Once again, The New York Times has provided us with a Palestinian “slice of life,” a look at that society from within, and once again the portrait is unflattering. In recent articles the newspaper has shown us Palestinian sexism, patriarchy, prudery, violence and general backwardness. Now we get a close look at the “dysfunction of Palestinian politics.”
The latest piece by Diaa Hadid is titled “A Legislature Where Palestinian Lawmakers Go to Hide,” and it introduces us to Najat Abu Baker, a member of the defunct Palestinian parliament, who took refuge in an “all-but-abandoned legislative building” in Ramallah. She was avoiding prosecutors who had summoned her to answer charges of insulting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The building is considered a “protected space” where security forces do not enter, but it serves for little else. A few guards patrol the site, and some 120 employees show up in order to collect their paychecks, although they have little real work to do.
No doubt the system is dysfunctional, but in all her 1,200 words about the subject, Hadid never once mentions the Israeli occupation as a factor in the breakdown of Palestinian governance. Israel has arrested and currently imprisons elected members of parliament, for instance, but in her telling it is all a Palestinian problem, fed by rivalries between the Fatah and Hamas factions and nothing else.
Hadid fails to mention the occupation in other stories that depict a “slice of life” in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper, and these articles also present Palestinian society in a censorious light. Since the beginning of the year, she has published the following in the Times:
- An article about nightlife in Haifa, shown as a “liberal” refuge from the backward and conservative Palestinian community. (1-3-16)
- A story about Gaza women who ride bicycles in defiance of the sexist norms of local society. (2-23-16)
- A piece about the killing of a Hamas fighter, allegedly for homosexual acts and theft. (3-2-16)
- An article about a Gaza woman who was allowed to sing in public under the watchful eyes of prudish Hamas officials. (3-14-16)
The Haifa piece was the subject of comments by Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted that the story lacked context. “While it’s impossible (and a bad idea) to summarize the history of Israel and Palestine in every piece of news coverage or every feature article, this article needed more political and historical information to put it in perspective,” she wrote.
But neither Hadid nor her editors took this advice to heart. In each of the following feature stories context is almost totally missing. The three Gaza articles fail to mention the eight-year blockade of the strip—a stunning omission.
The best Hadid can manage is this vague reference in the article about the Gaza singer: “In recent months, Hamas officials have been quietly loosening the reins as Gaza residents chafe under years of restrictions on their movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. They have endured three wars in a decade, and poverty and unemployment are rampant.”
Readers are left with no real sense of Israel’s role in these successive disasters. Once again, the focus is on Palestinian shortcomings.
If they were so inclined, Times reporters could choose to write any number of positive stories underscoring Palestinian resilience, perseverance and achievements. Here are just a few:
- Only last week Hanan al-Hroub, a Palestinian elementary school teacher in the occupied West Bank, won the $1 million Global Teacher Award for 2016, beating out other talented educators throughout the world with her inspired teaching of nonviolent conflict resolution.
- Gaza fishermen have been braving the constant harassment of Israeli gunboats, the threat of arrest and live fire each time they go to sea in search of their daily catch. They continue to work even as Israeli sailors damage and confiscate their boats and equipment.
- Herding communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills cling to their land in spite of repeated demolitions and encroaching settlements. Some of them take refuge in caves after bulldozers destroy their tents and houses.
- Authorities have demolished the Israeli Bedouin community of Al Araqib at least 95 times, but the residents keep returning to rebuild in an incredible show of determination.
- The Nassar family has held off Israeli confiscation of their ancestral land in the West Bank for decades, drawing on international support for their community, the Tent of Nations, where they operate under the slogan, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”
The Times has shown no interest in highlighting any of these topics, although they provide first-rate material for profiles and “slice of life” feature stories. It appears that such articles would also carry the risk of challenging the accepted narrative by exposing Israeli brutality as well as Palestinian efforts at peace-building.
Times editors and reporters can claim that they have provided sketches of Palestinian life from inside the occupied territories and in Israel proper, but they show little interest in moving beyond facile stereotypes. Robbed of context and viewed through a prejudicial lens, Palestinian society takes a beating in the Times.