Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Blog

Last week, a group of Palestinians erected a “tent village” on Israeli-occupied land that had been seized for Jewish settlement construction. They named the city Bab Al Shams, after the powerful novel Gate of the Sun by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury. The book tells the story of the Palestinian struggle through the eyes of an aging freedom fighter, his relationship with his wife, and his forced exile from his home.

A release from the Bab Al-Shams coordinating committee stated that, “For decades, Israel has established facts on the ground as the International community remained silent in response to these violations. The time has come now to change the rules of the game, for us to establish facts on the ground - our own land.”

The resilience, courage, and optimism of the demonstrators drew the attention of the world to the startling illegality and violence that underlies the current Israeli settlement policy. The land under Bab Al Shams, referred to by the Israeli government as area E-1, is part of the Israeli government’s new construction plan to sever East Jerusalem from the remainder of the West Bank, partly as punishment for the Palestinian UN statehood bid last year.

After the Israeli courts issued a temporary injunction protecting the Palestinian village, the Netanyahu administration immediately disregarded the ruling and ordered the immediate eviction of the Palestinian residents.

It wasn’t long before Israeli security forces in riot gear raided Bab Al Shams, arresting dozens and beating several Palestinians so ferociously that at least six required immediate hospitalization. But, as soon as they were released, several protestors returned to the scene to reclaim the village. Even after being beaten and arrested, one activist sent this tweet the following day:

It bears emphasizing that the establishment of Bab Al Shams is a peaceful, legal manifestation of Palestinians living on Palestinian land. Their (violent) eviction was premised on the necessity of building an illegal settlement complex that has been condemned by virtually every country in the world.

This is part of the power of Bab Al Shams: it brings the fundamental injustices faced by the Palestinians into stark relief, and shows the willingness of ordinary Palestinians to use selfless, nonviolent tactics to defend their beliefs (and their land), while facing arrest, assault, and freezing temperatures.

But it also demonstrates the unwillingness of many US media outlets to report these realities. In perhaps the clearest example of this phenomenon, the New York Times story on Bab Al Shams changed titles from “Palestinians Set Up Camp in Israeli-Occupied West Bank Territory” to “Palestinians Set Up Tents Where Israel Plans Homes,” not-so-subtly changing the Palestinian “Camp” to “Tents” and the “Israeli-Occupied West Bank Territory” to “Where Israel Plans Homes.” The editorializing in the second title is as clear as day.

This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of Bab Al-Shams. Though the destruction of the village to appropriate the land for more Israeli settlements, in a manner that almost perfectly mirrors the stories of the “Nakba” in Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, is itself a horrific act. But, it is an act that most of the world has witnessed, and condemned, causing an outpouring of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people. Here in the US, our media narrative prevents even the realization of the crime from one of the most crucial audiences: American voters who can change the one-sided Congressional game that keeps Israel immune from repercussions for these kinds of actions, and continues to blame besieged non-violent Palestinian protestors for their supposed intransigence and violence.

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