JERUSALEM -- So on Wednesday it started. The fight for and against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate 8,000 law-abiding Israeli citizens from their homes has begun. There can be no doubt today in anyone's mind that in ignoring the mandate he received from Israeli voters in 2003 to oppose unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and in joining forces with the rejected Left, Sharon made a decision to plunge Israeli society into deep internal crisis.
The dire security and political implications of the plan have been proven beyond doubt. The Palestinians have made clear by word and by deed that they consider Sharon's plan a vindication of their terror war strategy for destroying Israel. As spokesmen for the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad have stated repeatedly, they will pocket their gains in Gaza and in northern Samaria and launch the next wave of war against Israel from Judea and the rest of Samaria. As the Bush administration and the left wing in Israel have made clear, pressure on Israel to follow up the expulsion of Jews from their homes and communities in Gaza and northern Samaria with more and deeper expulsions in Judea and the rest of Samaria will begin in earnest the moment the operation is completed.
Given all this, the only conclusion that one can reasonably reach is that the decision to forcibly evacuate Israeli citizens from their homes and communities was made with an eye toward fomenting an internal crisis in Israeli society. Some have offered that Sharon desires this crisis because he wishes to demonstrate to the Americans that destroying additional communities in Judea and Samaria as Washington demands will simply be impossible. Whether or not this is the case, there can be no question that if the struggle that is now unfolding is not handled responsibly by all sectors of Israeli society, it will lead to open and violent cleavages across the Right-Left and religious-secular divides, and will set the course for the unraveling of Israeli society in the years to come.
One of the main groups of actors in Israeli society bearing grave responsibility for the Furies that are now upon us is the local media. And, judging by the coverage of the violent events on Wednesday in Gaza and along the highways throughout the country, the radio, television, print media and Internet news portals are poised to guarantee that Israeli society will fall apart completely in the coming months.
In anticipation of the blockage of roads by demonstrators against the expulsion plan during evening rush hour Wednesday, the Walla news portal, which is operated by the left-wing Haaretz group, published an article entitled "How to throw the settlers off the road." The suggested modes of action included "walking onto the Ayalon [highway in Tel Aviv] in large groups with heavy chains, bats for those with a good grip, or just plain fists with the safety lock off, and waiting to see which idiots insist on blocking roads and going crazy in our territory." Other suggestions involved threatening to douse the demonstrators with gasoline, lassoing them and attacking them with pit bulls.
On Wednesday evening, Channel 10 showed irate motorists heading toward the youths sitting on the Ayalon Highway. The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday, "One motorcyclist took out a heavy metal chain used to lock up a bike and began waving it over the heads of young activists... Another motorist took out a metal pipe and pushed demonstrators to the side of the road." As the Channel 10 reporter noted, it seemed as though they were acting in direct response to the Walla article.
In acting thus, Walla and the Haaretz group are, on the face of it, guilty of solicitation of violence, which is a felony offense. In releasing its instructions for beating demonstrators, when the public had already been riled by the morning papers and radio broadcasts with doomsday scenarios for rush hour traffic, Walla had every reason to believe with near certainty that its readers would act on its suggestions. And so, already on the first day of the official struggle for Gaza and northern Samaria, a major media outlet was engaged in fanning the flames of civil war.
On a non-criminal but still publicly irresponsible and indeed reprehensible level, the local media, from the television commentators and anchors to the morning newsmagazine anchors on Israel Radio and Army Radio to the front page editors of mass-circulation tabloids Ma'ariv and Yediot Ahronot, are through their irresponsible and distorted commentary and screaming front-page headlines doing two unforgivable things. First, they are dousing the flames of internecine hatred with gasoline rather than water, and second, they are giving increased political legitimacy to the Palestinians to carry out their plans to murder Israelis.
On Wednesday, a few dozen teenage thugs who had holed up in an abandoned Palestinian building near the Shirat Hayam community on the Gaza sea coast engaged in a rock fight with Palestinian teenagers in a neighboring building. In the course of the fight, these Israeli hoodlums cornered one of the Palestinian youths and caused him light to moderate wounds after he was already downed by their initial volley of stones. The IDF, in what can only be referred to as a complete tactical failure by the Gaza division, sent in a tiny group of 30 soldiers and tasked them with ending the fight. And so, before the cameras, the soldiers looked on helplessly as the fighting continued. The IDF came out perceived as incompetent and the stone-throwing Jewish criminals came out looking like what they are – criminals.
The thing of it is that residents of Gush Katif had said for the previous three days, ever since the youths arrived at the scene, that they were dangerous. The residents begged the army and police to remove them from the premises and both services dithered and did nothing. And yet, when the inevitable occurred, the media had a field day. On Wednesday, Israel Channel 2's chief commentator, Amnon Abromovich, breathlessly declared that with the fighting at Shirat Hayam and the blocking of highway traffic, "the war between the State of the Settlers and the State of Israel has begun." Thursday morning, Aryeh Golan of Israel Radio, like the headline writers for Ma'ariv and Yediot, excitedly referred to the fight as a "lynching." Golan, for his part, said the event will be remembered by the Palestinians as an episode on the order of the death of Muhammad a-Dura in September 2000. And through it all, our mainstream media in their power and glory did everything they could to present the image that the actions of these youths are typical of those of all opponents of Sharon's planned expulsions.
One of the greatest lies regarding the planned expulsions is the name that Sharon's publicists have given it: disengagement. As the Palestinians and their friends in the global jihad have repeatedly made clear, they for their part have no intention of disengaging from Israel after the unilateral withdrawal. Rather, they have every intention of continuing to fight us and to kill us in the hope of forcing still more Israeli withdrawals and causing a still deeper erosion of Israel's national will.
Notably, the fighting between teenage gangs of stone throwers in Gaza on Wednesday did not strike the Palestinians as news. The PA's press organs barely reported the story. On the inside pages of their papers, it was merely noted a teenager sustained light to moderate wounds during "clashes" with Jewish settlers. No Palestinian media outlet or PA official referred to the fighting as a "lynching," and certainly no one drew the parallel between Dura and Wednesday's wounded.
But no need to worry, the Palestinians will soon understand its propaganda value and ride the fictional lynching for all it is worth, and then some. After all, whether the Israeli media gurus realize it or not, their reports cater to two audiences, not one. Aside from determining the daily agenda for Israelis, the Israeli press also contributes in large part to the daily talk among the Palestinians.
By acting as though the actions of a few dozen barbarians dressed up as withdrawal opponents characterize the opposition as a whole, the Israeli press is providing political legitimacy to the Palestinians for carrying out their murderous plans. They set up an equivalence between a marginal group of Israelis, rejected by its own camp, and the mainstream Palestinian call for the violent destruction of Israel through terrorism.
Just as the US mainstream media, in characterizing the crimes of a few American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison as indicative of the US military as a whole, gave political cover to terrorists to continue their attacks against American forces and their Iraqi partners, so the Israeli press provides propaganda value to Israel's enemies when it denigrates opponents of the withdrawal in this manner.
What has gone almost completely unreported by the Israeli press, in its rush to civil war, is the fact that the organized leadership of the opponents of the withdrawal plan – from the residents slated for expulsion, to the leadership of the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, to the heads of the Chabad movement – has called for the avoidance of violence at all costs. In the wake of reports that protesters on Wednesday morning blocked the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway by dousing oil on the road and lining it with nails, the leadership immediately condemned the action and Chabad leaders prohibited their followers from participating in blocking traffic. Rather than giving voice to these responsible leaders, the press is chasing after every known hothead and giving him an open microphone through which to convince the general public that he represents the voice of the majority of opponents of the withdrawal plan.
Volumes have already been written about how the leftist "mainstream" media in the West have made countries like the US, Australia and Israel fight the forces of jihad with both hands tied behind their backs. Unfortunately, if the Israeli media do not come to their senses, their criminal, irresponsible and reprehensible behavior will be the subject of many future tomes discussing the reasons for Israel's destruction which, it will be said, began in earnest with the Israeli media's coverage of the events of June 29, 2005.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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