The New York Times has been in my life going all the way back to childhood when I remember my father reading the Sunday Times religiously in his living room armchair. I still read it every day and many of my posts are based on Times stories. It’s the bedrock on which I stand to view the world around me. But every so often, a Times journalist rises that much above the generally fine coverage to a higher plane of insight, brilliance and thoughtfulness. John F. Burns did this yesterday with his Israeli Security Barrier: Bar to Terror or to Peace?. In a deeply personal passage, he describes his own gut-wrenching feelings at returing to visit the West Bank for the first time since the current Intifada began (2000). This passage rises, in my honest opinion, to the level of Great Journalism. I hope some day he wins the Pulitzer he so deserves (unless he’s won one already!):
To a visitor who last saw the West Bank a few days before the current uprising began in September 2000, the length of barrier already completed and the wider changes in the territory brought about by the intifada are a shock. Three years ago, an air of hope and growing normality prevailed. Mostly, Israelis and Jewish settlers moved safely through Palestinian areas, visiting casinos and shopping at roadside bazaars.
Now, the West Bank has the appearance of a wasteland. Life is mostly at a standstill, with big cities, as well as the towns and villages, cut off from one another by a maze of Israeli-built “bypass roads” — open to settlers but closed to most Palestinians — Israeli Army checkpoints and new concrete-slab walls and fencing and piles of bulldozed rubble blocking roads everywhere.
To a Westerner with a permit to travel the territory, it seems like an archipelago of brooding ghettos, of weary men, women and children crossing a patchwork quilt of checkpoints and barriers. East of Jerusalem, where only limited sections of the fence have been completed, it cuts across the hills near Bethlehem. North of Tel Aviv, at Palestinian cities like Qalqilya, which has been surrounded by the fence, farmers heading for their lands and children heading for school must reach gates operated by Israeli soldiers at the set opening hours, especially at dusk, or face camping out overnight.
The deep divide between Palestinians and Israelis is captured by the mood here and in Ariel. Ariel projects modernity and middle-class prosperity, with its blossom-lined avenues, attractive stone houses and apartment blocks, arts and sports centers, well-equipped hospitals and schools, and its own Japanese-financed mini-golf center. It is the citadel of settlements, a vision that the 230,000 Jewish settlers across the West Bank and Gaza, many still in trailers, see as their future.
Haris, barely two miles away, is deeply dispirited. Here, only two of the men, among a dozen who stopped to talk about the fence, had work of any kind. The men focused part of their recriminations on President Bush, dismissing as “theater” American pressure on the Israeli government over the fence. Mostly, they spoke of their fears.
Perusing maps prepared by Israeli and Palestinian groups opposing the barrier that have studied Israel’s plans, they have concluded that the fence is likely to sear the village’s southern flank, 100 yards from the nearest houses, sweeping along a hillside of dense olive trees that overlooks the bypass road that many Ariel settlers use to reach jobs 25 miles away in Tel Aviv.
“When they take your land, kill your sons, deny you food for your family, demolish your houses, and deny you any freedom of movement, what do they expect you to do?” said 52-year-old Najeh Souf, who returned to Haris from more than 20 years working as a hospital clerk in Kuwait and invested his savings in olive groves near the bypass road. “All this I will write in my diary, all they have done, all we have suffered, so it will be read and remembered by my children, and my children’s children. We will never give up. Write that down. We will never give up.”
Mustafa Salami, 24 and never employed, belongs to the under-30 generation of Palestinians that Israeli security officials regard as most threatening. Most days now, he said, he stands by the road, selling artificial sunflowers to passing motorists.
Early on Wednesday, before the cabinet decision, he watched as Israeli troops with a bulldozer demolished his uncle’s corrugated shed beside the road for continuing his plant business without an Israeli permit that had been regularly denied.
“I am very angry, very angry,” he said. “I can’t work, I can’t marry, I can’t build a house. “Life is not worth living. I want to die. Many of us do not care if we live or die.”
“All this I will write in my diary, all they have done, all we have suffered, so it will be read and remembered by my children, and my children’s children. We will never give up. Write that down. We will never give up.” This is powerful, disturbing and brilliant writing for the ages, for the ages.