May 19, 2006

The Other Side of the Green Line

West Bank Through Barbed Wire.jpg

RAMALLAH - I rode in an Israeli taxi with Palestinian journalist Sufian Taha from the American Colony Hotel to the Qalandia checkpoint on the road to Ramallah, capital of nascent Palestine, in the hills of the West Bank over Jerusalem. We had to take a taxi, and we had to switch to a Palestinian taxi after we reached the other side. “You do not want to drive in the West Bank with Israeli plates on your car,” he said.

In the northern suburbs of Jerusalem you can see both sides of the Green Line at the same time. The West Bank is right there. Everything is piled on top of everything else.

“That’s an Arab neighborhood on the left side of the street,” Sufian said. “Israelis live on the right side. They live so close, but they hate each other. They are like cousins fighting over their grandfather’s inheritance.”

Then we hit the wall.

Driving Along the Wall.jpg

“Here the wall divides two Arab neighborhoods from each other,” he said.

“Why did they build it right here?” I said.

“I don’t know why they are doing it here,” he said.

Rocky hills, typical of the Mediterranean, rolled toward the horizon. Arab settlements clustered here, Jewish settlements clustered there, and the wall crazily cut through everything like a snake lost in the grass. It was impossible to intuit the logic just by looking at it.

It took maybe five minutes to reach Qalandia from Jerusalem.

The Wall Begins.jpg

It was time to get out and walk. I could see the skyline of Ramallah just past the checkpoint.

Ramallah Skyline from Qalandia.jpg

“How long is this going to take?” I said to Sufian.

“Sometimes it takes minutes,” he said. “Sometimes it takes hours. It depends on the security situation and how crowded it is.”

This time the checkpoint took only minutes. The line was mercifully short. And the Israeli Defense Forces soldier waved both Sufian and me through in a matter of seconds without asking questions.

My experience at the checkpoint was breezy and pleasant. But it is a hideous thing that looks like a militarized gateway to a Third World disaster. Welcome to Palestine.

Checkpoint Barbed Wire.jpg

We walked past some ramshackle shops blasting Arabic pop music too loud on bad speakers and hopped into a group servis mini-van taxi. There were ten other people inside, six men and four fashionably dressed young women with hijabs over their hair. I was the only non-Palestinian. No one seemed to pay any attention to me.

Two minutes later we were in downtown Ramallah.

“We get out here,” Sufian said and paid the driver my fare.

I stepped out into a surprisingly pleasant urban environment.

Ramallah Building.jpg

Ramallah Square.jpg

“No offense, Sufian, but this city is a lot nicer than I expected,” I said.

“Ramallah is beautiful,” he said with pride.

I didn’t think it was beautiful, exactly, but it did not look even remotely like the Third World war zone it’s reputed to be. I noticed no visible poverty once we left the squalor around the checkpoint. I was, however, warned by Israelis that Ramallah and Bethlehem are much nicer than the rest of the West Bank and need to be judged accordingly.

Ramallah Culture.jpg

“Do you want to meet some people now?” Sufian said.

When he had earlier asked what I wanted to do in Ramallah I told him I wanted to meet Palestinians opposed to Hamas. I already knew what Hamas had to say. They get all the attention in the newspapers now. There is no point in going all the way to the West Bank just so I could publish more of the same predictable bombastic slogans. I had no idea what their opponents were thinking now, and it seemed more worth my time to meet some of them. Sufian himself was a good start.

“Let’s walk around a bit first,” I said. “I want to see what Ramallah is like.”

So we walked.

Ramallah Buildings 1.jpg

There is no more political propaganda on display in Ramallah than there is in Israel. This surprised me after several visits to Lebanon’s Hezbollahland where portraits of “martyrs” and tyrants are literally everywhere.

Hezbollah is moderate and civilized compared with Hamas. So I expected even more visible evidence of derangement in the Hamas government’s capital. But there are at least 100 times as many psychotic billboards and posters in Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon as there are in Ramallah.

Ramallah is also in much better physical condition than the parts of Lebanon ruled by Hezbollah, even though Ramallah has experienced war a lot more recently. In fact, Ramallah is in better condition than any Shia region of Lebanon whether it’s ruled by Hezbollah or not. The only Sunni part of Lebanon that looks nicer than Ramallah is West Beirut.

Ramallah Skyline Up Close.jpg

The Palestinian capital is no longer occupied by the Israelis. I didn’t see any Palestinian policemen either. Nor did I see any Hamas or Fatah milita men. I am so accustomed to seeing men with guns in the Middle East - in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey - that Ramallah looked weirdly disarmed by comparison. At least it did on the day I was there. (There are lots of guns in Palestine. I am only talking about how Ramallah looked on the surface.)

I’ve experienced this over and over again everywhere I’ve gone in the Middle East (except wretched Turkish Kurdistan): places that are supposedly awful and dangerous are, up close, seemingly normal places full of normal people doing normal things.

Street Scene Ramallah.jpg

Water Vendor Ramallah.jpg

I don’t want to make too much of Ramallah’s apparent normalcy. It is the Hamas government’s capital. And the city is a golden cage. It’s a reasonably pleasant enough place. But it’s surrounded by far worse Palestinian places and off-limits Israeli places.

“The economy here looks a lot better than I expected,” I said to Sufian.

“It was pretty good until Hamas was elected,” he said. “But look in the stores. Notice there are no people in them. The only things people are buying are food and cigarettes. Only the basics. They are afraid to spend money if they have it.”

Store Window Ramallah.jpg

The streets were vibrant, though. The city seemed cultured. There were plenty of women around, which is something always worth noting in Muslim cities. Some are overwhelmingly male dominated. Ramallah is not so much.

I sensed no hostility whatsoever, and it’s not because I fit in.

“People here must think I’m Israeli,” I said to Sufian.

“No,” he said. “The way you look, the way you walk, you are obviously an American.”

I didn’t know about that. In any case, there are a lot of American Jews living in Israel. I sensed Sufian said it to make me feel better. But I didn’t feel bad in the first place. I felt perfectly fine. The only thing that worried me while walking around Ramallah is that I felt too relaxed, that the city looked more at peace with itself and the world than it really is.

Sufian took me to a cafe and bought me a gigantic glass of freshly squeezed juice. We sat at a square wooden table. I sipped my juice through a straw while flipping to a blank page in my notebook.

“Who did you vote for in the election?” I said.

“I didn’t vote,” he said. “There was no one worth voting for. Our parties are terrible.”

I would have said I know the feeling, but Good Lord. Whining about the Democrats and the Republicans to a guy who is stuck with the likes of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and Hamas would just sound pathetic.

“What do you think about the prospects for peace now that Hamas won?” I said.

“The Israelis have an opportunity,” he said. “A piece of the puzzle was missing before. Permanent peace must have the signature of the Islamists. Now the Israelis can get it.”

The Israelis can get it if the Islamists will give it, and if they will give it sincerely. That doesn’t look even remotely likely any time soon. I asked Yossi Klein Halevi if it was even possible to be optimistic under the circumstances. He said “I’m optimistic that we might be able to solve this after the next war.” That’s about as hopeful as it gets.

Sufian had a point, even so. If Yasser Arafat had signed a peace treaty for sovereignty with Ehud Barak in 2000, Hamas would have ignored it and continued waging jihad for all of historic "Palestine from the river to the sea," which includes Haifa and Tel Aviv as well as Hebron and Nablus.

Sufian is a Palestinian, not an Israeli Arab. But he has an Israeli residency permit, and he lives in Jerusalem.

“When there is a Palestinian state,” I said, “where you would rather live? In Israel or in Palestine?”

“I don’t care which side I live on,” he said, “as long as I can travel wherever I want.”

I groaned about how tired I was of this conflict that never ends.

“It will be good for everyone when Israel is accepted as part of this region," he said. "The other countries will get some of Israel’s technology. Everyone will benefit from more money and tourism.”

“What do you think about the intifada?” I said.

“The intifada was about the different political parties trying to earn popularity,” he said. “Hamas was only at two percent in the 1990s. Now they’re popular. Israelis benefited from the intifada, too. They got the wall and the borders they wanted. Hamas is fashionable right now. In five years they won’t be. Many many people voted for them as revenge against Fatah. They are clean. Fatah is a mafia. They are from the 1930s.”

“Was Fatah better or worse than Hamas?” I said.

“They were 1 percent right and 99 percent wrong,” he said. “Arafat was 100 percent pure evil. He was like a messiah to us when he was abroad. When he came here we learned the truth.”

“You live in Jerusalem,” I said. “What do you think about Israelis?"

“I have Israeli friends,” he said. “I tell them things that I don’t tell some of my Arab friends. It depends on the person, not the nationality.”

We sipped our juice.

“I think Americans don’t like Palestinians much,” he said.

“Look,” I said. “Americans don’t like Hamas. Americans don’t like terrorism. It really is that simple. Americans don’t have a problem with people like you just because you’re Palestinian.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think you are the exception.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m typical. As far as politics goes, I’m a middle-of-the-road average American.” But I couldn’t convince him. He is certain most Americans don’t like him just for who he is and where he was born.

It was time to move. Sufian wasn’t the only Palestinian I wanted to talk to.

We walked around the corner and stepped into a fashionable young women’s clothing store owned by Named Saleh Jad Allah, a pre-maturely graying 50 year-old man with a warm smile. Posters of gorgeous French models lined the walls. There were no customers inside his store.

Named didn’t ask why Sufian and I stopped in. He just gave me a cup of Turkish coffee and a cigarette and he asked us to sit. We went through the usual Arab formalities. Where are you from, welcome to Palestine, etc. Our chitchat was punctuated by long silences that were not at all uncomfortable. Arabs relax in conversation with strangers more easily than Westerners do. You don’t have to always be talking. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit there and peaceably enjoy your coffee or tea with other people. (This is doubly true when you’re hanging out with a crazy person.)

I did want to interview him, though, assuming Sufian was right that he did not care much for Hamas. So I took out my notebook.

“What’s it like now that Hamas is in power?”

“Ramallah is nice, but business is not good,” he said. “It is zero. There is no money.”

“Who did you vote for?” I said.

“I voted for Fatah,” he said. “I’m not affiliated with them. They are just a good party to run things. I don’t think Hamas is ready for power. In some things I agree with Fatah, in some things I don’t. Even though they are corrupt, at least we had money. People are boycotting Hamas so now we are poor. We anticipate things will eventually get better, but we don’t have time.”

“Do you worry about Hamas making trouble for you?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I sell fashionable clothes. I’m not an expert on what Hamas wants, but they say they will not interfere with the life of the people. We will see.”

Lisa Goldman told me about a Palestinian town that had elected Hamas in the second-most recent election. (I do not recall the town’s name, and I did not write it down.) According to Lisa, Hamas micromanaged the town according to heavy-handed Islamist dogma. So in the most recent election the people of that town threw the thugs out and voted for secular Fatah instead. If Hamas knows what’s good for them (a dubious proposition, to be sure) they’ll keep their religious totalitarian impulses in check now that they've won.

“Should Hamas negotiate with the Israelis?” I said to Named.

“Ultimately they will go through the path of negotiation,” he said. “They will be strict at first because of the street, but they will loosen up.”

“What has changed since Hamas came to power?” I said.

“Business,” he said. “The economy dropped down dramatically. Without industry they cannot boost the economy. We import everything from China. We support Chinese workers. We need our own industry.”

“Did the intifada help or hurt the Palestinian cause?” I said.

“Both intifadas were created by the Israelis,” he said. “They fed it and benefited from it. It was very bad for us. Daily life changed. Roadblocks. Factories closed down. Officials lost their respect among us. They lie all the time and won’t help us.”

“Why did the intifada end?” I said.

“People lost the juice,” he said. “And there is no financial support.”

“How long will the war last?” I said.

“The Jews don’t want peace,” he said. “They want to kick us to Jordan. Some say the substitute country is Jordan. I was told by a friend of mine who works for the CIA that Jerusalem will be emptied of all young Palestinians. Only old people will remain.”

Who told you that?” I said.

“I can’t tell you his name,” he said. “He works for the CIA.

I couldn’t tell if he was making up nonsense or if he actually believed what he said.

“What do you think Arafat’s legacy will be?” I said. “How will he be remembered by the Palestinian people?”

“People used to love Yasser Arafat,” he said. “But those who were not financially supported by him did not trust his policy. Some idolized him. Others criticized him. He will be remembered as a symbolic hero but with no dimension to him.”

“Do you feel safe criticizing Hamas?” I said.

“Now you can say,” he said. “Maybe later on you cannot criticize him.”

*

What surprised me most about the relative dearth of political propaganda on display in Ramallah was the near-total absence of Yasser Arafat’s portrait anywhere. I saw only two faded posters on a single wall

Arafat Poster Ramallah.jpg

I also only saw one poster of Sheik Yassin, the “spiritual leader” of Hamas who was assassinated by the IDF in March 2004. I found him twisted and hanging from a gutter.

Yassin Poster Ramallah.jpg

Portraits of the relatively benign Mahmoud Abbas were more common though those, too, were rare. I found this one on the side of one of Fatah’s office buildings. (UPDATE: Nevermind, that isn't Abbas. He just looks a lot like him.)

Abbas Poster Ramallah.jpg

Hezbollah has turned their little corner of Lebanon into a gigantic outdoor museum for their psychotic propaganda. But Hamas doesn’t seem to be interested. Here is the only violent poster I saw in all of Ramallah.

Gunman Poster Ramallah.jpg

Sufian took me to the Palestinian Legislative Council when parliament was in session. Two armed guards stopped us at the top of the driveway. Sufian talked our way past them in just a few seconds. Once past the guards were we able to walk right in and sit down.

I found a seat in the back, flipped open my notebook, and snapped two quick pictures.

PLC 1.jpg

PLC 2.jpg

Not one minute later everyone abruptly stood up. Most headed straight for the door. I came in literally at the last minute. Which was perfect.

A few parliamentarians gathered their things and lingered in small groups. I recognized some of them instantly - Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat.

Ashrawi in PLC.jpg

I walked toward Erekat and snapped a quick photo of the now-famous picture of Marwan Barghouti, former leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, being led away in handcuffs by the IDF for the murder of Israeli civilians. A Fatah member of parliament kept it displayed on the long table in front of his seat.

Barghouti Picture in PLC.jpg

Erekat is one of the more honorable politicians in the Palestinian Authority. He was certainly more worth talking to than some of the fanatical bearded Hamas goons lurking around who seemed to deliberately avoid making eye contact with me. So I buttonholed him and asked for an interview.

“I can give you five minutes,” he said. “But you’ll first have to wait. I need to meet someone first.”

So I sat down with Qays Abdul Karim Abu Laila of the Marxist-Leninist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The DFLPers have a crackpot ideology, but to their credit they insist Palestinians should only fight Israeli soldiers, and that Palestinians should only fight Israeli soldiers in Palestine. Israeli civilians are to be left alone. The DFLP won a whopping 3 percent of the vote.

“Did people vote for Hamas because they want to keep fighting Israelis?" I said.

“Not more than 20 percent voted for Hamas because they refuse to negotiate,” he said. “A majority of Palestinians, at least 80 percent, support a 1967 border solution.”

I thought you’d have to be a sucker to believe that. And as Lisa Goldman and Allison Kaplan Sommer told me, Israeli voters base their foreign policy opinions on the premise Don’t Be a Sucker.

Still. Two months ago the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported that:
75% say that Hamas should engage Israel in peace negotiations. 64% identify themselves as supporters of the peace process and only 14% say they are opposed to the peace process. 53% want the newly elected authority to implement the Road Map and 49% want it to collect arms from the armed factions while 21% do not want it to interfere in the arms of the factions and 27% say the PA should enact laws that allow the factions to keep their arms.
Popular Palestinian opinion is crazily contradictory and all over the place. Here’s a poll from a year ago that shows support for Hamas increased at the same time support for suicide-bombing declined. In just the last three years the overwhelming majority of Palestinians supported suicide-bombing at some times and at other times overwhelmingly opposed suicide-bombing. Oddly enough, Palestinian support for terrorism against Israelis was higher when Hamas was out of power than it is now. At least according to PCPSR’s ongoing polls.

“Why did Fatah lose the election then?” I asked Abu Laila.

“Monopoly of power, corruption, and chaos were motives for many,” he said. “Hamas seemed the most competent alternative. Only 13 percent voted for their program. 50 percent or more voted against corruption.”

“Why did the intifada end?” I said.

Boy did he not like that question. He jerked his head backward and opened his eyes wide without blinking. I had the feeling no one had ever asked him that before. He seemed to have no idea what to say.

Finally he managed something.

“There was fatigue after four years of continuous confrontation with the Israeli occupation,” he said. “People want to breathe. The continuous struggle against the wall shows that the intifada as a mass movement is still going, even if relaxed.”

“Did the intifada help or hurt the Palestinian cause?” I said.

“Without the intifada,” he said, “there would be no international consensus about the need for a two-state solution.

So much for the DFLP’s opposition to terrorism against civilians inside Israel.

And I called bullshit. Every country in the world, aside from some of the rejectionist Islamic states, supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long before the second intifada broke out. I reminded him of what he knew perfectly well already, that Bill Clinton spent years trying to get Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to agree to a deal.

“It was obvious that Clinton’s negotiations were not official,” he said. “It was only an attempt to bridge the two parties. It wasn’t until Bush supported a Palestinian state in 2002 that it became the US official policy.”

It's true that George W. Bush said the words "Palestinian" and "state" together in the same publicly uttered sentence before Bill Clinton did. But Abu Laila had to know that was a full-of-crap answer, that Bill Clinton was perfectly serious when he spent years trying to get the Palestinians a state of their own.

“Are you glad Ariel Sharon, due to his stroke, is no longer prime minister?” I said.

“No,” he said. “I’m not glad. I don’t celebrate the unfortunate illness of any human being. His absence will cause long-term changes in Israel’s image and attitudes. Olmert will have to cope with those realities.”

“Was he better or worse than you thought he would be when he was first elected?” I said.

“Sharon was worse than expected,” he said. “He based his policy on the military option instead of engagement.” He expected something else?

“Do you feel the Arab countries have betrayed the Palestinians?” I said. “They are treated like animals in Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria.”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “I wouldn’t say Arab governments are innocent. They are not doing what they should do. It is below the capacities that they have. Still, Israelis are the main enemy and the main source of suffering.”

“But Palestinians are treated worse by Lebanese than they are by Israelis,” I said. “Do you know about the conditions in refugee camps like Ein El Helwe?”

“They are not treated worse in Lebanon,” he said. “That is not possible.”

I blinked at him.

“I have seen these places myself,” I said. “The conditions there are vastly worse than they are here in Ramallah. It’s impossible to even compare them.”

“Here a pregnant woman cannot get to a hospital because of the checkpoints,” he said.

It’s possible the Palestinians in the West Bank have no idea how bad the refugee camps in other countries really are. Or they are so consumed with their own problems that they just don’t care. I do not know.

I’ll say this, though: Those refugee camps in Lebanon have been there for more than 50 years. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to live anywhere else unless they are Christian. (They aren’t really “camps,” by the way. They are urban, and they are sub-Dickensian slums.) And until last year, vehicles entering the camps were searched by the Lebanese army. Building materials were confiscated. The Lebanese didn’t want the Palestinians to get, you know, the wrong idea. If you want to know what those places are like, just imagine the worst slums you’ve ever seen. Then subtract all the modern building materials. Unspeakable doesn’t even begin to describe them.

Last year I interviewed Mohammad Afif. He sits on Hezbollah’s Political Bureau. I haven’t mentioned this until now because he has almost nothing to say but Hezbollah cliches. But he did say one interesting thing as a pre-emptive rebuttal to Abu Laila.

He told me I should visit Sabra and Chatilla and see how Palestinians in Lebanon live. I told him I already had, that it was clear to me that Palestinians are treated worse by Lebanese than they are by Israelis. He was stunned that I dared say that to him. But he quickly composed himself and said “Yes, you are right. I am sorry about that.”

Congregating in PLC.jpg

I did get to talk to Saeb Erekat briefly before he left the building. Sufian told me Palestinians nicknamed him The Penguin. Why? Because he looks a lot like one.

“Why did Hamas win?” I said.

“Two things,” he said. “Our mistakes and Israeli unilateralism.” He spoke quickly and confidently in perfect crisp English. He didn’t sound so much like he had rehearsed his answers (although he probably had), but more like a man who was sure he was right and believed what he said.

“What are you in Fatah going to do now that you’ve lost?” I said. “How will you win the next election?”

“We’re rebuilding from scratch,” he said. “We need soul searching, reform, and new faces. This movement has had the same faces for 41 years. We need change. And we’re willing to take responsibility.”

“Why did the intifada end?” I said. The question didn’t phase him like it did Abu Laila.

“I don’t know,” he said. “And I don’t care. I’m just glad it’s over. Hopefully it ended out of an understanding that it was bad. I condemned every single attack.”

“What do you think was the biggest Palestinian mistake since the Oslo peace process began?” I said.

“We were unsuccessful in terms of transparency and accountability,” he said. “We could have done it. But we failed. That’s why Hamas won. We should have been tough on people who abused their offices.”

“What was the biggest Israeli mistake since Oslo?” I said.

“The motto of No Sacred Dates,” he said. “Each time they had a date-based obligation, they didn’t do it. They kept building settlements.”

“Why is a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank such a big problem for Palestinians?” I said. “Would you rather the Israelis stay?”

“The problem with unilateralism is the outcome of it,” he said. “The Israelis will get everything they want without negotiation.” Palestinians should have thought of that, then, before electing people who say negotiation is treason. “The net result will be more bloodshed. We all know the outcome will be a two-state solution.”

“Yes,” I said. “Everyone knows there will be two states in the end. So why is it taking so long?”

“I founded the Palestinian peace camp in 1979,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically,” he said.

“How many Palestinians agree with you about that?” I said.

“Few,” he said. “Very few.” He said this inside the Palestinian Legislative Council within earshot of his colleagues, many of whom speak English and could hear him perfectly well. “We have to keep working,” he said and gently put his hand on my shoulder. “It is difficult in this environment.”

Post-script: Please help support non-corporate writing. I would do this for free if I could. But I can't. Thank you all so much for your help so far.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 12:45 AM
Comments

“No,” he said. “The way you look, the way you walk, you are obviously an American.”

How is it obvious? I'm in a foreign country right now, and it seems like everyone walks like they do at home.

[...]

I would have said I know the feeling, but Good Lord. Whining about the Democrats and the Republicans to a guy who is stuck with the likes of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and Hamas would just sound pathetic.

Heh.

Posted by: rosignol at May 19, 2006 02:44 AM

Oh man -- how can you keep getting better and better? Long but so worth it!
Journalistic diamonds, rubies, emeralds.
And even Peace in Palestine:

“What do you think about the prospects for peace now that Hamas won?” I said.

“The Israelis have an opportunity,” he said. “A piece of the puzzle was missing before. Permanent peace must have the signature of the Islamists. Now the Israelis can get it.”

YES. Only the Islamists can give peace to Israel.

But the financial pressure needs to be on Hamas to sign: recognize Israel's right to existence (perhaps in pre-1967 borders). (easy???)
End support for terrorism. (very hard, until after peace. Perhaps conditional on 67 border acceptance?)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at May 19, 2006 04:19 AM

Michael,

If some major newspaper doesn't hire you to be their middle east correspondent they are fools. Your writing is superb and amazingly neutral (maybe my bias just agrees with yours). Incredible job.

Posted by: Dave at May 19, 2006 04:35 AM
Dave wrote, "If some major newspaper doesn't hire you to be their middle east correspondent they are fools."

No way. This is too objective, too well-written, and not sufficiently sensationalized. Newspapers don't want journalism. They want tabloid trash, political agendas, and expose's of victimhood.

Posted by: Tim Mathews at May 19, 2006 05:44 AM

>Portraits of the relatively benign Mahmoud Abbas
> were more common though those, too, were rare. I
>found this one on the side of one of Fatah’s office
>buildings.

MT,

FYI, the guy in the poster isn't Abbas. The text on the poster his name is Jabr Al-Rifai.

Love your blog and, as usual, this article was excellent.

ZM

Posted by: ZM at May 19, 2006 05:56 AM

MJT wrote: "I wanted to meet Palestinians opposed to Hamas. I already knew what Hamas had to say. They get all the attention in the newspapers now. There is no point in going all the way to the West Bank just so I could publish more of the same predictable bombastic slogans."

Don't you think there is a difference between Palestinians who voted for Hamas and Hamas itself??

Particularly in light of the comments made by some of your interviews - about how the majority who voted for Hamas did so as a vote against corruption, with only a small minority voting for the Hamas program - I would have been very interested to hear some reactions from Hamas voters.

Also, you might want to go through a few more checkpoints and see a few more WB and Gaza towns before you make blanket statements about the quality of treatment they receive from the Israelis.

Posted by: Chris at May 19, 2006 06:29 AM

MJT,

Another excellent post. I really, really enjoyed it.

My only point of contention is this:

Erekat is one of the more honorable politicians in the Palestinian Authority.

Do you mean that in a purely relative sense since the PA is a dishonorable organization?

Or do you believe he is an honorable person?

Because he is one of the most prolific liars in the entire Middle East, no small feat.

http://www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches/archives/000563.html

It's easy to get taken with the fact that his English is good, he's affable and looks like he enjoys a good meal. But he's been near the top of Fatah for decades and is still alive - in other words, he's extremely dishonorable.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at May 19, 2006 06:48 AM

Chris: Particularly in light of the comments made by some of your interviews - about how the majority who voted for Hamas did so as a vote against corruption, with only a small minority voting for the Hamas program - I would have been very interested to hear some reactions from Hamas voters.

In hindsight, yes, me too. But I only got to spend one day on the West Bank.

Also, you might want to go through a few more checkpoints and see a few more WB and Gaza towns before you make blanket statements about the quality of treatment they receive from the Israelis.

What blanket statement? I said my experience at the checkpoint was breezy and pleasant, which it was. I also quoted Sufian saying sometimes it takes hours. What else was I supposed to say?

Ramallah is nice. But I made it clear that it is not representative of the rest of the West Bank.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 09:10 AM

SoCalJustice: Do you mean that in a purely relative sense since the PA is a dishonorable organization? Because he is one of the most prolific liars in the entire Middle East, no small feat.

He obviously wasn't lying when he said "very few" Palestinians oppose suicide bombings on moral grounds. Why would he lie about that? That's a huge admission for a Palestinian Authority official to make to an American.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 09:16 AM

Re spotting Americans: from the old Soviet days, a joke told by a Russian friend: "Those people are not Russian; they are Americans." "How can you tell?" "Good shoes, good teeth."

And FWIW, should have said 'didn't faze him', not 'phase' (I know, I know--my friends tell me that. too).

I continue to enjoy the site; keep it up. I learn more in one day than a month of the newspaper (lifetime?).

Posted by: Gordo at May 19, 2006 09:43 AM

MJT,

I have no quibble with your characterization of your conversation or meeting with him. That he conceded something which is fairly obvious to you - that's nice.

But did you follow up with why he thinks "very few" Palestinians feel that way?

Do you think he would have said something along the lines of:

a) You have to understand, our people our living under a brutal occupation and that the Israelis are employing tactics that the world has not seen since Nazi Germany; or

b) I'm sad to have to tell you that my own Fatah government, when we were in charge and even to this day, continuously and relentlessly indoctrinated our people in the virtues of martyrdom while stripping the Israelis of any shred of humanity so that killing civilians, women and children at malls, in restaurants, and on buses creates an heroic shaheed that will be celebrated through the Muslim world; or

c) other?

He spent his life promoting answer "a" while doing nothing perceptible to stave off answer "b." Not to mention his high position in an a government that stole billions in international aid from the intended recipients.

He may be nice personally, on a one-on-one level. And I do believe he legitimagely wants a two-state solution. But I have not found his conduct the least bit honorable, especially, but not limited to, his personal role in riling up the Muslim/Arab/Far-leftist world about the so-called massacre in Jenin.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at May 19, 2006 10:01 AM

Great article. I remember reading on Y'net's website, right before the Disengagement. They had an excellent article with interviews of Palestinians who were AGAINST the Disengagement. It was one of the few times I felt like I learned anything while reading the MSM. It's too bad the MSM spends most of its time as a mouthpiece for various government agendas. And you're right Michael, about how Americans view the average Palestinian. It is terrorism we hate, not individual folks from any land.

Btw, this has gotta be the quote of the month:

“I didn’t vote,” he said. “There was no one worth voting for. Our parties are terrible.”

I would have said I know the feeling, but Good Lord. Whining about the Democrats and the Republicans to a guy who is stuck with the likes of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and Hamas would just sound pathetic.

Posted by: Renée C. at May 19, 2006 10:16 AM

“I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically,” he said.

“How many Palestinians agree with you about that?” I said.

“Few,” he said. “Very few.”

I know other people have mentioned this, but there you have it in a nutshell. So long as the "Palestinians" have no moral qualms about blowing up babies in their mothers' arms, there will never be peace. You cannot make peace with people who are so completely devoid of common humanity.

However, when the "Palestinians" actually come to believe that such a thing is morally wrong, as opposed to counterproductive because it makes people think that they are, like, you know, terrorists, peace will be possible.

Posted by: Ephraim at May 19, 2006 11:03 AM

RE RAMALLAH AND BETHLEHEM
The PLO ruined Bethlehem. Bethlehem residents were great friends and neighbors with Southern Jerusalem Israelis... until the PLO began using the Xtians houses to fire into Israeli Neighborhoods. (sound familiar) That was under Ereket and Arafat's watch.

Re Ramallah
Why do you think Ramallah looks the way it does today compared to pre 1967???????? BET YOU GET IT ON THE FIRST GUESS.

RE: EREKET

Khaled Abu Toameh told me that while Ereket was railing against the wall it is his cement trucks that are supplying the cement for it and thus, he who is profiting off of it.

Also, Abu Toameh was attacked by Fatah thugs in Ramallah after criticizing Ereket for the above and also filing a report after witnessing a murder of someone right in front of the Parliament building... He was the only one who reported it, all of the foreign reporters scattered like scared wimps under the control of the PLO and never reported it.

If you watch the special on the Oslo process and talks with Clinton, Netanyahu, Barak and the PLO mafioso... there are numerous shots of Ereket smoking his cigar acting exactly like the corrupt Mafioso that he in fact is.

When people go on Birthright Israel trips they are also shown cities in the West Bank and talk to the PLO/PA to get their side, usually this is Ereket who trumps out his same lines like "I wouldn't bullshit you now come on!"

The guy is a professional fing liar, the best.... bcs he almost comes off ok, compared to Arafish and the rest of the completely transparent weasel liars that were on Cable News in 02-03.
The fact that he is more benign than Hamas who cares. Who was running the West Bank and Gaza from 1994-2006? THE PLO.
Who mainstreamed Suicide Bombing?
Who continiously and still controls the PA TV and brainwashing of Martyrdom and 72 Virgins including Al Durra telling kids (actor playing him) that it is great to achieve Shahadah?
THE PLO!

So because he has the Western mannerisms down pat and doesn't come off like a cheesey Arabian snake salesman is meaningless.

He's part and parcel right there with the FISH and the rest of the corrupt lying thugs.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 19, 2006 01:35 PM

Michael,

I enjoyed your account very much. It's good to see what "the man in the street" actually thinks about Hamas and prospects for peace.

I thoroughly enjoyed your insight.

If you haven't already heard, the city that elected Hamas but then refused the second time around was the city of Qalqilya. I can send you a link if you want.

Posted by: Paul D. Boyer at May 19, 2006 01:36 PM

Michael,

I enjoyed your account very much. It's good to see what "the man in the street" actually thinks about Hamas and prospects for peace.

I thoroughly enjoyed your insight.

If you haven't already heard, the city that elected Hamas but then refused the second time around was the city of Qalqilya. I can send you a link if you want.

Posted by: Paul D. Boyer at May 19, 2006 01:36 PM

That's the way to do it. Michael, thanks for your investigative efforts and straight-talking.

Posted by: Dom at May 19, 2006 01:42 PM

“I think Americans don’t like Palestinians much,” he said.

Gee, why do you think that Sufian? Take a wild guess - first thing that pops into your mind.

Face it. Numerous polls have shown "Palestinians" are on board with eviscerating Jewish babies with rat poison coated shrapnel. Think that might be one reason?

I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically, he said

Then your morals mean nothing, absolutely nothing, and you shouldn't insult me and embarrass yourself by pretending that they do.

Posted by: TakeFive at May 19, 2006 02:05 PM

You know, Michael, in the last few years that I've been following the Israel/Palestine situation, I don't think I've ever read any description of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon like yours. That they are patently worse than those in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories is a giant piece of the puzzle that seems to have been missing from the debate, and it pisses me off that I had to wait for a self-funded blogger in 2006 to tell me that, and not the New York Times in 2000, when it might have actually mattered in the peace process.

Posted by: W. James Au at May 19, 2006 02:14 PM

You can definitely tell Americans in Israel by the way they walk on the street. Not every time, but it's usually pretty obvious.

Posted by: anon at May 19, 2006 02:18 PM

How about the Camps in Syria? lol!
You never hear of them? Why ya think that is?????????????
FIRST GUESS I BET YOU GET IT RIGHT ON.

And there are no "camps" in the West Bank.
Jenin "Refugee Camp" the name of which does a disservice to the Sudanese Camps for instance, is merely a small neighborhood within Jenin that is purposely kept worse so they can say - "Look at this".... its a neighborhood, not a "Camp"....

It's all about lies and posing for Western media whores there. That's all it's about. The fake Jenin massacre was the perfect example of that.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 19, 2006 02:19 PM

"You know, Michael, in the last few years that I've been following the Israel/Palestine situation, I don't think I've ever read any description of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon like yours. That they are patently worse than those in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories is a giant piece of the puzzle that seems to have been missing from the debate, and it pisses me off that I had to wait for a self-funded blogger in 2006 to tell me that, and not the New York Times in 2000, when it might have actually mattered in the peace process."

Michael,

Do you have pictures of those camps in Lebannon?

Posted by: Dave at May 19, 2006 02:30 PM

W. James Au: That they are patently worse than those in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories is a giant piece of the puzzle

Hang on. I didn't visit any refugee camps in the West Bank. I was comparing the way Palestinians live in Lebanon compared with the way Palestinians live in Ramallah.

To an extent that's an apples and oranges comparison, comparing a refugee camp to a proper city. But, as I noted, only Christian Palestinians are allowed to live outside the camps in Lebanon. The most miserable Palestinians may be equally miserable in both places. But no Palestinians in Lebanon are allowed to build a Ramallah or even a Gaza City.

Christian Palestinians, by the way, were "nationalized" by the Lebanese government in (I think) 1973 in order to boost the Christian demographics against the Muslims.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 02:30 PM

Dave: Do you have pictures of those camps in Lebannon?

Only one, and it's a bad one. I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures. I didn't even feel comfortable geting out of the car. I would have if I had a Palestinian guide, but I had a Lebanese guide. And those camps are baaaaaaaaad places. Lebanese aren't any more welcome there than I am.

It's possible that the dangerous reputation of some of them is overstated. (I would not be at all surprised if that is the case.) The leaders of some camps, though, threaten to murder any Lebanese that sets foot inside.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 02:34 PM

Re: Politics/polls

I've often thought that the political opinions of both Israelis and Palestinians can be boiled down to the following very basic numbers:

25% want peace, no matter the cost (within reason)
25% don't want peace, and could give a rat's ass about the deaths of civilians, etc.
50% are swayed by the headlines

Of course, those are very broad figures. At this point in time, following the Hamas victory, following Sharon's stroke, it's probably closer to 15%/15%/70%. Ahhh! To be a pollster. What fun it would be!

- Yoni

Posted by: yoni at May 19, 2006 02:52 PM

“No,” he said. “The way you look, the way you walk, you are obviously an American.”
.
.
You can definitely tell Americans in Israel by the way they walk on the street. Not every time, but it's usually pretty obvious.

Okay - so what is it? The way we mince down the boulevards? Or is it the stick-up-the-ass posture that gives us away. Or is something more subtle, like black socks and Berkinstocks on our pasty hooves?

Posted by: TakeFive at May 19, 2006 02:58 PM

Michael,

Kudos. Wonderful stuff.

re: Ephraim - 11:03

“I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically,” he said.

“How many Palestinians agree with you about that?” I said.

“Few,” he said. “Very few.”

I know other people have mentioned this, but there you have it in a nutshell. So long as the "Palestinians" have no moral qualms about blowing up babies in their mothers' arms, there will never be peace. You cannot make peace with people who are so completely devoid of common humanity.

I wish I could just send the link to the excerpt below, but there is likely a firewall - I'm a subscriber to the Atlantic and have it available. Google gellhorn, palestine, atlantic and see what you get. While reading your wonderful pieces, Michael, I went immediately to this - your work reflects this kind of quality. Here's what Martha Gellhorn wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1961 (that's right, 1961):

I decided to make one long, determined stand to see whether there was any meeting ground of minds on a basis of mutually accepted facts and reasoning.

"Please bear with me and help me," said I. "I am a simple American, and I am trying to understand how the Arab mind works, and I am finding it very difficult. I want to put some things in order; if I have everything wrong, you will correct me. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the Partition of Palestine. I have seen the Partition map and studied it. I cannot tell, but it does not look to me as if the Arabs were being cheated of their share of good land. The idea was that this division would work, if both Jews and Arabs accepted it and lived under an Economic Union. And, of course, the Arab countries around the borders would have to be peaceful and cooperative or else nothing would work at all. The Jews accepted this Partition plan; I suppose because they felt they had to. They were outnumbered about two to one inside the country, and there were the neighboring Arab states with five regular armies and forty million or more citizens, not feeling friendly. Are we agreed so far?"

"It is right."

"The Arab governments and the Palestinian Arabs rejected Partition absolutely. You wanted the whole country. There is no secret about this. The statements of the Arab representatives, in the UN are on record. The Arab governments never hid the fact that they started the war against Israel. But you, the Palestinian Arabs, agreed to this, you wanted it. And you thought, it seems to me very reasonably, that you would win and win quickly. It hardly seemed a gamble; it seemed a sure bet. You took the gamble and you lost. I can understand why you have all been searching for explanations of that defeat ever since, because it does seem incredible. I don't happen to accept your explanations, but that is beside the point. The point is that you lost."

"Yes." It was too astonishing; at long last, East and West were in accord on the meaning of words.

"Now you say that you want to return to the past; you want Partition. So, in fact you say, let us forget that war we started, and the defeat, and, after all, we think Partition is a good, sensible idea. Please answer me this, which is what I must, know. If the position were reversed, if the Jews had started the war and lost it, if you had won the war, would you now accept Partition? Would you give up part of the country and allow the 650,000 Jewish residents of Palestine -who had fled from the war--to come back?"

"Certainly not," he said, without an instant's hesitation. "But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea."

He had given me the missing clue. The fancy word we use nowadays is "empathy"--entering into the emotions of others. I had appreciated and admired individual refugees but realized I had felt no blanket empathy for the Palestinian refugees, and finally I knew why--owing to this nice, gray-haired schoolteacher. It is hard to sorrow for those who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring the heart past all doubt, those who cry aloud for justice must be innocent. They cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless. Some of them may be unfortunate human beings, and civilization would collapse (as it notoriously did in Nazi Germany) if most people did not naturally move to help their hurt fellow men. But a profound difference exists between victims of misfortune (there, but for the grace of God, go I) and victims of injustice. My empathy knew where it stood, thanks to the schoolteacher.

Posted by: mezzrow at May 19, 2006 03:38 PM

“It was obvious that Clinton’s negotiations were not official,” he said. “It was only an attempt to bridge the two parties. It wasn’t until Bush supported a Palestinian state in 2002 that it became the US official policy.”

May I suggest that Bush has more credibility than Clinton? I agree that Clinton was trying desperately to bring about an agreement based on two states, but he was all touchy-feely, kissy kissy, and lacked the moral stature to seem serious. And I always had the impression that Clinton involved himself in the negotiations for himself and his own reputation, not from principle or concern for the two parties. I think everyone ended up feeling screwed, not loved. The politics of seduction doesn't work for real problems.

Posted by: chuck at May 19, 2006 03:40 PM

The only things people are buying are food and cigarettes. Only the basics. They are afraid to spend money if they have it.

I find tht surprising. I take it the PA doesn't have its own currency? Because in a hyper-inflation situation, you'd be seeing people getting rid of their money as fast as they could.

He is certain most Americans don’t like him just for who he is and where he was born.

Nope. OTOH, we remember the Palestinians who cheered when the twin towers fell. And we know that most Palestinians have no moral objection to using terrorism to murder civilians. I can't imagine why we would like people like that.

Posted by: Greg D at May 19, 2006 03:49 PM

Hey Michael,

Another great article! The town you are talking about that voted against Hamas after being micro-managed is called Qalqelia. For more information about what happened there, visit this link which I happened to save back then: http://www.amin.org/eng/uncat/2006/mar/mar6-0.html

Posted by: Robert Mayer at May 19, 2006 03:57 PM

Preaching to the choir, mezzrow. But thanks anyway. People less informed about the history of the situation will find it useful, I hope.

The Arabs bet the house on a war to destroy Israel and murder all the Jews. They lost. Now they have to settle up their debt with the casino. End of story.

Or it would be if this was anywhere else with any other group of people except the Jews.

Or if the Jews had the oil.

Or if there demographics were reversed and there were 200 million Jews and only a few million Arabs.

But, whatever. You get the idea.

Posted by: Ephraim at May 19, 2006 04:11 PM

Great reporting. It's much more complicated and detailed when you're on the ground meeting people face to face. Great stuff.

Posted by: Jabba the Tutt at May 19, 2006 04:13 PM

About recognising americans.
First, unlike what you said, there aren't lots of American Jews in Israel- I'd guess not more than 0.5-1% (real ones).
I can tell you that when I drive with my car in Jerusalem, I can recognise while driving pedestrians who are American tourists. They dress odd (shirt inside the pants and weird sunglasses etc), they are usually whiter than the average Israeli, and they do walk different. They walk as if they're trying to be cool or something. Even if they're in sandals, it's sandals that no Israeli would ever wear. Sometines they look too elegant for walking in the street.
But more than that, it is very (extremely) easy to recognise Israelis. Especially to people who see them alot.

Posted by: Another Israeli at May 19, 2006 04:22 PM

Another great article...you are the Ernie Pyle of the Middle East.

Posted by: Justin at May 19, 2006 04:34 PM

The DFLP may insist that Palestinians only fight Israeli soldiers NOW but this is the same group that carried out the Ma'alot School Massacre back in 1974. The same man who was in command of the group then, is still in command today.

Posted by: Jay.Mac at May 19, 2006 04:39 PM

The best writing on Middle Eastern affairs since Holiday's in hell.

I can't wait for this to be published as a book.

Thank you Michael. You are a fantastic, rational, engaging, exciting writer.

Posted by: UpTight at May 19, 2006 04:58 PM

They walk as if they're trying to be cool or something.

I noticed the same thing in Europe when I was there way back when, the American walk is distictive. It's not that they are trying to be cool, it is more that Americans have a rather loose and flexible stride. Shoes are another giveaway, but I never noticed that, rather it was pointed out to me.

Posted by: chuck at May 19, 2006 06:08 PM

Same thing in Japan. Disregarding the obvious physical differences, the difference in the way Americans and Japanese people walk, stand and sit is remarkable and immediately obvious. Americans have a loose, loping, and kind of gangly stride, almost as though their tendons are kind of loose, and their shoulders are often hunched. They sort of slouch while they walk. Japanese people, especially those who have learned some traditional art or who are used to wearing traditional clothes, are much more upright and tidy.

Posted by: Ephraim at May 19, 2006 06:34 PM

Michael, I appreciated the time you took to do this reporting, and the fact you quoted the people you interviewed in full, instead of just taking out snippets here and there the way many reporters do. What you wrote, therefore, is more objective and complete, as well as more informative, than a lot of what I read in the MSM. However, I think what is missing is an expertise in some of the issues. This shows in your lack of understanding of what went wrong during the Clinton years. And, the fact you obviously do not read Arabic, and the fact you can't recognize Mahmoud Abbas is pretty shocking given that his picture has been all over the MSM. Given your lack of experience in Palestine, your lack of language skills and your superficial background knowledge, I think you should avoid opinionating in your articles. It's not good journalism, and you're not qualified to do it. Quoting Israeli sources whom I have never heard of doesn't make it more credible.

Posted by: Elizabeth at May 19, 2006 06:42 PM

I forgot to add: I have some pictures of Palestine from 2003 and 2004 on my blog--I think they're mostly in the January and February archives..

Posted by: Elizabeth at May 19, 2006 06:43 PM

Elizabeth,

Naturally I'm going to get some things wrong. I only spent one day in the West Bank. Unless you're born there, everyone has to have a first day. Nevertheless, that does not mean I'm not qualified to write an opinion on my blog.

I don't get your point about me not understanding what went wrong during the Clinton years. Lots of things went wrong, and I didn't mention a single one of those things. I could write at length on that subject. Yet I didn't even address it except to note that Clinton was engaged in the process and that US support for a Palestinian state did not begin with George W. Bush.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 07:01 PM

Michael -

I see you didn't respond to my post on Ereket or Bethlehem etc... my later post was replying to the commenter who asked why we do not see evidence of the Lebanese treatment of the Palestinians..... bcs it's a 1000x more worthy to publish anything the Israelis or Americans do or don't do.

Regarding Clinton's Engagement and recognition of a Palestinian State -

The story and narrative will always change to fit whatever the side wants to fit in their new neat media package. Clinton "didn't recognize a Palestinian State"

Barak was a rude guy
Clinton "pushed" Arafat to accept 30 Billion dollars and 94% of the land

Now it's -

Clinton wasn't serious
Clinton didn't "recognize" a Palestinian State
Only Bush recognized officially a Palestinian State (So now bush is more pro Palestinian? LOL!)

IT WILL NEVER END
The quest to destroy Israel militant or violence wise - in the minds of the Arab world - in the textbooks and televisions of the Arab world - the Mental State of War the Cold War the Hot War -----.........
THE LIES THE DECEIT THE BRAINWASHING THE VICTIMHOOD THE HATRED THE DEMONIZATION

And that's for Israel.... the tip of the iceberg... then you get into the Mafia/Clan/Religious/Ethnic/Tribal wars going back 3000 years within the Arab Islamic world....

It will never end... FING FACE IT. WE ARE DECADES AWAY AND ONLY A A DECADE INTO THIS WAR FOR MODERNITY AND JIHAD IN MIND, SPIRIT, MEDIA AND ARMS.
Yossi Klein Halevi - Benny Morris - Richard Nixon 30 years ago - all faced the facts.

Anytime someone says "peace" like Ereket... that means what you got for me now Daddy!

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 19, 2006 07:35 PM

Heh, "Quoting Israeli sources whom I have never heard of doesn't make it more credible.". That settles it Totten, your entire trip was pointless:)

Posted by: MikeK at May 19, 2006 07:35 PM

Mezzrow, thank you for illuminating the crux of the problem.

By the way, I think it's that complete lack of a recognizable form of empathy or morality that answers the question: Why would it be that "Americans don’t like Palestinians much."

The fact that Palestinians (and other Arab Muslims) find nothing morally disturbing in lusting for genocide may not bother Michael much, but it certainly disgusts me and turns my stomach.

“I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically,” he said.

“How many Palestinians agree with you about that?” I said.

“Few,” he said. “Very few.”

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 07:37 PM

Funny, the preview showed my entry correctly but deleted the close italic in the entry box that was supposed to be after "me". ie. it previewed correctly, but didn't post correctly.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 07:38 PM

Reposted with correct italics.

Mezzrow, thank you for illuminating the crux of the problem.

By the way, I think it's that complete lack of a recognizable form of empathy or morality that answers the question: Why would it be that "Americans don’t like Palestinians much."

The fact that Palestinians (and other Arab Muslims) find nothing morally disturbing in lusting for genocide may not bother Michael much, but it certainly disgusts me and turns my stomach.

“I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically,” he said.

“How many Palestinians agree with you about that?” I said.

“Few,” he said. “Very few.”

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 07:40 PM

Good grief, Elizabeth. Michael's free to opine just as much as anybody else. That's what blogs are all about. Agree or disagree, but don't tell anyone that they shouldn't think for themselves. Free speech isn't only for the MSM.

Michael, I enjoyed this article and I'll look at more of your website soon. :) Thanks for all the interesting info!

Posted by: RepJ at May 19, 2006 07:49 PM

Thanks, Michael, for the best piece of hard reporting I've seen in months, blog or otherwise. You are truly at the front edge of new media. Good luck in all you do.

Posted by: Dan Wismar at May 19, 2006 08:40 PM

Josh Scholar: The fact that Palestinians (and other Arab Muslims) find nothing morally disturbing in lusting for genocide may not bother Michael much

Readers come up with the strangest assumptions about me based on what I don't say in any particular post, but this has to be one of the strangest of all. Lust for genocide doesn't bother me? Good Lord. Where did that come from?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 09:09 PM

Michael, it was the fact that you couldn't think of a single reason why Americans might be uncomfortable with Palestinians.

There was a herd of elephants in the room, and you didn't even notice it.

Either it occured to you that the Arab lust for blood is offensive to Americans or it didn't. From your answer, it didn't.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 09:25 PM

Josh Scholar: you couldn't think of a single reason why Americans might be uncomfortable with Palestinians.

Let's review what I wrote.

-------------------------

“I think Americans don’t like Palestinians much,” he said.

“Look,” I said. “Americans don’t like Hamas. Americans don’t like terrorism.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 09:30 PM

And I meant that there is a much deeper problem in Arab attitudes than a support for terrorism.

One could argue that Americans have many times attacked civilian targets in war time - that's the moral equivalent of terrorism. But we absolutely do not wish genocide on any group of people. That is a fundimental difference between us and the Palestinians.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 09:35 PM

When Americans fight war, we do so because we have a peaceful and expansive vision of the world what we think is worth fighting for. When Palestians fight they do so because they wish to see a group of people destroyed.

One might also wonder how Arabs feel about black people in Darfur, given statements I've seen supporting the genocide from far flug parts of the Arab world.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 09:38 PM

Though I'd rather not change the subject to Darfur.

My point is that there is a deep, fundimental difference in morality. And terrorism is only one symptom of it.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 09:40 PM

Josh, I really don't need a bunch of crap about not lecturing Sufian in a friendly conversation in Ramallah. Don't assume that I don't believe or understand something just because I didn't articulate it at a particular moment in a fluid conversation.

I haven't mentioned in this conversation between the two of us (until now) that I'm disgusted by Pol Pot and the Holocaust, but you can go ahead and assume it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2006 09:43 PM

I haven't mentioned in this conversation between the two of us (until now) that I'm disgusted by Pol Pot and the Holocaust, but you can go ahead and assume it.

Understood.

Look, I'm not bragging when I say that I'm more offended by this than you are. It's clear to me that this would have been the first thing on my mind (obliterating all else, unfortunately) if I had been interviewing Palestinians and it wasn't in your case.

If a Palestinian had told me that he thought Americans aren't comfortable with Palestinians, I would have told him exactly why... I can only pray that one day, Palestinians (and everyone else on the planet) will find ethnic hatred and violence as offensive as Americans do.

Currently - and no doubt it's reflection of the hopes and plans of their revered leader Arafat - currently, they're busy educating their children to want blood - and preparing and hoping for the day when they can have their revenge. This is why I say that what separates us from the Palestinians should never be minimized or wished away.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 09:52 PM

Back to LGF Scholar.

Posted by: Mike at May 19, 2006 10:20 PM

Michael,

Erekat is a member of Fatah. Perhaps you should've asked him why Fatah keeps launching rockets at Israeli towns and cities outside Gaza (in violation of the cease fire) while he's sitting there talking. And it would've been nice to hear his explanation on why Fatah has the second largest number of suicede bombing on its record after Hamas. Certainly makes his moralizing look like a cheap trick for journalists.

Posted by: Alex at May 19, 2006 10:42 PM

Mike, that's a sidestep.

The problem with LGF is that the moderator does nothing to discourage hatred on his web site. I think it would be reasonable to conclude that he doesn't want to discourage it.

The problem I'm talking about is also hatred.

Now why is it that there's no movement to expose and change that hatred?

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 11:28 PM

I hope there's no confusing in my last post I was responding to "mikek67898@hotmail.com" not Michael Totten.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 19, 2006 11:38 PM

MJT: I really liked your post. What can I say? I wish I didn't, but I tend to agree with Yossi Klein Halevi. Hamas is a hard nut to crack, I was almost sure that in a few days (even before they assumed the government) they would do a rhetoric sound accepting Israel, but no...

Best,
Fabian

Posted by: Fabian at May 20, 2006 01:39 AM

Great writing, Michael. This is the first thing in a while that added to my understanding of the Palestinian conflict.

Thanks!

Posted by: Wijnand at May 20, 2006 01:44 AM

Despite apparently offending Mr. Totten, I liked this article very much as well.

I'm greatful for these articles, and especially greatful for Michael's eye for social detail.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 20, 2006 01:56 AM

Michael is in my blogroll, ... and just today I was pondering whether I should find a way to make the link to this site bigger or bolder than the other links in the blogroll (it turned out that the CSS for my web site already made links bold though).

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 20, 2006 02:00 AM

fascinating piece of reporting.
thanx
Dry Bones
Israel's Political Comic Strip Since 1973

Posted by: yaakov kirschen at May 20, 2006 02:09 AM

Perhaps this discussion is a good place to post my own reaction to what I see in Palestine - what I see from the other side of the planet, unlike Michael who goes in person, though.
My own musing

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 20, 2006 03:37 AM

Elizabeth questions your opinion because you are not an expert.

Let's see, experts have been working this problem since, what, Balfour? How's that working out?

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: allen at May 20, 2006 06:56 AM

Michael - Kudos on another superb entry. You continue to be one of our favorite journalists.

Posted by: StolenCarReports at May 20, 2006 07:03 AM

By the way, I think it's that complete lack of a recognizable form of empathy or morality that answers the question: Why would it be that "Americans don’t like Palestinians much."

The fact that Palestinians (and other Arab Muslims) find nothing morally disturbing in lusting for genocide may not bother Michael much, but it certainly disgusts me and turns my stomach.

I'll try to answer this, though I know it's real real hard.

Our current moral high ground is fairly recent, and unfortunately probably temporary. Back when we were fighting the indian wars, a whole lot of americans believed "The only good indian is a dead indian.". During the ethnic cleansing we didn't particularly insist on genocide, provided the indians found a place to live that we didn't want yet. When occasionally they resisted, we hunted them down and put them in concentration camps (the new word for it), and we weren't at all careful to go after just the tribes that resisted. We did allow some of them to assimilate, and we didn't completely kill off the rest. But we came rather close, and the difference wasn't that we were all that moral. "The only good indian is a dead indian."

In WWII we got pretty incensed at the japs. It was partly because of things like the Rape of Nanking though a lot of the publicity about that was because we were mad at them, we didn't have all that many good feelings for the chinks either. And there was Pearl Harbor, and the Bataan Death March etc. I'm not sure just how it was since I wasn't there, but looking back at old issues of LOOK and LIFE etc it looks grim. LOOK had a contest for who could make the best poster for hating japs. The winning poster showed a slant-eyed buck-toothed yellow jap falling backward with a bayonet in his gut, and the caption read "KILL MORE JAPS!". There were a lot of people saying we should kill them all, at least in the magazines. We took very few prisoners when we fought them. This was partly because there were a lot of rumors going around about fake japanese surrenders where they'd pretend to surrender and then when the GIs got close they'd let loose grenades from under their armpits to blow us up etc. And they'd put mines under their wounded so if we tried to help them we'd get blown up. But part of it was that we didn't want live prisoners. When they were beaten we had an invasion planned that we thought would kill off a big part of their civilian population. Not that we planned to line them up and shoot them, we thought they were going to attack us with sharpened bamboo spears and such so we'd have to kill them. We had no qualms about killing as many of them as we had to, to do a brute-force conquest. No thought for any other way. Even today there are americans who actually argue that the nukes were a good thing because they were better than the only alternative we considered. Our government didn't have plans to genocide japan, but a lot of the public was all for it. And that's when we were winning, and never seriously threatened.

Not so long ago, the israeli government said there was no such thing as a palestinian. There were only arab refugees, that arab governments should take care of. Palestinians and arab governments disagreed. Israel did not agree that there was any such thing as palestinians until they did enough terrorism to show they couldn't be ignored. Finally the israeli government agreed that there were some palestinians who must be killed. But there was no possible way to negotiate with palestinians because there was no palestinian government. They certainly couldn't negotiate with terrorists. But eventually under american pressure the israelis agreed to set up something they agreed to call a palestinian government, and they negotiated with terrorists.

If you're palestinian and more than 40 years old, you're going to be pretty firmly convinced that all the recognition palestine has so far comes from terrorism. It's the only thing that makes palestinians more important to israel than native americans were to the USA in 1890. Give it up and you aren't going to be a palestinian, you're going to be an arab refugee in jordan.

It isn't that they morally approve of terrorism. It's that this looks like the only tool they have. "When the only tool you have is a hammer...." In a vaguely similar way, in various circumstances the USA threatens to nuke people. Any reasonable person would agree that first-use of nukes is morally wrong. But sometimes we get into situations where it seems like the only thing we can do that doesn't lose. But palestinians have already lost. They can't fight pitched battles with their army, they don't have an army. "When the only tool you have is a hammer...."

We get disgusted that they don't renounce genocide. But they are in a catastrophe. Of course they want revenge. There were lots of russians talking about killing all the germans during WWII. But their attitude started to change as they won, and it changed more after the germans were driven out of the USSR, until in the end only 2 million east german civilians disappeared. "KILL MORE JAPS!"

They've lost to the point that minor minor victories are important to them. A single israeli tank blown up. A minor degree of recognition by the UN. And we want them to be tolerant and friendly to the victors. That's the christian way. Turn the other cheek. Forgive your brother seventy times seven times. But palestinians don't believe in nonviolent resistance -- they believe that doesn't work with israelis. Iraqis believe it doesn't work with americans. And of course in WWII everybody believed it didn't work with germans. Perhaps the israelis could encourage that sort of thing by having it produce some sort of results....

So here's the bottom line. We americans get disgusted at palestinians because we have no empathy for losers. We say if they acted like they were winners we'd respect them. And that's hard for them to do.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 20, 2006 07:53 AM

I continue to be blown away by your reporting. It shows just how badly the so-called "professionals" are missing the story by reprinting soundbites and posturing rather than finding out how people live and what they think. Keep up the excellent work!

Posted by: PurpleStater at May 20, 2006 08:17 AM

Michael,

A few corrections:

1. That's not a picture of Abu Mazen.

2.There are thousands of Muslim Palestinians who live outside of the camps. It's true that most Christian Palestinians were offered citizenship.

Palestinians are restricted from many jobs and sectors in Lebanon. It's direct discrimination.

They are treated horribly, but they are not required to live in the camps. However, those without the financial well being to live outside the camps end up staying in them, which is the majority of Palestinian families.

There are many wealthy Palestinian families living in the most chic areas of Beirut.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 20, 2006 08:43 AM

MJT: you got a praise from Yaakov Kirschen od Dry Bones. No small potato, I tell you. Go visit his blog. He is a famous Israel cartoonist.

Posted by: Fabian at May 20, 2006 08:50 AM

Another great article, Michael. Thank you. I cannot read the MSM on this topic. It bores the life out of me and I know I'm only get some of the truth, so why bother? With your blog, I KNOW I am getting your insight, your opinions and I can absorb the situation. With MSM, you don't really know who's opinion/insight you are getting!!!

We recently left the US for more peaceful surroundings (in Costa Rica). My husband is a writer on political and economic issues from a gamblingunsngold perspective. I burst out laughing when I read an earlier comment:

"When Americans fight war, we do so because we have a peaceful and expansive vision of the world what we think is worth fighting for."

I thought the commenter was kidding. It turns out, he is not. I'm on my way to his site to give him a few links... He needs a history lesson.

Posted by: Saratica at May 20, 2006 08:53 AM

BTW, if you didn't know, "Johnson" is Palestinian Muslim. The manager of my building is Palestinian and has a very nice home outside of Saida (the city near which Ain el Helwe is located).

I introduced you to a number of Palestinian Muslims who live outside the camps in Lebanon, but all of them are affluent.

Interestingly enough, it is often claimed that there are more Shia living in some of the Palestinian camps than Palestinians; Sabra and Shatila, for example. Some say this is the reason so many portraits of Nabih Berri "grace" the area.

I know for a fact that Bourj al Boureijne Palestinian refugee camp is filled with Shia, and I know of at least one American woman who lives there. It's really, really cheap.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 20, 2006 09:11 AM

And he can't have it both ways: “I am against suicide bombing morally, not politically.” The two cannot exist in the same space.

Posted by: Saratica at May 20, 2006 09:37 AM

Lebanon.Profile,

Yes, I know "Johnson" is Palestinian. And I know several other Palestinians in Beirut. But correct me if I'm wrong here, maybe I am...don't they all have foreign passports? Johnson's, for instance, is American. So is Johnny S's.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2006 10:30 AM

Saratica,

What Erekat meant by that is that suicide bombing is morally wrong, not merely counterproductive.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2006 10:31 AM

'"When Americans fight war, we do so because we have a peaceful and expansive vision of the world what we think is worth fighting for."

I thought the commenter was kidding. It turns out, he is not.'

Saratica, he is literally correct.

When our enemies are defeated or cowed to the point they'll do what we say, then we have the peace we were fighting for. And at least until 1900 or so, our vision was indeed "expansive".

Posted by: J Thomas at May 20, 2006 11:49 AM

Regarding the point someone made about people being able to opine on their blogs: That's what the difference between a blog and a news website is. I'm actually not totally clear on whether Michael means this to be a blog or a news service. If it's a news service, then opinions are out. If it's a blog, then he can write his opinions.

I have a blog, but I don't ask for donations. If I was a free lance journalist, I would probably be writing for a website or independent news service or publication and I would negotiate a contract for payment. I suppose it's possible to be a one-person news outfit--although it raises the issue of lack of oversight. In that case I think it would be ESPECIALLY important to avoid opinions and to cite background sources carefully.

Posted by: Elizabeth at May 20, 2006 12:19 PM

LP -

With the helpful details as usual.

Joshua Scholar -

Give MJT a break you're coming on a bit too strong like you're on a soap box.

Michael Totten -

I rephrase what I said about Ereket. Giving him the humngous benefit of the doubt......
He is just a corrupt mafioso slick guy who may even come off as a likeable thug.... he may not directly order suicide bombings..... and may be more interested in making bucks.... not as much a fundamentalist as the FISH was or Hamas.... he's more of a clever snake in the grass who will do whatever is politically and financially convenient but certainly lacks the backbone and support to make tough decisions, nor would he ever make them. The "Peace Process" to him is simply a phased process for him to garner more wealth and power.

So is he a "good guy".... no comment.

The story with Abu Toameh is true and if you want more details or an Arab you should talk to next time you're in Israel, a really smart regular and good guy, EMAIL ME.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 20, 2006 12:33 PM

Elizabeth,

This is a blog. There are no rules but my own. Readers who like what I write can pay me. Those who don't are under no obligation.

I have a long article coming out this summer in Reason magazine. That was "overseen," so to speak. So were my articles linked on the left panel of my Web site. But guess what? They aren't opinion free.

I am not a wire agency reporter, not do I have any desire to become one. Don't assume that the rules of that business apply to the others. They don't.

If you prefer to read AP and Reuters feeds, that's cool. Whatever works for ya.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2006 12:38 PM

Elizabeth, in america it's considered acceptable to ask for donations for almost anything. If you promise something in return and don't deliver on that promise, it could be considered fraud.

So it would be wrong for Michael to promice he wasn't going to put any opinions into his writing, and then when the people who pay for it get past the subscription wall then they find there are opinions there after all. But I don't see that he's made any promises. What you get is what you see. You can donate if you want to.

I tend to assume that the conversations he reports actually happened, and I figure if somebody asked him he'd be willing to swear that they did. So I guess there's potentially room for fraud there, if he swore they were real and they aren't. I'd take his word that they're the real thing.

You see what he has to offer and you contribute if you want to. It isn't just news, it isn't just opinion, If it isn't quite what you consider a blog to be, then it's its own thing and maybe some others will figure out how to do it too, and someday there will be a name for it.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 20, 2006 01:25 PM

Thanks, J Thomas.

And, for the record, at least three people did this sort of thing before I did: Christopher Allbritton, Bill Roggio, and Michael Yon.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2006 01:55 PM

Elizabeth posts on her profile:

"I'm a former journalist and a current news junkie."

Elizabeth,

You have an exalted view of your ex-profession that many of us here don't share. I, in my own experience, have found journalists to be often ignorant, prejudiced, and unable to check the simplest facts. I have seen them in action and the results have been everything from fabricated, although entertaining, events to story lines illustrated with a few selected pictures. Many journalists aren't in business to inform, they are there to entertain or make propaganda. Reading Michael, on the other hand, is like talking with an observant friend who was there. Sure, he may miss some stuff and I might disagree with some of his conclusions, but he is worth listening too. And here in the comments people can question him and he might expand on some points. That all lends him more gravitas, IMHO, than journalists who put down a few happenings, add on paragraphs of empty and fatuous opinion and recapitulation, and don't in fact say much. The journalistic profession, like the humanities, teaching, and much of our political leadership, strikes me as degenerate and corrupted by foolish ideas. But I see Michael as part of the solution, not part of the problem. If we think Michaels stuff is worth the money, we pay him. And I think his readers have the skills to judge his worth for themselves.

The only thing I worry about is that it is difficult to get folks to pay for what they can get for free. So if Michael can make a go of this I will be impressed.

Posted by: chuck at May 20, 2006 03:57 PM

WIRE SERVICE FEED -
This chick Elizabeth is starting to get on my nerves....
(BLOG MODE -
She is annoying.

Elizabeth -
Regarding the point someone made about people being able to opine on their blogs: That's what the difference between a blog and a news website is. I'm actually not totally clear on whether Michael means this to be a blog or a news service. If it's a news service, then opinions are out. If it's a blog, then he can write his opinions.

OK so you don't like the views and news Michael is providinG? they don't fit your own pre-conceived notions (nahhhh that could definitely NOT BE IT?) so now (like Reuters bcs they are "UNBIASED") you try to be cute and pretend it's a news service versus blog thing you 'have an issue with'.

$50 MILLION SOLUTION - take a hike

I have a blog, but I don't ask for donations.
Very noble of you. Why with that impressive readership the funds would be rolllin in otherwise.

And reading your blog and commenting (which you deleted) it's pretty obvious you're an "objective jouranlist".
Like this winner post about NY Times Holocaust Guilt from 60 years ago "effecting their reporting today".... you left out mentioning USS Liberty and other devious Mossad operation too?
http://thoughtsopinionsrants.blogspot.com/2006/05/interesting-look-back-at-zionism-jews.html

If I was a free lance journalist, I would probably be writing for a website or independent news service or publication and I would negotiate a contract for payment. I suppose it's possible to be a one-person news outfit--although it raises the issue of lack of oversight.
SOLUTION - Elizabeth will edit and keep Michael "unbiased" with her "expertise".
Liz is offering her expert services gratis too. What a generous chick eh?
In that case I think it would be ESPECIALLY important to avoid opinions and to cite background sources carefully.
WARNING IN BLOG MODE
Elizabeth, you're annoying, you're coded messages aren't intelligent.... and if you don't like it amazing thing bout democracy YOU CAN SHOVE OFF WHENEVER.

YOURS SINCERELY xxxxxx :-)))))

Mike Nargizian

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 20, 2006 05:22 PM

Look what happened at the City Center in Ramallah, which is in the background of one of the pictures.
http://gatewaypundit.blogspot.com/2006/05/another-rough-day-for-al-jazeera-news.html

Posted by: Jabba the Tutt at May 20, 2006 06:21 PM

I find reading Michael's reports (note a report can include opinion) refreshing. Surprising small things show up. It's kind of like life with your eyes and your curiousity open, instead of making everything fit some kind of a script. Congratulations!!

Posted by: Rob at May 20, 2006 08:58 PM

MJT, I wish Sean was there with you. His "radar" added to your writing makes for a much more complete view.

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 20, 2006 09:46 PM

Please don't assume I was defending journalists as a group. If any of you read my old blog about the NYTimes, you can see that I had plenty of criticisms of the MSM.

On my current blog I have a policy for comments: No slurs, no libel, and no irrelevancy. Mike N. I rejected your comment because you misunderstood what I wrote, making your comment irrelevant-- plus you rambled, were incoherent, and kept misspelling words--much as you do here as well.

Posted by: Elizabeth at May 20, 2006 09:58 PM

J Thomas responded to me above that "When our enemies are defeated or cowed to the point they'll do what we say, then we have the peace we were fighting for. And at least until 1900 or so, our vision was indeed 'expansive'."

I think we probably disagree on who our enemies are and whether or not we are indeed "fighting for peace". As we used to say in the good ole days, "Fighting for peace is like f--king for viginity." Everybody is screwed in the end.

Posted by: Saratica at May 20, 2006 11:15 PM

Ooops. I misspelled virginity. I hope I don't get any flack for that. Um, flak.

Posted by: Saratica at May 20, 2006 11:22 PM

why is mr totten a middle east correspondant? he seems to loath the middle eastern way of life and search out only that which is just like the US. I'm amazed people put up with him. He's talking to people who were driven off their homeland of thousands of years by eastern europeans and he's like "why do you hate israel so much "

I guess this is interesting inasmuch as it's a person with absolutely no idea what they are talking about giving an impression of what an ugly american type sees in foreign lands.

Please stop.

Posted by: lester1/2jr at May 21, 2006 07:27 AM

Lester, you need to take a reading comprehension class. Seriously.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 21, 2006 09:00 AM

michael - I realize you are doing your best, but neo conservative Kaplan-style politico-travel reporting went out with interventionism sometime in 2003. Bullying people into telling you Israel is a good neighbor isn't going to help matters (matters = not having another 9/11) at all. quite the contrary.

Posted by: lester at May 21, 2006 09:07 AM

Yo, Lester. I didn't bully anybody. Now sod off if you have nothing constructive to say.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 21, 2006 09:12 AM

"When Americans fight war, we do so because we have a peaceful and expansive vision of the world what we think is worth fighting for. When Palestians fight they do so because they wish to see a group of people destroyed."

I'm used to disagreeing with a lot of what I see here; that's not a problem. But this takes the prize for the most blinkered garbage I've read this year. Only a stray comment from Josh Scholar a few days ago, but everyone else has let it fly by, so I thought I'd flag it.

This is the sort of thinking that has led to the unjust deaths of millions of people since the beginning of human history. I am stunned that the lesson some people can draw from the history of the last five years, let alone the last five thousand, is that 'When country A fights a war, it does so because it has a peaceful and expansive vision of the world what it thinks is worth fighting for. When country B fights, it does so because it wishes to see a group of people destroyed.'

You're a frightening man, mr Scholar.

Posted by: SJK at May 21, 2006 09:56 AM

Chris:

"Also, you might want to go through a few more checkpoints and see a few more WB and Gaza towns before you make blanket statements about the quality of treatment they receive from the Israelis."

Yes, Michael, how politically incorrect of you to imply that Jews and Israelis are not heartless evil monsters. Whom do you believe, Chris or your lying eyes?

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 21, 2006 10:00 AM

John:
"But palestinians don't believe in nonviolent resistance -- they believe that doesn't work with israelis. Iraqis believe it doesn't work with americans. And of course in WWII everybody believed it didn't work with germans."

When did the Palestinians ever attempt "nonviolent resistance"? Your implication that they resorted to terrorism only after the failure of Martin Luther King/Gandhi-like tactics is dishonest in the extreme. And your implicit moral equivalence between Israel and America on one hand and Nazi Germany on the other is obscene.

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 21, 2006 10:05 AM

"Fighting for peace is like f--king for viginity." Everybody is screwed in the end."

No it isn't. If one of my neighbors shot at me everyday there would be no peace. If I chopped the neighbors head off, there would be peace (for me). He would be screwed, I would be fine.

Posted by: MikeK at May 21, 2006 11:04 AM

Gary Rosen, It saddens me to see your anger at my true comments. I want to encourage you to get past that. It doesn't actually do you much good.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 21, 2006 12:07 PM

John:

I seriously doubt that you are "saddened" by anything I have to say. I quoted your "true comments". Since you had no substantive answer, you replied with a load of smarmy baloney about "getting past my anger". I will always be angry at antisemites like yourself - comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany are inherently antisemitic. And I will never get over it.

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 21, 2006 03:17 PM

Gary Rosen, you have utterly missed my point. You have read in antisemitism that isn't there.

For gods sake, man, get a grip! You're an embarrassment to this comments section, and to whoever you represent.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 21, 2006 03:41 PM

Michael,

The point is, Palestinians are allowed to live outside of the camps, and they do.

There is no bias in favor of Christian Palestinians who choose to keep their Palestinian pride and not take another passport. They are the same as Palestinian Muslims. However, many Palestinian Christians have been offered Lebanese citizenship, and this was pretty much government policy for a while. Muslim Palestinians became the major beneficiaries of government policy of granting citizenship in the 1990s when Michel el Murr realized he could give a bunch of poor Muslim Palestinians citizenship and then bus them in during elections.

Many Palestinians (Christians included) choose to keep their refugee papers. Those papers are their official traveling documents and are pretty much seen as the equivalent of a Lebanese passport. Many Palestinians choose to keep refugee papers rather than taking Jordanian citizenship (which is easy for them to get) for issues of pride.

I know a Palestinian Christian mother of two whose Palestinian children and husband all have the Lebanese, American, and Jordanian passport. She refuses to give up her Palestinian refugee papers. She lives down the street from me, ie not in a refugee camp.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 21, 2006 03:44 PM

John:

"Gary Rosen, you have utterly missed my point. You have read in antisemitism that isn't there."

What was your point, other than to demonize America and Israel? And how is it not antisemitic to compare Israel to Nazi Germany?

"You're an embarrassment to this comments section, and to whoever you represent."

I never claimed to represent anyone but myself. What makes you think otherwise? And who do you think I "represent"?

I'd love to hear your answers, though I'm not expecting anything other than more "you missed my point" and "get a grip". Nearly every statement you have made has been dripping with innuendo, from your comparison of Israelis to Nazis, to your statement that Americans are disgusted at Palestinians because they are "losers" (no chance that Americans, even non-Jewish ones, might be disgusted at the fact that they glorify terrorism against innocent civilians), to your suggestion out of thin air that I "represent" somebody (a "neocon cabal" perhaps?).

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 22, 2006 12:04 AM

"But palestinians don't believe in nonviolent resistance -- they believe that doesn't work with israelis. Iraqis believe it doesn't work with americans. And of course in WWII everybody believed it didn't work with germans."

Gary, you are reading things in here.

Do you claim that palestinians believe in nonviolent resistance?

Do you claim that iraqis believe in nonviolent resistance to the USA?

Do you believe that anybody believed in nonviolent resistance during WWII?

I am saying true things, and you are giving them a paranoid reading, you are reading in innuendo that you then object to.

I did not say that americans are disgusted at palestinians because they're losers, I said that americans lack empathy for palestinians because they're losers. Americans have done terrorism and state terrorism against innocent civilians ourselves, when we were inflamed against their people, even when we were winning. When the issue wasn't in doubt. As have israelis. (To their credit the israeli government has sometimes acted against israeli civilians who bomb palestinian schools etc.)

You are objecting to the facts, you believe that I should not say them because you don't like how they sound.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 22, 2006 03:53 AM

MikeK,
Self defense is the only justification for war. But call it self defense. Don't call it fighting for peace. Please.

Posted by: Saratica at May 22, 2006 05:53 AM

Josh said:

If a Palestinian had told me that he thought Americans aren't comfortable with Palestinians, I would have told him exactly why... I can only pray that one day, Palestinians (and everyone else on the planet) will find ethnic hatred and violence as offensive as Americans do.

And that would have been the end of the interview.

Yes, I feel the same way as Josh as my first post would indicate - but MJT knows (and I am slowly learning)that you can't expect to learn anything if you immediately launch into a self-righteous rant because you feel you hold the moral high ground.

What would this accomplish? By now we've all argued with someone of the opposite political persuasion over some minor or great point - do you think you've changed their opinion on whit?

Michael is not your emissary or the champion of your cause. Seems like just a guy trying to understand the world.

Posted by: TakeFive at May 22, 2006 09:53 AM

Americans don't just walk visibly differently; they stand differently, too. (Not me, apparently -- when we lived in Europe, most people wanted to know from which other part of their country I was from.) Mr. Wife needed simply to stand in the doorway of a room to be identified as American. We take up more space, being used to having more around us. We are openly interested in our surroundings, both physical and people. And even when not dressed in our distinctive national costume of blue jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, we have the whitest, straightest teeth in the world.

Some years ago when we lived in Belgium, I went to a local dentist for my semi-annual check-up. After being discovered to be caries-free, I requested the customary (in the U.S.) teeth cleaning; the dentist thought for a moment, shrugged, then applied toothbrush and toothpaste vigorously... and of course charged my American dental insurance company as if he'd scaled for tartar and polished away stains. He'd never before had such a thing requested in all his years of practice, he said.

J. Thomas, the Americans I've spoken to on the subject sympathize with the Palestinians's desire for a national homeland... and find unforgivable their eagerness to murder pregnant women and bomb schools in order to achieve it, which they've been doing since the 1920's, back when they were "Arabs," and it was the Jews living under the British Mandate who were known as "Palestinians." And they've noticed how many times various Palestinian leaders have turned down reasonable offers from Israel because that would mean giving up their true goal of creating a Jew-free Palestinian state encompassing all of Israel proper as well as the current Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and because their society has become addicted to the adrenalin rush of exploding in the presence of Jews.

All of which I'm sure is not new information for our host, Mr. Totten.

Posted by: trailing wife at May 22, 2006 02:05 PM
QUEEN ELIZABETH -
On my current blog I have a policy for comments: No slurs, no libel, and no irrelevancy. Mike N. I rejected your comment because you misunderstood what I wrote, making your comment irrelevant-- plus you rambled, were incoherent, and kept misspelling words--much as you do here as well.
See the benefit at your blog of having your "editorial filter".... it makes your blog "so much more professional" than say MJT's.

If only you could be editing this blog, one could only imagine the heights of "unbiased professionalism" it could reach to?

Yours truly - XXXXXxxxxxxxxxx

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at May 22, 2006 04:01 PM

Trailing wife, thank you for your contribution. You demonstrate that much of american attitudes come not from our lack of empathy with losers but our general level of misinformation. Thank you.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 22, 2006 06:10 PM

I'm sorry Saratica, but you are wrong again IMHO. Self defense is not the only justification for war. For example, if I had 100 million dollars I would hire South Africans from Blackwater to kill Joseph Koney, only 2,000 dollars a day per person.(I am not sure if I spelled his last name right, but you either know who he is or can figure it out. He is in N. Uganda.) It wouldn't be self-defense, but it would be the fiscal, moral and decent thing to do.

I never said anything about fighting for peace, but that is often the only way to reach it in the context of a specific conflict. A U.N. envoy to hannibal etc... wouldn't really work out all that well.

Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2006 06:18 PM

And, the only way the conflict in N. Uganda is going to end is if someone kills Koney and disbands the army of children. So they would be fighting for peace. Sort of like destroying Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany etc...

Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2006 06:21 PM

John:
"I am saying true things, and you are giving them a paranoid reading, you are reading in innuendo that you then object to."

You are clearly trying to make equivalence between Israel and the US on one hand, and the Nazis on the other. If you deny this, you are simply lying. In fact it is the enemies of Israel and the US - Saddam and Hamas - who are far more comparable to the Nazis.

You still haven't answered my questions:

How is comparing Israel to Nazi Germany not antisemitic?

Why did you say I "represented" somebody, and who were you trying to suggest I represent?

Is it hard for you to answer these truthfully?

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 22, 2006 10:04 PM

Gary Rosen, you are making things up.

You repeat the lie that I'm comparing israel to nazi germany. I made no such comparison, except to say that in both cases their enemies don't believe that nonviolent reistsnce works. You have invented an antisemitic innuendo that you then attribute to me. You are mixing me up with your own fantasies. This is dishonest and you should apologise.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 23, 2006 01:00 AM

J Thomas: You did associate Israel with Nazi Germany by putting them in adjacent lines and saying both countries' enemies saw them in the same way. By this method you get people to think mentally that Israel is the same as Nazi Germany. It is more roundabout then the usual method of smearing Israel by proclaiming it to be the same as Nazi Germany or Apartheid era South Africa, but the effect is the same.

As to why Americans do not like Palestinians, let me count the ways:
1). Americans do not like people who deliberatly slaughter civilans including women & children with suicide bombers and then joyfully celebrate such atrocities in the streets.
2). Americans do not like people who spout vicious nazi-like Anti-Semetic Hate Propaganda.
3). Americans do not like people who joyfully celebrated in the streets when 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11th.
So if this indicates a certain lack of enlightenment of the part of us gun-carrying, American Cowboys that we do not feel empathy for the Poor Oppressed Palestinians because of these reasons, I hope people will understand why.

Posted by: David All at May 23, 2006 02:49 PM

David All, when you insist too strongly that no one be allowed to make anything that might leave somebody imagining any similarity between zionism and national socialism, you are making a tactical mistake. It's like the old joke about running around a house three times while not thinking about an elephant. The more effort people put into making sure they don't accidentally say something tghat could be interpreted as a comparison between zionists and nazis, the more comparisons they will see.

And by refusing to accept good will, you create enemies and alienate neutrals.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 23, 2006 05:10 PM

First of all, this is real jouranlism - insightful, informative and well-written. This is a true vision of the situation in Israel and Palestine. Second, the statement by Sufian that all Americans hate him because of who he is and where he's from breaks my heart. Why does he believe this? Is it because our media spews out so much negativity that we portray this message to other parts of the world that we hate all? I don't understand it but it saddens me. Regardless, I have gained an interesting insight into the everyday life and challenges facing the people of that country and we can learn from their experiences.

Posted by: LegalEagle at May 23, 2006 05:31 PM

John (again):

"But palestinians don't believe in nonviolent resistance -- they believe that doesn't work with israelis. Iraqis believe it doesn't work with americans. And of course in WWII everybody believed it didn't work with germans."

Clearly this is an attempt to compare Israel with Nazi Germany (and the US as well, just as dishonest). Why bring in the Nazis to this discussion otherwise? You should apolgize to me for calling me a liar.

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 23, 2006 11:41 PM

Gary Rosen, you have no basis to complain about this.

To say that you have a right that I not say this is simply absurd.

Decent people should pay no attention to your ranting.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 24, 2006 07:26 AM

John:

I support your right to compare Israel to Nazi Germany, as well as your right to attempt to deceitfully weasel out of it which you have now apparently abandoned. I asked for an apology only for your calling me a liar. But I didn't really expect one :^).

Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 24, 2006 08:24 AM

Gary Rosen, I certainly refuse to apologise to you for calling you a liar.

You are a liar.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 24, 2006 08:32 AM

SJK, the fighting in Israel is not one nation against another, and it's not over land, not in the short run. The actual dynamics are that of ethnic and sectarian violence. In the first estimation, the Palestinians attack Israelis because they want to see Jews die. There is a strong element of religious mania involved and a very strong element of institutional support - but for hatred and violence more than for warfare that accomplishes any rational goals. It makes sense to me to distinguish between a wish to take land and wish to ethnically cleanse land.

That's the real world. It's not what someone would assume if he didn't study the situation...

And I can't help but notice that it's been over a century since Americans fought for the sake of ethnic cleansing. Our society is different than the Palestinians' society. We've been working hard to eradicate racism, sexism and other sorts of bigotry from our society - and they've been working hard to create genocidal hatred among their children.

No doubt you find it frightening for anyone to compare one country or one society to another, but there is a real world out there, and the truth is the truth.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 26, 2006 08:15 PM

If this were my site, I'd rule it with an iron fist (obey the fist!). I'd delete comments by everyone who's tedious or stupid and detracts from the discussion.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 26, 2006 08:25 PM

My appologies, I meant that comment for this thread over at Harry's Place I'd appreciate it if Michael deleted that comment (and this one).

Somehow I tabbed between tabs in Firefox without meaning to.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 26, 2006 08:27 PM

The security code should have tipped me off!

Anyway I was in a part of that thread where we were talking about trolls and about how unmoderated comment sections deteriorate.

And the "iron fist" thing is an invader Zim reference (the cartoon by Jhonen Vasquez).

Ms. Bitters: Zim, the machine says that the only career you are suitable for is-

Zim: Yes, yes. Lord of humans!

Zim jumps onto his desk and kneels there.

Zim: I will rule you all with an iron fist!

Ms. Bitters: No, Zim. The machine has assigned you a career in fast food preparation!

Zim: I will prepare food with my iron fist! Then I will work my way up to ruling you all with my fist!

Zim holds his fist up to Melvin.

Zim: You! Obey the fist!

Posted by: Josh Scholar at May 26, 2006 08:32 PM

Superb!

Trackback:

http://sebew.blogspot.com/2006/05/michael-j-totten-ber-ramallah.html

Posted by: peet_g at May 27, 2006 01:15 PM

In the first estimation, the Palestinians attack Israelis because they want to see Jews die.

That's the real world.

That's your interpretation of the biased data you've seen. Anything you say about the world is not the real world, whatever you say is interpretation.

But it makes sense. Israelis who do reprisals against palestinians do it because they want to see palestinians die, etc. Makes sense.

On a different level, my interpretation has three main reasons for palestinian attacks.

1. Palestinians have already lost to the point they get ignored unless they make attacks. Without attacks palestinians are like so many native americans on reservations. A whole lot of little tiny pockets surrounded with barbed wire where they can dwindle away while nobody pays the least attention.

2. A lot of palestinian attacks are reprisals for israeli attacks. (And of course some of the israeli attacks are reprisals for palestinian attacks, so the cycle of violence just keeps turning.)

3. Some palestinian attacks are part of a scam equivalent to the IRA or the Contras. In each case, rich foreigners are willing to pay good money to support an insurgency or whatever you want to call it. And the scammers want the money but they don't want to get killed. But the money will dry up unless they do something to show they're fighting. So they try to make some kind of attack they can take credit for. The Contras evaporated completely when the money dried up. The IRA leveraged their money into a political party that's still getting results; they gave up terrorism quite publicly after 9/11. Likely the americans who had been paying them got a new perspective then. I'm not as clear which of the palestinian groups are mostly scammers though it makes sense anybody connected with Fatah might be, and I don't know much about their financial backers.

Too soon to say whether the scammers who mostly want money to spend are getting outcompeted by real terrorist groups. Probably not, there has never been a significant terrorist attack against israel, and even at the height of the fighting the israelis were killing palestinians at a 3:1 ratio.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 27, 2006 02:36 PM

“You do not want to drive in the West Bank with Israeli plates on your car,” he said.

this is the bottem line of the israeli palestinian conflict - palestinians kill israelis for being israelis
- in israel you can drive around in any plates on your car. the police might ask u for papers - at the most.....

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