We’re closely following the reception of Ben Ehrenreich’s big new book, The Way to the Spring, because he is offering American media a fresh opportunity to discover the simple truths of occupation: that overwhelming military enforcement of apartheid and dispossession in occupied territories will spark resistance, including (horrors!) the throwing of stones by young men. Ehrenreich’s testimony is opportune because Israel is in a political crisis, brought about by Palestinian resistance, so it’s a time when some American minds are opening.
The conflict seems intractable over there, but “things might be moving here,” Ehrenreich said on Thursday.
His appearance that day on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show marked real progress. While Lopate repeatedly lashed Ehrenreich with wet-noodle talking points in order to demonstrate his supposed balance in front of a heavily-Jewish audience, it was a stylized form of resistance, and the host afforded Ehrenreich nearly half an hour to speak plainly.
There was a great moment in the exchange, when Lopate praised the use of rubber bullets against stone-throwers. Rubber bullets don’t kill, he said. Ehrenreich pointed out that the steel ball is thinly coated with rubber, and these rounds have been lethal.
Here is some of the adversarial interview. Do you think your book will be read by people with totally opposing views? Lopate asked.
I hope so. The book is not driven by dogma. I’m trying to give people who have not had the opportunity to understand something of the lived reality under occupation.
Lopate: “Could I have gone to the West Bank and come back with a very different story?”
“Yes, if you went into the settlements,” Ehrenreich said. But he pointed out the moral crux of the matter: When people go into the West Bank and observe Palestinian conditions, “the transformation of people’s views is often extremely quick and profound… It doesn’t take long for people who go to the West Bank, if they go with open mindedness. You don’t have to go through Qalandiya checkpoint more than once to see the power dynamics and see that one side is humiliated.”
And all these measures serve one purpose. Not to establish Israeli security. “They really don’t make much difference for security. What they do is keep a boot on the neck of the Palestinian population.”
Similary, Ehrenreich fended off Lopate’s points about supposed economic gains for Palestinians by talking about a few getting wealthy in Ramallah. The “vast majority” of Palestinians are in a deeply economically depressed state; the occupation imposes serious restrictions on their economic possibilities. 86 percent of the water in their aquifer goes to Israelis. Not very fair, huh?
Another thrust of wet-noodle talking points. Lopate: “Hasn’t it been argued that one of the reasons that peace has been so difficult to achieve is because of the kinds of actions that we’ve been seeing from some of the protesters, especially from Gaza…. I’ve had a number of Israelis tell me if we thought that it would actually bring peace and the killings would stop, then maybe we’d consider it [presumably gestures toward relaxing the occupation] more seriously.”
Ehrenreich dismisses that readily:
“There is no form of Palestinian dissent and resistance that Israel has not put down quite powerfully.”
Everywhere around the West Bank there are nonviolent demonstrations; they’ve been put down “quite brutally.” And the Palestinian Mandela or Gandhi that everyone is calling for? He or she is in jail.
In Hebron, Ehrenreich observed Youth Against Settlements. Their form of resistance is rehabbing Palestinian homes so they wouldn’t be taken over by settlers.
It’s hard to imagine a more constructive and less violent form of resistance. But even for that they are frequently arrested, frequently beaten, frequently face quite brutal forms of oppression by the occupation authorities.
“You write about people being shot with rubber bullets. Now the rubber bullets don’t kill. The idea is that they are a way of stopping people from throwing stones or throwing Molotov cocktails at you.”
Rubber bullets is a misleading term because the ones that are used by the israelis actually have a steel core. they’re the size of marbles, and they have a thin coating on top of that and they do occasionally kill people if they hit someone in the head from a short range they’ll kill someone… [T]hey can be quite lethal.
He then noted that most Palestinians who take part in demonstrations have been shot with rubber bullets. And Nariman Tamimi, a hero of his book, was shot in the leg with a .22 caliber live round.
Lopate: “How would you recommend that soldiers reacting to having stones thrown at them?”
Ehrenreich’s recommendation: Pulll back from occupation
Lopate: “But what would they do, just laugh at the stones, say, Oh Kids will be kids.”
Ehrenreich says, the soldiers begin shooting long before any stones are thrown and that it’s wrong to “fixate” on the question of stones. When hundreds of Palestinians are killed a year, we are seeing a conflict between a “struggling and occupied people who for the most part their sole weapon is the stones they can find on the ground” against one of the best equipped armies in the world. He concluded:
It seems to me a real problem if in a situation of such extraordinary imbalance of power the thing we decide to get upset about are the stones that are getting thrown.
There are suicide bombers as well…