Jerusalem24 – It was touted as the event of the year by Israeli politicians and pundits.
When US President Joe Biden landed on Wednesday at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, he walked down the traditional red carpet, and was greeted by the traditional reception party: current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, former prime minister Naftali Bennett – and, somewhat conspicuously though certainly not headline-worthy, former (and, it is widely expected, next) prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial on charges of deception, breach of trust, and receiving bribes.
Biden delivered all the expected remarks to the waiting cameras, the tried-and-tested soundbites, even recycling a decades-old statement that one “need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.”
So far, so little news.
The rest of the day unfolded according to the meticulously planned-out itinerary of the visiting head of state. Agreed-upon statements were recited. Photos were posed for. More hands were shaken.
“Biden’s boring first day is just what Israel needed”, proclaimed a Haaretz headline.
By Thursday morning, the lack of headlines was becoming a worthy headline in itself.
Television and social media reports showed streets emptied of cars, trams, and all other manner of vehicles in preparation for Biden’s visit to Jerusalem.
Everything was quiet, everyone was orderly.
In fact, the only place where there was less news than in Israel… was in Palestine.
The news is there is no news
“What’s the news?” someone asked as staff gathered in the Jerusalem24 newsroom.
The daily news cycle at Jerusalem24 invariably begins by covering the same following items: arrests of Palestinians during overnight Israeli raids; Israeli army home invasions and damage to property; confrontations between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers; Palestinian injuries due to tear gas and live ammunition; and finally (though usually a bi-weekly rather than daily occurrence), Palestinians shot and killed by Israeli forces.
Night and after night the same exact pattern of events occurs; and morning after morning, Palestinian journalists cover this in their morning news bulletin.
We checked the usual sources: Palestinian Ministry of Health for injuries and deaths; Palestinian Prisoners’ Society for arrests; governorate offices for invasions and raids; social media for videos of confrontations with soldiers.
“So what’s the news?”
And there was none. No arrests, no overnight raids, no injuries. In fact, Jersualem24 couldn’t confirm that a single incursion by a single Israeli soldier had taken place anywhere in the West Bank at all.
No one in the newsroom could remember the last time this happened. Could it have been in 2013, during Barack Obama’s last official state visit?
As the day unfolded, we moved on to the other daily features of the Palestinian news cycle: home demolitions, land- or property-seizure notices, settler attacks on Palestinians or their lands, razing of agricultural lands and trees, Gaza fishermen coming under fire at sea, and administrative detention orders being renewed without charge or trial.
And again – where was the news?
Palestine is a small country with the population of a mid-sized capital city. No sooner has an incident involving settlers or occupation forces taken place that news or documentation of it has travelled along informal information networks, both through social media and word-of-mouth, soon making its way to official channels and newsrooms.
But that day, the channels ran dry.
A collective, temporary sigh of relief was breathed across Palestine, that nevertheless felt unsettling and vexing: if the raids and seizures and maimings can stop for one day, surely that must throw their proclaimed legitimacy and necessity into question?
There was a sudden peak of activity mid-afternoon when a settlement near Ramallah went on full lockdown due to a possible “infiltration” of a Palestinian. The flurry soon died down when it was discovered that a settler themselves had jumped over the fence, prompting the alarm.
Away from the headlines, Palestinian civil resistance comes to the fore
As for Palestinian media – unburdened by the routine charge of reporting between 15 and 30 daily arrests, half a dozen or so home demolitions and expulsions, peppered by settler and army attacks and the injuries incurred – the headlines that suddenly came to prominence were of Palestinian civil resistance, no less a daily occurrence than the items mentioned above.
There was a renewed demand from a grieving family for Biden to pursue justice for their loved one as an American citizen; a French-Palestinian activist’s legal pursuit for freedom from state harassment; a slew of billboards set up across Bethlehem to remind Biden of the Israeli apartheid “elephant in the room”; peaceful protests across the West Bank rejecting Biden’s visit; a conference organized by Palestinian Americans to demand equal rights under US law to their non-Palestinian counterparts; and a Palestinian American social justice activist’s fight for her people an ocean away.
By Friday afternoon, a visit from Biden to East Jerusalem hospitals brought some welcome news, while a visit to Bethlehem yielded nothing but disappointment in the form of stale, unconvincing and unconvinced commitments to Palestinian statehood in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Once Biden hops on a plane to Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian news cycle, it is safe to say, will resume its daily routine, as though no head of a global superpower had ever been here at all.
But if anything, Mr. President, Palestine had one good night’s sleep thanks to your visit.