OCCUPIED JERUSALEM â€” Israel’s most respected TV news anchor took a firm stand against Israeli settlers and occupation that could sway public opinion much as his US counterpart did on the Vietnam war nearly 40 years ago.
For four decades, Haim Yavin has anchored the evening news on Israel’s public TV channel, building an image as a dispassionate reporter. On Tuesday, for the first time, he dropped his mask, screening the first of his five-part series of documentaries, coming down hard against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians.
â€œThe Land of the Settlers,â€ prompted a call from settler leaders for Yavin’s dismissal.
When CBS-TV icon Walter Cronkite returned from a 1968 reporting trip to Vietnam and told his viewers in an editorial comment that the United States could not win the war, then-US President Lyndon B. Johnson observed that if he had lost Cronkite, he had lost middle America.
Similarly, Yavin’s stand could mark a watershed in how his nation views its four-decade rule over the Palestinians.
Yavin, a founder of Israel’s public TV station in 1968, is known here as â€œMr TVâ€ and commands considerable respect. Rarely have settlers been portrayed as harshly by Israel’s mainstream media as in Yavin’s documentary, filmed with his hand-held video camera and interspersed with his commentary.
â€œSince 1967, we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people,â€ Yavin says in the first segment, aired Tuesday, after listening to settlers insist God gave them these lands. â€œWe simply don’t view the Palestinians as human beings.â€ Yavin, 72, is taking a stand at a time of heated controversy over the settlements Israel built in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after capturing the lands in the 1967 Mideast war. Settlers, once coddled and feared by Israeli politicians, feel increasingly beleaguered. Their erstwhile patron, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is determined to withdraw from all 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank this summer, forcing about 9,000 settlers out of their homes.
Tom Segev, an Israeli author and social commentator, said Yavin’s middle-of-the-road reputation could influence some Israelis. â€œHe is Mr Israel, the voice of Israel, the soul of Israel, and if he comes out with this, it means that apparently a lot of people feel the same,â€ Segev said.
Yavin said he was able to keep his views out of many documentaries he had done in the past. But when the latest round of fighting increasedPalestinian suffering, he decided to take action.
He said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he believed Israelis had become more hawkish.
â€œWe have to go through a mental revolution,â€ Yavin said.
â€œThe Palestinians are a people and we have to share this land … We have to wake up from our dream.â€ In his documentary, Yavin repeatedly shows Palestinians suffering at the hands of arrogant settlers and soldiers.
In one scene, he filmed a crowded Israeli army roadblock, showing sick women and crying children waiting in the hot sun for hours. Israel set up the roadblocks at the outbreak of the current round of fighting in 2000, pointing to a need to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen from reaching Israel.
At one point, Yavin shifted the camera towards Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints to ask why they weren’t letting the people through. â€œI look for danger in these people and I can’t find it,â€ Yavin said in the film. In another scene, settlers chased Palestinian olive pickers out of an orchard, accusing them of planning terror attacks. The scene ended with an elderly Palestinian woman asking the camera: â€œIs it forbidden for us to pick olives? Isn’t it a sin not to let us pick?â€ Settlers were outraged over the documentary, which was broadcast by the private Channel 2, rather than by Yavin’s station, Israel TV.