"This isn't going to be shown on TV," said more than one young settler at Amona on Wednesday. Conditioned as they are to receiving bad press, they thought that the "leftist media" would ignore the painful pictures of mounted police charging their horses into a crowd of demonstrators, and of batons landing again and again on the heads of girls and boys who tried to barricade themselves on the roofs of the nine houses slated for demolition.
Their hostility toward the press had found its outlet the night before, when satellite vans of Channels 2 and 10 were attacked at the outpost and had their tires slashed.
But that's not how television works. Ideology and politics aside, no network in a democracy would have ignored the compelling scenes of police brutally beating young people. As painful as it was, it also made for great television. Furthermore, from a visual perspective, horses and stick-wielding policemen are much easier to capture on camera than the stones that were flying from the other side.
(This wasn't the first time I wished I could ditch my notebook and pen and exchange them for a camera. There are some things words can't describe.)
No wonder, then, that throughout the afternoon and evening - despite the fact that the violence was on both sides of the clash at Amona - media focus was mainly on the question of whether the police didn't use excessive force.
In spite of the answer to that question having generally been yes, the settlers have little reason to take heart. Police brutality is always a good story - especially when there's so much evidence of it on tape. But the fact that so many settlers got their heads bashed in doesn't necessarily lead to an outpouring of sympathy for them, as Thursday's newspapers indicated.
Yediot Aharonot's headline was "Outpost of Hate," backed up by a poll showing that 57 percent of the public blamed the settlers and only 16% the police. Another headline on the same paper's front page was "Them and Us." And the gist of the articles was that the settlers had crossed every red line.
Ma'ariv was a bit more even-handed, placing part of the blame on the police. But editor Amnon Dankner concluded that Amona had been "A Victory for the Law."
Interestingly, it was the left-leaning Haaretz that was most critical of the police, with military correspondent Amos Harel terming its behavior "an overreaction" and quoting senior government sources and high-ranking IDF officers criticizing the police's actions. This is not to say that the paper had any kind words for the settlers, who were also blamed for using excessive violence.
ALL IN all, the media coverage of Amona was pretty accurate in two ways. Firstly, the fact that most of the press placed greater emphasis on the police violence than on the settler stone-throwing was justified. In a democracy, law and order should be enforced with wisdom and moderation, both of which were found lacking on Wednesday.
Secondly, the lack of sympathy toward the settlers is an accurate reflection of the current public mood. Extensive public-opinon polling shows that the settlers have never been less popular. The reasons for this are debatable, but the fact remains.
Most Israelis couldn't care less right now if most of the settlements are dismantled, and consider the settlers a nuisance at best, and a threat to their own peaceful lives at worst.
The police may have gotten most of the blame for Wednesday's events, but they're not the ones with an image problem. On the contrary, part of their effectiveness is due to their bone-crushing reputation.
The settlers, on the other hand, have a lot to worry about. Some of them will say that there's nothing new about the fact that they're fighting a losing media battle. The problem is that now it seems the war has already been lost. That the government is embarking on a settler-bashing campaign at the height of an election season - and even the Likud is finding it difficult to condemn it for fear of alienating mainstream voters - says it all.
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