|Today's New York Times Magazine [Image Source]|
But there is much wrong with the picture he conjures up. We know this because for years we have been tracking the media’s romance with the community called Nabi Saleh. Sitting here and looking over the online version of it, we are furious with anger about what the article says, and what the writer and his editors carefully avoid saying.
[August 2015 update: The link we embedded above to the Arabic Wikipedia page is to the archived version as it was on May 20, 2013. The Arabic Wikipedia page on Nabi Saleh, the village, has been very substantially changed since then (see here), evidently in response to this post of ours; all the references to the Tamimis and the town's passion for jihad and martyrdom have been carefully removed, but they remain in the archived version. For more, see "29-Aug-15: Revisiting a Palestinian Arab village and its monsters"]The most prominent of the prisoners (Wikipedia's description) is a woman called Ahlam. Her surname is shared with almost every other inhabitant of the village: Tamimi.
The writer helps us understand what kind of backward he means:
"Much of the international good will gained over the previous decade was squandered. 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."
In 1993, Bassem told me, his cousin Said Tamimi killed a settler near Ramallah. Eight years later, another villager, Ahlam Tamimi escorted a bomber to a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Fifteen people were killed, eight of them minors. Ahlam, who now lives in exile in Jordan, and Said, who is in prison in Israel, remain much-loved in Nabi Saleh.
She is a Jordanian who was 21 years old and the news-reader on a Palestinian Authority television program when she signed on with Hamas to become a terrorist. She engineered, planned and helped execute a massacre in the center of Jerusalem on a hot summer afternoon in 2001. She chose the target, a restaurant filled with Jewish children. And she brought the bomb.
The outcome (15 humans killed, a sixteenth still in a vegetative state today, 130 injured) was so uplifting to her that she has gone on camera again and again to say, smiling into the camera lens, how proud she is of what she did. She is entirely free of regret. A convicted felon and a mass-murderer convicted on multiple homicide charges, she has never denied the role she embraced and justifies it fully.
This is no mere oversight. The editors at the New York Times showcased this same psychopath once before, six years ago. Then, as now, we felt someone needed to push back and we posted two blog articles: “7-Aug-07: Hot House: Cold Truths” and “28-Jun-07: About sweet-faced young women”, and got a little attention for a while. But it was clear to us that those who thought they perceived greatness of spirit in the woman continued to do so.
But those editors, as well as the author of today’s Magazine piece, are evidently less affected by the innocent lives of the victims, lived and lost, than by the hypnotic power of symbolism.
About the lethal rock-hurling attacks directed at Israelis, the vicious little village's Bassem Tamimi says
he didn’t worry over whether stone-throwing counted as violence. The question annoyed him… If the loincloth functioned as the sign of Gandhi’s resistance, of India’s nakedness in front of British colonial might, Bassem said, “Our sign is the stone.” The weekly clashes with the I.D.F. were hence in part symbolic. The stones were not just flinty yellow rocks, but symbols of defiance… The message they carried, he said, was “We don’t accept you.”
Perhaps "we don't accept you" is what people living far from the scene imagine goes through the minds of baby-killers and restaurant bombers. But living where we do, innocent-sounding turns of phrase like that leave us dumbfounded.
She flew to Jordan the same day, was married there on live television to another freed and unpardoned murderer (a cousin, a Tamimi from Nabi Saleh), addressed rallies in various Middle East capitals, and became a media hero as the presenter of a weekly Hamas satellite television program. This is devoted to the interests of imprisoned Palestinian Arab terrorists, and broadcast from Amman to all corners of the Arabic-speaking world. Latest reports say she is preparing for the arrival of a baby.
How the twists and turns of this life have impacted on her victims has never, as far as we know, been explored by any branch of the media, presumably for reasons of lack of interest. But within the Arab world, she is a celebrity.
She has been used and abused in this way again and again by her parents and community; there is no shortage of collaborators among the paparazzi. Any connection between this contrived set-piece and reality is entirely accidental.
The first thing I saw in al-Nabi Salih was a huge sign in Arabic and English: “We Believe in Non-Violence. Do You?” It was World Peace Day, and speaker after speaker reaffirmed a commitment to peace and to nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
We wonder how often public opinion about the complex lives and unwanted war in which we and our neighbours live is formed by people who don't speak the local languages, and don't know much of its history or geography. Lacking the ability and sometimes the will to actually delve, they are left to read romanticized narratives, signs painted onto walls, political analysis crafted by full-time practitioners of public relations, staged photographs and other tendentious imagery.
The result is a kind of entrancement: messy, nasty complexity reduced down to simple pill form. Swallow this, and join us.
UPDATE 23-Mar-13: This post has gotten what for us is a very large number of views, and was republished on several other sites including Algemeiner, FrontPageMag, The Jewish Press, and the Check the Pulse and Love of the Land blogs. Thanks for helping us get it out. Frimet submitted a letter to the editors at the New York Times Magazine some days ago, and we are still hoping to see them decide to publish it, but no indication so far.