On Sunday, the New York Times ran an extraordinary magazine piece (it was the cover story) on West Bank Palestinians who are resisting the Israeli occupation through non-violence. For those who follow the issue closely, the extraordinary aspect of the piece was not so much anything author Ben Ehreneich revealed as it was that the article appeared in the New York Times at all.

You just don’t expect to find this type of reporting on Israel in the Times which, ever conscious that it is the New York Times, is always cautious about its reportage on Israel. Most of its coverage is either extremely balanced (“the Palestinians say this, the Israeli government says that”) or slavishly supportive of the Israeli line. (Columnists Tom Friedman and Nick Kristof both consistently deviate from the line, but they are columnists, influential columnists to be sure, but opinion columnists nonetheless).

Ehrenreich’s piece neither adhered to the Israeli line nor was it balanced. It had a clear point of view: the occupation is a terrible thing that should not continue.

Does that make it biased? It would, if there was another side to the argument. But in the case of the occupation there isn’t. Imagine Ehrenreich’s counterpart on the right explaining that the 45-year occupation is a good thing which should continue forever.

Other than West Bank settlers and their supporters on the far right of the Israeli and American political spectrum, no one makes that case. The United States government is committed to the “two-state solution.” Prime Minister Netanyahu has also endorsed it as has every Israeli prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo agreement with Yasir Arafat. As for the lobby here in the United States, it too supports the two-state solution.

It hardly needs to be said that endorsing the “two state solution,” by definition, means opposing the occupation. After all, there is no place where a Palestinian state could be created other than the West Bank (including east Jerusalem) and Gaza. That is if you favor two states. The “one state solution” would include the land that is now Israel in a single state for all the people who live there. But that, obviously, is something different than the “two state” framework.

Of course, neither the Netanyahu government nor the lobby here really want the occupation to end. If they did, they would not, in the case of the Israeli government, keep expanding settlements or, in the case of pro-Israel organizations here, support Israel’s right to do so. Nor would they use their influence to prevent any pressure from the United States on Israel to end the occupation. In short, both Israel and its lobby here nominally oppose the occupation while actually supporting it.

The reason they can’t say they support occupation is the same reason that the New York Times will never run a major piece that takes the opposite point of view from Ehrenreich’s. That is because in the year 2013, it is no longer possible to defend occupation and the denial of rights to the native people that goes along with it. Like defending colonialism or segregation, defending occupation is beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

And that is why hardly anyone defends it. It survives because those who favor it, do not engage on that issue directly, saying “of course, I oppose the occupation but….”

And it is the arguments that follows the “but” that allow an institution universally believed to be wrong to continue.

The words that invariably follow the “but” rarely, if ever, defend the occupation itself. Instead they attack the people whose land is being occupied, the Palestinians in particular and sometimes Muslims in general.

The arguments are (1) that the Palestinians do not accept Israel’s right to live in peace and security (they have since 1993), (2) that they are terrorists (the Palestinian Authority which governs the West Bank not only opposes terrorism, it works with the Israeli authorities to thwart it, (3) that Palestinian schools teach their children to hate Jews (which has been proven false), (4) that Israel has no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate (Mahmoud Abbas is so friendly to Israel that many Palestinians consider him an Israeli puppet) and (5) that the Palestinians have rejected Israeli offers of to remove the settlements and exchange the occupied territories (it has, in fact, never been offered).

In other words, supporters of the status quo, knowing that the occupation is indefensible, simply change the subject to one that they would rather discuss. And that is the nature (as they see it) of the Palestinians (and, in the case of the Pam Geller’s of the world, the nature of all Muslims). In short, knowing they cannot win the argument by discussing the issue that prevents peace (the occupation), the Israeli government and its lobby here chooses instead to attack the Arabs. And it works. Forty-five years after it began, the occupation not only survives, it has become more impregnable as settlements expand, the number of settlers increase and Israel’s system of roads, walls, and law defends the settlers at the expense of the local population.

[It should be noted that in the first years of the occupation, it was defended as strategically necessary to defend Israel itself. But that was disproven in 1973 when Israel, holding all the territories it does now plus the Sinai Peninsula, was attacked by the combined forces of Egypt and Syria and only prevailed after three weeks of fighting and the loss of 2,688 soldiers in contrast to the 776 it lost in the 1967 war, when it held none of the occupied territories and defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in six days.]

The best news about the Ehrenreich piece is that he simply describes the occupation in all its ugliness, forcing the reader to forget for a time all the propaganda about Palestinians and instead focus on the conditions Palestinians are subjected to simply because the settlers (and the Israeli government that supports them) wants their land. And, beyond that, he defends non-violent resistance to the occupation as the one means that can end it. (He quotes one Israeli army official saying that he prefers dealing with resisters who shoot, “you have the enemy, he shoots at you, you have to kill him.” But he is confounded by non-violent resistance. Another is quoted as saying, “We don’t do Gandhi very well.” In short, Ehrenreich eviscerates the occupation and describes how it can be ended.

No, that is the second best news about the piece. The best news is that it appeared in the New York Times. Most definitely, the Times, they are a changing.


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