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(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli [file])
This week, thousands of people attended events related to disengagement's one-year anniversary. But if you weren't one of those people - or aren't a regular reader of the right-wing Hebrew press - you probably didn't notice. The processions and gatherings commemorating the evacuation and demolition of 25 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria were pushed to the back pages of most newspapers, and appeared for a few fleeting seconds toward the end of the TV news shows.
The obvious answer to the question of why the country's most major - most traumatic - event of the past decade was virtually ignored by the mainstream media a mere year later is the war in Lebanon. Indeed, the Gush Katif anniversary is not the only news story that has been upstaged. Kidnapped soldiers, Katyushas showering the north, thousands of reservists being called up and the daily death-toll naturally take precedence right now over everything else.
But the war is not the only reason for the omission. Even if Lebanon weren't ablaze - and the local press were undergoing its usual summer "cucumber season," the anniversary of disengagement wouldn't have received that much attention - certainly not as much as its opponents believe it warrants. Sure, there would have been a few talk-shows discussing its effect on society and some features in the papers, but not much more than that.
What remains a painful reason for mourning among the evacuees and their supporters is, for most of the rest of the population, relief that it's all over without any serious casualties. During the past few weeks, a number of polls showed a majority against disengagement in retrospect. But that same majority was in favor of the pullout a year ago, and even those who changed positions since then aren't taking to the streets to demand that the IDF reoccupy Ganei Tal and Morag. Those settlements have effectively been pushed out of the public consciousness. (Buy an Israeli road map at a gas station, and you'll notice that they've been erased from the new maps.)
For most Israelis, even those who sympathized with the settlers, it's more comfortable that way. There is enough woe in this country without homesickness for Gush Katif. Some of the stauncher settlers are aware of this feeling and trying to battle it. One of their latest bumper stickers reads: "We will return to every yishuv."
The biggest argument within the settler movement in the months leading up to disengagement was how to fight the evacuation. The mainstream leadership and many of the local leaders shied away from an aggressive campaign, and adopted the slogan, "We've got love and it will win."
Others, notably Gush spokesman Eran Sternberg, demanded a no-holds-barred opposition, including violent clashes with the army and police. These came to a head a month before disengagement, when tens of thousands of demonstrators were holed up in Kfar Maimon and thousands of police and soldiers were mobilized to stop them from marching to Gush Katif. The Yesha Council (the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza) decided, after two days of siege, to send their people home. That was the note that defined the tone of the opposition. Aside from a few small defiant pockets in Kfar Darom, Neveh Dekalim, Homesh and Sa-Nur, the resistance was mainly passive, and soldiers were more likely to be hugging the evacuees than struggling with them. The well-managed PR operation by the IDF Spokesman's Office and Ariel Sharon's spin-doctors sanctified national unity and succeeded in marginalizing those settlers who still believed they could defy the government. The media, on the whole, lapped it all up uncritically.
After the dust settled, recriminations began among the settlers, mainly against the Yesha Council leaders, for allowing the Gush to fall without a real fight. They were accused of pandering to the media and the government, afraid of burning their bridges with the establishment. The younger, more militant, generation promised that next time things would be different. Five months later at the Amona outpost, hundreds were injured on both sides, when police battled to evacuate seven buildings. But the violence wasn't leveled only at police. Reporters and broadcasting vehicles were also attacked, and even Yesha leaders were not far from being on the receiving end of their own children's vehemence. The young radical leadership felt that it had finally left an indelible mark on the public consciousness, but the effect was short lived. The media went on to other things, and the parliamentary commission of inquiry rapidly descended into farce.
Then came the elections, the prime minister in a coma, a new prime minister, a new ruling party, a new social agenda and a new pullback plan. Barely five weeks ago, the IDF was mobilizing forces to evacuate four settler outposts.
THE DECISION on the part of the organizers to go ahead with the anniversary events on the original date, despite what they clearly realized - that the country is currently interested only in the war in the north - illustrates the split between a small part of the nation that still keenly suffers from the amputated limb of Gush Katif and the rest of the population.
Both sides continue to ignore each others' feelings at their peril.
The settlers still don't realize that its not left-wing defeatism that has disconnected them from the mainstream, but a more widespread feeling that the settlers are unwilling to take anything or anyone into consideration other than the concept of a Greater Israel. Of course, the media have done a lot to magnify this feeling. But in the end, even the vast majority of the settlers' supporters felt that, ultimately, there were more important things to be concerned about.
The proponents of further pullbacks, too, are at fault for the schism, and would be wise to try and understand the settlers' pain, if only to enable future withdrawals with more sensitivity.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert blithely told foreign interviewers this week that Israel's success in Lebanon will also be a boost to his realignment plan. Predictably, that created an uproar with soldiers from settlements, who threatened to leave their units rather than take part in an operation ultimately contributing to the destruction of their own homes. Olmert tried to get himself out of it by explaining that there's no connection between the fighting in Lebanon and future plans for the settlements. But he's obviously wishing he hadn't uttered those words. From war-time leader of a unified country, he's gone back to being a politician trying to score points.
Olmert has shown himself over the last few weeks to be easily swayed by the media's portrayal of the public. His speeches and appearances have been carefully calibrated to be in tune with the prevailing national mood. If the press had made more of an effort to show the anguish still felt by many over Gush Katif, and fears of additional evacuations, Olmert would have taken note and acted more carefully.