TO: David Halbfinger, New York Times Bureau Chief, Jerusalem
RE: A Follow-up to the Ahed Tamimi story
Ahed Tamimi, only 17 years old, is already one of the most well-known Palestinians ever, but your New York Times readers are still in the dark. You’ve only written two articles about her; the first, relatively long piece back in December, was a “dueling narratives” account of how Palestinians and Israelis interpret her resistance to occupation differently. (Your second article, today, is just a summary of how an Israeli military court sentenced her to 8 months in jail. Today’s report didn’t even make it into the Times‘s print edition.)
Enough of the “dueling narratives.” Go to her village in Occupied Palestine, Nabi Saleh, and report some facts. So far, all you had to say in your first article was that the Tamimis live in “a tiny village” that has “long-running disputes with a nearby Israeli settlement, Halamish, that Nabi Saleh residents say has stolen their land and water.”
Hold on. Time for the facts. Find out if the Nabi Saleh residents are right. Ben Ehrenreich, who published a long piece in your magazine in 2013 about the village, has already provided some history. In the late 1970s, Israel seized 150 acres of Nabi Saleh’s land, supposedly for “military purposes,” but then handed it to Jewish settler/colonists. In the following years, Israel stole more Palestinian land in the area, as Ehrenreich recounts in his excellent book, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine. The land expropriations are illegal under international law, as every nation in the world — aside from Israel — agrees. Next, the Jewish settler/colonists seized a Palestinian water source, called Bow Spring, and built a fish pond next to it. Palestinians protested again. Years later, Ehrenreich explains, “the settlers retroactively applied for a building permit, which Israeli authorities refused to issue, ruling that ‘the applicants did not prove their rights to the relevant land.’” So now the settlers are defying not just international law, but their own authorities. Yet somehow they still control the spring. Find out why.
You should also report by interviewing both Israeli settler/colonists and Palestinians in the area. We at Mondoweiss have found that Jewish settlers are quite willing to speak openly and aggressively, so don’t censor their extremism. Jewish settlers make very good copy and we can guarantee that their colorful quotes will draw readers in to your report.
Next, start investigating the level of violence in the area, and who is responsible for it. By all means report that some Palestinian youths throw stones at the Israeli army, (although you should point out that not a single Israeli soldier anywhere has ever been killed by stone-throwing). But you should also find out how many Palestinians in Nabi Saleh have been killed and seriously wounded over the years of what are mainly nonviolent demonstrations. Ahed Tamimi’s maternal uncle, Rushdie, was killed by live ammunition, and her mother, Nariman, was shot in the leg and had to use a cane for a year.
You won’t find it hard to conduct interviews with Palestinians in Nabi Saleh. Ben Ehrenreich apparently had no trouble getting the residents to talk to him. Mondoweiss’s founder, Phil Weiss, has also visited the village, and he found that Bassem Tamimi, Ahed’s dad, is fluent in English and welcoming.
You should also talk to the Israeli soldiers on duty there. Like the settler/colonists, they might also give you some unvarnished quotes. But then contact Breaking the Silence, the courageous organization of Israeli veterans against the occupation. Maybe some of them were stationed at Nabi Saleh, and can give you the story behind the story? And don’t forget to check in with B’Tselem, the distinguished Israeli human rights organization. Some of your New York Times predecessors apparently had trouble finding them. (Here they are.)
Finally, you should try to interview Ahed Tamimi herself. She is going to be in prison apparently until July, and Israel will of course try and keep her quiet. But the New York Times is a powerful institution, and you should at least ask.
You will certainly be able to talk to those members of her family who are not jailed. Let us remind you that you have not quoted a single Tamimi in either of your articles. You might start by giving them to chance to respond to that statement you stuck in your first report back in December: “That her family appears to encourage the children’s risky confrontations with soldiers offends some Palestinians and enrages many Israelis.”