My friend Eugene Bardach, who teaches public policy and management at Berkeley, passed along a long note he received from his friend Josef Gilboa, whom he describes as “an old friend, living in Israel for the past 40+ years and a retired professional Guide, of generally rightist disposition.”
It’s worth reading carefully, from at least three perspectives:
* As a case study in intelligent public management based on detailed, concrete thinking about what is likely to happen and what, precisely, to do about it. (E.g., what medical problems could arise in the course of the evacuation, and what medical specialties therefore need to be represented in the health tent?) The contrast with BushCo’s dumb, sloppy, careless management of the Iraqi adventure couldn’t be more stark.
* As a snapshot of Israeli politics and society. and in particular the way the settlers’ behavior has alienated even their natural supporters.
* As a strong example of the disinfectant value of media sunlight.
by Josef Gilboa
About noon on Friday Pam says, “You haven’t moved from the telly since Sunday. Let’s go for a walk.”
“Give me one more day and make it ‘shiva’ for Gush Katif.”
“You have to get up from ‘shiva’ before Shabbat. Let’s go for a walk.”
All week I had sat in front of the television watching the events through the media, zapping between the 3 Israeli channels, with forays around the international news networks. I watched the media watch the event. Heisenberg was right, you can’t observe anything without affecting it. It was that 3rd force in the field, armed with videocam and mic, that effectively controlled the behavior of both the authorities and the settlers.
The authorities made a brilliant, bold decision to give the media full, free and unfettered access to the entire process. Not just reporters imbedded with units, but absolute freedom to roam, intrude, inquire, interview anyone and everyone.
Maj Gen Dan Harel, OC Southern Command and commander of the disengagement is being briefed by his senior army and police officers as the troops gather to enter the synagogue of Neve Dekalim. Camera and microphone intrude. The officers shift a bit to make room.
“Force B is in place, the Yasam (SWAT) is debarking from their buses. The girls are eating and resting since we will remove the men first,” an officer reports.
Harel asks a question or two, and turns to the reporter and says, “In 10 minutes I have a meeting with the Rabbis right here. Any questions?” The reporter is speechless; any question he can think of has just been answered and he has been personally invited to attend the most sensitive negotiation to date, on the forced evacuation of the synagogue of Gush Katif’s largest settlement.
Armies don’t behave this way. Armies have a really big secrecy Jones. It’s written in their DNA:
Another reporter noticed a group of colonels and captains around a map on the grass and asked what they were doing.
“We are the medical officers. We have a full infirmary just outside the gate with every specialty on duty including Pediatrics, Gynecology and Cardiology. We have groups of ambulances stationed here, here and here (pointing to map). We treated one woman who fainted and a few cuts and wounds, mostly from equipment and moving. Any questions?”
The Army had distributed red baseball caps to the media for easy ID. Each team had its colors. The long shots were pure cinema. Down the road march phalanxes of dark-clothed troops and police; blue caps, backpacks with water tubes. Behind the barricaded gate, a few dozen orange shirts pile up more wood and sprinkle fuel on the barrier. Scattered among them the red caps of the press. Leading the troops like a pied-piper walking backwards, another red-capped cameraman focusing on the brigadier leading the force.
A bulldozer wipes away the gate and bonfire and the troops enter and the units disperse. They worked with infinite patience. At one point a camera crew followed a team up to a house expecting events to occur at TV speed. The two young girl lieutenants leading the unit of 17 soldiers and police talked to the people inside for 2 hours before having the door forced open and then spent another 4 hours persuading them to leave without trouble. These people had refused to pack anything. When agreement was reached, the soldiers helped them pack up things for the weekend including toys for the children. The wife and kids walked out; the father was carried out, at his request, last, while his children looked on. About every half-hour or so, the channel would cut back to this family and we would listen to the discussion for a few minutes and then back to some other part of this really real reality show.
As the troops entered a house, the 5th or 6th guy in was a cameraman. Sometimes, the families asked the reporters to leave, which they did reluctantly. Channel 2’s police reporter sees high-ranking officer talking to two young girls: his nieces. After they hug and leave the reporter asks the officer what they talked about. “The same thing we’ve been talking about for a year. They’ve made my life miserable. The important thing is that we promised each other that there would be no violence.”
And there was (almost) no violence. The only serious incident occurred in the Kfar Darom synagogue where someone (and only one person) poured caustic soda that burned about 2 dozen cops. They were all hospitalized but there doesn’t seem to be major injury, just a bad fright. The people involved will go to jail and will not be allowed to serve in the army.
Now here’s the secret. It was the presence of the cameras that kept everything non-violent. This is, after all, a political struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of Israel and the world. The settler leaders had promised no violence; was that said seriously or with a wink, wink and a nudge, nudge? The cameras were present to judge their sincerity. Cops are trained to beat heads; the Israel Border Police are particularly skilled head-beaters. Police brutality and sexual assault are the two great “He said – She said” issues and who hit first is impossible to determine ex post facto.
But the TV camera is extremely judgmental. The camera sees the moment that the attempt to prevent one’s leg being grabbed turns into a kick in the soldier’s face. Or the moment the cop gives an extra, unnecessary whack to the subdued prisoner. The Israeli Arab riots of October 2000 had taught the police a lesson. It is important to document civil disturbances to protect the police from accusations of brutality, or to catch them at it if it occurs.
The Eye was always there. and everyone was very careful. The IDF feeds were available to the international media. There was a surfeit of compelling images. The media were swift to comment on what the camera saw; when one man held his child out the window Michael Jackson (Mikha’el Ben-Yaakov?) style, all channels ran it and condemned it. Feedback was instant. The Kfar Darom Rabbi told the officers there would be no violence but told the young people barricaded in the synagogue to resist with all their power. Everybody heard him and all the pundits, including those of his own camp, condemned him.
The troops are forming around the Neve Dekalim synagogue. They don’t march in step but walk in raggedy columns and surround the synagogue in belts of unarmed police and soldiers. In front of them, young boys and girls, lecture and berate the troops, begging, crying, threatening.
“How can you do this? It will haunt you all your life. This is my home. How can you evict me from my home. This is Eretz Yisrael. You are doing the work of Hamas. Sharon is corrupt. The act is illegal. You know this is against the Torah. It will haunt you all your life.”
Children cry, mothers weep, people rip their clothes in the traditional sign of mourning.
It’s 4:50pm, the time Dan Harel told the journalists he would meet with the rabbis again. The original hour to enter the synagogue had been 8:00am. He agreed to postpone until 12:30pm and again until 4:30pm. Then he gave his last ultimatum. The rabbis arrive; they plead for more time; Harel refuses. At 1700 hours the troops enter. A camera is already shooting from the women’s gallery. Every shove, every kick is transmitted live. Everyone struggles, everyone is evicted, no one is injured.
The army’s planning, training and execution have been superb. The most difficult matter was preparing the troops psychologically for the ordeal. The security forces are manned by patriotic Israelis most of whom would have personally opposed this unilateral destruction of Jewish settlements and the uprooting of thousands of good people, often their own friends and relatives. Would discipline hold?
The settlers are very good at directed propaganda. They focus on simple slogans repeated endlessly. Something a bit Stalinoid about it. The soldiers stood and took the abuse, the threats, the pleas to disobey orders and the tears. Some cried, too. Only two soldiers, an MP and a young 2nd Lt., actually broke ranks and joined the settlers. The settlers’ Yesha Council had launched a massive campaign to persuade soldiers to refuse to cooperate in the evacuation. The failure of this campaign was, perhaps, the most important event of the week. Once again, the IDF and its members affirmed their loyalty to the State.
The plan was simple. Use overwhelming force at each point. Are there 1,000 people in the synagogue? Bring in 7,000 troops to remove them. Talk with them, plead with them, explain to them, and then, after everybody is exhausted and everybody has said his piece over and over again drag them out one by one, four soldiers to a settler, as gently as possible.
The staff work looked perfect. The right forces were at the right places at the right time with the right equipment. Medics, social workers, units of various forces, press; all color coded and coordinated. The senior officers were always there, talking to the rabbis, pleading with the young people, explaining to the media exactly what was happening. It was the iron hand of the state with all its power wrapped in a velvet glove, firmly enforcing its will on its citizens.
As a Zionist, I have always supported all groups who have settled Eretz Yisrael. In the first weeks after the Six Day War it was left-wing kibbutznikim who organized themselves spontaneously and went up to settle Merom Golan. Before the firing ceased, the refugees of the Etzion settlements were planning to return to their pre-1948 homes. El-Ad in the City of David and the settlers of Tel Rumeida reaffirmed that we are not here as colonists but as sons of these hills who have come home.
However, every contact I have with the settler community leaves me angry and disgusted. After two frustrating experiences, I refused to guide their Tour Guide Course. I have long twisted uncomfortably at stories of illegalities and injustices in the campaign to settle the Land and, in this country without secrets, the data was there. I realized that many of my tour guide friends had become Peace Now types after extensive reserve duty in the territories. Service in Hebron seemed to be the strongest recruiter that Dovedom possessed.
The behavior of the settlers during the evacuation strengthens my antipathy for them. Some of their Theater was grotesque. They should not have compared their plight to the Holocaust. The orange stars on the wailing children with their arms upraised in imitation of the famous Warsaw Ghetto child was a travesty. They should not have tried to persuade soldiers to disobey orders. They should not have cursed and threatened the soldiers. They should not have forced the soldiers to strip babies from their mothers’ arms.
They abused their children terribly. They seemed to be saying that they were traumatizing their own children forever in order to punish Israeli society for this act. Their disregard for their children’s welfare surprises me. Religious Judaism is child-centered: “And you shall repeat it to your children,” is an essential commandment. Yet when I saw infants and children intentionally brought to places of potential violence, children left in jail for days and weeks, refusing to identify themselves, while their parents do not look for them, I realize that a fanaticism has gripped these people that is even stronger than their parental instincts. Fanaticisms that powerful frighten me.
Dan Margolit described the country on the morning after as a patient that has undergone major surgery, the amputation of a limb. We are in the recovery room. The operation was a success, but will the patient live?
It was a totally Israeli event. It couldn’t happen anywhere else. Everyone talked all the time. The settlers talked, the soldiers talked, the officers talked, the police talked, the children talked, the press talked, the politicians talked, the rabbis talked, the philosophers talked, the man-in-the-street talked, so did the woman-in-the-street. That’s the good news. The bad news is they all talked at the same time.
Something very big just happened, but no one knows what it means.