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Thursday, July 15, 2004

JAMES BENNET IN THE NY TIMES:
3,752 words romanticizing Palestinian Victimhood


A PEOPLE ADRIFT / FIRST OF TWO ARTICLES
"In Chaos, Palestinians Struggle for a Way Out"

THE MARTYRS Along a road in
Jenin, on the West Bank, a
billboard celebrates residents who
have died fighting or killing
Israelis.
Bennet has a real knack for turning what shoulda/woulda/coulda been damning criticism, into a heart-wrenching pity party for the ProfessionallyPoorPalestinians. Some choice bits:
"I am the highest authority," Mr. Zubeidah said, echoing a view widely held in Jenin. A slender man with an easy smile, he sat in white tennis shoes, blue jeans and a brown T-shirt on a torn couch in a home in the camp.

* * * *

For Palestinians, it is a mocking contradiction: President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speak of a state of Palestine as almost a historical inevitability. But on the ground, after years of Israeli military raids and blockades and Palestinian political paralysis, the economy is growing more dependent on foreign donors, and institutions of statehood are crumbling.

* * * *

"Israel destroyed all forms of authority. Everyone has their own weapon. This is the problem of Jenin: We have an absolute state of chaos."

* * * *

Private investment has all but vanished. But donors stepped in, doubling their contributions, to a billion dollars a year, an amount equal to one-third the Palestinian gross national product last year of $3.1 billion. That works out to roughly $310 a person, more aid per capita than any country has received since World War II, the World Bank says.

* * * *

Like Palestinian society in general, Jenin is losing ground, but it is enduring. It is muddling through. This is a story of decay, not of sudden collapse; of the corrosion of an educated, relatively affluent society that Palestinian and Israeli officials say may still have the makings of a model democracy. The Palestinian national dream has not died. There are still people fighting to hold life together, to pick up the garbage, light the streets and salvage a chance at better days.

* * * *

"Just running, running, running. Because we have no choice."

* * * *

In Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, it is possible now to forget about the conflict, at least for a time. But on this side of the barrier, the conflict suffuses life.

* * * *

Jamilah Nubani, 58, goes every evening to the Martyrs' Cemetery to mourn two sons and a son-in-law buried there. All were fighters or members of the security services. "God, we ask you for your mercy," she said, gripping one son's headstone to pull herself to her feet, before making her way to her other son's grave.

* * * *

Jenin is also place where, in spite of the conflict, life goes on. Along Faisal Hussein Street through the middle of town, men gather in the evenings to play cards for hours and drink glasses of sweet tea for a shekel apiece. (A shekel is worth about 22 cents.) People with a little more money may go to the Gardens restaurant at the edge of town, to sip tea for three shekels a glass. The Gardens also has a pool, and at 10:45 one recent night, a swimmer did a back flip off the high dive. But in a sign of the times, the Gardens has established a separate seating area for the shebab, the rowdy young men and fighters who unnerve the other guests. By midnight, the card-players and tea drinkers return home, abandoning the dark streets to the fighters, who cruise in the stolen Israeli cars that somehow still manage to make it past the barrier and into Jenin. Gunfire rings out most nights.

* * * *

At the Jenin driving school, Abdul Karim Jarrar, 40, cannot pay his modest electricity bill. The police do not enforce traffic laws, so few new drivers bother to get licenses or instruction, he said.

* * * *

The city owes millions of dollars for electricity and water supplied by Israeli companies. The mayor says that without a new infusion of foreign aid, the municipality will shut its doors later this year. Already, it has had to stop repaving the Palestinian-American Friendship Road, a rutted track around the city.

* * * *

Mr. Nashrati, 47, spent his own money to dig a cistern beneath a courtyard in his new house, built by the United Nations. Above it, he set a fountain clad in blue tile, a safe place for his children to play. Behind the fountain, in the wall, he installed an enlarged version of his United Nations refugee card, certifying that his family was dispossessed in the Israeli-Arab war of 1948.

* * * *

Rukon, 10 years old, said he wanted to grow up to be a fighter like Mahmoud Tawalbe, an Islamic Jihad leader killed in the raid two years ago. "I'm disturbed when I hear my son say that," Mr. Nashrati said. "This is a general problem for us, that we don't feel we can control our children." Asked if he thought he could be friends with an Israeli boy his age, Rukon drew a hand across his throat. "I want only to stab him," he said. Mr. Nashrati hastily said Rukon was young and ignorant. "This son is old enough to understand," he said, indicating Munir, 20. Asked if he could be friends with an Israeli his age, Munir Nashrati said, "It's impossible."

* * * *

This reporter first interviewed Mr. Zubeidah in the fall of 2001, when he was a low-ranking gunman walking through Jenin's market. Mr. Zubeidah had just been wounded when a bomb he was preparing blew up in his face, scorching it black. He rejected any talk of peace. "I lost my face!" he said at the time. "What did I achieve? I'm a refugee still."

* * * *

Mr. Mousa spoke while sitting by a grape arbor in his garden above Jenin, watching the sun sink beyond the barrier, behind the Carmel hills. He said the conflict had set Jenin back 20 years. But that did not matter, he continued. "We still have people living in tents in other places," he said.

* * * *

"The Palestinian Authority should stand in front of the people and say, 'We are defeated,' " Mr. Mousa said over dinner one evening. 'But this is not the end of the world. This is a new stage of our life.' And then you say to the world, 'Please help us.'"

While you're waiting for the sequel, or between bouts of vomiting, you might want to catch Bennet's Special Web Report - PALESTINE LOST - an interactive feature.

It's special, alright, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to interact with it.