I read a report by The New York Times on its investigation of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known, respected Palestinian-American TV journalist who covered the Middle East for Al-Jazeera. She was shot in the middle of a battle in the West Bank city of Jenin between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters; she was clearly wearing PRESS identification, not to mention body armor.
At first the Israeli army said it was a Palestinian gunman who killed her, then amended to say that if its soldiers fired at her, it was because she was near Palestinian gunmen. But lots of videos were taken that don’t show any Palestinian gunmen nearby. The Palestinian Authority immediately accused the Israeli army of killing her on purpose, but The New York Times said there’s no proof of any such intention.
The Times used forensic analysis by American gun specialists: “Measuring the microseconds between the sound of each bullet leaving the gun barrel and the time it passed the cameras’ microphones, they were able to calculate the distance between the gun and the microphones. They also considered the air temperature that morning and the type of the bullet most commonly used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The range of distance between the journalist and the soldiers were anywhere from 170 to 211 yards away.
The Times also showed a few of the videos taken, preambled by the message: This video includes scenes of graphic violence. Just in case, sitting outside in my yard, looking at hummingbirds circling the red feeder, I’ll feel disturbed.
I have a hard time with these articles. They give great information, but little sense of what things are like. I feel that especially in connection with the Middle East because I was born there, because the karma of the region is my karma, because it’s closer to me than blood.
Many Israelis think the world media discriminates against them; I disagree. If anything, Israel has very skillfully managed to conceal the effects of its occupation of the West Bank. There’s a very small group of peace activists who continue to fight against the occupation, and of course a large contingent that feels the West Bank belongs to them. And those in the middle?
“When Donald Trump was elected President, a large and vocal opposition came together to make sure he wouldn’t turn back the clock on too many areas: women’s rights, antiracism work, climate change, anti-poverty programs, etc.,” I often said to Israeli friends. “When it comes to the West Bank, where’s the opposition?”
There’s very little, and one can sit back and say, “Peace is dead, it will never come.” But those, too, are just words.
How do words convey the closeness of things? A city’s narrow alleys, the many children on its streets, potholes left by previous convoys of military vehicles? I write in the green back yard behind my house, sun pouring over the picnic table holding the computer, a dog waiting for me to throw a stick. Even as my heart aches, I can’t bear witness to what happened in Jenin.
The closest I came to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was leaving my mother’s shiva in May on Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath, and having lunch with friends of mine, peace activists both, in East Jerusalem.
“You won’t find parking,” the restaurant warned them, “the police have closed up the streets because of the funeral.” They were referring to Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral.
We drove there anyway, seeing groups of young people walking down to join the funeral procession. He was right, there was no parking, so two of us stopped at the restaurant while a third went to park. We waited for him at least a half hour till he returned, pale and shaken. He had had to make his way through the crowd holding up the casket with pictures of the journalist while Israeli soldiers fired at them, ordering them to disperse. He said nothing.
Something else happened that same day. Later that afternoon I went with my brother into a Jerusalem supermarket. There were long lines at the cashiers, common on the eve of the Sabbath, and soon I heard a commotion on the line next to ours.
“Why aren’t you taking her ahead of everybody else? That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
I looked up and saw a long line of Israelis waiting, including a woman wearing hijab pushing another in a wheelchair. In front of them stood an African man. The cashier, a young girl, barely looked up.
“What’s it your business?” someone else yelled.
“It is my business,” the Israeli woman shot back. “She’s disabled,” and she pointed at the Arab woman in the wheelchair, “and the law says she should go first. She’s not sticking up for herself, that’s the problem, so I’m doing it.”
The African man was not sure what to do, people were impatient and angry, and muttered at the Israeli woman: “Why are you yelling?”
“I’m yelling because when people don’t get their rights somebody has to speak up, that’s all!”
The African man lets the two Arab women go in front of him to the cashier, who looked bored out of her mind.
I felt hope.
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