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Roger Cohen misses the Palestinian reality

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Ramallah, Palestine

Two weeks ago, Roger Cohen entered my life and that of several Palestinians I introduced him to in the West Bank by having us believe that he sincerely wanted to hear our stories and know our reality.  But The New York Times column that came out of it, “It’s Time for Mahmoud Abbas to Go,” intentionally ignores the big picture, the reality of Palestinian life, in his account of a West Bank visit from Ramallah to the city of Nablus.

The backstory to my contact with Cohen is that in early January an American university professor whom I trust and respect asked me to host and escort his New York Times friend visiting the West Bank on a drive from Ramallah to Nablus. I work at an NGO and always agree to meet anyone who is visiting from the States because I want to show the real face of Palestine, the face that many people in the United States don’t know. During my recent year spent studying in the US, I was always open to meeting people from different backgrounds. These were opportunities that allowed me to speak about my people’s struggle for justice and human rights.

Cohen said he was interested in seeing Israeli settlements along the way (recognized internationally as illegal), of walking around Balata, the West Bank’s largest refugee camp, and of touring the historic Old City of Nablus. Hence, I envisioned my time with Cohen as an opportunity for us to have someone from the Times hear our voices, know our stories, and write about the current situation in the West Bank, especially after Trump’s decision of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

However, the resulting article (published January 27) slanted the telling of what life is like for the Palestinians Cohen met. While he mentioned the “unrelenting settlement growth and use of military force” under Israeli occupation, Cohen did not fully disclose to readers the primacy of Israel’s agency in: Palestinian electricity coming and going, Palestinian lack of access to water, Palestinian hours-long journeys, Palestinians being “dragged from their homes,” and the endless Israeli permits that regulate all manner of Palestinian movement within and beyond the West Bank. Cohen dispenses of these realities of Palestinian life, saying, “Little humiliations multiply.”

No, the emphasis in the article was on the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for these conditions. Cohen quotes me in the article:

“There’s a growing climate of fear,” said Darin Hussein, the country manager for a nongovernmental organization encouraging sports for Palestinian children. “You can be arrested for posting anything critical on social media.” In her mid-30s, she, too, has hit bottom. “Nothing is going to change,” she told me.

But he misrepresented my critique of why “there’s a growing climate of fear,” thus, presenting my quote in order to serve his own agenda. Cohen’s agenda was to say that Palestinians have “agency” in our own absence of freedom and thereby absolve Israel of being the primary source of Palestinian oppression; hence, he purposely couched all of our fears, criticisms, and expressions of hopelessness in what he, an ardent supporter (if also a critic) of the Israeli state, describes as the failures of the government of the Palestinian Authority. As if we can have freedom if we just get rid of the P.A.  But surely a people living under a military occupation within the confines of an apartheid state do not live in an independent, free, and sovereign state. Surely an honest American journalist would make clear to his American audience the settler-colonial status of Palestine.

For instance, though Cohen accurately quotes Saed Abu Hijleh, a geography professor who was shot and imprisoned by Israel and whose mother was killed by Israeli soldiers, he immediately states that this view is the Palestinian narrative.

He [Abu-Hijleh] describes Israel as a “colonial apartheid state” built on the “perpetuation of violence and dehumanization.”

That’s Abu-Hijleh’s lived Palestinian truth.

By emphasizing the PA’s role, Cohen does what apologists for Israel always do: Blame the oppressed for their oppression. Condemn the government that is completely beholden to and controlled by the Israeli and American governments. Leave his American readers uninformed about the reality of Palestinian lives. Privilege the voices of Israeli witnesses to occupation (as he did so in Hebron recently, even as he described the “relentless Israeli military occupation”). Silence the voices of Palestinians, like myself.

Here’s the story Cohen didn’t share with his NY Times readers. During the nearly ten hours I hosted him, we walked about Balata, where he met people who talked about the ongoing struggle of Palestinian refugees, the cut off of funding, and the increased rate of unemployment among young people. Or he fails to inform readers that the settlers are illegal occupiers who have stolen Palestinian land, which has been lived on and farmed by some of the same families for hundreds of years. And on our drive from Nablus back to Ramallah, Cohen failed to tell the story of how we witnessed on the highway more than 50 Israeli soldiers protecting two teenage settlers, who had been throwing rocks at Palestinian cars. He reported a scene in which settler youths “milled around the roadside as a squad of Israeli soldiers tried to keep them away from Palestinians: just another day in the West Bank.” That’s not what I saw. I saw the same pattern of illegal settlers taking Palestinian lands and being protected by Israeli soldiers—a colonization that I told Cohen has been consistent from the early days of Zionism.

But it is Cohen’s final sentence that exposes the true intentions of his time in my company and that of other Palestinians. Here he projects a questionable empathy for our plight by blaming the occupied government as the reason that many young educated Palestinians choose to leave.

It is time for Abbas to go, before the bright young Palestinians . . . all go from their occupied land.

Now is this not the main explicit intent of the Israeli occupiers? To continue their 1948 project of removing the indigenous people from Palestine? Sorry, Roger Cohen, we’re not going anywhere. Has history not taught you about the resiliency of the Palestinian people?

This piece was first submitted to the New York Times op-ed page and Letters section, but not accepted for publication. –Editor.

Darin Hussein

Darin Hussein lives in Ramallah, Palestine. She received a Fulbright - Hubert Humphrey Fellowship for studies in Public Policy at University of Minnesota.

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18 Responses

  1. eljay on February 7, 2018, 11:25 am

    Roger Cohen misses the Palestinian reality

    Zionist Roger Cohen deliberately misrepresents the Palestinian reality

    • Mooser on February 7, 2018, 4:25 pm

      “During the nearly ten hours I hosted him, we walked about Balata, where he met people who talked about the ongoing struggle of Palestinian…”

      And Cohen had no problem abusing their hospitality and restraint.

  2. on February 7, 2018, 12:59 pm

    Mr. Hussein, with all due respect, you brought this onto yourself & the Palestinian people. Cohen is a known liar, a 2-faced Zionist who does not give a damn about the Palestinians’ cause.
    Even if your professor friend asked you as a favour to show a person unknown to you around, is it not obvious to check out who is so keen to get to know the real Palestine?

    • Stephen Shenfield on February 7, 2018, 8:33 pm

      Ms. Hussein — As the NYT misrepresented what you said, perhaps you have a legal right to have a correction published? I would not agree to help a corporate media outlet unless they accept conditions that protect against misrepresentation, like the right to see a text and make corrections before publication or failing that the right of reply

  3. gamal on February 7, 2018, 1:19 pm

    ” you brought this onto yourself & the Palestinian people”

    Yes her decision not to publish a reply I the NYT is I think particularly reprehensible.. Mr.?..but do tell having checked him out what should she have done?

    did you read what she wrote….”& the Palestinian people” is a revolting charge to fling at her what has she “brought onto….the Palestinian people”,

    • on February 8, 2018, 1:34 pm

      1. “…. what she should have done”
      She obviously did NOT check out Cohen otherwise she would have known what character he is. On the other hand, if she did check him out & knew his personality, then it silly (to put it mildly) to go ahead with the project anyway.

      2. “… a revolting charge to fling at her …”
      Why is that a revolting charge? She allowed Cohen to misrepresent Palestine & the Palestinians, which is something the Palestinians do not need. And that is purely due to what I wrote in 1 above.

      In fact, Ms. Hussein wanted this to be an opportunity to shine a different more favourable light on the Palestinians, which would have been fantastic, instead she achieved the opposite because she went about it in an amateurish way.

      Now, she published this article she should expect criticism. Her idea was noble, her execution was wrong.

      • Stephen Shenfield on February 10, 2018, 11:58 am

        Even if she knew nothing about this particular journalist, the fact that it was for The New York Times should have been warning enough. The text as submitted by Cohen would have been ‘edited’ — i.e., mangled — by a hierarchy of editors and sub-editors before appearing in print. So maybe the original text was a little more informative and sympathetic to the Palestinians than the article as published. (Or maybe not.) So assisting a corporate outfit like the NYT is very risky whoever the journalist might be. If you are asked to help and don’t want to look ‘negative’ then you have to set clear conditions, like the right to inspect and correct the text (subject to a word limit) before publication. They won’t accept such conditions and that will justify you in saying no.

  4. on February 7, 2018, 4:10 pm

    I’m with Eljay on this – Cohen knows who his masters are and what they want. He wrote to his audience as provocatively as he could without losing his job and seat at the country club table.

    Despite his intentional misrepresentations, Cohen went further than most. Granted not nearly as far as the full truth without slant but far enough to get some people thinking, I’m sure.

    Ms. Darin is of course correct – no context and no specificity is provided by Cohen – typical of zionist writings. Focus on the shortcomings/faults of the victims (Palestinian leadership in this case), gloss over the excesses of the perpetrators (settler violence, unemployment, funding cut offs, land theft), link the excesses to the shortcomings (without detailing any causation) and never ever provide any meaningful context (the history or law that frames the discussion).

    Thank you Ms. Darin for following up on Cohen’s slant

  5. Boomer on February 7, 2018, 6:01 pm

    re: “This piece was first submitted to the New York Times op-ed page and Letters section, but not accepted for publication.”

    How sad.

  6. ckg on February 8, 2018, 9:36 am

    It seems the NYT editors offer greater license for falsehoods and misrepresentations to the opinion page columnists than to news reporters. And now that the paper has eliminated its public editor, that license goes unchecked.

  7. gamal on February 8, 2018, 1:00 pm

    ” by having us believe that he sincerely wanted to hear our stories”

    let me share with you the grim world of the marginal.

    I was phoned yesterday, itself a rare occurrence I do not encourage “calls”, It was a Muslim boy from London who asked about the late Sheikhs papers, he is dead 12 years I have been out of that world more than decade, specifically he asked about letters from a member of the UK royals,

    he told me the paper he works for but his name is a similar to researcher I have been in touch with spoke for less than 90 seconds I said that I would look in the papers and see if there was any complimentary, nice things about Islam as he put it, but I gave him my zip code easy enough to find but I am getting old and did it without thinking.

    So I googled his paper they have a story about this Prince writing critically of the Israel lobby, so I guess they want to ascribe his “anti-semitism” to Islam or sympathy for Islam.

    So 3 hours ago I came across a plump Pakistani guy in a suit walking out across the fields to my house, my zip code is unique to the house,

    I was forcefully discourteous, he camped out for 3 hours on the public road, itself little more than boreen we had one more encounter there where my behaviour again fell well below the standards of a decent person, i returned to hq after 40 minutes, to witness him driving the km on my land down to where i had parked a landrover over my gate and sat there in his hire car, while i watched burning a spliff in the west wing and reflecting that I should have asked what the going rate for selling out is now, he fucked off, clearly I am going to go far in this life, honestly I had forgotten what it is like when some insolent fool excites ones medulla,

    now they want to hear when i might have “dirt” on Prince Charles…It is getting dark I am going to walk my lane and if I encounter a sunday mail journalist poor boy will meet the full cockney in the dark, like the blair witch thing, this is happening to me right now, fuck no really fuck them.

  8. weesograce on February 8, 2018, 3:44 pm

    Alas, Ms. Hussein. You’ve been duped. Under the guise and/or auspices of journalistic perpetuity which tows the Pro-Israel line. Pity on Mr. Cohen– who is an NYT hack– a relic, a quisling, a fully subsidized and brain-demoralized Zionist aparachik, who pretends that he possesses integrity, insight, and empathy while delivering “da news” about Israel and Palestine. Would we go so far as calling Roger “an Israeli insider or infiltrator?” Maybe he gets “first dibs” on cool assignments in the fledgling West Bank. Would we hold Cohen’s bosses at the NYT accountable for his blatantly false, irresponsible journalism, and his vacuous misrepresentations, which intentionally negate and omit “on-the-ground” facts about the brutal, dehumanizing, interminable occupation and oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people (men, women, children, clergy, decades-old refugee ghosts, and the very Holy Land itself?) Maybe Roger Cohen’s visit to Nablus via Ramallah was well-intentioned… an academic “field trip” of sorts… an “old school” assignment that’s meant to help re-educate and edify a key class member of the “ahemmm, biased” press corps. Ms. Hussien works for an NGO? Accolades for her honest, altruistic, and U.S.-educated, hard-working self that “survives” in a depraved settler-colonial, apartheid regime. But alas, Miss Darin saw the light, AFTER Cohen turned in his homework assignment and it passed inspection at the NYT editorial checkpoint. Like so many MONDOWEISS supporters, I had seen/and sill see through Cohen’s clever mumbo-jumbo (and guilt-absent) journalism over the many years… much like the tainted, tempestuous journalism of Cohen’s other bought-and-paid-for colleagues Ethan, Tom, Isabel, etal… who by the way, have subsidized apartments, family, and retirement aspirations in beloved Israel (and its facsimile Illegal Settlements, thereof). It is sooo hard not to be cynical and critical about peace and justice in Palestine. Long live free speech! In the words of our Beloved Leonard Cohen, “Democracy is coming… to the U.S.A.” Thank You Phil and staff! Your work does not go unnoticed and unappreciated.

    • RoHa on February 8, 2018, 5:50 pm

      Toes the pro-Israel line.

      Where do people get this “tow” idea from? I never saw it written anywhere until it started popping up on the Internet.

      • Mooser on February 8, 2018, 9:37 pm

        “Where do people get this “tow” idea from?”

        Probably from the great Tommy James song, which was very popular.

        ‘Drag’ or ‘tow’ pretty much the same difference.

      • MHughes976 on February 9, 2018, 8:18 am

        The idea is surely not that the party line is strenuously ‘towed’ as in a tug o’war but is punctiliously and rather fearfully ‘toed’ by people who would not dare to set even a toe’s breadth between the line that they walk and the line that the party prescribes.

      • Mooser on February 9, 2018, 11:04 am

        “The idea is surely not that the party line is strenuously ‘towed’”

        Of course it is. After all, it’s kind of a tow, when your baby’s been untrue.

  9. Mayhem on February 8, 2018, 10:19 pm

    You are so far off the money when you castigate those like Roger Cohen who are quite sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. There will never be a ground swell driven by hard-edged extremists or the grim world of the marginal as Gamal puts it.

    • MHughes976 on February 9, 2018, 8:12 am

      I haven’t paid for full access to the NYT. But it seems at least that the readers of that paper, predominantly well disposed towards Zionism as I think they are, have had ‘the lived Palestinian reality’ presented to them with no doubt that Israel must take some responsibility, which means responsibility for something horrible. Even the mitigating and framing devices used by Cohen, as reported here, don’t remove that presentation, though they were probably essential to getting publication in NYT. ‘Lived reality’ is a slightly slippery phrase but Cohen is not agreeing with the Z line that Palestinian complaint is, as it were, ‘lived illusion’. So I hope that a few of the NYT’s busy readers will at least pause and ponder these things.

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