Q. My memory of the piece is there were very few comments about a culture that is largely unknown in the U.S. I know you said something about all the Tamimis, but probably nothing about cousin marriage tradition. And you didn’t comment on Islam, or women wearing hijabs, that I remember– the kind of stuff many visitors (including me in my early days) liked to point out. Was this a conscious choice? If so, what did it reflect on your part?
 
It wasn’t a conscious choice, though I was careful not to exoticize or to fall into any easy orientalist traps. Americans tend to be obsessed with Islam and all its manifestations, and prefer to see the conflict in religious terms or via some variant of the neo-con clash of civilizations model. As if resistance to occupation were a form of irrational, primitive, pre-modern extremism that can be cured via enlightened secular values. What struck me in Nabi Saleh–and in the rest of the West Bank–was the complete irrelevancy of those paradigms. Religion is as real (and unreal) to people there as it is anywhere else, but if you focus on that you tend to obscure the fact that people are responding to the concrete realities of a military occupation. 
 
Q. Last question, Ben. Let’s talk about the Jewish narrator. In 2006 the Times published a very important essay by Tony Judt in support of Walt and Mearsheimer’s LRB piece on the Israel lobby, and Judt later said that they asked him to insert in there, I’m Jewish. Judt told the story because he knew that Jews were privileged, and that the Times needed to send this signal to its readers. As the NYRB does by publishing David Shulman when it’s critical of Israel, as the New Yorker does when David Remnick is the authority. As Mondoweiss does by stating, we’re a progressive Jewish site at root. As JVP does. It’s a racket, we’re all in on it, and my question is, When do Palestinians get to hold the microphone. Aren’t you and I to blame too? Because if they were holding the microphone, a basic human rights issue like the right to resist that is so core to your piece would have been noncontroversial many many years ago. As it is, Americans have to warm up to the idea, and a Jew has to bring them this news. Comment?
 
I’m glad you asked that question, and yeah, it’s super-problematic. It’s a specific instance of a bigger problem, that black and brown people’s stories can generally only be told in this society via the authority of a white narrator, that we–white people, in this case of Jewish ancestry–are tasked with the representation of black and brown and in this case Palestinian people, who in this dynamic are stuck in the passive role of being represented and are not allowed to interpret their own realities. So certainly we are complicit, and I don’t see any way out of that complicity except to use what privilege I have to tell stories that tear holes in the broader narratives which allow this arrangement to continue. And to do so with scrupulous attention to my own role in it, to the power differentials at play. This means, in other words, using the platform that I am unjustly rewarded with in order to step back and allow other people, who are systematically deprived of any platform, to speak. I think this is in the end what made so many people so angry about my Nabi Saleh article, that I attempted to give the people there an opportunity to speak without stepping in and interpreting for them and putting them in any of the usual boxes (militant, terrorist, Islamist, whatever) that function to silence and delegitimize them. That was a brand of treason, which I was happy to perform.