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,
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.
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
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
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