Disconnected: The Israeli Media’s Coverage of the Gaza Disengagement
The evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements was one of the most extensively covered events in Israeli history. This wide coverage was severely – and to a certain degree, justifiably – criticized by the Israeli political right. The media did indeed convey a distressing, unfounded message of the dangers of civil war between Israeli settlers and troops, while systematically avoiding a critical examination of the disengagement plan. On a deeper level, the media chose to represent the disengagement as an internal Israeli affair, a human tragedy affecting only Israelis, a story of collective trauma – the settlers’ trauma, the soldiers’ and policemen’s trauma, the trauma of Israeli society at large.
Suffering and tears took center stage, along with the nostalgic longing for the settlers’ lost paradise. In its coverage of this trauma, the media unconditionally surrendered to a public relations campaign led by the settlers as well as by the security forces and sometimes actually coordinated between them. Voices that tried to suggest that the trauma may not be so severe, or that the disengagement could actually be a positive event, were marginalized.
Moreover, the media chose to disengage the disengagement from the tangle of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and to ignore its significance in terms of the peace process. The few items sent in by reporters about internal disagreement within the establishment; the security cooperation with the Palestinians (who were nevertheless considered “no partner”); the obstacles Israel was creating for the Palestinian Authority; the expansion of settlements in the West Bank; the ambiguous status of the Gaza Strip after the disengagement – all these never made headlines. Israeli media consumers now remember the sense of trauma involved in the disengagement, but they know even less about the conflict than they did before the disengagement.
This is the third in a series of comprehensive reports published by Keshev on the Israeli media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report analyzes the news coverage of the disengagement by Israel’s three main newspapers, Yediot Ahronot, Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz, as well as by the newscasts of the three public channels, 1, 2 and 10, from August 1st until the evacuation of settlements in Gaza and North Samaria was completed on August 24, 2005. The bulk of coverage was tremendous. Our research team analyzed more than 2,000 items published during this period, as well as a few relevant items published later, through the beginning of September. Our goal, as in our previous reports, was to examine the extent to which newspaper and television editors made reasonable use of the news materials provided by their own reporters: Which elements of these materials did they choose to highlight in headlines? What was systematically relegated to back pages and supplements? As we shall show, the reporters and analysts did occasionally try to raise truly important questions about the disengagement, but the headlines kept reporting on an isolated event, affecting Israelis alone, and occurring only amongst them selves.