It's bad enough that readers of Farah Stockman's column in today's Boston Globe have to sit through all the usual techniques used to sell a blinkered vision of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Stockman's Israel is a cartoon world populated by Palestinian "waiters, maids, taxi drivers" but Israeli "far-right thugs" and "well-armed settlers." It's a black-and-white world in which, when the murder of Israeli teens is followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen which is followed by the murder of yet more Jews, only the Palestinian terrorism is rationalized as "revenge." It's a hall-of-mirrors world in which the idea of destroying the al Aqsa mosque and building a third temple is not a fringe idea but actually "mainstream."
It is a world in which Jews visiting the holiest site in Judaism is an abuse, where Palestinians are forcibly confined to a neighborhood that in fact they can freely leave, where "bottomless bitterness" is experienced only by Palestinians and "spawned" only by Israelis, where it is "disingenuous" of Israeli leaders to suggest Palestinian hate-speech and calls
to protect holy sites against Jewish "contamination" might itself foment bitterness and incite violence, and where Israeli flags "fly" but Palestinian flags "wilt." But this caricature world is not the worst of it.
Nor is the factually incorrect information conveyed by the columnist about a Palestinian neighborhood. Stockman suggests that Issawiya, a Palestinian neighborhood in northeastern Jerusalem, is hermetically sealed so that "nothing not even a school bus can drive out." (She doesn't specifically name Issawiya in the piece, but a nearby caption fills in the blanks: "Israeli authorities erected a barrier to block an entrance to Isawiyya, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.")
No, drivers in Isawiyyah are not penned in. While some roads linking the neighborhood to the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill had been temporarily blocked of in response to Palestinian violence that included
fire bombings, stone-throwing and the arson of a gas station, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld informed CAMERA that the concrete roadblocks were removed from the area over a week ago. Rosenfeld noted that he had just been in Isawiyya, and drove out with no encumbrance past the Hebrew University dormitories toward French Hill. (Even when those roads were blocked, according to the Israeli press
, there was still free access from the neighborhood to the Ma'aleh Adumim highway.) But again, Stockman's Issawiya falsehood isn't the worst of it.
Those who endure until the end of the piece are rewarded by a much more outrageous and explicit outrage. According to Stockman, the recent murder of four Jews praying in a synagogue, which was nothing if not a bloody, anti-Semitic pogrom (warning: that link leads to a page that includes images of blood that readers may find disturbing), is an example of the chickens coming home to roost:
Relatives say similar pictures on Facebook angered Rasan and Oudai Abu Jamal so much they went to West Jerusalem and slaughtered four rabbis during prayer. The act was unspeakable and inexcusable. But this is what separation sows.
Ignore, for now, that Stockman brazenly inverts reality, pretending the "separation" preceded violence when in fact it clearly followed it, both in the short term in Issawiya and in the longer history of Israeli-Palestinian relations since 1967. Instead, consider how she explains away the murders.
It is the Jews of Israel, Stockman tells us, who are responsible for a pogrom against the Jews in Israel. Of course, this is no less vile than the proposition however many times the proponent repeats that it is an explanation and not an excuse that the NAACP should be blamed for the lynching of blacks, or feminists for the rape of women. (See update below.)
The sliver lining, for those inclined toward optimism, is that the conversation might be leaving Stockman behind. Observers have begun noticing and critiquing what Alan Johnson describes as the "exculpatory impulse" toward one side of the conflict. Johnson refers to a world view in which "Palestinians (and Arabs in general) do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible. Israelis do and can; always, and exclusively." It is, he continues, a racist and orientalist way of looking at the conflict:
Palestinians are understood as a driven people, dominated by circumstance and emotion, lacking choice, below the age of responsibility, never to be held accountable. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating, the root cause of everything, responsible for everything.
Former Associated Press journalist Matti Friedman recently criticized his past employer for promoting this world view, even to the point of spiking stories that might get in the way. And it isn't only AP, he says:
If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.
Even New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has caught on. In a recent column about her newspaper's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, she felt compelled to remind reporters that Palestinians
are more than just victims, and their beliefs and governance deserve coverage and scrutiny. Realistic examinations of what's being taught in schools, and the way Hamas operates should be a part of this. What is the ideology of Hamas; what are its core beliefs and its operating principles? What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven't seen much of this in The Times.
That is the glimmer of hope. But the broader conversation remains warped enough that Stockman, a mainstream reporter for a major American newspaper, still felt comfortable using a massacre of Jews by Palestinians as a lesson about Israeli evil a modern day misplacement of the mark of Cain onto Abel. Farah Stockman should take not of Sullivan's reminder that Palestinians are more than just victims. And readers of the Boston Globe should demand better.
Update: Stockman asserts on Twitter that her statement was misconstrued, and that she meant "both sides are responsible for the separation" that, she says, sowed the synagogue attack. Here again is the link to her column; readers can decide for themselves.