Ben Ehrenreich wrote perhaps one of the best pieces about the Palestinian resistance struggle in the town of Bilin in the West Bank against Israel’s hideous and inhumane apartheid wall. He was also the guy I quoted in a piece I wrote on Western photojournalism’s obsessive Eurocentrism when it comes to reporting on Brown and Black societies.
It was in the context of speaking about the need for ‘White’ interlocutors that I quoted Ehrenreich, and wrote:
“The West’s desperation for ‘white’ interlocutors and the silence of the other – was very strongly bought to the fore by Ben Ehrenreich of The New York Times, the writer of a powerful and rather unusual for the magazine, piece of reportage on the Palestinian resistance to Israeli military rule and occupation in the West Bank. The article, This Is Where The Third Intifada Will Start was a powerful piece and rare in the voices of the Palestinians it allowed to come through. In an interview he gave afterwards he was asked a very pertinent and powerful question which touched on this very issue – the constant representation of the other by an European – and his response was powerful and clear. The question that was posed to him was this:
Let’s talk about the Jewish narrator. In 2006 the Times published a very important essay by Tony Judt in support of Walt and Mearsheimer’s LRB piece on the Israel lobby, and Judt later said that they asked him to insert in there, I’m Jewish. Judt told the story because he knew that Jews were privileged, and that the Times needed to send this signal to its readers. As the NYRB does by publishing David Shulman when it’s critical of Israel, as the New Yorker does when David Remnick is the authority. As Mondoweiss does by stating, we’re a progressive Jewish site at root. As JVP does. It’s a racket, we’re all in on it, and my question is, When do Palestinians get to hold the microphone. Aren’t you and I to blame too? Because if they were holding the microphone, a basic human rights issue like the right to resist that is so core to your piece would have been noncontroversial many many years ago. As it is, Americans have to warm up to the idea, and a Jew has to bring them this news. Comment?
And Ehrenreich’s response was unequivocal and clear. He responded:
I’m glad you asked that question, and yeah, it’s super-problematic. It’s a specific instance of a bigger problem, that black and brown people’s stories can generally only be told in this society via the authority of a white narrator, that we–white people, in this case of Jewish ancestry–are tasked with the representation of black and brown and in this case Palestinian people, who in this dynamic are stuck in the passive role of being represented and are not allowed to interpret their own realities. So certainly we are complicit, and I don’t see any way out of that complicity except to use what privilege I have to tell stories that tear holes in the broader narratives which allow this arrangement to continue. And to do so with scrupulous attention to my own role in it, to the power differentials at play. (My emphasis)”
Ehrenreich demonstrates a sensitive, self-critical and thinking mind. It was shocking that the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran his piece, but, life is full of surprises.
This could be a fascinating and interesting book. Prasad has just given it a strong and positive review, stating that:
Reading Ben Ehrenreich’s The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (2016) is an antidote to the appalling American coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ehrenreich, an American novelist and journalist, lived off and on in Palestine for the past three years. His is a very kind voice, eager to provide space for the Palestinians to tell their stories, interested in the complexities of their emotional and political landscape, unhurried in his prose. Two villages (Nabi Saleh and Umm al-Kheir) and two towns (Ramallah and Hebron) provide the scaffolding for the narrative. Ehrenreich befriends a variety of people, each of whom teaches him that their “normal” is the life of occupation. Violence is part of it, but so too is survival and frustration, making meaning of a life that is structured so pitilessly.