Landmark ‘NYT Magazine’ cover story ennobles resistance in Nabi Saleh

New York Times Magazine Graphic

A week ago we linked a landmark piece in the New York Times, a Jewish professor’s essay saying that we must question the right of a Jewish state to exist; and today there is another one: a cover story in the Times Magazine on the resistance movement inside Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank. Iconic portraits of several of the heroic villagers adorn the magazine’s cover, and the piece itself, by novelist Ben Ehrenreich, is told from the point of view of a community of 500 souls resisting monstrous forces that have taken their land and lives. The last image in the piece, of an Israeli soldier carelessly flinging a teargas grenade into the village as he leaves, is one of faceless brutality. A Haaretz columnist is already calling the piece a “pro-Palestinian manifesto.”

The great surprise of the piece is that it has appeared in the Times at all. For it contains an implicit argument for violent resistance and little of the usual hasbara fixin’s. Israeli spokespeople are not allowed to frame the resistance; the narrator doesn’t lecture us about two states and in fact refers to the territorial distinction between 1948 Israel and 1967 Israel as “the so-called 1967 Green Line.” Regular readers of our site will find no new information here, though the depth of the portrait of Bassem Tamimi is stirring, particularly the moment when he has to think about how many years he has spent all told in his many visits to Israeli prisons (four).

And while the Times editors incomprehensibly held this story for eight months after Ehrenreich completed the bulk of his reporting last July, they have not stomped the young novelist’s view of the situation. Here is a true landmark, Ehrenreich reporting the rationale for violent resistance:

Then came the heavy wave of suicide bombings, which Bassem termed “the big mistake.” An overwhelming majority of Israeli casualties during the uprising occurred in about 100 suicide attacks, most against civilians. … “Politically, we went backward,” Bassem said. Much of the international good will gained over the previous decade was squandered. Taking up arms wasn’t, for Bassem, a moral error so much as a strategic one. He and everyone else I spoke with in the village insisted they had the right to armed resistance; they just don’t think it works. Bassem could reel off a list of Nabi Saleh’s accomplishments. Of some — Nabi Saleh, he said, had more advanced degrees than any village — he was simply proud. Others — one of the first military actions after Oslo, the first woman to participate in a suicide attack — involved more complicated emotions.

In 1993, Bassem told me, his cousin Said Tamimi killed a settler near Ramallah. Eight years later, another villager, Ahlam Tamimi escorted a bomber to a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Fifteen people were killed, eight of them minors. Ahlam, who now lives in exile in Jordan, and Said, who is in prison in Israel, remain much-loved in Nabi Saleh. Though everyone I spoke with in the village appeared keenly aware of the corrosive effects of violence — “This will kill the children,” Manal said, “to think about hatred and revenge” — they resented being asked to forswear bloodshed when it was so routinely visited upon them. Said, Manal told me, “lost his father, uncle, aunt, sister — they were all killed. How can you blame him?”

Remarkable to read this without any finger-waving. And remember, these are simple rural villagers– but more sophisticated than any of us when it comes to the means of pursuing freedom.

The piece finally tells the story of Ehrenreich’s arrest last July, which we’ve been pushing for ever since: he says he was rounded up with five international activists and held for several hours even after he produced his press card; then he was released, the activists were deported. Ehrenreich says that he returned to Nabi Saleh in January. I bet the piece was then in the ICU, and the announcement of Obama’s visit finally gave the advocates for the piece the rationale/peg they needed to get it to readers.

The timing hardly matters. Ehrenreich represents our community, the next generation of enlightened Americans surveying this bitter conflict. He does so without the equipment that was most vital to all the earlier framers, racism.