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August 19, 2005

Stop Your Sobbing


by Ran HaCohen

Personal Thanks

Friday night I had a visit. I came home and saw a man running to the back door. With, as I later realized, my laptop, my watch, and some cash. I called a friend, but she had little time for me: her sister in Ramat Gan had just enjoyed a similar visit; they even took her car. Another friend took my case as an alarm, in vain: a week later their house in Hod HaSharon was broken into while they were sleeping. My blacksmith in Netanya wasn't surprised: "I've been in this business for 30 years, and never seen a flood like this week. I now take orders exclusively from clients who had a burglary."

The entire Israeli police force is in and around Gaza. Except for a few units left over to break the bones of the peaceful anti-wall demonstrators in Bil'in, the Israeli forces are all in the South. The Masters of the State are struggling with the Masters of the Land, and we, common Israelis, have to live with rising criminality. Thank you, dear settlers.

Our Poor Settlers

You won't find a word about the wave of crime in the Israeli media. The media is now in "empathy mode": we are celebrating the terrible suffering of our brothers the settlers.

Oh, how they suffer. It breaks one's heart. "People are thrown to the street," said Rabbi Shlomo Aviner from Bet-El, who infiltrated Gaza to incite his disciples. "Our life was stopped, and it will never resume," mourns one settler. "My mother was taken out of her home and put on a bus in Poland," cries another victim, "and now they're going to do the same to me." The same, sure thing. "They're going to destroy 20 synagogues, almost like in Kristallnacht," complains a third idiot. Some of them say it out loud: "it's a Holocaust." Perhaps even worse? "If Gentiles had done this to me, it would have been better; but Jews…" one settler said on television. Ha'aretz journalist Ari Shavit – once the hope of Israel's peace camp, now a sickening right-winger – draws an analogy between a bereaved settler's lost son and her house: "Just as her son is no longer with her, so her home will not be hers." Losing a son, leaving a house – it's all the same. It seems that the more the settlers defy and despise democracy, morality, rationality, history, even the Holocaust, the stronger the media embraces them. Not to portray them as lunatics, but as traumatized victims whose deranged behavior is the ultimate evidence for their suffering.

The "poor settlers" image dominates the Israeli media not because it is in love with the settlers, but because it is obedient. Prime Minister Sharon wants the eviction to be portrayed as a huge national trauma – as a means against any future withdrawals – so that's what the media is doing. The narrative adopted is the settlers' narrative. The tears dripping from my television set day and night are shed by both the settlers and the evicting forces, and it's the same tears: both sides share a narrative that portrays the removal of the illegal settlements, or the decolonization of occupied Palestinian land, as an historic tragedy, "uprooting," "deportation." Neither the government nor the media offers an alternative – neither a narrative of decolonization as a step toward peace (the very last narrative Sharon would ever adopt) nor any other. All that the soldiers and policemen cling to is the formal argumentation of obeying legitimate orders following a democratically taken decision. And at any rate, they have been ordered not to argue with the settlers, so that the latter's narrative dominates the entire stage. The settlers, observes Ehud Asheri, are "Losing on the ground, winning on TV."

Our Spoiled Settlers

This representation may seem inevitable to Israeli media consumers, but it's definitely not the only possible one. There is a lot of antagonism toward the settlers; none of it reaches the media, except for rare scoops like the police officer unknowingly recorded telling his men to "f*ck these damned settlers" (he was dismissed immediately, of course).

Why hate the settlers? Look: last week the worst-ever Poverty Report was published, giving Israel a Western-world-record in child poverty: 33 percent of Israeli children now live in poverty, compared to 22 percent in the United States, 15 percent in Canada, 10 percent in Germany, and 4 percent in Sweden. On this background, take a close look at the pictures from the settlements: a great villa for every family, beautiful gardens, well-paved streets, luxurious community facilities. Nothing to compare with the slums of nearby Sderot, the poor, unemployment-struck town inside Israel, not even with the common apartment blocks of the Israeli middle class within the Green Line. In a rare interview, an elderly man from Sderot told Israeli television that if all the money hadn't gone to the settlements, it could have made his home town prosperous. Meanwhile, rows of slums in Sderot, often bombed by Palestinian homemade missiles, are offered for sale. Unlike the settlements, here there are no generous public facilities, no bulletproof windows, and definitely no compensation for those wishing to leave.

The settlers have been spoiled by the state to such an extent that the real question is not why they are resented, but how come they are not resented even more. The answer lies in the openness of the settlements' project: Israeli lower-middle-class families have the option to pack their belongings, leave their slums behind, and "uproot" themselves the other way around, to high-quality, highly subsidized housing within a generously supportive community in the Occupied Territories. In fact, many of them did so, especially to the bigger settlements next to the Green Line, like Maale Adumim. That's the power of Israel's colonization policy, but that's its Achilles heel as well: it's these settlers, motivated by economic benefits rather than by ultra-nationalist fanaticism, who now "betray" and readily return to Israel for very generous compensations. In fact, the real pain in the neck facing the evicting forces is not the Gaza settlers, most of whom have left, but thousands of young rabble from the West Bank who infiltrated Gaza, practically occupying the emptying settlements to resist the "uprooting" of the homes of others.

Alternatives

There are other stories, other perspectives the media could choose. Take the story of Dugit. The small settlement on the northern coast of Gaza is represented just as any other: "uprooting," tears and all. Nobody seems to remember that 10 years ago the settlers of Dugit went to demonstrate in front of PM Rabin's office in Jerusalem, demanding to get a piece of coast inside Israel and get out of Gaza. It's time for peace now, they said, let us out. The government refused. I'd love to hear their perspective: how many of them were killed or injured in Palestinian terror attacks since? What do they think of the dirty game played with them? Not a word of it in the media.

Extremely rare are also settlers' perspectives like the one brought by Akiva Eldar: "From the age of three to the age of 30 we licked honey," says a Gaza settler.

"We lived in a rented house with a view of the sea, and we paid maybe one-tenth of the rent and property tax for a similar house in Herzliya. There are those who didn't even pay that pittance and also got electricity and water for free. We made a decision not to accept compensation."

The media could have concentrated on such voices too: much more honest, much more authentic than the fanatics' endlessly recycled propaganda. "What broke me," says the same conscientious settler, "was the theft of land between Neveh Dekalim and Shirat Hayam. I saw a fellow, someone who looked like a perfectly normal citizen to me expelling a group of Arabs from the Muasi from their vegetable patch. … I was in shock. I realized that these people were enlisting the ideology in order to get control of lands."

Yes – the media could wonder on whose lands the Gaza settlements were located, from whom and how these lands were seized. Instead, the only context in which Palestinians are mentioned is in their fixed role: namely, "will there be more terrorism after the withdrawal?" A single different voice is that of Danny Rubinstein, who, while the entire media recycles the hypocritical clamors about the "uprooting" of 8,000 settlers, reminds us that

"During the course of the bloody conflicts of recent years, approximately 30,000 inhabitants of the Gaza Strip have been uprooted from their homes. Entire Palestinian neighborhoods along the Philadelphi route in Rafah, at the edges of the Khan Yunis refugee camp, along the route to Netzarim and in the north on the edges of Beit Hanun have been turned into heaps of ruins by the Israel Defense Forces."

*

The Israeli media could take such perspectives – points of view of the many victims of Israel's colonization, inside and outside, in past and present. It could remind the viewers that in this case, the end is also a new beginning, and that with an average $250,000 per family the settlers are welcome to start a new life in a more friendly place. Then, there could be some hope that the pullout is a first step toward true decolonization. However, the way it is represented right now seems to confirm that basically, nothing in Israel's colonialist ideology has changed.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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