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Israeli veteran journalist calls regime brutal conquerors

No one knew until now what veteran television journalist Haim Yavin thought about the news he has been announcing for more than three decades, and he is so nonpartisan that one wondered whether he had an opinion of his own at all. Now, at 72, he is coming out of the closet: "Since 1967 we have been brutal conquerors, occupiers, suppressing another people," he says in "Yoman Masa" ("Diary of a Journey"), which he filmed in the West Bank.

For two and a half years,s Yavin wandered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with a small hand-held camera, which he operated himself, without a technical crew. Here and there he was reviled as the representative of the hostile leftist media, but in general the settlers spoke to him on the assumption that he was their man, and justly so: Until now he was everyone's man. The film he brought back seems intended to salve his conscience: "I cannot really do anything to relieve this misery, other than to document it, so that neither I nor those like me will be able to say that we saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing," he says in the film, and in response to a question asserts: "I did not move left. The country moved right."

He filmed people who waited for hours at checkpoints and says this has no security justification. Settlers who heard from him about a woman who was not allowed to get to a hospital and therefore was forced to give birth at a checkpoint, try to reassure him: If only the Israelis are able to maintain domestic harmony, "Mohammed" will make coffee both for them and for him. Yavin responds: "I am not willing to rule another people, not willing for `Mohammed' to make me coffee." He tells again of the woman who was forced to give birth at a checkpoint and says, "It is not Jewish, what we are doing there."

He believes in withdrawal so that a Palestinian state will be established and peace will come. "That is the only thing I can believe in. Other than that I have nothing to believe in - only in bloodshed," he tells a female settler. His thoughts move to the roots of Zionist existence. When he hears people describe Zionism as an expression of racism and colonialism, he is outraged, of course, he says, but on returning from the West Bank, he asks himself what remains of the "true Zionism," the Zionism of peace and equal rights: the Zionism of the settlements?

This is a good foundation for a discussion of the question of whether there ever was a "true Zionism" that did not dispossess the Arabs of this land. Be that as it may, in the first two films in a series of five, Yavin portrays the settlers as members of a fanatic, insane, racist, despicable, violent and dangerous sect - more infuriating and despairing than they have ever been seen in an Israeli film.

It is no wonder that Channel 1 (the state television station, with which Yavin has been identified for almost 40 years) refused to broadcast the series. Instead, it will be broadcast starting next Tuesday as the swan song of Telad on Channel 2: Having failed to win the tender for a renewed franchise, Telad can allow itself to end its term with something real.

A soldier in uniform told Yavin that the Hebron settlers were inciting him to shoot and kill Palestinian children. Activist Noam Federman and his wife tell him on camera that an ultimatum has to be presented to the Arab residents of Hebron: Either they leave the country immediately, or the Israel Air Force will bomb their homes. Not far from their home, Yavin filmed a bit of graffiti on a wall: "Arabs to the crematoria." A Border Policeman, a muscular, tough-looking guy, says in a heavy Russian accent, "I am only following orders, I do what I am told." Yavin asserts: "We simply do not see the Palestinians as human beings."

A Peace Now activist who wanders around in the territories still believes that the settlers can be evacuated, as France evacuated its citizens from Algeria, but Yavin does not bring even an iota of hope from the West Bank: "This hilula [merrymaking] will never be stopped," he states. He recalls, apparently with sorrow, how Yitzhak Rabin missed the chance to evacuate the Hebron settlers in the wake of the massacre of Muslim worshipers by Baruch Goldstein at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. About 20,000 Hebron residents were forced to leave their homes then. Yavin feels "sadness and despair" and says that "maybe it really is preferable to visit Hebron with a visa."

Yavin believes that the settlers are "wrong" and are also "endangering us," but in contrast to some of his friends on the left, he does not hate the settlers; he even "esteems and likes them," he says. Occasionally he also tries to "balance" Palestinian bereavement with Israeli bereavement, as though finding it difficult to discard the usage of the national "we" that became second nature to him. But not one of the settlers he filmed justifies his high regard.

Daniella Weiss, one of the original settlers in the West Bank, articulates for the camera her credo as a mother: We have to raise tough children. She gives less consideration to life than to the idea. A woman named Orit Struk reacts to Yavin's arguments with bloodcurdling laughter and tells him about how a sniper tried to kill her son.

In any properly run country, the welfare authorities would take away their children.

Yavin, though, also tries to jettison the superficial thesis that pins all the blame on the settlers themselves. In his film, too, they are the "masters of the land"; they issue orders to the army and the army obeys. But Yavin's series shows that the whole society is to blame for the injustices of the occupation and also for the war crimes it has entailed. "We cluck our tongues and move on to the gossip columns," he says.

A few of the settlers praise the help they received from two leaders of the Labor Party, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak. One of the original settlers, Elyakim Haetzni, relates that he has been fighting for a long time to have one of the squares in Hebron named after Yigal Alon, the father of the settlements, but Alon's widow objects.

Yavin shows that the left-wing organizations, such as Peace Now, are effectively moribund and that only a few humanitarian groups remain, such as Ta'ayush, Physicians for Human Rights, B'Tselem and MachsonWatch, the women of the checkpoints. The good Israelis in the film are individuals: an immunologist (Prof. Zvi Bentwich), a lawyer (Shlomo Laker), a journalist (Haaretz's Gideon Levy), a Jerusalem plumber (Ezra Yitzhak Nawi) and a soldier in uniform. who says that he could not remain silent "in the face of such horrors."

Yavin says that his professional integrity will allow him to go on anchoring Channel 1's nightly "Mabat News Magazine." However, the broadcast of the series on a commercial channel raises the question of why we even need what continues to be called "public broadcasting." It's not worth the compulsory fee. One way or the other, it will be interesting to watch the reactions. It's possible that attention will not focus on the horrific message of the films, but only on the fact that Haim Yavin, of all people, made them. If he is right about the moral insensitivity that prevails in the country, most viewers may react like the family in the Strauss commercial: Mom, Dad and the kids are visiting the Safari in Ramat Gan. They see an antelope, say "We saw it," and hurry on. They see a lion, say "We saw it" - and hurry home to lick an ice cream bar.

Hitler in underpants

Nearly every newspaper in the world agonized this week over what to do with the photograph of Saddam Hussein in underpants, and nearly none of them could resist. They all knew that running the photo would be an affront to the prisoner's human dignity; therefore it was wrong to publish it: The "public's right to know" does not justify this voyeurism. Most papers ran a "photo of a photo" - a photograph of the British tabloid "Sun" showing the demeaning photo, and thereby, with a wink, pretended to uphold their professional integrity.

The press and television have often published photographs of famous prisoners and suspects caught in embarrassing situations - in Israel, too, from Ofer Nimrodi to Marwan Barghouti. Mordechai Vanunu was secretly taped and his remarks also found their way to the media. In the 1960s, Adolf Eichmann was photographed in the privacy of his cell.

That never happened to Adolf Hitler. In his last days, with the Russians just a few hundred meters from his bunker, a few of his staff tried to persuade him to leave Berlin. Aware of his status as a national myth, Hitler decided to commit suicide in the capital of his Reich. He might have been able to escape, disguise himself and hide in some isolated barn - but in the end, he would have been discovered. Maybe he would have been photographed in his underpants.

It is better to die with dignity. For the sake of history.

This week I saw the film "Downfall" at the Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. The theater was nearly full; most of the viewers were older people and seemed to know what should be known about Hitler and Nazism, the war and the Holocaust. There is no need to present Hitler as a monster to them.

His last days do not generate sympathy, or even gloating. If he had accepted the advice of his aides and allowed Germany to surrender earlier, the lives of many Germans would have been saved, but he gave less consideration to life than to an idea. He comes across as a mad, Jew-hating tyrant who had lost all connection with historical reality, but who also controls his destiny and that of his dog and his wife to the end: He poisons them both and puts a bullet in his head.

The first half of the film is riveting, with an attention to detail that creates a feeling that the viewer is truly there with the defeated Hitler. It responds to people's voyeuristic passion - just like the photo of Saddam in his underpants.

Here and there, an attempt is made to stimulate compassion in the viewer for the bitter fate of the residents of Berlin, but as Joseph Goebbels says in the film, they themselves are to blame for what happened to them: No one forced them to be Nazis. The film is two and a half hours long; viewers who went home after the popcorn break did not miss much. The last hour is as corny as a Bavarian sausage, and the more it continues the more it deteriorates into tiresome kitsch. This is the moment to move to Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" or to purchase the second and final volume of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler, which has just been published in Hebrew.


Haaretz, "Our man in the territories", 27 May 2005.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 01 June 2005.

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Tags: Israel, regime, Israeli, journalist, Haim Yavin, criticised, government, West Bank, brutal, conquerors, occupiers, , conspiracy theories.

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