A Little Village in the Hills — And the Palestinian Monsters It Spawns

Ahlam Tamimi

If you want to affect how people think about an issue, putting your case onto the cover of the New York Times Magazine must be one of the most effective things to do. And, given the intense competition, one of the hardest.

So if the editors of the NYT (108 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization; 30 million unique visitors per month to its website; the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States – according to Wikipedia) give you the cover of the prestigious Magazine, it’s a massive vote of confidence, a huge privilege, a platform of the most effective kind that (probably) can’t be bought for money.

Friends have pointed us to this week’s NYT Magazine cover story, published today. It’s devoted to a Palestinian Arab village set in the hills a few kilometers north of where we live in Jerusalem. It’s a place the author calls “spirited”, where “on warm summer evenings, life… could feel almost idyllic. Everyone knows everyone.” He says “a pilgrimage” to this magical place “has achieved a measure of cachet among young European activists, the way a stint with the Zapatistas did in Mexico in the 1990s”.

How can you not be captivated?

But there is much wrong with the picture he conjures up. We know this because for years we have been tracking the media’s romance with the community called Nabi Saleh. Sitting here and looking over the online version of it, we are furious with anger about what the article says, and what the writer and his editors carefully avoid saying.

Start with some background: the Wikipedia entry for Nabi Saleh describes the village of some 550 people in notably gentle terms. Centred on an old religious shrine to the prophet Shelah whom we encounter in Genesis as the son of Judah and grandson of the patriarch Jacob, it was a hamlet of a mere five houses in the late nineteenth century when the Turks ruled the area. It grew slowly under the Jordanian military occupation that started in 1948; then declined when Israel took control of the West Bank in 1967, and flourished and multiplied in the past two decades. Today, it’s the scene of weekly protest demonstrations and, to judge from Wikipedia’s English-language version, a place where things are done to passive inhabitants and for no apparent reason.

Now if you go to the Arabic-language version of Wikipedia, you see a quite different emphasis. It’s not at all a direct translation of the English version. It’s created by different people for a different audience and different sensibilities. The Arabic Wikipedia entry depicts Nabi Saleh as a place of “popular resistance” that boasts of having taken a prominent role in two Intifadas, providing “hundreds of prisoners” and 17 so-called “martyrs on the altar of freedom”. The most prominent of the prisoners (Wikipedia’s description) is a woman called Ahlam. Her surname is shared with almost every other inhabitant of the village: Tamimi.

But it’s Bassem Tamimi who is the focus of the article. He calls the Intifada launched by Yasser Arafat in 2000 “the big mistake… Politically, we went backward”.

The writer helps us understand what kind of backward he means:

“Much of the international good will gained over the previous decade was squandered. Taking up arms wasn’t, for Bassem, a moral error so much as a strategic one. He and everyone else I spoke with in the village insisted they had the right to armed resistance; they just don’t think it works. “

Or to say it another way: they are entitled to kill the Israelis and have done so again and again, but it’s not effective. A different kind of warfare therefore needs to be adopted.

Half-way through today’s essay, he introduces a figure who embodies that “big mistake”:

In 1993, Bassem told me, his cousin Said Tamimi killed a settler near Ramallah. Eight years later, another villager, Ahlam Tamimi escorted a bomber to a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Fifteen people were killed, eight of them minors. Ahlam, who now lives in exile in Jordan, and Said, who is in prison in Israel, remain much-loved in Nabi Saleh.

That’s all he writes about Ahlam Tamimi but we can tell you more. She is a Jordanian who was 21 years old and the news-reader on official Palestinian Authority television when she signed on with Hamas to become a terrorist. She engineered, planned and helped execute a massacre in the center of Jerusalem on a hot summer afternoon in 2001. She chose the target, a restaurant filled with Jewish children. And she brought the bomb. The outcome (15 killed, a sixteenth still in a vegetative state today, 130 injured) was so uplifting to her that she has gone on camera again and again to say, smiling into the camera lens, how proud she is of what she did. She is entirely free of regret. A convicted felon and a mass-murderer convicted on multiple homicide charges, she has never denied the role she embraced and justifies it fully.

Yet all the NY Times says about Nabi Saleh’s favourite one-time resident is that she was an escort “who now lives in exile in Jordan”. Period. This is no mere oversight. The editors at the New York Times showcased this same psychopath once before, six years ago. Then, as now, we  felt someone needed to push back and we posted two blog articles: “7-Aug-07: Hot House: Cold Truths” and “28-Jun-07: About sweet-faced young women”, and got a little attention for a while. But it was clear to us that those who thought they perceived greatness of spirit in the woman continued to do so.

One of the lives she snuffed out was that of our precious daughter Malki who was fifteen years old. Malki was the kind of young woman whose life and achievements ought to have entitled her to at least a fraction of the media coverage bestowed by the NYT editors and others on the murderer.

But those editors, as well as the author of today’s Magazine piece, are evidently less affected by the innocent lives of the victims, lived and lost, than by the hypnotic power of symbolism.

About the lethal rock-hurling attacks directed at Israelis, Bassem Tamimi says

he didn’t worry over whether stone-throwing counted as violence. The question annoyed him… If the loincloth functioned as the sign of Gandhi’s resistance, of India’s nakedness in front of British colonial might, Bassem said, “Our sign is the stone.” The weekly clashes with the I.D.F. were hence in part symbolic. The stones were not just flinty yellow rocks, but symbols of defiance… The message they carried, he said, was “We don’t accept you.”

Stone-throwing as a symbol? People have been killed and (as recently as this past Thursday) critically injured by the rocks (and cement blocks and boulders) of the ‘stone’ throwers.

Perhaps “we don’t accept you” is what people living far from the scene imagine goes through the minds of baby-killers and restaurant bombers. But living where we do, innocent-sounding turns of phrase like that leave us dumbfounded.

Ahlam Tamimi’s post-massacre trajectory has been like something out of Hollywood – or perhaps the NYT Magazine. On conviction in October 2003, she was sentenced to 16 life terms in prison. The presiding judge, having heard her proudly claim credit for the killings and maimings, added for the record the view of the judicial panel that she “not be eligible for pardon by the military commander, nor to early parole by any other means”. He and his fellow judges (and my wife and I as well) were ignored when eight years later, almost to the day, she walked free as one of the 1,027 murderers and assorted other terrorists unjustly freed – not pardoned – as part of Israel’s agreement to the extortionate terms of the Gilad Shalit transaction.

She flew to Jordan the same day, was married there on live television to another freed and unpardoned murderer (a cousin, a Tamimi from Nabi Saleh), addressed rallies in various Middle East capitals, and became a media hero as the presenter of a weekly Hamas satellite television program. This is devoted to the interests of imprisoned Palestinian Arab terrorists, and broadcast from Amman to all corners of the Arabic-speaking world. Latest reports say she is preparing for the arrival of a baby. How the twists and turns of this life have impacted on her victims has never, as far as we know, been explored by any branch of the media, presumably for reasons of lack of interest. But within the Arab world, she is a celebrity.

Bassem Tamimi receives a salary from the foreign-aid-funded Palestinian Authority. But, like many thousands of other Palestinian Arabs on the massively-bloated PA payroll, he admits to the NYT Magazine that he almost never has to report to his office or do any work (while blaming this on the Israelis). The article might have pointed out, but did not, that massive servings of no-strings-attached funds paid by European governments to the terrorism-friendly PA are the reason men like Bassem Tamimi have the time and energy it takes to become a star of the New York Times and a source of videos, interviews and opinions.

His own photogenic daughter has achieved fame and influence and even been awarded a prize by one of the Middle East’s more Israel-phobic political figures for playing her part. Photos of her sticking a fist in the face of IDF servicemen in Nabi Saleh, the personification of an innocent sort of juvenile courage, are everywhere. (The NYT article mentions that she has been dubbed “Shirley Temper” in some quarters; you can see why in this video clip.) In reality, those images of defiance were captured by a horde of press agency photographers arranged by her parents. They followed the girl around as she walked up to one Israeli officer after another, hoping to provoke a camera-worthy (meaning violent) response. It never came, though not for lack of effort by the Tamimis.

She has been used in this way again and again by her parents and community; there is no shortage of collaborators among the paparazzi. Any connection between this contrived set-piece and reality is entirely accidental.

Two years ago, in the New York Review of Books, a writer launched into his experience of the same hilltop town (spelled differently, but the same place) with these words:

The first thing I saw in al-Nabi Salih was a huge sign in Arabic and English: “We Believe in Non-Violence. Do You?” It was World Peace Day, and speaker after speaker reaffirmed a commitment to peace and to nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

What kind of non-violence do these people actually espouse?

We wonder how often public opinion about the complex lives and unwanted war in which we and our neighbours live is formed by people who don’t speak the local languages, and don’t know much of its history or geography. Lacking the ability and sometimes the will to actually delve, they are left to read romanticized narratives, signs painted onto walls, political analysis crafted by full-time practitioners of public relations, staged photographs and other tendentious imagery.

The result is a kind of entrancement: messy, nasty complexity reduced down to simple pill form. Swallow this, and join us.

This process, of the kind that an astute observer has called auto-stupefaction, has an antidote: reality. We wish there were enough courageous and ethical journalists to deliver what has not yet been done: a blunt look directly into the face and deeds of Ahlam Tamimi and those who share her views, who admire her demonic actions.

That the NYT Magazine focused on Nabi Saleh while barely mentioning the convicted child killer celebrated by the residents of the town as an honored daughter (Arabic Wikipedia) indicates how manipulated its readers are. Also: how far we are from beginning to blunt the ongoing threat of the terrorists.

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  • κατεργάζομαι

    ""The land of Israel belongs to God, and He has decided to give it to the Jewish nation,
    in accordance with the covenant sealed on Mount Sinai, a covenant that no other nation
    was willing to undertake. After a long exile, we've returned home. We bear no malice toward anyone
    and seek no harm to anyone. But we will not surrender any portion of our land to foreign powers,
    and if foreigners rise up against us to destroy us, we will fight against them and,
    with God's help, we will destroy them."
    ~ Martin Wasserman

  • κατεργάζομαι

    .
    GOD GAVE the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. And G-d does nothing by accident!

  • BARACK

    I USE THE KORAN FOR TOILET PAPER

  • Lan Astaslem

    I use pages of the koran for cat litter

  • Infidel

    May every muslim who kills another person be transported forthwith to the gates of hell to be crapped upon by the devil himself while 72 beautiful infidel virgins look down from heaven while laughing and pointing at him. Or her.

  • JacksonPearson

    The Palestinians claim that they are an ancient and indigenous people fails to stand up to historic scrutiny. Most Palestinian Arabs were newcomers to British Mandate Palestine. Until the 1967 Six-Day War made it expedient for Arabs to create a Palestinian peoplehood, local Arabs simply considered themselves part of the ‘great Arab nation’ or ‘southern Syrians.’

    “Repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to believe it.”
    – Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels

    “All [that Palestinians] can agree on as a community is what they want to destroy, not what they want to build.” –New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

    There is no age-old Palestinian people. Most so-called Palestinians are relative newcomers to the Land of Israel Like a mantra, Arabs repeatedly claim that the Palestinians are a native people. The concept of a ‘Stateless Palestinian people’ is not based on fact. It is a fabrication.

    Palestinian Arabs cast themselves as a native people in “Palestine” – like the Aborigines in Australia or Native Americans in America.

    They portray the Jews as European imperialists and colonizers. This is simply untrue. Until the Jews began returning to the Land of Israel in increasing numbers from the late 19th century to the turn of the 20th, the area called Palestine was a God-forsaken backwash that belonged to the Ottoman Empire, based in Turkey.

    The land’s fragile ecology had been laid waste in the wake of the Arabs’ 7th-century conquest. In 1799, the population was at it lowest and estimated to be no more than 250,000 to 300,000 inhabitants in all the land.

    At the turn of the 20th century, the Arab population west of the Jordan River (today, Israel and the West Bank) was about half a million inhabitants and east of the Jordan River perhaps 200,000.

    The collapse of the agricultural system with the influx of nomadic tribes after the Arab conquest that created malarial swamps and denuded the ancient terrace system eroding the soil, was coupled by a tyrannous regime, a crippling tax system and absentee landowners that further decimated the population. Much of the indigenous population had long since migrated or disappeared. Very few Jews or Arabs lived in the region before the arrival of the first Zionists in the 1880s and most of those that did lived in abject poverty.

    Most Arabs living west of the Jordan River in Israel, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza are newcomers who came from surrounding Arab lands after the turn of the 20th century because they were attracted to the relative economic prosperity brought about by the Zionist Movement and the British in the 1920s and 1930s.

    • Guest

      And yet Israel itself continues to perpetuate the lie of a "Palestinian" people – even going so far as to negotiate and give land to these Arabs. So, what do you expect the rest of the world to believe? Israel has lied so much about it that even some of their own Jewish citizens believe this lie. Israel is destroying itself, on purpose. Will its people wake up before it's too late? Who knows?

  • Drakken

    Nothing that a little napalm can't cure, and good riddance.

  • Herb Benty

    On a flight on EL AL between Tel Aviv and Kennedy Int. in 1995, I got into a discussion with a few people about Arab terrorism. I heard stories that were terrible, and kind of "lost it", saying finally, " if this would have happened during King David's reign those terrorists would be dead". They smiled at me and nodded. since then the Arabs have commited many more atrocities and this little witch picks a restaurant filled with Israeli children….CHILDREN!!! What kind of DEMONS are the LEFT in bed with? Hitler also slaughtered little children and now Western pinko commies and truly EVIL Arabs want the other 6 million!! Lord Jesus Christ my Redeemer remember your holy nation- Israel

  • Ghostwriter

    Wow! And THESE are the people the world's supposed to sympathize with? I'm sorry but I can't do that. All people like that know how to do is scream "Death to America!" and "Death to Israel!" every five minutes while encouraging their children to do more suicide bombings. These people lost my sympathy when the overwhelming majority of them celebrated the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the deaths of innocent Americans.

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    The pig Ahlam Tamimi exemplifies the evil that has taken hold of the self proclaimed "Religion of Peace".

    I do hope she suffers eternal Nakba.

  • moishe

    And still American Jews read the New York Times religiously as their daily Torah portion and dance with the New York Times Magazine on Sundays as if they were celebrating the Simchas Torah holiday. Rabbis will be reading aloud from this latest magazine article in Shabbat services designed to denounce Israel before their congregations and cloud its members' minds.

    • Mikie

      I love your reply!

  • Naser Altamimi

    From the replies I have read, I would agree with Ben Ehrenreich