‘NY Times Magazine’ article shows reality through Palestinian eyes

Ben Ehrenreich’s report from Nabi Saleh is a rare feature in a media world that has grown accustomed to telling the story of the occupation through Israeli eyes.

A Palestinian youth runs through a cloud of tear gas shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2012. The protest was held to mark a year for the killing of Mustafa Tamimi on December 9, 2011. (photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)
A Palestinian youth runs through a cloud of tear gas shot by the Israeli army during the weekly protest against the occupation in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2012. The protest was held to mark a year for the killing of Mustafa Tamimi on December 9, 2011. (photo by: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

Of all the Hebrew-language media outlets, it was the liberal Haaretz that labeled Ben Ehrenreich’s excellent feature on the protest in Nabi Saleh as a “pro-Palestinian manifesto.” The piece, detailing the history of weekly demonstrations against the occupation in the tiny Palestinian village, was the cover story of the New York Times Magazine yesterday.

Ehrenreich’s piece is indeed “unusual,” as Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz – not because it is “pro-Palestinian” (if anything, Ehrenreich’s somber tone sometimes disguises the brutality and hopelessness of the situation), but because its point of departure is the plight of Palestinians under occupation, and not the internal Israeli debate over the future of “the territories.”

Stories dealing with the occupation in the U.S. media are often presented within a two-sided framework – either as a Rashomon of versions between Israelis and Palestinians (the “equal playing field” illusion) or as an internal Israeli debate between a moderate (aka “rational,” “moral”) peace camp and a “hardline” (“messianic”, “violent”) camp. The latter genre tends to speak the language of Israeli interests, to which the Palestinians are no more than an object (“if Israel fails to end the occupation, its own survival is at stake”). They miss the obvious sentiment that anyone can feel in the West Bank: regardless of the internal conversation within the Jewish public, the occupation is an Israeli policy, in which all adversaries – settlers, army, coalition and opposition – play a part. In other words, even when most of the media criticizes the occupation, it does so through Israeli eyes, and through the framework of Israeli criticism. But there are other ways to tell this story and what might seem like a “pro-Palestinian” bias is simply the “bias” of reality.

This is the also difference between The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras, the two Oscar-nominee documentaries that dealt with the occupation. Clearly, 5 Broken Cameras, which tells the story of the framers of Bil’in and their struggle against the confiscation of their land, has a broader appeal and a more humanistic message; it can be understood by everyone, everywhere. The Gatekeepers, on the other hand, is a very Israeli product that poses questions about policy. Both films are effective, but I prefer 5 Broken Cameras mainly because it puts the Palestinians in the center of the story, and I think this is where the conversation on the occupation should start – by describing the lives of real people who are subjected to it. But many thought The Gatekeepers had “better appeal” in the States.

I really recommend reading the Times feature from Nabi Saleh. The foreign journalist is a problematic and dangerous position to begin with, but at its best moments it has the ability to give a voice to those who are not heard – so that in the future, they can speak for themselves. Ben Ehrenreich’s piece is a fine example of such a success.

Related:
NYTimes reporter among arrestees in West Bank protests
Organized chaos and bare life (*): The non-story of the night raids
Nabi Saleh: A tiny village’s struggle against the occupation