Did NYT’s Bronner Even Go To a Friday Protest?

You don’t have to look too hard to find salient critiques of New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Bronner really got under my skin with yesterday’s front-page story, “Palestinians Try Less Violent Path to Resistance.” His omissions are legion — most notably that he doesn’t even seem to have bothered to have personally witnessed one of the Friday protests in the West Bank villages whose lands are disappearing behind an Israeli wall.

Max Blumenthal, an independent journalist and LobeLog contributor, covered the protests last year in a video for the Daily Beast. He points out to me in an e-mail that, while “Eitan” Bronner (as he is known in Israeli circles in Jerusalem) posits Hamas as a violent fall back to the protests, he neglects to mention that the towns where the protests take place, Bil’in, Niilin and Jayyous — and where they enjoy widespread popular support — are politically mixed areas, representing Fatah, Hamas, and the PFLP. Hamas is especially powerful in Niilin, he notes.

Max also points to the fact that Bronner doesn’t mention the killing of non-violent activist Bassam Abu Rahmeh (the 18th such death since 2004, activists say), or the maiming of American solidarity activist Tristan Anderson. The former incident was dismissed by authorities in an investigation; the IDF refuses to look into the latter. Both involved the IDF firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters. (Another non-violent activist from Jayyous, Mohammad Othman, was jailed by Israel under “secret evidence” from Sept. 2009 to Jan. 2010.)

Reporters, naturally, are not immune, as their role covering the protests is essential if the movement is to grow and become successful. Last fall, the IDF fired tear gas grenades directly at Al Jazeera English’s Jackie Rowland, despite her being clearly in the process of delivering an on-camera report at the time. There was no rock throwing during this incident.

About those rocks, I don’t mean to dismiss violence of any sort, but hurling an occasional stone at well-armed and armored soldiers — or cutting holes in and destroying sections of a “separation barrier” that violates international and even Israeli law — seems to me to hardly diminish the turn towards non-violence taken by Palestinians to a decades-long military occupation. Contra this, and taking cues from the Israeli military, Bronner emphasizes several times in his piece the minimal violent occurrences.

Bronner’s attempt — though ultimately a failed one — to give some much-needed New York Times attention to the growing movement is admirable. The Times has barely touched these issues, despite the fact that these demonstrations been going on for at least six years, until this year — when Palestinian officialdom truly latched onto them in a bid to increase their dismal legitimacy, with, for example, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad showing up in Bil’in during a protest with thousands of on-lookers. (Another Times Israel correspondent, Israeli citizen Isabel Kershner, has done some light reporting on the subject from the West Bank.)

But his approach’s most glaring and tragic flaw is an example of gross journalistic negligence. Bronner seems to have not reported at all from one of the protests themselves, the cradle and nerve center of the non-violent movement. You wouldn’t think it would have been so hard — these demonstrations, after all, go down every Friday. Talk about lacking color (Bronner relies, instead, on things like a billboard) and not taking initiative as a journalist. Certainly, this is lazy reporting. Evidence of bias? I’ll leave that up to you.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Your criticisms are valid, but the really important point is that a nonviolent protest movement is alive and perhaps gaining traction. Had the Palestinians opted for the tactics of Gandhi amd MLK from the beginning, they would have gotten a state a long time ago. If they put their united efforts behind a nonviolent movement, they can bring down the apartheid regime in Palestine, and in the lifetime of young guys like you (and maybe even in that of middle-aged guys like me). Armed resistance is counterproductive and ultimately futile, or at least decades and decades away from success.

  2. Gotta say I completely disagree, Jon.

    The two intifadas and the suicide attacks are what got us this far in the peace process – which, admittedly, isn’t very far.

    But without it, and the international attention it garnered, the Palestinian situation would not have received much(if any at all)media coverage. Hence Israel would have no incentive to do something they are completely opposed to – leaving occupied land.

    Furthermore, and most unfortunately, Israel seems to only understand the language of force. At the moment they have the military advantage. But that most certainly will not last.

    It never does.

  3. Bronner is just doing what the Israeli censors want him to do, isn’t he? Thus, he assures his continued ease and comfort.

  4. Ali – Good piece.

    Jon – Any quick look back at history will show you that Palestinians have been using nonviolence since the 1930s or even earlier. See the Arab revolt of 1936 to 1939 which included strikes and protest, note the protests that existed under the occupation from 1967 on, and especially note the 1987 intifada, which was nearly entirely nonviolent and which Israel crushed as the world looked on (violently crushed), that eventually led to the unfair and failed Oslo agreement, which again – Israel disregarded [Oslo] and instead grew settlements at a rapid pace during the Oslo years.

  5. StevieB-Andrew, you don’t understand the full implications of what I’m saying. The Intifada was not conducted along the lines of Gandhi’s campaign in India or MLK’s in America. The Likudists are not going to change, granted. But the struggle is really for world opinion, and especially American-West European opinion. Had the Palestinians found a leader of Gandhi or MLK’s stamp, and had they conducted a nonviolent campaign strictly along the lines of, say, MLK’s efforts in 1955-65 in the American South, I believe the world would have insisted on the creation of a Palestinian state.

    I understand that my argument is hypothetical or counterfactual in nature; my conclusion is based to a large extent on intuition and my “feel” for events, which anyone and everyone is free to scoff at. I freely admit that there’s no way I can prove that I’m right.

    Nevertheless, I still say that if the Palestinians would adopt a Gandhian program, starting today, they would bring down the apartheid state eventually. In time the tides of human thought and emotion would shame and overwhelm the oppressor — as happened in the American South, Poland, and South Africa. That’s my belief.

    Armed struggle against the foremost military this side of the United States means either defeat or a decades-long struggle, the success of which depends upon the Israelis succumbing through attrition. Possible, but not likely. I submit that the Palestinian people would be wise to try a truly Gandhian strategy instead.

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