“It was the hardest thing I could think of to do,” said New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren after stepping into the most impossible of beats almost a year-and-a-half ago. Right off the bat, there was a small Twittergate and along the way, there have certainly been some stumbles, but on Sunday evening Rudoren managed a rare feat: She enraged both sides of her polarized readership with a story about Palestinian rock-throwing in one Palestinian town.
For the pro-Israel set, it was paragraphs like this that elicited anger and accusations of bias:
Youths hurling stones has long been the indelible icon — some call it a caricature — of Palestinian pushback against Israel: a recent United Nations report said 7,000 minors, some as young as 9, had been detained between 2002 and 2012. Here in Beit Ommar, a village of 17,000 between Bethlehem and Hebron that is surrounded by Jewish settlements, rock throwing is a rite of passage and an honored act of defiance. The futility of stones bouncing off armored vehicles matters little: confrontation is what counts.
One quibble here is that stones don’t just bounce futilely off of cars. They maim and they kill. But it’s hard for me to ascribe malice to Rudoren, whose prose in this story seems so blanched of charged language (pushback?) that it can’t help but not offend. Later in the story, passing mention (through an Israeli driver) is made of the nameless deaths of a 25-year-old father and his one-year-old son, both of whom died after their car flipped on the very same road that passes near Beit Ommar after it was pelted with stones.
Meanwhile, over at 972, Noam Sheizaf saw Rudoren’s piece as proof that she was embedded in Israeli society and simply couldn’t understand.
This pseudo-anthropological investigation into the character and customs of the natives goes on with hardly any reference to the political realities, except for a brief mention of a Palestinian claim that nearby settlements took one-third of the village’s land (note this same subjective tone in the quote above). The word occupation doesn’t appear in the piece (a quote from a Palestinian – “they occupy us” – is as far as it gets), nor does “resistance.” Stone throwing, the author explains, is aimed against “Israel” as a whole.
Writing stories about two sets of true believers seems a nearly impossible act to balance. But there are few jobs more important than hers. This story is an example why.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.