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   Monday, June 06, 2005

Israelis stunned by TV indictment from within

When a Jewish person states the facts, can you still call him an anti-semite?
A documentary series by a respected newsreader delivers a damning assault on the settler movement.

A new documentary series stunned Israeli television viewers this week, not only by its unprecedented and searing indictment of Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories, but also because of its unexpected source.

Often described as Israel's Walter Cronkite, 72-year-old Haim Yavin has fronted state television's evening news bulletins since 1968, cultivating a neutral image that put him, for most Israelis, at the symbolic heart of the national consensus.

All that changed on Tuesday with the broadcast of the first of five episodes of Land of the Settlers, the result of two-and-a-half years spent wandering the West Bank and Gaza with a miniature video camera.

Yavin's study of ultra right-wing Jewish settlers, the Israeli soldiers who guard them, the native Palestinians whose lives they dominate and the small number of Israeli rights activists, lawyers and journalists campaigning against them, has caused him to be denounced as representing the far left of Israeli sensibility.

"I cannot really do anything to relieve this misery, other than to document it, so that neither I nor those like me will be able to say that we saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing," he says in the film. "I did not move left. The country moved right."

The documentary dwells on the machinery of occupation - the roadblocks, fences, walls, settler roads and curfews - set up to support and defend the settlements.

In Hebron, where the army has helped a few hundred fundamentalist settlers seize the heart of a Palestinian city, a soldier tells Yavin that settlers are inciting him to shoot and kill Palestinian children.

A leader of the Hebron settlers tells him that Palestinians should be told to leave the country immediately or be bombed from the air.

He films graffiti on a wall, "Arabs to the crematoriums".

A Russian-born Israeli border policeman assures Yavin that "I am only following orders". Another soldier confides: "We have set up a slave camp here. We are committing crimes here."

Reviewing the first episode in the mass daily Yedioth Ahronoth, journalist Raanan Shaked wrote: "Every caring Israeli, every humane Israeli, should get up next Saturday, go to the settlement nearest to his place of residence and drag its inhabitants, kicking and screaming, across the road to the side of sanity."

The documentary has been less warmly received by right-wing Israelis and by the fundamentalist settler movement, which this week accused Yavin of anti-Semitism and hate speech.

The religious Zionists of the settler movement believe that God covenanted the Jews with an exclusive right and religious duty to inhabit all the territories between the Nile in Egypt and the Euphrates in Iraq.

Denouncing Yavin in the pro-settler newspaper Hatzofe, Hagai Huberman wrote: "Of course there is no such thing as the holiness of the Land of Israel for him. He has never heard of this term."

Secular Israeli governments of both the left and right have encouraged, funded and armed settlers to move into the occupied territories, arguing that it is Jewish destiny to control them and that they are vital to Israel's security.

But tensions between the 250,000 settlers and Israel's secular majority have escalated sharply in recent months. This followed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to reverse his lifelong support of settlements and withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four isolated settlements in the West Bank.

Faced with a storm of condemnation and calls for his dismissal, Yavin's defenders say that he sought to balance his series by including coverage of atrocities committed by Palestinians. His superiors said that he has done nothing to breach his contract. In fact, the program is not being broadcast on his own channel, which declined to show it, but on a smaller commercial channel, Telad.

Cynical commentators noted this week that Telad is about to lose its broadcast franchise and may feel it has nothing to lose by presenting such provocative fare to audiences who generally show little interest in what happens in the West Bank and Gaza.

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