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‘You are part of the problem, not the solution’: Open letter to the editors of The New York Times

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Re “Gaza Is Nowhere” (By Roger Cohen, Dec. 30, 2014): I started writing this as a Letter to the Editor, but my anger could not be conveyed in only 150 words, so I am posting this open letter instead:

Readers expect greater accuracy from New York Times columnists.

How dare Mr. Roger Cohen suggest that Gaza, a part of my homeland, is “nowhere!”

If Mr. Cohen is at a loss to know where Gaza lies, allow me to guide him. The Gaza Strip, as well as Gaza City, were both part and parcel of Historic Palestine, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Following the colossal injustice that resulted in the displacement of more than half of the Palestinian people, and then the creation of what we know today as the state of Israel, and the subsequent military occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Gaza Strip become part and parcel of an Israeli-militarily-occupied territory. It is this military occupation under which many of my friends and colleagues were born and live to this day.

Despite the bitter life Gazan Palestinians face, they know exactly where they are and who they are. To Mr. Cohen’s possible disappointment, I will not sugar-coat reality with euphemisms or attempt to bury the international community’s disgraceful failures by dwelling on internal Palestinian political dynamics.

What Mr. Cohen terms a “high-tech Israeli facility,” is, in reality, an Israeli military garrison and checkpoint that is equipped with U.S. technology aimed to keep Palestinians locked into the world’s largest open-air prison called Gaza.

The Palestinian road worker who impressed Mr. Cohen is not “among the more productively employed of Gaza’s 1.8 million citizens.” The Gaza community is alive, albeit not well. If he had taken the time to look again without his biased lens, he would have seen an entire society struggling to be productive in a reality where electricity is a luxury, clean water is a distant thought, and having the ability to travel freely is a foreign concept to yet another generation of Palestinians.

Mr. Cohen claims that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is “the only dust-free environment” in Gaza. Spare me, please. Has he forgotten that Gaza has been on the receiving end of three major Israeli military operations within the past six years, which left scores dead and wounded and the rest traumatized for life. If he had only taken the time to visit Palestinian homes he would have found other “dust-free environments,” if dust was of such major concern to him. He would have experienced the generosity of a people battered for decades yet miraculously finding a way to go on educating their war-affected children, sustaining themselves economically, continuing to love, and stubbornly maintaining hope for a better tomorrow, even as they are forced to live in imposed darkness. Indeed, as retired Palestinian diplomat Afif Safieh has famously said, Palestinians have been “unreasonably reasonable” given what has fallen upon them.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Cohen assumes the role of spokesperson for Palestinians, claiming the utmost urgent matter in Palestinian lives is the need “to end the lockdown of Gaza.” Lockdown, Mr. Cohen, is a move used to keep prisoners in their cells. Ending the lockdown is allowing the prisoners to interact among themselves and visit the prison yard. Thank you Mr. Cohen, but no thank you. We have the right to be free from the prison imposed on us by Israel and bankrolled by your country. Our utmost urgent matter is that Israel end its nearly five-decade-long military occupation and allow Palestinians to return to their homes, after which we will take care of ourselves.

I can go on, but you are not interested in Palestine or Palestinians. Your career requires you to feed the stereotypes about my home, me, and my people, and for that, you are part of the problem, not the solution. That, Mr. Cohen, is what is truly “shameful.”

Sam Bahour
Al-Bireh/Ramallah, Palestine

Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour is a board member with Just Vision, a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group. He blogs at Twitter: @SamBahour

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26 Responses

  1. MHughes976 on January 2, 2015, 5:41 pm

    Cohen’s remarks do show some human sympathy with the people of Gaza, to whom no one will ‘offer decency’. He is right in a way to say that Gaza has been edited out of most people’s mental map of the world – the likes of us, who think about the place every day, are eccentrics and misfits, or have been until recently. His omission is to express shame at our willed amnesia.

  2. Felice Gelman on January 2, 2015, 9:17 pm

    Roger Cohen’s column is a perfect example of the casual racism that pervades mainstream media debate on the issue of Palestine. Sympathy with the people of Gaza is no substitute for a recognition that Palestinians have the same rights as other human beings. Taken to a more practical level that would mean that Israel’s “security concerns” do not trump international law and human rights — as our State Department so blandly puts it. It would mean that international donors, rather than pledging funds (only occasionally delivered) to rebuild Gaza after Israeli attacks, would instead hold Israel accountable for waging war and imprisoning millions. It would mean that, rather than suggesting “Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Europeans and American turn Gaza into somewhere,” it would mean that the great powers would end their efforts to impose an Oslo like regime on Gaza by subjecting all reconstruction funds to Israeli approval. It would mean that crocodile tears like those shed by Mr. Cohen would be recognized for what they are — a refusal to admit the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

    • Mohammad Saadi on January 4, 2015, 5:16 pm

      It is relieving to find people who understand.. we do not need sympathy.. we need understanding.. Israel destroys Gaza and kill thousands and the Palestinians are at fault.. Journalists all over the world close an eye whenever Israel is at fault.. They are mostly blind when the Palestinian rights are discussed.. The Zionists influence all over the world frightens them.. They cannot see that the Israelis behaviour will not lead to any peace .. on the contrary it will lead to destruction and this destruction will hit Israel in the first place.. They should listen to what Henry Kissinger said in that there will be no Israel in the not distant future.. The reason for this in my opinion is the Israeli behaviour .. The blind American support will not help.. The American support will kill Israel.. wait and see….

    • Kathleen on January 4, 2015, 10:00 pm

      “casual racism” about Palestinians rampant in the MSM and among American’s in general. Folks I know who were up in arms about civil rights in the U.S., Vietnam, Iraq somehow think the horrific treatment of the Palestinians is just hunky dory. Tough for them to see through this outrageous hypocrisy.

  3. kma on January 2, 2015, 10:41 pm

    Sam Bahour is a saint and a real writer. His stuff is so good!
    the NYT is a piece of shit. I can’t even come up with any examples of pieces in the NYT that might come close to Bahour’s writing… like the one about “Uno”.
    Anyone with children would understand that one.
    Unless you work at the NYT!!

    • Kay24 on January 3, 2015, 12:34 am

      The NYT is representative of the US zionist media. Either a media corporation is pro Israel/ Jewish owned, or if not, they are so afraid of zio backlash that they toe the line, and do not criticize the war criminals. Even Al Jazeera America coverage is so cautious, perhaps they do not want to feel the wrath of AIPAC. The US media is also controlled by you know who, a means to controlling ignorant minds, so that they will always be under the illusion that the occupier is the victim. Brilliant plan, and it has worked.

      • ivri on January 3, 2015, 3:32 am

        Blaming the media had a chance if there would not be the broader scene of the region but both media and watchers see what goes on in Gaza as part of that. Yet another turmoil flashpoint in the region, out of many, with generally the same recognized characteristics, occurring on a continuous basis – the new “normal” there.

      • ivri on January 3, 2015, 3:38 am

        And clearly, in terms of numbers any other parameter, the Palestinian scene is dwarfed by the extent of the atrocities around – hundreds of thousands of dead in just few years and millions of actual refugees (not just in name).

      • talknic on January 3, 2015, 9:39 am

        @ ivri
        ” Yet another turmoil flashpoint in the region, out of many, with generally the same recognized characteristics, occurring on a continuous basis”

        Name any other territory in the region under the occupation of, under a blockade by and regularly invaded by an alien state over the past 67 years

        Thanks .. I’ll wait …..

      • DaBakr on January 3, 2015, 4:34 pm

        anyone unfamiliar with the i/p conflict would get the impression that A) there was actually a “historical” Palestine that was its own nation, not controlled and owned by empire and B) that from the moment of the Palestinian catastrophe Gaza was occupied by the nascent Israeli state with no mention that Egypt occupied Gaza for 20yrs making little or no attempt to improve the lives of Gazans. I would think it merits a minor mention since at least a 1/3 of Gazans were born under Egyptian rule. Other then that, as is typical in long running conflicts, the authors outrage is directed more readily at those who seem to sympathize rather then the more extreme elements probably due to an increased sense of hypocrisy-which is something that is very easy to relate to

      • RoHa on January 3, 2015, 9:20 pm

        “anyone unfamiliar with the i/p conflict would get the impression that A) there was actually a “historical” Palestine that was its own nation, not controlled and owned by empire ”

        I’ve never understood why Zionists think this “there never was an independent state of Palestine” line is so important.

        Can you please explain why the fact that the land of Palestine was, for a long time, under the control of external powers mitigates, in any way, the immorality of the Zionist plan or the immorality of the execution of that plan?

        I would dearly love to see the reasoning.

      • Kay24 on January 3, 2015, 10:49 pm

        It is unbelievable, how supporters of homeless Europeans, who were dumped quite rudely among indigenous people, can now question if there was a Palestine. If there wasn’t’, then the UN has an easy job ignoring their pleas for basic human rights and freedom.
        What there wasn’t was a state called Israel at that point. The Palestinians have lost too much because of those transgressors, lands and other resources, and now live in open prisons.
        Apologists should not question, whether or not there was a Palestine, to justify their land grabs and other crimes. Justifying the endless crimes against humanity, the collective punishment, and the illegal settlements, that even the US condemns, will never be acceptable by the world, by claiming that there was no Palestine,. There are millions of Palestinians in refugee camps, and under military occupation in the territories, that are not a figment of our imagination, and Israel is responsible for the suffering they all go through, loss of property, homes, and natural resources. The shrinking map of Paletine shows exactly who is wiping the other side off the map, while whining that THEY are the victims. If these parasites were not dumped there by the UN and European nations, the State of Palestine would be flourishing today.

  4. Pixel on January 3, 2015, 10:51 am

    I envy and admire your ability to channel your anger into something important and meaningful.

    I get so upset so often, these days, that I can’t even function. All I can do is disappear – drag myself into a darkened room, put a cold pak on my forehead, shut out all sight and sound, and try to sleep it all off.

    Your way is a better way.

    • DaBakr on January 3, 2015, 4:43 pm

      “I get so upset so often, these days, that I can’t even function. All I can do is disappear – drag myself into a darkened room, put a cold pak on my forehead, shut out all sight and sound, and try to sleep it all off.”

      try a more industrious job, fresh air and a break from focusing on internet blog sites. it might help. anxiety and inertia are the ptsd of remote keystroke warriors. nothing like the sound of guns/rockets to keep one on their feet

    • on January 3, 2015, 6:06 pm

      anyone unfamiliar with the i/p conflict would get the impression that A) there was actually a “historical” Palestine that was its own nation, not controlled and owned by empire

      And anyone who relies on the mainstream media for their opinions might get the impression that the Euro Jews have the right to slay and steal from the natives of the region.

  5. OyVey00 on January 4, 2015, 12:13 am

    The question people should ask themselves is: Why is Mr. Bahour writing for fringe media like MW and Mr. Cohen for the prestigious New York Times?

    Hint: It has something to do with their names.

  6. NickJOCW on January 4, 2015, 7:00 am

    Having just read Cohen’s piece after reading the comments here, and approaching it expecting it would arouse my ire, I found it otherwise. Obviously he spent little time there but his impressions seem basically sympathetic. The statement that Gaza is ‘nowhere’ is clearly a metaphorical expression, like saying something is ‘in the middle of nowhere’ obviously he knows it is somewhere as he is writing about visiting it. While having every sympathy for the lucid author here, I feel he may be overreacting. Cohen, like many, believes the situation can be resolved by conscientious effort and negotiation. Personally I don’t, I consider his position naive, fanciful. To me the only solution is for the Israelis to be driven out of the occupied territories by escalating isolation and BDS pressure and anything else is a waste of time and a diversion of purpose.

    • MHughes976 on January 4, 2015, 8:56 am

      I share NIck’s impression. ‘Is nowhere’ doesn’t mean ‘just doesn’t matter’ but ‘is treated in innumerable ways as if it didn’t matter’. Not that Cohen is as ashamed of this as he should be.

  7. Rodneywatts on January 4, 2015, 2:49 pm

    This open letter in response to three words ‘Gaza is nowhere’ reminds me of a situation when I tried to convey a message I had heard, at my wife’s request. I used a five word punch line summary as an intro which was completely taken the wrong way and immediately jumped on as being false teaching. It took quite a long time for me to be able to give the full context! Of course I can understand why Sam Bahour wrote this with his everyday experiences on the ground, but I think it is a bit over reacting.

    like @ NickJOCW and
    @ MHughes976

    I have read the article carefully, and also some of the comments. Since I don’t usually read the NYT – as a UK resident I get info from places like BBC, Al Jaeera and now MW, from which I have gleaned the zionist stance, I thought to be fair I would read some other op-eds of Roger Cohen. I have also read some of the comments. Clearly Roger is conscious of the NYT readership, but I do see a man trying to convey truth and if anything his visit to Gaza has produced an article which gives hope and that ‘times they are a changin’ -even at the NYT?

    His para 7 makes it quite clear that that it isn’t just Hamas that needs to change tack, but also Israel. Of course I see that Israel/Us are the main culprits by far, but Roger Cohen’s article was not what I would have particularly expected of a zionist. Many of the comments were strongly supportive of a change of US and Israel policy.


    You refer to MW as fringe media — I don’t think so any more !! Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz are doing a fine job, worthy of consideration by national leaders anywhere.
    The only thing is, looking at the number of posts by Philip of late, please don’t burn yourself out. Thanks too to Annie Robbins and the many knowlegeable and pleasantly controversial

    • annie on January 4, 2015, 3:44 pm

      thanks rodney ;)

      btw, i recommend googling “mondoweiss roger cohen” for some of phil’s critiques on cohen. and we had a recent one by matthew taylor.

      • Rodneywatts on January 5, 2015, 1:29 pm

        Hi Annie!

        Thanks for giving me recommendation to google, which I have done! Roger does seem to have mixed appraisals that come from his liberal zionist thinking — or are his writings really connected to paychecks , with a conscience that tries to break through from time to time? Obviously Matthew and yourself have a definite opinion of where Roger stands , especially with regard to reporting what Livni said and ignoring the more important crimes suffered by the palestinians. I had missed this blog and I certainly take the point!!. However I believe my opinion on the later op-ed “Gaza is Nowhere’ doesn’t need changing — OK I think my sentiments lie with a certain commenter who hoped Cohen would have the same epiphany as M J Rosenberg.– but I doubt if he would get opportunity to publish in the NYT at all, as things stand.

        Of course, in Europe, we are now in a different place to the US, and we have seen people like Roger Cohen make that important step to positively support the palestinians and recognise the criminal illegality of Israel’s actions on a consistent basis, without compromise.

        kind regards Rod

      • annie on January 5, 2015, 2:31 pm

        are his writings really connected to paychecks, with a conscience that tries to break through from time to time?

        from the perspective of the nyt, yes his writings are connected to his paycheck, but i don’t think it works the other way around. i think he’s all over the map and that comes out in his writing.

        Obviously Matthew and yourself have a definite opinion of where Roger stands

        unlike matthew and phil, i’ve not written any articles about roger cohen, so i’m not sure how my opinion is obvious to you, or “definite”. cohen’s writing impacts people different ways, even from article to article. you said, “I think it is a bit over reacting.” i don’t agree and that was the point (from my perspective) of publishing sam’s open letter (and i am the staff that first intercepted it and drafted it for submission, seeing as it was an open letter). it’s not uncommon to be completely infuriated by the sentiments of liberal zionists. because he strikes different cords throughout his writing it lends to the idea this is all complicated, and for many people, it’s just not. the importance of Bahour’s open letter, or the key in understanding his voice here, is revealed in the introduction when he mentions his “anger”. i didn’t read the open letter with an eye towards weighing cohen’s ever flexible sentiment (or however one might regard it) i read it keeping in mind we’ve been listening to these liberal zionists for decades, i do believe they are “part of the problem, not the solution” they appeal to people like themselves who sympathize with this seemingly abundant understanding of the complexities. i’m just over it.

        i also think it speaks for itself which is one reason i didn’t comment on the thread until you referenced my “obvious” “definite” “opinion”, which i had not shared. Bahour writing and anger is very powerful and should be read, heard and shared.

      • Rodneywatts on January 5, 2015, 3:30 pm

        Hey Annie again

        I gleaned your ‘obvious’ ‘definite opinion’ from your comment on Matthew’s Post –no big deal!

  8. Bornajoo on January 4, 2015, 4:44 pm

    “Indeed, as retired Palestinian diplomat Afif Safieh has famously said, Palestinians have been “unreasonably reasonable” given what has fallen upon them”

    Unreasonably reasonable. How absolutely true. These words are so precise

  9. American on January 10, 2015, 2:47 pm

    Only thread I could find to insert this.

    Its priceless.
    Right wing, anti assimilation, anti Jewish mixed marriages, Pro Israel,Palestine state denying Supremest pulls rug out from under the Dersh and his call for Jews to support him.

    Aint no honor (or loyalty) among thieves when you get right down to splitting up the goods…lol

    Defending Alan Dershowitz Is Not a Jewish Issue

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