NYT Mag Cover Story Admires Stone-Throwing Palestinian Protests in a West Bank Village

"'If There Is a Third Intifada, We Want to be the Ones Who Started It,'" the New York Times magazine's 8,000-word cover story by Ben Ehrenreich (son of left-wing author Barbara Ehrenreich), is an admiring profile of purportedly "non-violent" protests put on by the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. The story starts with the release from an Israeli prison of Palestinian activist and habitual prisoner Bassem Tamimi.

Among the striking pro-Palestinian biases of the story: The ideologically loaded term "occupation" to describe land retained by Israel after the Six-Day War on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is relayed as a blunt statement of fact. An accompanying online slideshow, including stone-throwing teens, is titled "The Resisters."

Ehrenreich spent much of his time hanging out at Bassem's house and tagging along on the villagers' protest marches against Israeli soldiers, which included stone throwing.

Bassem, who is 45, stepped out of the car, straight-spined, his blue eyes glowing in the lamplight. He seemed a little thinner and grayer than the last time I saw him, in July. He hugged and kissed his eldest son. Ahed was next, then one by one, in silence, Bassem embraced family and friends, Palestinian activists from Ramallah and Jerusalem, Israeli leftists from Tel Aviv. When he had greeted everyone, he walked to the cemetery and stopped in front of the still-unmarked grave of his brother-in-law Rushdie, who was shot by Israeli soldiers in November while Bassem was in prison. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer before moving on to the tomb of Mustafa Tamimi, who died after being hit in the face by a tear-gas canister in December 2011.


It took the people of Nabi Saleh more than a year to get themselves organized. In December 2009 they held their first march, protesting not just the loss of the spring but also the entire complex system of control -- of permits, checkpoints, walls, prisons -- through which Israel maintains its hold on the region. Nabi Saleh quickly became the most spirited of the dozen or so West Bank villages that hold weekly demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. Since the demonstrations began, more than 100 people in the village have been jailed...."


Last summer, I spent three weeks in Nabi Saleh, staying in Bassem and Nariman’s home. When I arrived in June, Bassem had just been released from prison. In March 2011, Israeli soldiers raided the house to arrest him. Among lesser charges, he had been accused in a military court of “incitement,” organizing “unauthorized processions” and soliciting the village youth to throw stones. (In 2010, 99.74 percent of the Palestinians tried in military courts were convicted.) The terms of Bassem’s release forbade him to take part in demonstrations, which are all effectively illegal under Israeli military law, so on the first Friday after I arrived, just after the midday call to prayer, he walked with me only as far as the square, where about 50 villagers had gathered in the shade of an old mulberry tree....

Ehrenreich cited Bassem's "charisma" and the "strange, radiant calm" that hovered around him, and parroted Palestinian tales of atrocity.

This was revealing:

....Taking up arms wasn’t, for Bassem, a moral error so much as a strategic one. He and everyone else I spoke with in the village insisted they had the right to armed resistance; they just don’t think it works. Bassem could reel off a list of Nabi Saleh’s accomplishments. Of some -- Nabi Saleh, he said, had more advanced degrees than any village -- he was simply proud. Others -- one of the first military actions after Oslo, the first woman to participate in a suicide attack -- involved more complicated emotions.....“We see our stones as our message,” Bassem explained. The message they carried, he said, was “We don’t accept you.” While Bassem spoke admiringly of Mahatma Gandhi, he didn’t worry over whether stone-throwing counted as violence. The question annoyed him: Israel uses far greater and more lethal force on a regular basis, he pointed out, without being asked to clarify its attitude toward violence.

Ehrenreich even cited the late radical professor Edward Said's criticism of the Palestinian Authority for not being radical enough. At the end he nodded along to Bassem's complaint that too many Palestinians were getting along with their lives instead of throwing stones at Israelis.

But the checkpoints, the settlements and the soldiers are waiting just outside town, and the illusion of normalcy made Nabi Saleh’s task more difficult. If Palestinians believed they could live better by playing along, who would bother to fight? When Bassem was jailed in decades past, he said, prisoners were impatient to get out and resume their struggles. This time, he ran into old friends who couldn’t understand why he was still fighting instead of making money off the spoils of the occupation. “They said to me: ‘You’re smart -- why are you doing this? Don’t you learn?’”