Our Man in the Territories
No one knew until now what veteran television journalist Haim Yavin thought about the news he has been announcing for more than three decades, and he is so nonpartisan that one wondered whether he had an opinion of his own at all. Now, at 72, he is coming out of the closet: "Since 1967 we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people," he says in "Yoman Masa" ("Diary of a Journey"), which he filmed in the West Bank.
For two and a half years,s Yavin wandered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with a small hand-held camera, which he operated himself, without a technical crew. Here and there he was reviled as the representative of the hostile leftist media, but in general the settlers spoke to him on the assumption that he was their man, and justly so: Until now he was everyone’s man. The film he brought back seems intended to salve his conscience: "I cannot really do anything to relieve this misery, other than to document it, so! that neither I nor those like me will be able to say that we saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing," he says in the film, and in response to a question asserts: "I did not move left. The country moved right."
He filmed people who waited for hours at checkpoints and says this has no security justification. Settlers who heard from him about a woman who was not allowed to get to a hospital and therefore was forced to give birth at a checkpoint, try to reassure him: If only the Israelis are able to maintain domestic harmony, "Mohammed" will make coffee both for them and for him. Yavin responds: "I am not willing to rule another people, not willing for `Mohammed’ to make me coffee." He tells again of the woman who was forced to give birth at a checkpoint and says, "It is not Jewish, what we are doing there."
He believes in withdrawal so that a Palestinian state will be established and peace will come. "That is the only thing I can believe in. Other than that I! have nothing to believe in – only in bloodshed," he tells a female se ttler. His thoughts move to the roots of Zionist existence. When he hears people describe Zionism as an expression of racism and colonialism, he is outraged, of course, he says, but on returning from the West Bank, he asks himself what remains of the "true Zionism," the Zionism of peace and equal rights: the Zionism of the settlements?
This is a good foundation for a discussion of the question of whether there ever was a "true Zionism" that did not dispossess the Arabs of this land. Be that as it may, in the first two films in a series of five, Yavin portrays the settlers as members of a fanatic, insane, racist, despicable, violent and dangerous sect – more infuriating and despairing than they have ever been seen in an Israeli film.
It is no wonder that Channel 1 (the state television station, with which Yavin has been identified for almost 40 years) refused to broadcast the series. Instead, it will be broadcast starting next Tuesday as the swan song of Telad o! n Channel 2: Having failed to win the tender for a renewed franchise, Telad can allow itself to end its term with something real.
A soldier in uniform told Yavin that the Hebron settlers were inciting him to shoot and kill Palestinian children. Activist Noam Federman and his wife tell him on camera that an ultimatum has to be presented to the Arab residents of Hebron: Either they leave the country immediately, or the Israel Air Force will bomb their homes. Not far from their home, Yavin filmed a bit of graffiti on a wall: "Arabs to the crematoria." A Border Policeman, a muscular, tough-looking guy, says in a heavy Russian accent, "I am only following orders, I do what I am told." Yavin asserts: "We simply do not see the Palestinians as human beings."
A Peace Now activist who wanders around in the territories still believes that the settlers can be evacuated, as France evacuated its citizens from Algeria, but Yavin does not bring even an iota of hope from the W! est Bank: "This hilula [merrymaking] will never be stopped," he states . He recalls, apparently with sorrow, how Yitzhak Rabin missed the chance to evacuate the Hebron settlers in the wake of the massacre of Muslim worshipers by Baruch Goldstein at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. About 20,000 Hebron residents were forced to leave their homes then. Yavin feels "sadness and despair" and says that "maybe it really is preferable to visit Hebron with a visa."
Yavin believes that the settlers are "wrong" and are also "endangering us," but in contrast to some of his friends on the left, he does not hate the settlers; he even "esteems and likes them," he says. Occasionally he also tries to "balance" Palestinian bereavement with Israeli bereavement, as though finding it difficult to discard the usage of the national "we" that became second nature to him. But not one of the settlers he filmed justifies his high regard.
Daniella Weiss, one of the original settlers in the West Bank, articulates for the camera her credo as a mother: We ha! ve to raise tough children. She gives less consideration to life than to the idea. A woman named Orit Struk reacts to Yavin’s arguments with bloodcurdling laughter and tells him about how a sniper tried to kill her son.
In any properly run country, the welfare authorities would take away their children.
Yavin, though, also tries to jettison the superficial thesis that pins all the blame on the settlers themselves. In his film, too, they are the "masters of the land"; they issue orders to the army and the army obeys. But Yavin’s series shows that the whole society is to blame for the injustices of the occupation and also for the war crimes it has entailed. "We cluck our tongues and move on to the gossip columns," he says.
A few of the settlers praise the help they received from two leaders of the Labor Party, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak. One of the original settlers, Elyakim Haetzni, relates that he has been fighting for a long time to have one ! of the squares in Hebron named after Yigal Alon, the father of the set tlements, but Alon’s widow objects.
Yavin shows that the left-wing organizations, such as Peace Now, are effectively moribund and that only a few humanitarian groups remain, such as Ta’ayush, Physicians for Human Rights, B’Tselem and MachsonWatch, the women of the checkpoints. The good Israelis in the film are individuals: an immunologist (Prof. Zvi Bentwich), a lawyer (Shlomo Laker), a journalist (Haaretz’s Gideon Levy), a Jerusalem plumber (Ezra Yitzhak Nawi) and a soldier in uniform. who says that he could not remain silent "in the face of such horrors."
Yavin says that his professional integrity will allow him to go on anchoring Channel 1’s nightly "Mabat News Magazine." However, the broadcast of the series on a commercial channel raises the question of why we even need what continues to be called "public broadcasting." It’s not worth the compulsory fee. One way or the other, it will be interesting to watch the reactions. It’s possible that attention will not focus on the horrific message of the films, but only on the fact that Haim Yavin, of all people, made them. If he is right about the moral insensitivity that prevails in the country, most viewers may react like the family in the Strauss commercial: Mom, Dad and the kids are visiting the Safari in Ramat Gan. They see an antelope, say "We saw it," and hurry on. They see a lion, say "We saw it" – and hurry home to lick an ice cream bar.
TOM SEGEV is the co-editor The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal.
This article originally appeared in Ha’aretz.