Harriet Sherwood visits town of Nabi Selah – forgets to mention the little monster it spawned

The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood has returned after a short absence and filed a report on June 12, from the West Bank town of Nabi Selah, about efforts by British foreign office minister Alistair Burt “to revive moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians”. Sherwood, in a story titled ‘Middle East peace talks must succeed to avoid despair says UK minister‘, describes Burt’s visit to the Palestinian town, where he urged Palestinians involved in “grassroots protests” against the “occupation of their land” to give their leaders a “completely free hand” to re-engage with negotiations.

In recounting the supposed difficulties of Burt’s efforts to restart talks, Sherwood includes only those obstacles allegedly created by Israeli leaders to a degree that the reader would be forgiven for believing that a culture of incitement, as well as preconditions set by Palestinian leaders to resume talks, had any role whatsoever in obstructing the political process. However, it’s when Sherwood pivots to detailing the UK minister’s visit to Nabi Selah, a town along the hills of southern Samaria, when the most pronounced obfuscation about Palestinian intentions occurs.

Sherwood writes the following:

Burt’s visit to Nabi Saleh – his third in two years – was part of a personal commitment to track the village’s protests against the encroachments of a nearby Jewish settlement and the forceful response by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to weekly demonstrations. Two villagers have been killed by IDF fire, in December 2011 and November 2012.

“This is a very important stop for me,” he told village representatives. “The reason I keep coming is to maintain a relationship with the families [of the dead men], to make clear they are not forgotten and that those of us who care about the issues of Nabi Saleh will continue to support you in the hope the suffering is not in vain.

“What’s happened here has been wrong; wrong for the settlers to take your land, and wrong in the way the IDF handled demonstrations.”

Naji Tamimi, the leader of the local protest group, said: “We consider you a brother … As a politician, it’s important to know what the people think, not just the [political] leaders.” He appealed for the British government to “support the popular resistance”, adding that the IDF response to protests had become harsher.

Another village protest leader, Bassem Tamimi, said: “The visit is important, but it’s not a big issue. We need real pressure on Israel to stop settlements. The UK is a big state, and we expect more action.”

You may recall that the town of Nabi Selah (and Sherwood’s protagonist, Bassem Tamimi) was featured in a New York Times magazine cover story by Ben Ehrenreich, which romanticized the culture of terrorism in Bassem’s ‘little village’, and whitewashed the crime of its most famous resident, a woman named Ahlam Tamimi – whom, per Ehrenreich, is still much-loved in the town.   

As Arnold and Frimet Roth explained in-depth recently, in response to Ehrenreich’s story, Tamimi (released in 2011 during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange) is the Palestinian who escorted a suicide bomber to a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001 – a massacre which left fifteen people dead, including the Roth’s’ daughter Malki who was only fifteen years old at the time:

[Ahlam Tamimi] 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.

Aftermath of Jerusalem Sbarro bombing in 2001

Sherwood completely fails to mention Ahlam Tamimi in her report.

Further, we humbly suggest that if Mr. Burt truly wants to understand Nabi Selah and, relatedly, the reluctance of many Israelis to take seriously the casual and ubiquitous assurances of Palestinians’ peaceful intentions, that he consider paying a visit to grieving mothers and fathers who continue to suffer as the result of the monsters spawned by such tiny Arab villages in the hills.

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