Fixing ‘News That’s Fit to Print’
Rami Nazzal is a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem who guides tours “freely and safely across borders,” providing “a window into the reality of Palestine.” He identifies himself as “a fixer for journalists, writers, photographers, film producers.” Surely his most prominent “fixee” is The New York Times.
By now a bevy of Times reporters have been the beneficiaries of his tours. He led former Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren to a group of Palestinian musicians, who created an “intifada soundtrack” that featured such hits as “Stab the Zionist and say God is great” and “Say hello to being a martyr.” He guided science reporter James Glanz to “the violent east Jerusalem slum” of Issawiya, filled with the “acrid stench of burning trash.” There, to the reporter’s surprise, Palestinian residents were raising “exquisitely groomed Arabian horses,” an affection that “helps them to endure life under Israeli occupation.”
Nazzal’s journalistic tour de force came in May, when he led Glanz to the sparkling new Palestinian Museum in Birzeit, north of Ramallah. In nearly 1,000 words, they described the Palestinian struggle “to build political and civic institutions while resisting Israel’s occupation;” recounted the story of the (ousted) director who planned to feature “artistic interpretations of things like keys and photographs that Palestinians around the world have kept from the homes they fled or were forced from in what is now Israel;” and anticipated the imminent “high-profile opening ceremony a few days after the 68th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe” of Israel’s founding. Gazing at the sparkling new building, “rising above a terraced garden with carefully selected trees,” a museum sponsor exulted: “It’s as if the building is coming out of the womb, the Palestinian Mother Nature.”
The museum, Glanz and Nazzal enthused, would “have almost everything: a stunning, contemporary new building; space to celebrate and redefine Palestinian art, history and culture; an outdoor amphitheater; a terraced garden.” There was, however, a conspicuous omission: “One thing the museum will not have,” they wrote, “is exhibitions.” But, the museum’s chairman explained, Palestinians were “so in need of positive energy” that it seemed “worthwhile to open even an empty building.” Glanz and Nazzal did not contemplate what an empty museum might reveal about the content of Palestinian history and culture.
Inevitably, Peter Baker, the new Times Jerusalem bureau chief, was also taken for a ride by Nazzal. In Tulkarm, on the western edge of the West Bank, they met with Shifa al-Qudsi, “a Palestinian hairdresser driven to anger, despair and hopelessness” by the Israeli occupation. Seeking “revenge” for “her beleaguered people,” she had intended to pretend to be pregnant, wearing a suicide belt beneath her maternity dress, with full awareness that it would “rip her from limb to limb” (and leave her daughter an orphan). But, “with luck,” it would also kill many Israelis. Her own luck expired with her pre-attack arrest. Convicted of “conspiracy to commit premeditated killing and possession of explosives,” she spent six years in an Israeli prison.
There, Baker and Nazzal recounted in a front-page story (October 29), she “transformed herself from a would-be deliverer of death into a messenger of peace.” Offering “a window into the world of terrorism” that has recently inspired young Palestinians to launch the “stabbing intifada,” she explained “the kind of thinking that makes sacrificing oneself seem like a rational response to deep feelings of grievance.” After all, Israelis “occupy your home, your land, they kill your relatives and your people.” The only option is “to seek revenge.” The beguiled Times reporters did not care to provide a statistical update on the stabbing intifada: 3,635 Palestinian attacks (2,188 against civilians); 26 Israelis killed and 511 wounded.
The reformed Ms. Qudsi is now a member of Combatants for Peace. It joins peace-seeking Palestinians and Israelis – former fighters and soldiers — in a new “jihad”: “The world must know the Palestinians’ land is occupied.” Now that yet another Times reporter has partnered with self-described “fixer” Rami Nazzal, her message is news fit to print.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016.