Winning the war for hearts and minds

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 19-Aug-05 | Author: Orit Shochat| Source: Ha'aretz

Israeli policemen evacuate a settler as another reprimands them in the Southern Gaza Strip Gush Katif settlement of Gadid.

Everyone is free to draw his own conclusions about the rapid evacuation of Gush Katif, near completion after three days.

Some will say that democracy won through the use of well-trained officers. Some will say that the ease with which Gush Katif was evacuated shows that any settlement can be evacuated with a determined political leadership. Others will say the whole thing was a carefully constructed show from the start: The settlers knew the withdrawal was a done deal and let their youth let off some steam. They wanted to be portrayed as patriotic on the one hand, but were distressed over the collapse of their entire world on the other. The leaders were divided into those who called for resistance and those who opposed it. Sometimes both sides were embodied in a single individual.

Haggai Ben-Artzi, a leader of the resisters, sat in the Channel 1 news studio last night and criticized the extremists at Kfar Darom, while also empathizing with their behavior.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) denied that any police officers were injured, saying they only had some paint thrown on them.

None of the settlers is even saying anything about the eight Arabs murdered by Jews in the name of opposition to the withdrawal in Shfaram and in Shilo. They have no connection to that, just as they had no connection to the murder of a prime minister (Yitzhak Rabin, 1995). It's all a plot by the liberal media.

The media coverage played into the settlers' hands, creating the image they wanted. Everyone cried with them. No one said they were responsible for their fate by going to Gush Katif in the first place and by refusing to cooperate with the Disengagement Administration, and now they complain of abandonment.

The police and the soldiers played into the settlers' hands too. After all, police officers and soldiers would accept the treatment they received this week only from people who are highly principled. All of the responsibility for ensuring that the evacuations would be free of violence, that no civil war would erupt, was placed on the soldiers; no demands were made on the settler leadership.

Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi looked like a man deceived, standing on the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue at the end of the confrontation; even he had believed the settlers when they said they were responsible people whose plans were being disrupted by a few extremists. Maybe he expected violence, but after former MK and disengagement opponent Hanan Porat read Bible verses to him, he began to believe it wouldn't happen.

For years, the settlers have been making the rules. This time, too. You can already hear them saying in a day or two that their behavior was perfect relative to the calamity caused by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As one evacuee said: "If high-quality people like us start behaving this way, it's a sign that we were horribly wronged." No other group in Israel has such high self-regard. That high opinion can't be dented even when they throw acid at police officers.

The settlers determined how the evacuation would appear and when it would take place. The deadline was just a recommendation; none of them believed their compensation would be cut if they exceeded it, in accordance with the law.

They decided where to make their last stand, which MKs and rabbis would go in and out, when the forced removals would begin, and how many hours they would wait in the broiling sun before consenting to rise from the dining table and pack a bag. Some asked the soldiers to let them finish eating, then praying, then kissing the ground around their house; others asked them to wait until after the next prayer service, or to read Psalms with them, or to tear their shirts as a symbol of mourning, or to sing with them.

There were some plays-within-a-play. Settlers asked soldiers to restrain them, to use force against them so their evacuation wouldn't be too easy. One woman even asked a soldier to stop eating her sandwich as a sign of respect for the sad occasion. Anyone who didn't cry was considered wicked. Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar was even reprimanded for celebrating a friend's birthday at a Tel Aviv club Sunday.

The army didn't bulldoze the synagogues' walls, but the settlers didn't hesitate to store oil, acid and boards studded with nails to use against the security forces. The synagogue at Kfar Darom, so dear to their hearts, a place of martyrs' blood as Porat said, was erected only four months ago as scenery for this theatrical show.

Every 10-year-old girl in Gush Katif lectured the evacuating forces on democracy, history, empathy, dictatorships, fascism, Nazism, the destruction of the Temple, and parenting. Every nine-year-old made angry prophecies and 16-year-olds wished permanent childlessness on their army counterparts.

The evacuating forces came already brainwashed, or trained, depending on your point of view, with the message that the evacuees are the salt of the earth, people whose world has crashed around them, and therefore, are permitted to behave disgracefully.

It is very difficult to challenge that long-held impression. That is also the bottom line of the entire evacuation. The settlers may have lost the battle over Gush Katif, but they won the war for the national consciousness. In a few weeks, polls will find that most Israelis believe the security forces behaved well, but also oppose causing similar suffering to settlers in the future. The settlers will be honored for not shooting at soldiers and police officers, for not refusing en masse to leave, for only cursing and not hitting, for burning their own homes but not those of Palestinians nearby, for not blocking all the roads in Israel despite their suffering, for agreeing to be housed in hotels, for embracing the soldiers while they cursed them out, for heaven knows what else.

The settler who murdered at Shfaram, the settler who murdered at Shilo, the settler who set herself on fire, and a few dozen children who misbehaved at Kfar Darom - why, they're all just the crazy extremists on the fringes.