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

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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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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23 Responses

  1. German Lefty on March 17, 2013, 10:52 am

    I just read on Twitter that Melissa Harris-Perry discusses Obama and Israel on her show today. It should be on MSNBC right now.

    • German Lefty on March 17, 2013, 12:54 pm
      • Krauss on March 17, 2013, 5:59 pm

        Harris-Perry is an Obama supporter first and a liberal second.
        If Obama is at odds with Israel, she is critical(to the extent she can without her career at risk, which means she’s mildly and vaguely critical).

        If Obama was all chumming up with Israel she’d be on the frontlines denouncing the “anti-Semites” out there daring to criticize Apartheid.

        In many ways, she’s the embodiment of MSNBC. She’s only interesting in the sense that she’s a reliable weatherwane. She isn’t a trailblazer like Chris Hayes, who’s far braver (and much more intellectual) on Israel.

        I still wish MSNBC stopped being an arm of the Democratic party and begun operating as independently progressive.

        And that showed during the segment. Two Zionists, one Palestinian and one awkard Irish guy who was totally out of place, who bent over backwards to appease the Zionists. Also, the host kept quoting people like ultra-nationalist and ex-Kahane activist Jeff Goldberg as some sort of liberal North Star.

        MSNBC in a nutshell.

  2. Donald on March 17, 2013, 12:45 pm

    Here’s the part that had me rubbing my eyes–

    “In mid-November, Israeli rockets began falling on Gaza. Protests spread throughout the West Bank. “We thought it was the start of the third intifada,” Manal told me. ”

    I actually went back and checked that I’d read that right. I then wondered for a second or so if it was a typo, but read further and the context made it clear that it wasn’t.

    I’ve never seen anyone in a “liberal” US publication write about ISRAELI rockets falling on GAZA. Always, it’s that a “rain of rockets from Gaza” fell on Israeli towns and Israel had to respond. That even comes from people critical of the Israeli “response”. It’s that false balance that permeates the discussion in the US–Israel commits the vast bulk of the atrocities and their violence is an ongoing daily thing, but even those critical of Israel show that they are balanced by distributing the blame 50/50 and they usually depict all violence as being started by the Palestinians and then blame Israel for being excessive in responding. With politicians like Obama it’s worse. There’s the Palestinian “rain of rockets”, official support given to Israel’s “right to defend itself” and some handwringing over settlement building. Then we give them more aid.

    This article ignored all the normal conventions of false balance. People are going to go nuts.

    • philweiss on March 17, 2013, 12:59 pm

      Missed that. Thank you Donald

    • Hostage on March 17, 2013, 5:13 pm

      I actually went back and checked that I’d read that right. I then wondered for a second or so if it was a typo, but read further and the context made it clear that it wasn’t.

      FYI, I had similar eye-rubbing reaction the other day when I read the logic employed by the head of the OHCHR in concluding that the child of the BBC employee had probably died from a Hamas rocket that fell short.

      The very same OHCHR report discusses the Israeli use of small rockets as “roof knockers” to warn of an impending strike with heavier weapons. See paragraph 18 on printed page 7:

      A phone call by the IDF to the alleged member of the armed group, perceived to be an advance warning, was immediately followed by at least two small missiles hitting the house, and shortly thereafter the house of the Abu-Zoor family, often referred to as warning missiles or “roof knocking”. In the less than 10 minutes that reportedly followed, prior to the principal attack on the house, the alleged member of the armed group tried to inform family members and neighbours of the imminent attack. It is doubtful whether the 10 minutes provided constituted an effective warning.

      The report then goes on to discuss the rocket that hit the the al-Masharawi home as if roof knockers don’t exist or as if the IDF doesn’t ever miss when using small rockets to target militants operating in civilian areas.

      The head of the OHCHR mission in Gaza told the Washington Post that:

      Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home. Behnke said the area was targeted by Israeli airstrikes, but the salvo that hit the al-Masharawi home was “markedly different.”

      He said there was no significant damage to the house, unusual for an Israeli strike. He said witnesses reported that a fireball struck the roof of the house, suggesting it was a part of a homemade rocket. Behnke said the type of injuries sustained by al-Masharawi family members were consistent with rocket shrapnel.

  3. Cliff on March 17, 2013, 12:48 pm

    In big bold letters the NYT Mag writes ‘Intifada’.

    And underneath – it admits that these villagers are non-violent.

    • Stone on March 17, 2013, 1:40 pm

      Yes, unfortunately, like the word “jihad”, the actual meanings of the word will get lost as opposed to the connotations. Jihad or Intifada are not necessarily violent in nature. Jihad can mean an own personal struggle. A jihad against excessive weight for example. But alas, we have a misinformed public. So yes, the optics of it are not good. But some progress though.

      • Donald on March 17, 2013, 2:27 pm

        I think the optics are just fine. It’s an assault on the meaning Americans attach to the word–there it is “Intifada” and then in the print underneath it turns out these villagers are engaged in a nonviolent struggle.

      • Stone on March 17, 2013, 4:38 pm

        Yes, good point. That is true. A small step forward. Bravo to them for printing it in the first place even if they held it up for a long time it seems.

  4. palijustice on March 17, 2013, 12:49 pm

    There’s no doubt about it that this is some major progress, for the NY Times in particular, and for the mainstream media in general. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a trend to highlight the issue, and not just a once in a while item. Great commentary on this as well, Phil.

    • bilal a on March 17, 2013, 4:38 pm

      Perfect novelistic setup, the peaceful protestors , then the evil Islamists comie in, forcing not a third Intifada, but a second naqba , and what remains of the West bank not desired by the ettlers, anschluss with Jordan.

  5. Shegetz on March 17, 2013, 12:50 pm

    And remember, these are simple rural villagers– but more sophisticated than any of us when it comes to means of pursuing freedom.

    They are closer to reality than we are, with our indulgences and distractions. They, being the oppressed, are becoming strong and aware in ways we never will be. The Israelis are unintentionally making them giants of both Will and Compassion as they deal with and bear their situation. Like all populations that have endured and suffered hardship they will come out at the end of this a strong and hardened people, full of purpose and self-knowledge.

    Sound familiar? It should. This was the story of the Jews not so long ago…and numerous other populations that have suffered similar, and worse, fates.

    In comparison, the rest of us who go unchallenged in our daily lives are weak and flabby and blind to many of the realities of life until they sneak up on us – or are dropped on our heads and it all comes crashing in at once.

  6. DICKERSON3870 on March 17, 2013, 1:33 pm

    ● RE: “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. …” ~ Ehrenreich

    ● SEE: “The Dogs of War: The Next Intifada”, By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 9/03/11

    [EXCERPT] . . . The second (“al-Aqsa”) intifada started after the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David conference and Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative “visit” to the Temple Mount. The Palestinians held non-violent mass demonstrations. The army responded with selective killings. A sharpshooter accompanied by an officer would take position in the path of the protest, and the officer would point out selected targets – protesters who looked like “ringleaders”. They were killed.
    This was highly effective. Soon the non-violent demonstrations ceased and were replaced by very violent (“terrorist”) actions. With those the army was back on familiar ground. . .


    ● ALSO SEE: “Netanyahu: Stupid Like a Fox?”, By Uri Avnery,, 06/13/11

    [EXCERPT] Last week, there was a repeat performance. The Palestinians all around Israel have declared June 5 “Naksa” Day, to commemorate the “Setback” of 1967, when Israel spectacularly defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, reinforced by elements from the Iraqi and Saudi armies.
    This time, the Israeli army was prepared. The fence was reinforced and an anti-tank ditch dug in front of it. When the demonstrators tried to reach the fence—again near Majdal Shams—they were shot by sharpshooters. Some 22 were killed, and many dozens were wounded. The Palestinians report that people trying to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead were also shot and killed.
    No doubt this was a deliberate tactic decided upon in advance by the army command after the Naqba Day fiasco and approved by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. As was said quite openly, the Palestinians had to be taught a lesson they would not forget, so as to drive any idea of an unarmed mass action out of their minds.
    It is frighteningly reminiscent of events 10 years ago. After the first Intifada, in which stone-throwing youngsters and children won a moral victory that led to the Oslo agreement, our army conducted exercises in anticipation of a second Intifada. This broke out after the political disaster of Camp David, and the army was ready.
    The new [second] Intifada started with mass demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians. They were met by specially trained sharpshooters. Next to each sharpshooter stood an officer who pointed out the individuals who were to be shot because they looked like ringleaders: “The guy in the red shirt… Now the boy with the blue trousers…”
    The unarmed uprising broke down and was replaced by suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and other “terrorist” acts.
    With those our army was on familiar ground.
    I suspect very much that we are witnessing much the same thing once more. Again, specially trained sharpshooters are at work, directed by officers. . .

    SOURCE –

  7. Nevada Ned on March 17, 2013, 1:44 pm

    This is the third recent example of a strong criticism of Israel (and support for the Palestinians), coming from an Establishment source. The first was Jimmy Carter’s 2007 book, Palestine, Peace not Apartheid. The second was the publication of Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby (2008). Now this, the NYT, an official gatekeeper medium, with a huge circulation. (It’s a newspaper, most Americans don’t read books).

    Yes, the usual suspects will go nuts: ADL, AIPAC, Foxman, Dershowitz, etc.
    To no avail. What are they going to say or do? Accuse a heavily Jewish newspaper of anti-Semitism? Nobody will believe that.

    Congratulations to Ben Ehrenreich and his (long-divorced) parents, John and Barbara Ehrenreich, who must be very proud of their son. I would be if I were in their position.

    The question remains: why did the NYT publish this piece?

    Here’s my guess: Israel’s current course of action is likely to lead to disaster for everybody, Palestinians, Israelis, and the US as well. (So far, so good; people across the spectrum agree on this).
    Israel has no important domestic opposition to their disastrous course of action. Indeed domestic political pressures within Israel are all pushing Israel farther to the right.
    Nor can any constraint on Israel’s extremism come from the US government. The US Congress is hopeless. Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory (in Pat Buchanan’s memorable phrase).
    In all three Establishment interventions (Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt, now the NYC) a major puncturing of the Israel balloon may be an attempt to put some limits on Israeli behavior.
    Former Presidents don’t normally court controversy. Carter did.
    Card-carrying members of the Foreign Policy Establishment don’t normally go after a powerful Washington Lobby. M&W did.
    And the NYT doesn’t not normally publish articles favorable to the Palestinian resistance movement. (That’s undoubtedly why they sat on the story for 8 months.)

  8. pabelmont on March 17, 2013, 5:25 pm

    I don’t buy NYT and see it seldom — call it my personal BDS and intifada. But although there are occasional pro-Palestinian articles in NYT, my belief (I’d love to hear that I am wrong) is that they are few and far between, far between the maddening ham-handed pro-Israel reporting from the usual suspects, the NYT reporters in J’slem who drink kosher lattes with the current, not yet retired, Knesseth, IDF, Mossad, and Shin Bet folks.

    I’d always supposed that the EU or Turkey or Brazil would save the USA from its subversion by AIPAC. I’d never have guessed it would be the USA’s establishment newsrag, NYT. If they are doing it, my guess is that they are dipping their toes in the pro-Palestine (or pro-human-rights) water very carefully.

    Tell me when the NYT says in an editorial (not a mere op-ed) that the settlements and settlers are present in occupied territories illegally and should be removed forthwith and posthaste. Then I’ll buy a copy by way of celebration.

    • chris o on March 19, 2013, 1:36 am

      The New York Times is not the problem, not in its news or editorial pages.

  9. Les on March 17, 2013, 5:38 pm

    Thanks to Moon of Alabama for linking the above to an earlier related piece by Ehrenrich which begins:

    Zionism is the problem
    The Zionist ideal of a Jewish state is keeping Israelis and Palestinians from living in peace.

    By Ben Ehrenreich

    March 15, 2009
    It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1944, six years after Kristallnacht, Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, felt comfortable equating the Zionist ideal of Jewish statehood with “the concept of a racial state — the Hitlerian concept.” For most of the last century, a principled opposition to Zionism was a mainstream stance within American Judaism.,0,6684861.story

  10. flyod on March 17, 2013, 9:10 pm

    a.m. rosenthal must be turning in his grave….

  11. RudyM on March 17, 2013, 10:46 pm

    This definitely seems like a big deal, because it’s the New York Times. How rapidly would U.S. public opinion change if the coverage of the mainstream media would change along the lines of this story? I wonder.

  12. dbroncos on March 18, 2013, 1:42 am

    Thank you Ben Ehrenreich! Perhaps the old grey lady is finally ready to take a stronger stand in light of the undeniable conditions of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation that you so vividly describe in your excellent reportage.

  13. mdesch on March 18, 2013, 6:59 am

    Great piece filled with many gems. Best was the phone call he got from the IDF spokesman saying no credentialed journalists had been arrested while he was himself under arrest.

  14. Inanna on March 18, 2013, 9:20 pm

    When a Palestinian can write a similar article and be published, that’ll be the next shift in the discourse.

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