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.