The media's role

"The media controls the image," and it is because of the media's portrayal that all settlers are viewed as religious extremists, says Emily Amrusi, spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The only real way to change that, she adds, is to change the people in charge of the media, most of whom are considered to be on the Left. "They want to portray us as different because the moment we are considered different, people don't need to take us seriously anymore." Though leading media consultant Amir Dan says the settlers do play a role in distancing themselves from the rest of society, he concedes that journalists are also products of their education and surroundings. "It's not a secret that media people live in the center of the country, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv," says Dan. If journalists did live in Gaza, he notes, "I'm sure they would have viewed the disengagement differently." But in reality, he says the media only focus on the settlements when something is happening, and completely ignores their day-to-day normal lives, thereby estranging them from the rest of society. "As with other fringe groups, we only read about the settlers when there are issues sexy enough to enter the newspaper. And when the media do actually focus on them, they focus on the most extreme people or ideas to make it the most interesting," he says. Case in point is the recent footage from Hebron of Jewish resident Yifat Alkobi following a Palestinian woman to her home and yelling insults in Arabic at her. Since the disengagement, there have been consistent accounts of settlers refusing to speak with, and in some cases attacking, journalists who have visited settlements in the West Bank. During a press conference at the Foreign Press Association last month, several European journalists said they no longer visited the settlements, but simply spoke to people from right-wing think tanks and similar organizations. "They claim that they are victimized, but in fact they are victimizing themselves by not putting their viewpoints in the media," says one Italian journalist. "While they have perfected the art of mobilizing internally, they can't seem, or don't want to mobilize externally at all." Amrusi, however, stresses that the image presented by the media is a complete stereotype. "We are all the same people," she states. "We buy the same products, we listen to the same radio, we drive on the same roads and we sit in the same traffic." Dan agrees that the media deal in stereotypes and the images they create do not always reflect reality. Nevertheless, he adds, collective memory is built on these images and stories created by the media, and that's why the pioneer movement of 1946 is remembered as heroic Zionism, and it's also why, barring unforeseen circumstances, the modern settler movement won't be. Contributions by Sheera Claire Frenkel