An Encore for Israel’s Noisy Eviction Theatre

Over the years, various incidents have taken place whereby Israel noisily evicted settlers from land which it deemed no longer tenable. Today it evicted forcibly some squatters in Hebron. There were two families living in two houses, numbering perhaps 24 between them. To remove them, Israel sent over 200 police and border guards, and spent over $500,000 (according to alJazeera – note that of the reports I have read, these are conservative figures; Jerusalem Post is reporting 3000 police and security)

Of course, the squatters were joined by quite a few demonstrators, making the total numbers up to maybe 100, according to alJazeera, making the oversized operation slightly more justifiable. But frankly, why did this need to be done? All they have achieved is a media furore, fuelled in part by the Israelis who refused to take part in the action. If these actual squatters do not come back, others will surely take their place. Over 650 Israelis live in Hebron, illegally under international law. Israel today made an attempt to move about 20 of them.

Here is alJazeera’s report:

Of course, this is not the first such occasion. In an incident strikingly similar in 2006, three families were evicted by 700 police and 1000 soldiers. Israel has a very developed sense of political theatre over these events; thoroughly symbolic and achieving almost nothing at great expense in practical terms, what these operations do is provide Israel with concrete examples of them facing down their own fanatics in the name of peace.

In a sense, these events mirror the much less violent circumstances in which both Neil Kinnock and David Cameron set about framing their own media narratives about facing down the extremists in their own parties. In each case, both leaders set about noisily assailing the ideological fringes of their own parties; people who had no real influence in the wider party, but who served as convenient pawns in the media games that suddenly surrounded them. In Kinnock’s case, it was the militant tendency, in Cameron’s it was a more diffuse set of comfort zoners, but media figures such as Norman Tebbitt handily presented themselves to be steamrollered by the New Tory machine (of course, it may not have worked so well for Cameron; he failed to realise that whilst the majority of Labour supporters were not militants, a surprising number of Tories really are the wingnuts of popular imagination).

To get back to my point, though, I will end by mentioning Sharon’s eviction, in 2005, of around 9000 people from settlements in the Gaza strip. In that case, the move represented a meaningful withdrawal, but the overblown manner of making the move was just the same. As Chomsky observed of the Gaza evictions:

The “media blitz” on disengagement was quite impressive, manufacturing one of the lead stories of the year. There were pages and pages of photos and reports of the pathos of families forced to leave their homes and greenhouses, the weeping children trying vainly to hold back soldiers, and the anguish of soldiers who were ordered to evict Jews from their homes and to remove the thousands of protesters who flooded to the settlements to resist evacuations (by means that would lead to instant death for any Palestinian), miraculously evading military forces that keep an iron grip on Palestinians.

All ignored was the fact, plain enough, that disengagement on August 15 required no army intervention. The government could have simply announced that on that date the IDF would leave the Gaza Strip. A week before, the settlers would have quietly departed in the lorries provided to them, with compensation to resettle. But that would not have entrenched the message: Never again must Jews suffer such terrible fate; the West Bank must be theirs. (Chomsky, Failed States, p. 195)

Of course, subsequently, it seems that around 6500 of the evictees from Gaza did indeed go straight over to the West Bank and set up home there.

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