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The Real Ahlam Tamimi You Didn’t Read About In The Times

From reading the New York Times’ review of the Israeli documentary Hot House, an account of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails, one would be left with the impression that Ahlam Tamimi, the smiling young woman featured in a large color portrait atop the story, is a kindhearted person, an anomalous presence behind bars. Her smooth, youthful skin perspires slightly beneath the hijab that frames her face; she is looking into the camera, head tilted slightly, straight white teeth shining, a look of contentment and pride in her eyes. What could someone like her be doing in prison? You wouldn’t know the answer to that question from the photo caption, which reads: “Ahlam Tamimi in a scene from the documentary ‘Hot House.’ Ms. Tamimi is among about 10,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.” The only reference to her in Neil Genzlinger’s review says, “A former Palestinian newscaster, Ahlam Tamimi, recalls the day she dropped a suicide bomber off at his target, then coolly went on television to report on the resulting bombing.” But this, too, is troublingly incomplete: Tamimi was much more than a simple and perhaps unwitting means of transportation for a suicide bomber. And the suicide bombing in question, which is never mentioned in the review, was one of the most gruesome and deadly of the Intifada: it was the Sbarro pizzeria bombing in downtown Jerusalem that murdered 15 people (17, if one wishes to count the baby being carried by a pregnant woman and another victim who was left in a permanent coma). Eight of the slaughtered were children, a detail that could not have gone unnoticed by Tamimi’s accomplice as he made his way through the crowd of restaurant patrons with an explosives- and shrapnel-packed guitar case slung over his shoulder. Tamimi, who at the time of the attack was a 20-year-old part-time university student from Ramallah, and the bomber, a 22-year-old son of affluent West Bank parents, were members of Hamas. The planning and reconnaissance for the attack were carried out also by Tamimi, and on the day of the attack Tamimi and her accomplice dressed as westerners and spoke English in order to pass through the checkpoints between Arab East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem. In 2006 Tamimi was given a rare opportunity to be interviewed in prison, and declared: “I'm not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel's existence. Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land.” If the editors of the Times were familiar with the easily-obtainable details of her story but nonetheless chose to present her in the manner they did, they are moral cretins. And if they didn’t bother to investigate the reason for her incarceration, they are more than just poor journalists — they are willfully obtuse ones, reluctant to dig too deeply into a story whose particularities would be troublesome to the aesthetic presentation demanded by the preferred narrative — a narrative captured perfectly when Genzlinger avers that “by the end of ‘Hot House’ you may feel more than a little annoyance at the two sides in this endless conflict. These enemies know each other absurdly well. They learn from each other, and talk openly about doing so. Yet they can’t seem to break the cycle: a cat and mouse addicted to their own game.” Beliefs like this are both cowardly and convenient: They allow journalists to remain ensconced in their preferred moral universe, one in which there is equivalence between terrorist and victim and conflict only continues because of an intransigence, even a thirst for combat, that is shared equally by both sides. I wonder whether the Times editors would portray an abortion clinic bomber or Ku Klux Klan member in the way they have presented Tamimi? Can one even imagine such a photograph of an Israeli settler? In selecting the glowing portrait of Tamimi to accompany the Hot House review, and in neglecting to provide essential context, the Times editors made a judgment about the moral characteristics of the attack: A judgment that if made differently would have demanded a photograph of a disfigured survivor, or a portrait of the shattered visage of parents who will be tortured forever by the unspeakable horror of knowing that their children’s bodies were torn to pieces by the nails and screws of a bomb that was delivered to its target by Ahlam Tamimi — a woman who has been given the opportunity to grin at them satisfyingly by the Times editors. Frimet and Arnold Roth, whose 15-year-old daughter was one of Tamimi’s victims, are courageously trying to influence the moral sentiments of people who see Hot House, or who even only read the Times’ coverage of it. Arnold Roth wrote in reaction to the Times’s review: “Neither the New York Times nor HBO are likely to give even a moment's attention to the victims of the barbarians who destroyed the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem and the lives of so many victims. So we would be grateful if you would pass along this link to some pictures of our daughter whose name was Malki. She was unable to reach her twenties — Hamas saw to that. Though she was only fifteen years old when her life was stolen from her and from us, we think Malki was a beautiful young woman, living a beautiful life. We ask your help so that other people — far fewer than the number who will see the New York Times, of course — can know about her. Please ask your friends to look at the pictures — some of the very few we have — of our murdered daughter. They are at There are more photos of the Sbarro bombing and its victims available here and here. They are disturbing but necessary antidotes to the creeping moral dementia that has infected much of the media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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