A Palestinian Sob Story in the New York Times

In the eyes of the New York Times, there can be only one victim in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it’s not the Israelis. Hence the NY Times has given op-ed space to Rula Salameh, writing about her fears as a Palestinian mother living in eastern Jerusalem.

Salameh is right to fear the rockets aimed at Jerusalem from Gaza. Hamas does not distinguish between Jews and Arabs when it sends volleys of rockets into Israel. But Salemeh’s other fears project a false reality where Palestinians are simply helpless actors in the wider narrative.

For example:

Just days ago, in apparent retribution for the killing of three Israeli youths, Jewish extremists kidnapped, tortured and murdered Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy one year younger than my own son, and Israeli authorities have arrested and beaten hundreds of Palestinians throughout East Jerusalem.

Salameh fails to mention that those Palestinians were arrested for rioting and destroying their own neighborhoods. Why is this important? Because much of Salameh’s piece conveys a fear of even entering Jewish neighborhoods:

My neighborhood of Beit Hanina borders the Israeli settlements Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov. How can we continue to live like this? In September, when our children return to school, how will we let our sons and daughters walk by themselves in the mornings and evenings? How can a mother let her children out of the house, knowing now that in addition to the harassment and threats they have always faced from the Israeli police and authorities, they may be grabbed off the street and murdered?

Granted, Salemeh has every reason to express concern in the aftermath of the brutal murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. However, while that horrific incident appears to be a despicable aberration and hopefully an isolated event, it is, in reality, Jewish residents of Jerusalem who have feared entering Arab neighborhoods over the course of many years.

As a parent myself, I cannot and would not let my own children enter parts of eastern Jerusalem unprotected. Contrast this with the Palestinian children of eastern Jerusalem who can, if they so wish, take advantage of all that Jerusalem has to offer by way of entertainment, culture, cafes, restaurants and the like within the center of the city and other Jewish neighborhoods.

While Salemeh bemoans the lack of services in parts of eastern Jerusalem, she does not consider the fear that Jewish municipal workers feel when they enter neighborhoods where hostility towards Israeli authority and officialdom has existed from way before the most recent events. That the residents of Shuafat will not be able to use the Jerusalem Light Rail to get to the center of the city (where they are able to move and work without any threat to their well being) is not the fault of Israel but of those Palestinian rioters who destroyed the infrastructure in their own neighborhood.

In fact, only recently, the Israeli government has approved a 295 million shekel (approx. $86m) plan to strengthen eastern Jerusalem’s infrastructure.

It is Salemeh who wishes to separate herself from her Jewish neighbors. She refers to Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov as “settlements” when the reality is that they are suburbs of Jerusalem where she, as a Jerusalem resident, is also legally entitled to live. Indeed, Salemeh does not mention that many Arabs have moved to and live in both of these so-called “settlements.”

Salemeh concludes that “The situation didn’t begin with the kidnappings, and we have to pay attention to that fact.”

She’s right. Jewish residents of Jerusalem have had more to fear from their Palestinian neighbors than the other way around for many years. It is Jewish Israelis who have lived with the stoning, stabbings and other barely reported incidents that take place on a regular basis in the area.

Why has the New York Times given op-ed space for a Palestinian sob story if not to once again portray Palestinians as the victims of Israeli malevolence?

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