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March 6, 2011
WaPo tackles riddle of Palestinians' 'strange quiet' amid Arab upheavals -- and gets it wrong
In the March 5 edition of the Washington Post, Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg treks over to Ramallah to try to find out why, amid widespread turmoil in the Arab world, Palestinians have not mounted massive protests against their leaders. ("Where the 'rage' is strangely quiet -- For Palestinians, calm amid the surrounding storm" page A7).
Unfortunately, he gets it wrong.
In interviews with Palestinians in Ramallah, Greenberg finds various explanations for why Palestinians have not taken to the streets to dislodge Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party in the West Bank, or Hamas in Gaza -- some show more interest in promoting Fatah-Hamas unity, Abbas is not seen as an autocratic ruler (really?), there's a bit of free expression in the West Bank, also a higher living standard than in neighboring Arab countries.
But the bottom-line response to the riddle of why Abbas appears unchallenged boils down to a single, transcending complaint in Greenbergs's piece -- The problem is not with the Palestinian leadership, but with the Israeli "occupation."
Greenberg starts out by quoting Abed Jabalah, an appliance store owner in Ramallah, as telling him: "We are not happy. No one is happy. But the president and prime minister are doing their best. We are under occupation. We are not a state. The things we demand of our government we know it can't do because of the Israelis. Our revolution should be against Israel first."
And Greenberg wraps it all up in the final paragraph of his story with a quote from Abu Helal, who works in youth programs sponsored by a non-profit group: "We have no regime to topple. Israel controls it all. Our basic problem is the occupation."
Which, of course, begs the real question. If Israeli "occupation" is the real offender, why is there nevertheless quiet on the Palestinian front? Greenberg, on the basis of his own article, fails to ask the right question -- why aren't West Bank Palestinians demonstrating en masse against Israel? Never mind their feelings about Abbas, since his governance apparently is not what they're really beefing about.
Had Greenberg delved into that riddle, he might have found that many Palestinians, while inveighing against Israeli "occupation," actually lead more satisfactory lives under Israeli rule than under Fatah or Hamas rule. And they often tend to act accordingly.
Anti-Israel rhetoric aside, Greenberg might have found telling evidence that this is so by reporting on what happened when Israel built its security barrier along the West Bank to prevent terrorist attacks and, in the process, sliced a bit into remote sections of eastern Jerusalem, leaving some Arab neighborhoods on the Palestinian side of the fence. Anticipating that the barrier eventually might become a border between Israel and a Palestinian state, Arab residents of these Jerusalem neighborhoods began to move out -- and bought homes in more central Jerusalem neighborhoods on the Israeli side.
While Palestinian public parlance against "occupation" has become commonplace, more determinative of their real attitudes is where Palestinians prefer to settle down when confronted with the prospect of ending up on the "wrong" side -- the Palestinian side.
Another bit of significant evidence, also overlooked by Greenberg, is the latest monthly Peace Index Poll by a Tel Aviv University think tank in conjunction with the Israeli Democratic Institute. Taken toward the end of February, the poll asked Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs about the likelihood of anti-government eruptions in Israel. After all, Arabs comprise 20 percent of Israel's population. Yet, they're totally ignored by Greenberg.
Why aren't they emulating Arab mass protests elsewhere? The answer: 56 percent of Israeli Arabs see no point in staging street revolts because they already live in a democracy or view their personal situations as quite good. The rest tend to be apathetic or skeptical, seeing no purpose in mass demonstrations.
Too bad that Greenberg contented himself with reporting Palestinian slogans against Israeli "occupation" instead of reporting on the real lives Palestinians and Israeli Arabs lead and the real choices they make.