The media is to blame: For months, it portrayed the story of the “great sacrifice” the evacuated settlers must make. For years, it ignored the injustices they inflicted on their neighbors and thus helped portray the settlers in a false light. The result: broad public sympathy for their bitter fate and shock over their brutal behavior, as if blocking roads or even the lynching of a Palestinian teenager is something new or unusual. But in the territories, the settlers have been violently blocking roads for years, and harsh brutality toward Palestinians is also nothing new. The only novelty is that suddenly they are showing this on television.
If the media had exposed the full scope of the settlers’ deeds over the years – the dubious ways in which they took over land, the huge budgets they received, their violent behavior – perhaps they would have been denounced long ago, as should be done by a healthy society. If their full story had been told, perhaps we would not have blindly subscribed to the distinction between “moderate” and “extreme” settlers, to their portrayal as modern day pioneers and to the sugary and hypocritical preaching for dialogue with them. Israeli society chose to be led by their cynical manipulations, and we journalists lent a hand to this. “A leftist mafia?” What a ridiculous contention. Never has there been such an impressive media success here as that of the right. An enterprise that was criminal from the outset was depicted as one of high principles, even by people who favor compromise with the Palestinians. It was portrayed as an enterprise worthy of sympathy and appreciation, mainly comprised of idealists – and even if some stray weeds sprouted there, they were just an exception.
This false conception is now collapsing – the conception of this illegitimate enterprise’s legitimacy, fostered by politicians, military personnel and journalists. The rotten fruits of this distorted description are now placed at our doorstep – at Muasi, Maoz Yam, Tal Yam, the blocked highways of Israel, tire spikes and all of the other expressions of violence.
For several months, the media has devoted inflated coverage to the suffering of the evacuees, and we are subject to heartrending and senseless descriptions. Every teenage girl from Gush Katif who pours out her heart in a diary is awarded a tear-jerking column, every rabbi becomes a profound philosopher and every housewife an angry prophet. Every piece of land cultivated by Palestinian and Thai workers employed under disgraceful conditions becomes part of the sacred homeland, and the relocation of inhabitants under deluxe terms is presented as uprooting and rending. The evacuators and evacuees are described as “weeping together.” Soldiers who destroyed and killed in the territories without inhibition are suddenly in need of emotional support. In this way, the price of the evacuation is raised and the next evacuation is prevented. There is no proportion between the suffering of the evacuees – to whom the state is extending generous assistance in every area – and the lamentation over them. These spin doctors, the settlers, pluck every string, from their children to the graves of their family members, to create an image of victimhood. It is no wonder the country is painted orange.
Suddenly we are showing a rare sensitivity for human suffering. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes, as their homes, with all of their possessions, were crushed by Israel Defense Forces bulldozers, without warning, without compensation, without evacuation. The hundreds of families whose homes were expropriated for various purposes, the farmers dispossessed of their lands, the uprooted trees and the children who silently witnessed the brutality – these were never given even a fraction of the media coverage the settlers have received.
Foreign workers who are hunted as animals and violently deported, and even the impoverished in Israel – those evacuated from their homes, with their children, due to debt and mortgages, the unemployed who are down to their last loaf of bread, and miserable homeless people who roam the streets – can only dream of such broad and sympathetic media coverage.
On the other hand, the dark side is concealed. How much, if at all, has the Israeli public been shown the hundreds of homes in Khan Yunis, those surrounding Gush Katif, that were destroyed only because of the Gush’s existence? Or the acts of vengeance and the terrorizing of olive harvesters in northern Samaria? Or the abuse of cave dwellers in the southern Hebron Hills? Or the behavior of settlers at IDF checkpoints? Who knows how much money was channeled to their enterprise over the years? Even the excellent book by Idit Zartel and Akiva Eldar, “Lords of the Land,” did not succeed in exposing the full scope of these budgets. Did we know how much a Palestinian laborer earns at the Gush Katif hothouses, those over which everyone is now shedding crocodile tears? Have we heard that about 60 percent of Gush Katif residents have at least one family member who enjoys a salary from the state? Have they shown us the neglect that prevailed in the Gush until a few months ago and the recent effort to patch up homes for purposes of compensation?
This dubious enterprise was kept in a fog over the years, and in this fog it sprouted and grew to its current dimensions. Now, when its true nature is beginning to be exposed, a reckoning should be made not only with those responsible for its monstrous growth, but also with those who failed to expose the full truth about it during all these years.
GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz, where this article originally appeared.