The land that today comprises Israel has, for thousands of years, been a hotbed of contention. Much of that conflict arises from the deep connections that both Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures have with the land. Though there are periods of relative peace, every now and again some conflagration of arms or other arises to remind everyone that there still exists a very deep and complex division between the many people claiming Israel as home. For the most part, focus has been upon the nearly century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but further inspection reveals a much more involved narrative including such players as Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Jordanians, and scores more. All are connected in an intricate web as talk of the elusive two-state solution is bandied back and forth between the main factions — Israel and Palestine.
News reporters in Israel have always been challenged with finding a balanced way in which to relate the Holy Land’s perpetually unfolding drama. Ethan Bronner, who has served as the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the New York Times since March 2008, has covered the Arab-Israeli conflict from Jerusalem at various times since the mid 1980s; first for Reuters, and later for the Boston Globe. This Monday, February 8, Bronner will appear at UCSB’s Campbell Hall to deliver a free public lecture: Covering the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in 2010: A Report from the Ground.
Bronner’s coverage of last year’s violence in Gaza included a post-conflict rebuttal to all the negative commentary he had received on his bureau’s reporting titled “Gaza Notebook: The Bullets in My Inbox”. Although Bronner reported receiving a flush of supportive correspondence directly after the piece was published, his aim had been to illustrate the dual nature of how each side sees individual facets of a shared struggle. “No place, date, or event in this conflicted land is spoken of in a common language,” he wrote.
In the wake of the war in Gaza, Palestinians there find themselves more cut off from the outside world than ever, while Israel is in a similar situation with respect to its longtime—albeit tenuous—alliances with the Islamic states of Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. “Generally, Israel is feeling more isolated than it has in a bunch of years,” said Bronner in an interview with The Indy. He said the war has created discord within Israel as well, as Arabs and Jews generally have held opposing views. “The vast majority of Israeli Jews supported the war, but most Israeli Arabs were against it,” he said. “Palestinians themselves are very deeply divided, but even supporters of Fatah were horrified by what they saw in Gaza and felt that it was an unduly aggressive war,” he said. While Israel has fought in several wars since occupied the West Bank in 1967, Bronner noted the almost surgical nature of the Gaza conflict in comparison to others. “The damage is not that extensive, but it’s difficult to report that and put things into proportion when there’s such a heated focus on the place.”
One of those issues in which a lack of a “common language” clearly has played a role is that of Israeli settlements in the West Bank—the very heart of the ancient Holy Land. Many had hoped that American foreign policy would be more decisive in dealing with the problem, but in the course of reporting on the first year of the Obama administration’s involvement, Bronner said that things haven’t progressed as quickly as was expected. “I think the administration is opposed to settlement building, but to announce that you wanted a [construction] freeze without laying the groundwork for how to go about it turned out to be more harmful than useful,” he said.
Regarding Israel’s internal struggle, Bronner paints a picture suggestive of perpetuity. “I don’t see things getting better. There’s a feeling that if things stagnate, it’s the same as decline,” he said, making an allusion to a rotting tooth left to fester. “There’s fatigue, both outside and inside [Israel] with the set of formulas that are repeated but aren’t working,” he said. “Both the Israelis and the Palestinians, somehow, are not that unhappy to wait. Each side thinks they can use the time.”
As turmoil in the Middle East continues, the news media industry faces struggles of its own. Bronner said that although some of the New York Times’ European bureaus have diminished drastically, his bureau and others in the region continue to enjoy full funding. “The Times has maintained fundamentals here—budgets have not yet been cut,” he said.
Ethan Bronner will give a free talk at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Monday, February 8, at 8 p.m. For more information, call 893-2317 or visit ihc.ucsb.edu.