The Bystanders

No one wants to hear about what's happening "there," on the other side of the fence - the suffering, the distress, the dead and the wounded - as long as it has nothing to do with Israelis.

On Monday, civil war broke out in the Gaza Strip. Over the next 24 hours, atrocities were perpetrated there. Shifa Hospital in Gaza City was shelled with mortars, four people were killed in a gunfight at Beit Hanun's hospital, and the Fatah chief in the northern Gaza Strip was executed barbarously.

However, the prime time TV newscasts in Israel dealt with the Labor Party primary to be held the next day. Somewhere during their newscasts, Channels 2 and 10 mentioned the fighting in Gaza. The two mass-circulation dailies Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma'ariv found no room Tuesday for even one word about the fierce fighting in Gaza, in which 11 Palestinians were killed on Monday.

It is difficult to fathom why such major media outlets utterly ignored the developments in the Palestinian arena. Undoubtedly, if the Israel Defense Forces had shelled a Palestinian hospital, even accidentally, a huge furor would have arisen in Israel, the international community would have condemned the action - with calls for a boycott and punitive measures - and the newspapers would have reported the terrible event extensively. But if it's a case of Palestinians shooting at other Palestinians, even if dozens of hospital patients are under attack, who cares?

Perhaps the Israeli media's disinterest at the beginning of the week stems from a weariness of the Palestinian issue. For the umpteenth time, they are killing each other. The Israeli occupation, which is considered only slightly more attractive as a news item, had nothing to do with it, so apparently there was no reason to deal with the neighbors in Gaza. Maybe Labor's power struggle between Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak was considered better for ratings.

Probably, though, the disregard of the Palestinian question by the papers and TV stems in part from the Israeli dream of making the Palestinian problem go away and disengaging from Gaza. It's the continuation of Israel's policy of the past few years for the territories' residents: disengagement, separation fence, convergence.

No one wants to hear about what's happening "there," on the other side of the fence - the suffering, the distress, the dead and the wounded - as long as it has nothing to do with Israelis. As long as it doesn't affect the stock market. Getting involved with Gaza returns Israelis to the alleys of the place they wanted to forget about after the disengagement.

The same people who found time this week to report at length about Paris Hilton took no interest even in the dramatic implications of Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip: the death of the diplomatic process, which had been dying in any case, the blow to Israel's peace camp and the Palestinian Authority, and the death of the "moderate Hamas" concept (the Hamas one can talk to), which died on the 18th floor of the building from which immoderate Hamas activists threw a Fatah man.

Neglect of any serious discussion on the subject is part of the Israeli attempt to create the illusion of a well-ordered Western country, lacking enemies or worries, and preoccupied with the character of the newly elected Labor Party chairman, the exploits of the national under-21 soccer team and the struggle between the justice minister and the Supreme Court president.

The Palestinians do not meet the criteria of "entertainews" - entertaining, light news that attracts Israeli viewers who have had their fill of wars, terrorism and casualties, and certainly if the victims are residents of Gaza.

But unfortunately for many people in Israel, the desperate attempts to disengage from the Palestinians are not very successful. The desire to avoid the tough questions about the region's future after the fall of Gaza to Hamas recalls Israel's disregard of what happened in Lebanon after the IDF withdrawal in 2000 and Hezbollah's takeover of the south of the country.

The grim future that looms for Gaza's 1.3 million inhabitants threatens to have implications for Sderot and the surrounding area, and may even pull Israel back "there." If not just now, then after Hamas completes its takeover of the Gaza Strip.