Jodi Rudoren moved out of her comfort zone today. The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, who tends to focus on the Jewish and Israeli understanding of the conflict, has a front-page piece titled, “After West Bank Kidnapping, 2 Mothers Embody a Divide,” that features the Jewish mother of an abducted teen and the Palestinian mother of a teen shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It’s a good thing that Aida Abdel Aziz Dudeen and her late son Mohammed are treated as human beings in the New York Times– and all to Rudoren’s credit.
The problem with the article is that its on-the-one-hand/on-the-other composition makes it seem like the conflict is a human relations problem. Rudoren works hard at humanizing, and never deals directly with the central facts of Palestinian life, occupation and the daily denial of human rights. Moving statements from the Jewish woman, Rachel Fraenkel, suggest that her 16-year-old son Naftali was a complete innocent.
“I was praying maybe he did something stupid and irresponsible,” Ms. [Rachel] Fraenkel recalled, “but I know my boy isn’t stupid, and he isn’t irresponsible.”
We believe her. But the youth was hitchhiking inside a military occupation with two settler teens. He is not to blame; but his society surely is. The international community is unequivocal on this score: the occupation and settlements are wholly illegal.
Aware of that sentiment, his mother gets to defend herself from the settlement charge:
She stressed that [her community of] Nof Ayalon, which spills slightly over the 1949 armistice line dividing Israel from the West Bank, is not a settlement.
But why did she send her son to school in an illegal occupation? That fact is seen as more on-the-one-hand/on-the-other:
Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians captured on their way home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having provoked soldiers. Palestinians, though, see the very act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under illegal occupation.
That’s the only reference in a long article to occupation. The Palestinians may see it that way, but our reporter evidently doesn’t. There is no description in this piece of Palestinian political attitudes, formed by nearly-50 years of dealing with military checkpoints and dispossession. It’s a good bet that Mohammed Dudeen never got to visit the Mediterranean Sea or Jerusalem, though both are under 30 miles from his home. Hebron, the city that his family lives outside, was locked down for days after the kidnaping, its city center has been taken over by Jewish settlers and soldiers imposing conditions that are “apartheid on steroids,” and the Palestinian villages around Hebron are subject to settler and soldier raids.
Rudoren’s article will leave readers thinking, Why can’t these people just get along? Why can’t the Palestinians teach their children about the Holocaust so they know where the Jews are coming from? Why can’t the Jews learn about the Palestinian food and customs? When the central truth is, occupation.