A West Bank Story

By Genevieve Long for the Foreign Policy Association

The recent flurry of media coverage on a town in the West Bank called Nablus has a definite positive ring to it. Things are changing for the better there, in an area that has been described by the media as a “former ghost town.” It is also described as a “former militant strong hold”.

Most heavily emphasized among positive changes are the economic advances made in Nablus. They have their first movie theater in 20 years, just set a new Guiness record for the world’s largest pastry, the choking of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints is easing, and law and order after years of trauma and chaos. It seems all is well in the world of Nablus.

But look a bit more closely, and there’s a problem with all the adulation about the dawn of a new economic era in the West Bank. An article that ran on the front page of The New York Times, “Signs of Hope Emerge in the West Bank” is laced with subtle suggestion that the West Bank is easily understood by outsiders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just the lead photo on the article alone shows a deliberate attempt to paint a picture that is easy for Americans to relate to: young women with short sleeves, tight jeans, and uncovered hair at the movie box office. About 1 percent of the women in Nablus would dare to walk around dressed in such a way and with their hair uncovered. They are stylish, but extremely demure and are typically covered from head to foot. Is The New York Times and the media in general trying to say that becoming like the west is equal to recovering from war and economic trauma?

Although economic recovery in Nablus–albeit slow–has become somewhat of a bright spot in the West Bank, it’s curious that so much media coverage that is so positive is coinciding with the recent calls from the U.S. for Israel to halt Jewish settlements in the area. In fact, there have been two days of violence against Palestinians near Nablus after Israeli authorities evacuated some illegal Jewish settlements. The Jewish settlers burned and cut down scores of Palestinian olive trees in retaliation, a practice known as a “price tag.”

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