Yavin Discovered the Darkness

There was no need for in-depth journalistic investigations to expose the truth unfurling in the territories. It was enough to honestly and courageously set up a camera and present things as they are. But television - and to a great extent the print media, too - kept this from its audience.

Maybe there is something to the settlers' claims? Perhaps Haim Yavin - Israel Prize laureate, "Mr. Television," one of the central figures in the media for a generation, a former director of Israel Television, the head of its news department and one of its architects - abused his position?

Given his lofty status, the settlers are in an uproar. With the diligence, innocence and integrity that characterizes Yavin the documentary filmmaker, he edited his series, "Land of the Settlers," and discovered the darkness of the occupation and the settlements. He exposed the cruel truth to his viewers, a truth that was hidden from him and from them for decades. And now the settlers are demanding that he be fired from "Mabat," Channel 1's flagship news broadcast.

This time, Yavin fulfilled his mission not only to tell the truth, but to tell the whole truth. He deserves every bit of praise for the courageous and penetrating series he prepared, and for the fact that he did not hesitate to jeopardize his statesmanlike status and the widespread popularity he has enjoyed for years. He dared to touch the hottest potato in Israeli society and to present to his viewers, in the twilight of his impressive career, the curse of the settlements, in all its ugliness.

Accordingly, The New York Times compared Yavin's bold move to the 1968 report by American newsman Walter Cronkite from Vietnam, whose famous phrase "We are mired in stalemate" led President Lyndon Johnson to say, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

Now Yavin is telling Israelis, "We are mired in stalemate." It is doubtful that Ariel Sharon will lose "middle Israel" because of him. It is extremely doubtful that Yavin is powerful enough to bring an end to the settlement enterprise, but the message that emerges from the series has already stirred more public debate than any other television program in a long time. This is primarily due to the identity of its creator. He is a Zionist to the depths of his soul, the paragon of consensus. To hear this from him is much more jarring.

Nonetheless, while watching the emotions aroused in Yavin by what he witnesses in the territories, the question inevitably arises: Where was he until now? Where were he and his colleagues, the television broadcasters, the military reporters and community development correspondents, the defense commentators and diplomatic experts while the outrage was created - the nightmare that Yavin is now discovering. Where were they when the settlements plundered and exploited land, when the settlers abused their neighbors, when apartheid roads were paved for Jews only and when the Palestinians were imprisoned in their communities because of the settlers?

Why didn't they report to us in time about the brutal behavior ("We're storm troopers," Yavin says in the film) of the settlers at the checkpoints and roads, about their punishment raids, about the calamity they have imposed on Israeli society, about the obstacles they have rammed into the chances of peace.

After all, it was always clear to everyone. It only required the desire to see and report. There was no need for in-depth journalistic investigations to expose the truth unfurling in the territories. It was enough to honestly and courageously set up a camera and present things as they are. But television - and to a great extent the print media, too - kept this from its audience.

In recent years, all television viewers in Europe have seen more about what is happening in the territories than their Israeli counterparts. We were intentionally kept in the dark because of an unusual collaboration between journalists and editors who did not wish to show, consumers who did not wish to see, and the government and Israel Defense Forces, who did not want us to see. The role of the media is to open eyes; the Israeli media not only failed to prevent the closing of eyes and blurring of senses, it even encouraged this.

For 38 years, Israeli media, including the channel Yavin was responsible for, broadcast partial and slanted reports on the occupation. It was mobilized and censored. How much have you seen about the occupation on Ilana Dayan's highly praised investigative program? When have you heard something about the occupation on Nissim Mishal's program? On Rino Tzror's program or Amnon Levy's? It takes courage in Israel to broadcast an honest report, and courage is a very rare commodity for television broadcasters, who are thirsty for ratings and sanctify the consensus.

Most Israelis know almost nothing about the occupation. Even a newshound like Yavin was shaken by what he witnessed with his own eyes, for the first time in his life. The average Israeli has no idea what the separation fence looks like and what it is inflicting on the Palestinians.

The average Israeli does not know whom the IDF liquidates and has never really seen how soldiers treat innocent people. The average Israeli does not know about the cruel acts being perpetrated in his name - actions that have long ceased to be exceptions - and why and how much they destroy.

The average Israeli does not know how the lords of the land, the settlers, treat their neighbors while being protected by soldiers. No one bothered to tell this average Israeli and he is not especially interested. He closes his eyes because it is more comfortable that way. Nonetheless, he is entitled to receive honest reports.

Yavin came to the territories with his camera dreadfully late. He should have been there long ago, together with other colleagues. Television stars, with their prestige and status, could have played an important role in exposing the truth. Instead, they chose to abuse their positions and to be responsible for years of blurring, whitewashing, laundering and repressing. But unlike his younger colleagues, Yavin saved his honor in the end. They are the ones who should be denounced and dismissed.