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Jared Malsin: the kid next door reports from Bethlehem

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Jared Malsin looks, sounds and writes like your bright and earnest American kid from down the street. And until this January, he was getting his journalistic start in the Palestinian Territories, reporting for Ma'an News Agency. A dozen voices like his in our ears, telling the day-to-day story of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, might force us to change a cruel, foolish and dangerous misuse of our power in the region. Which must be part of the reason Israeli authorities detained Jared Malsin in January, without charge, kept him in jail for a week and then denied him re-entry into the West Bank.

So he's cooling his heels back home, and we're getting to know a model reporter before he's famous. Three years out of Yale, Jared Malsin is the child of teachers in Hanover, New Hampshire, and a graduate of Hanover High School. After college, his news instinct pointed him to Bethlehem, because "you look to the side of the story that's not being told."

Listen to our conversation:

... As a journalist your natural inclination is to give voice to people who don't have a voice. There's nothing like being on the ground and seeing what's happening with your own eyes. You can read about the settlements and the wall. It's another thing to be in Bethlehem, the city I lived in for two and a half years, and see how the wall cuts across the main road to Jerusalem and wraps around the gas station and then cuts between two house and through an olive field and has just completely mangled the city. Something about being there, and seeing it with your own eyes -- there's truth to it that you can't argue with. The challenge is to get that across in reporting, in writing, in photography or whatever medium you're working in.

The story in Palestinian these days, Jared Malsin remarks, is not the consuming flap around new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. It's that four teenagers have been shot by the Israeli Army in the last few days -- deaths that will not be explained or investigated. "If you're on the ground you get a different sense: you can sense the wind shifting and right now I get the sense the conflict is in one of those periods where it's going to start becoming more violent."

If you're living in the West Bank or Gaza, your water gets shut off for a week or ten days at a time, in the summer, routinely. Which means that if you live in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, for a week or ten days in the summer you can't wash yourself; you can't wash your children. You can't take a shower. You can't cook food. It's incredibly dehumanizing, but it's one of these issues you just don't hear about because there are no explosions going on. It's one of these daily lived ways that people live occupation. And that's what I think the real meaning of it is... Those are the stories I'm interested in.

Where, I wondered, is the Palestinian Gandhi between the warring Fatah and Hamas factions?

People ask me that question a lot: 'where is the Palestinian Gandhi?' My response is that he's in jail. There are lots of people who are champions of non-violent modes of political protest. Palestinians have a huge tradition of non-violence. They protest every day, every week, in the West Bank, everywhere, and in Gaza also. Most of the tradition of Palestinian resistance to occupation has been non-violent, and yet most of those people who are leading those protests wind up in Israeli prisons, most of them. Boycott campaigns, protest marches, all the same techniques used by the Civil Rights movement in this country, Palestinians are always using today. But they're met with tremendous violence.
Jared Malsin in conversation with Jared Malsin at Brown, March 24, 2010.

One of those might-be Gandhis, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, was scheduled to speak at Brown this week until his US visa was unaccountably held up. When he gets here, we'll ask for a conversation.