‘NYT’ distorts history of nonviolent resistance

on 30 Comments

On the front page of the New York Times today, there is a large photo of West Bank Palestinians planting trees, "part of a new, nonviolent approach to assert their land claims," as Times correspondent Ethan Bronner says. While it’s good that the Times is covering nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation, it’s an article rife with omissions, mischaracterizations and distortions, all par for the course from the Times when it comes to Israel/Palestine. Let’s take this opportunity to remind people about the history of nonviolence in the Palestinian movement, a history that has been systematically shut out of mainstream discourse.

The photo caption, and the title of the piece, which is "Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance," give a preview of the direction the article heads in. In Bronner’s reporting, we’re told that the Palestinians are simply "trying" this "new" way to resist, when in fact Palestinians have been nonviolently resisting Zionist colonization even before the State of Israel was founded, and well after. The 1936-1939 revolt against British colonial rule and Zionist colonization began with a "six-month general strike" that involved "work-stoppages and boycotts of the British-and Zionist-controlled parts of the economy" and was the "largest anticolonial strike of its kind until that point in history, and perhaps the longest ever," as Rashid Khalidi writes on page 106 in The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. The revolt did have an armed component, though, that followed the general strike.

The 1st Intifada was largely nonviolent. And Neve Gordon, in his book Israel’s Occupation, tells us that the 2nd Intifada began as a nonviolent popular uprising, but only turned violent after Israel brutally suppressed the uprising, firing 1.3 million bullets into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Israeli security forces were directed to "fan the flames", as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar reported in 2004.

Bronner’s reporting states that the nonviolent resistance being carried out all over Palestine is being "forged" by Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and the business community, ignoring the popular, grassroots resistance committees that have led the way. He also omits the anti-"buffer zone" marches that the Palestinians of Gaza have been undertaking.

We learn that "Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, just visited Bilin, a Palestinian village with a weekly protest march." Bronner apparently doesn’t think it’s newsworthy enough to include that "local sources in Hebron reported that as Gandhi and his wife tried to visit an illegal settlement outpost installed near the Ibrahimi Mosque, Israeli soldiers tried to prevent them from crossing and installed additional roadblocks," according to the International Middle East Media Center.

Here’s Bronner on the Israeli military’s response to the nonviolent resistance movement:

"They reject the term nonviolent for the recent demonstrations because the marches usually include stone-throwing and attempts to damage the separation barrier. Troops have responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and arrests. And the military has declared that Bilin will be a closed area every Friday for six months to halt the weekly marches there."

As Norman Finkelstein said in a recent interview on Democracy Now!, "damaging" the separation barrier is actually following the law, since in 2004 the International Court of Justice handed down a landmark ruling stating the wall was illegal and should be dismantled.

And although Bronner gives room to Israel to claim that the demonstrations aren’t nonviolent, he omits the fact that Palestinians and internationals participating in nonviolent demonstrations are routinely hurt and have been killed with impunity by Israeli forces. According to this article in the Guardian, Bassem Abu Rahmeh was the 18th person to die in protests against the illegal seperation barrier. Recently, it was reported that the Israeli military had decided to not investigate Rahmeh’s death.

So, Ethan Bronner, who really perpetrates violence?


30 Responses

  1. potsherd
    April 7, 2010, 2:07 pm

    I’ll bet Bronner didn’t show any photos of the settlers coming around to uproot the newly-planted trees.

  2. Les
    April 7, 2010, 2:45 pm

    Here’s my email to the Times Public Editor:

    link to nytimes.com

    Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance

    The Palestinians have had non-violent demonstrations against occupation and ethnic cleansing for decades as Ethan Bronner surely knows. He also must be aware that they get murdered just like any other Palestinians who dare to resist. Will we next hear from Bronner that Palestinians have stopped beating their wives?

  3. Mooser
    April 7, 2010, 2:49 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, Alex Kane is a young American man, a college student, and his interest in this issue led him to participate in a trip to Gaza. He wrote about that trip, and has been contributing articles on the I-P issues to Mondoweiss since then.
    He’s made a difficult and irrevocable decision to involve himself in this issue according to his principles, and it will be young people like him who might finally help straighten out, if nothing else, at least the US relationship to Israel.
    When I was about his age, and old enough to get a reasonable perspective on Zionism, I was shocked, disgusted and frightened by it, and only wished to put as much space as possible between me and Zionism. I knew immediately that whatever our Jewish problems were, Zionism was not the answer, or even part of it. He’s a better man than me, of course that in itself is hardly an accomplishment. I thought, from some of his pre-trip writing, that they might scare him off. As usual, I was wrong, but that’s hardly earth-shaking news either.

  4. eGuard
    April 7, 2010, 3:56 pm

    It must be Mooser foremost why I am tied to reading this website.

    • Mooser
      April 7, 2010, 4:41 pm

      It’s people like Alex Kane (and many others) who will do the heavy lifting, and make the big sacrifices. I just provide a little comic relief. I used to throw in an Occasional song parody, but even there I’ve been superceded.
      But thanks, and I mean it. I have been so completely isolated in my views for so many years, that it’s all spilling out. I was right, damnit! I was fucking right, when that little claw grabbed the inside of my kishkas back in about ’67 or thereabouts. Up till then it was possible to think of Israel, as uninformed as I was, as some sort of Jewish theme park.
      It was a picture of Israeli soldiers in battle gear with automatic weapons standing over a group of Palestinians at a checkpoint which crystalised my views. I don’t remember exactly where that particular photo came from, but I can still see it in my mind. I can still remember the thought: “There is no magic Jewish way to take land from others, we have to do it like anybody else, by killing them or driving them away, and using obfuscation and suppression and political minipulation”

      Oh, who the hell am I kidding? It was “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Milk and Honey” which drove me to anti-Zionism. A guy like me, who worships the Great American Songbook, Broadway musicals and Jazz, can only stand so much second-rate sentimental dreck without going nuts. And then I found out what Leonard Bernstein was really like, and it was over baby. The hell with ’em, they pushed me too far!

      • eGuard
        April 7, 2010, 5:08 pm

        [too short?]

      • Taxi
        April 8, 2010, 1:13 am

        I heart Mooser.

        Thanx for your Fear & Loathing in Ziostan stories.

      • Citizen
        April 8, 2010, 11:26 am

        I grew up in the USA without knowing a single Jewish American, even though my family transplanted, while I was growing up, in NY, Ohio, and Illinois. Eventually,
        I found myself virtually surrounded by Jewish Americans. My first light bulb went off, when, before that time of surrounding, I read about the Shoah–in the original German, in a community college class–I was studying the German Language–the Shoah was not part of the formal class, nothing to be tested on–but there were photo books around…. I saw the photos of the Nazi camps; I took to heart the universal concept of “Never Again” even before I ever heard it mentioned. How could I do otherwise since I was not Jewish? Since those days, my study of the I-P situation, and Uncle Sam’s hand in it–has been an obsession. I have been severely depressed ever since. I am one frustrated goy.

      • Citizen
        April 8, 2010, 11:34 am

        I watched Fiddler On The Roof (with an appreciative knowledge of Chagall and Kafka) in the ’70’s–around the same time I watched The Apprenticeship Of Dudley Krawitz. Both times, my guess was that the audience I was a member of was at least 75% Jewish Americans.
        They yakked during the whole movie presentation. I lived in Skokie, Illinois at the time. I had similar movie theatre experiences when I went to movies where the audience was mostly African Americans. All of this in the Chicago metro area.
        So, friends, should I rubber-stamp Israel, and rubber-stamp Obama too? Just asking.

  5. Julian
    April 7, 2010, 5:10 pm

    “As Norman Finkelstein said in a recent interview on Democracy Now!, “damaging” the separation barrier is actually following the law, since in 2004 the International Court of Justice handed down a landmark ruling stating the wall was illegal and should be dismantled. ”

    Wrong again. Advisory opinions don’t make law.

    • Chaos4700
      April 7, 2010, 5:16 pm

      No, but the actual law that the ruling is based off of makes the law. You really are completely clueless about the nature of the legal process?

      Oh — that’s right, you’re a neoconservative. Breaking the law comes naturally to you.

    • potsherd
      April 7, 2010, 5:51 pm

      The Israeli Supreme Court ruled the same thing in the case of the wall around Bi’lin, so that in fact it is the IDF that is the criminal party, refusing to comply with the ruling.

    • UNIX
      April 7, 2010, 7:32 pm

      I agree with Julian, advisory opinions do not make law.

      • Chaos4700
        April 7, 2010, 10:10 pm

        This coming from the nutjob who thinks the Geneva Conventions are optional and that Israel has every right to expel the Palestinians utterly from “Eretz Israel” to make way for more Russians and Americans.

      • Donald
        April 7, 2010, 11:02 pm

        Did he say that? I’m not disagreeing with you–I don’t follow all the threads.

        It makes him pretty easy to dismiss if he took that position.

      • Chaos4700
        April 7, 2010, 11:07 pm

        Here you go, Donald, the whole kettle of… stuff. I hope you haven’t eaten recently before wading into it.

      • Donald
        April 8, 2010, 12:23 am

        Thanks. I read part of it. He’s as bad as you say.

        It’s true that things get a little rough around here–I’ve had my own run-ins with people on both sides and can be pretty rude myself. But only an incredibly immature person would take utterly immoral positions because of a few rude people on an internet website. But somehow one suspects there was a certain tendency towards atrocity denialism all along.

      • Donald
        April 8, 2010, 12:37 am

        I went back and finished it. It’s hard to take seriously–it’s like a five year old child who’s learned some bad words and decides to use them to shock the adults. If he’s not banned, he should be totally ignored. At least with Witty you get arguments we have to deal with in mainstream thought (though of course Witty pays no attention to anything anyone says in reply). BSD’s posts are like a preschool guide to far-right fanaticism.

    • Citizen
      April 8, 2010, 11:36 am

      And neither does building a separation wall. See Emerson.

  6. ig
    April 7, 2010, 7:26 pm

    Any discussion of Palestinian non-violent activism should include the name “Mubarak Awad.” Also, the question, why isn’t his name usually mentioned.

  7. Taxi
    April 8, 2010, 1:17 am

    Why are we calling it ‘non-violent’?

    The word ‘peaceful’ is in order here.

    Don’t encourage the propaganda by calling using it’s lexicon.

  8. Richard Witty
    April 8, 2010, 6:22 am

    Again, I thought the Bronner article was illuminating, hopeful (in describing an ACTUAL change).

    And, the oppossite of Kane’s take that the mass media is only a mouthpiece for the objectives of power. I think it is much more complete than that.

    In describing change, Bronner is informing. To say that the spirit of the first and second intifada was non-violent is to misrepresent.

    There are multiple violences. I’ve spoken to a few Palestinians that describe the importance of the first intifada to be in the change in Palestinian thinking, from passive to assertive (similar to the change in thinking that resulted in the very positive elements of Zionism, from passive to assertive). That the significance of the first intifada was mostly internal to Palestinian consciousness, with multiple forms of response. In that sense it was not orchestrated, but spontaneious in its self and world-inquiry.

    Israelis felt threatened by it, but ALSO respected it. The violence and some political opportunism in it was real, not imagined, not propagated.

    The second intifada was violent, had the feel of orchestration moreso than authentic self-inquiry. That happens in politics, a natural shift from “what do we understand?” to “what do we work for?” to “how do we work for it?” to “lets do it”. So, the militants adopted a maximalist approach to rationalization, which has spun out in the breaking of the potential of the Oslo thawing, whether the second intifada was a cause or response is something that propagandists will discuss.

    I think it is obvious that it is BOTH. It certainly was a cause of putting one of the last nails into the coffin of hope for peace through Oslo.

    The principles of Palestinian institutional development, clarification of agreements, and fundamental reconciliation to achieve anything decent there remain. Thankfully, mature and able people are slowly accomplishing these, if we can avoid the distraction of “only politics”.

    As Zionist expansionism is a jaded form of Zionism, “enough” Zionism is best; strictly political Palestinian nationalism is jaded, and its fundamental failing.

    The integrated approach by Fayyad is far more effective. If Hamas recognized the practicality of its core elements (assertion, development, confidence, reconciliation) then the world would be a much better place, and likud Zionism would be naked (moreso than currently).

    • Avi
      April 8, 2010, 7:22 am

      While you may view the Bronner article as hopeful, others and myself included, who are familiar with his work, recognize that the article is merely an attempt at damage control. Now that the veil has been lifted off of Israel and the mention of Israel in the US media, the Zionist movement and the Israeli government are both attempting to frame the information in favorable light. Bill O’reilly, for example, is notorious for such spin.

      • Richard Witty
        April 8, 2010, 11:10 am

        I have an entirely different interpretation.

        For example, Bronner spent a week in Gaza four months before Phil got there, and was not taken on a tour, but traveled and communicated entirely independantly. His reports from Gaza contained comments that conflicted with the official Israeli themes, and some that supported them.

        I think you fail to learn when you dismiss sources because they are from the mass media, and failing to learn is NOT a progressive approach.

    • Chaos4700
      April 8, 2010, 7:28 am

      You do know that Bronner’s son is in the IDF, right Witty? Like, while he writes articles like this, his child might very well be out there, shelling Palestinian cheese factories, firing bullets into peaceful demonstrations or strip searching six year old children at checkpoints in the West Bank?

    • Citizen
      April 8, 2010, 11:41 am

      I respectfully submit that Bill Clinton should not have filtered all his responses through the Israeli negotiators without doing the same for the Palestinian negotiators. In short, Bill Clinton did not display in the actual negotiations even a semblence of being an unbiased facilitator. Nobody likes a kangeroo court. Nor do they like a grand jury limited in its discovery powers.

  9. Avi
    April 8, 2010, 7:24 am

    Bill O’reilly, for example, is notorious for such spin.

    Not concerning Israel in particular, but spin as a tactic, in general.

    • Citizen
      April 8, 2010, 11:43 am

      O’Reilly is a perfect example of spinning under the mask of doing the contrary; anyone who guests on his show knows it.

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