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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Would you go to Shchem (Nablus) to hang out?

I was kind of hard on Benjamin Bright-Fishbein the other day for going to a Shchem (Nablus) coffee house to drink coffee and smoke a nargila. But it seems that Bright-Fishbein is part of a trend of 'human rights workers' (such as ISM tools), travelers and adventurers who think hanging out in downtown Shchem is the thing to do. Should Israel be responsible for protecting these fools? They seem to think so....

An increasing number of Western travelers come here "not just to see Israel, but to see 'Israel-Palestine,'" said Jeff Halper, coordinator for the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions [an extreme leftist organization. CiJ]. "For them, to be in Tel Aviv and not going to Nablus is not seeing the whole picture."

Halper, whose work regularly takes him to areas of the West Bank that are considered dangerous by the IDF and the US State Department, said he felt "absolutely safe traveling" there. "Things can always happen, but they can happen in Minneapolis," he said. [I don't recall hearing of anyone being hauled from a restaurant and executed in Minneapolis lately by terrorists. Anyone from Minneapolis want to comment? CiJ]

Jeff Morency, 23, a research fellow from the University of Minnesota working in Ramallah, agreed. He has visited Nablus in the past and, despite the danger of what he termed "isolated incidents," said "I don't think twice" about going to the West Bank.

But Halper and Morency both warned that visiting the West Bank can be dangerous, especially if travelers are unprepared or unaware of the local culture. Morency said that he dresses more conservatively and tries to be respectful toward a culture in financial crisis. When traveling, he said, he always takes contact numbers of volunteers and international organizations in the area. "It's important to plan ahead and to know people, as it is when you're traveling in any new area," he said.

Halper pointed out that Bright-Fishbein put himself in danger when he visited Nablus without contacts and without people knowing why he was there. [And this would also undoubtedly be the case if I went into a restaurant in Athens or Antwerp without knowing anyone there and without having any 'contacts'.... Right.... CiJ]

"Had he contacted someone and met up with them for a cup of coffee, everything would have been fine," he said. "We generally go with Palestinians, and they always know that we're coming. We don't just go wandering around by ourselves."

Students at the Hebrew University echoed Halper's sentiment.


Despite the first kidnapping of an American citizen in the West Bank, the United States Embassy said that it was not planning to change the wording of its travel warning for the area. But Stewart Tuttle, spokesman for the embassy, was critical of Bright-Fishbein's actions.

"We discourage people to do what he did for the very reasons that came to pass in his case," he said. "Clearly the warning is there for a reason."

Someone should remind these people of the story of two Israeli restaurateurs from Tel Aviv. In March 2001, they went to Tulkarm to buy supplies from people they knew, and decided to have lunch in a local eatery that they apparently knew. Raed Karmi, then an 'official' in Yasser Arafat's Abu Mazen's Fatah party, abducted them from the restaurant, took them outside and executed them. (The link is to a long document, and the story is on page 321). For no particular reason. Karmi got his 72 virgins in January 2002, courtesy of an IDF helicopter. There's a reason you're not supposed to go to Arab cities in Judea and Samaria.

Update 10:15 AM

The Post is now reporting that Benjamin Bright-Fishbein is leaving Israel today for China, and realizes that he was incredibly stupid (okay, he said "foolish," although he also said "stupid" at the end and I'm trying to be kind to him because I have this sneaking suspicion that I knew his mother growing up):

"I wanted to see Nablus," he said Tuesday, speaking outside the Reznik dorms at the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, where he has been living for the past semester. "It seemed like an interesting place to go."

Bright-Fishbein, 20, a former Jerusalem Post intern, said he had been unaware before heading to Nablus on Saturday of the blast on a Gaza beach the previous day that killed seven people. Had he known, he said, he might have felt it prudent not to head into the West Bank.

Bright-Fishbein's Nablus experience lasted about 12 hours from beginning to end. He made his way to the city on Arab buses, starting off from Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem and transferring in Ramallah. He traveled alone, and decided en route that if anyone asked him his name he'd tell them he was "Daoud Bright" in the hope that they wouldn't think he was Jewish.

"Daoud could be a Protestant name, and Bright is Catholic," he said, adding that the kidnappers - a group of men, led by "Ahmed" - apparently believed the false name but still thought he was Jewish. "They were calling me 'Daoud' right up until they let me go," he said.

On arrival in Nablus at around 3:00 p.m., he decided to visit a coffee shop. While he smoked a water pipe, he was approached by the men, who sat down surrounding him. Ahmed, the evident leader, carried a gun, he said.

"I didn't want to talk to him, but I couldn't really do anything about it," said Bright-Fishbein. He said that Ahmed was convinced he was an Israeli Jew despite his assumed name and the New York State driver's license he was carrying. He said the kidnappers "didn't really read English" and therefore could not make out his real name on the license.

And although Bright-Fishbein had studied some Arabic in Cairo, he said he "couldn't understand Ahmed's Arabic."

Bright-Fishbein was not carrying his American passport, something he described as "a blessing and a curse." If he'd had his passport with him, he said, the kidnappers might have made more of an effort to verify his identity, which could have been problematic. On the other hand, he had no way of proving his American citizenship, something that might have shortened his captivity.

Bright-Fishbein was reluctant to give all the details of his kidnapping, which ended after it became clear that he was an American citizen whose abduction was deemed illadvised. "It was traumatic," he said. "I want to put as much distance between myself and what happened as possible."

However, he said that in some ways the experience felt empowering in retrospect. "There were points where I felt like I was in control," he said.

He said the first thing he did after being delivered to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday was to call his father in America, who was unaware of his kidnapping. "I'm glad that he could hear it first from me, and that the first thing I could tell him was that I was safe," he said.

Read the whole thing.


At 6:11 PM, Blogger Shanah said...

"Daoud could be a Protestant name, and Bright is Catholic,"

I've got tons of Protestant friends named Daoud. In fact, it ranks third after Michael and Mahmoud.

However, he said that in some ways the experience felt empowering in retrospect. "There were points where I felt like I was in control," he said.

Yeah, that point after smoking the water pipe and before he realized he wasn't just "on a good buzz."

So, now he's going to go wander around China, huh? I wonder what kind of empowerment comes from the opium in back-alley tea rooms...

At 11:01 PM, Blogger bec said...

so should we attribute his apparent "foolishness" to that blinding scourge of liberalism or to his age? sadly, i know many people like him who would unwittingly get themselves into the same predicament under the guise of helping to bring people together.


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