In mid-December a young Palestinian named Mustafa Tamimi was struck in the face with a tear-gas canister fired from an Israeli armored vehicle. It happened during one of the Friday protests, a weekly event in West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh, where Tamimi lived; he later died from his wounds. In the ensuing battle over culpability—so much of which took place, like everything else these days, on Twitter—a number of English-language bloggers challenged Israeli military spokespeople about the event, again and again, and kept the story of Tamimi’s death in the news.
Readers of the New York Times Lede Blog, which picked up the Twitter war over Tamimi, may have noticed that in recent months a number of “journalists and bloggers” have served as the source for events like these, the protests and tragedies, cultural battles and political conversations, that are taking place in both Israel and the occupied territories. What might not be immediately clear is that these bloggers are almost all drawn from one site, an eighteen-month-old webzine called +972. The name refers to the country code used to call Israel (and, not incidentally, the West Bank) from outside the country; it is a number that has no political affiliation, no historic connection and no space on the political spectrum. It simply represents the geographic space. That suits the bloggers of +972 just fine.
Born in the summer of 2010 as an umbrella outfit for a group of (mostly) pre-existing blogs, +972 steadily morphed into something more cohesive. The site is now an online home for more than a dozen writers, a mix of Israelis, binational American- and Canadian-Israelis, and two Palestinians, all of whom occupy, if you’ll forgive the term, space on the spectrum of the left. What that means is that though the writers of +972 are, purposefully, uniformly progressive (they are all avowedly against the occupation), they have differences: they disagree with one another about exactly how to change the status quo; they disagree over how to incorporate the need for social justice in Israeli Jewish society into the debate about Palestinian rights. And they regularly argue among themselves over subjects generally taboo not only in the mainstream US media—a one-state solution to the conflict, for example—but also in Israel.
Indeed, as wrangling in the United States over Israel-Palestine has become more and more cartoonish (Republican candidates promising to summarily move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and denying the very existence of Palestinians; blogs and organizations labeled anti-Semitic for daring to breathe a word of criticism toward Israel), this start-up news site is challenging mainstream Israeli and foreign journalists to fill the lacuna in their coverage of the conflict and upending the conversational status quo about the future of the Jewish state.
Because it is written primarily in Israel, +972 is unencumbered by the careful dialogue we have cultivated in this country, and yet because it is written in English, the site enables American (and international) readers to see just how constrained our opinions have become. That said, +972’s original tag line, “Independent commentary from Israel & the Palestinian territories,” quickly added the word “reporting” (and shortened to “Israel & Palestine”) as it became increasingly clear that these writers, all of whom earn their living elsewhere, are not merely armchair gadflies but also on-the-ground reporters inside Israel and on the other side of the 1967 borders. As Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian contributor, told me, “The first time an ambulance is stopped at a checkpoint, it gets reported; the second, third time, it doesn’t get reported. +972 tries to make sure people don’t get used to it, that it’s not OK.”