the water, the presence of more than a thousand Jews in their neighborhood or the security fence that separates the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel.

Though the ostensible purpose of the protests at Nabi Saleh is to get rid of the Jews in their midst as well as the checkpoints and security fences (which were erected in order to halt the Palestinian depredations of the last intifada in which more than 1,000 Jews were slaughtered by other “activists”) in the area, Ehrenreich’s piece is honest enough to avoid a claim that the path to peace is merely an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the ’67 lines.

Indeed, his critique is not so much aimed at the settlers or soldiers (whose voices make only a cameo appearance in the article), but at the Oslo process itself that created the Palestinian Authority. Ehrenreich quotes with approval the condemnation of that peace accord as an outrage because it was predicated on the idea that the PA it created would be responsible for ending the conflict and stopping recurrences of terrorism. Of course, Yasir Arafat never had any intention of doing so, and actually subsidized terror groups with the money he got from European and American donors (at least that portion that he and his cronies didn’t steal).

The hero of Ehrenreich’s piece—Bassem Tamimi, a Fatah activist and holder of a no-show job from the Palestinian Authority—also makes no pretense about the morality of non-violence. He doesn’t think the suicide bombers were wrong, merely unsuccessful.

This is important because the whole idea of the legitimacy of the Nabi Saleh protests isn’t so much the supposed injustices that the villagers suffer (though almost all of the hardships recounted in the piece stem solely from a decision by them to seek out violent confrontation with Israelis rather than peaceful accommodation) as it is that they have no alternative to weekly sessions of taunting soldiers and throwing rocks at them.

That is the basic falsehood at the core of the piece. After all, if the Palestinian Authority that employs Tamimi really wanted to create an independent state, including Nabi Saleh, they could have accepted Israel’s offers of such a deal in 2000, 2001 or 2008. Saying yes to those proposals would have probably forced the removal of Halamish, leaving the Tamimi clan free to enjoy the spring on their own without the inconvenience or humiliation of having to share it or the area with the Jews.

Indeed, were the PA to go back to the table today—something that it has steadfastly refused to do ever since Mahmoud Abbas fled negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 rather than be faced with a decision about accepting peace—they might well get a similar offer that would answer the Tamimis’ property claims.

But they don’t, and not one of the protesters is calling on them to do so. The reason for this is simple. They don’t want a state alongside Israel regardless of where the lines are drawn. Like Ehrenreich, they want a Palestinian state instead of Israel.

That’s why pieces such as this one, which seem to be based on the idea that a lack of progress toward peace (i.e. the failure of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians) leaves the Arabs with no alternative but to resort to another intifada, are so misleading. The alternative to an intifada, be it armed or disarmed, is to negotiate and to compromise. And that is something that the PA, its stone-throwing villagers and their foreign cheerleaders won’t do.

Ehrenreich’s bias is so deeply embedded in the piece that it is pointless to criticize anything but the decision to employ him to write it. But there was at least one sentence that shows the magazine’s editors are either so ignorant or so biased that they couldn’t even bother to clean up obvious mistakes.

The piece describes last November’s fighting along the Gaza border as having started when “Israeli missiles started falling on Gaza” which activists hoped they could leverage into wider protests. You don’t need to be a fan of Israel or Zionism to note that the exchange was triggered by Hamas’s decision to unleash a massive rocket barrage on southern Israel. But correcting that slanted sentence or even just making a neutral reference to the violence was not something the editors thought worth the trouble.

One more point about the supposed non-violence of the Nabi Saleh demonstrators. The piece accepts the idea that throwing rocks and gasoline bombs at soldiers or settlers is a form of non-violent protest. It may be that these weapons seem less sinister to the foreign press than suicide bombing, but the notion that the use of such lethal force is consistent with the beliefs of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. is absurd.

Case in point is just the latest incident in which Palestinian stone throwing caused a car to crash into a bus in the West Bank leaving several people injured and a baby in critical condition. When Palestinian children, who are encouraged to provoke soldiers to fire on them outside Nabi Saleh, get hurt when those soldiers try to protect themselves from rocks and firebombs, it is considered an outrage. When Palestinians deliberately target Jewish children, those same activists consider it as justified resistance. Though Ehrenreich thinks settler violence is underreported, the ongoing story of Palestinian attacks on Jews in the territories gets even less coverage.

The Times often shrugs off accusations of bias against Israel, but this article’s publication and its prominent placement demonstrates just how virulent the problem remains.

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