The Israeli Defense Forces are expecting 4,000 journalists from around the world will come to the Gaza Strip this summer to cover the removal, probably by force, of Jewish settlers there. Considering that there are only about 8,000 settlers in Gaza that means there'll be one reporter for every two of them.
It certainly won't be the first time that an Israeli military operation has come under such intense media scrutiny. But unlike during the Palestinian intifada, when stone-throwing kids often played to the cameras and Israeli soldiers sometimes shot at reporters to chase them away, this time both sides want and need the world media's attention.
The settlers have already cast themselves as victims. Some have taken to wearing orange-colored Stars of David, theatrically comparing themselves to Jews persecuted during the Holocaust. Many of those refusing to leave are threatening to put up a fight when the security forces come to take them away. Their act requires an audience. The more heart-wrenching the scenes are of Jewish families being forced from their homes, the less likely it is that any Israeli government, not to mention the Israeli public, will want to repeat the mess all over again on the West Bank, where more than 200,000 settlers live.
Even though the Gaza disengagement is a unilateral Israeli plan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is getting considerable credit for making a "painful concession" even before a single settler has been evicted. The more violent the evacuation is — up to the point where a soldier or settler actually gets killed — the less pressure Sharon will be under to amend his plans to expand West Bank settlements and annex them to Israel.
Sharon has already paid a high price at home for pushing ahead with his plan to disengage from Gaza. His political party, Likud, has split over the issue and many of those who were once his staunchest supporters, namely the right-wing settlers, now revile him and consider him a traitor. But he's won the tacit, if grudging, support of the Israeli left, and no world leader, especially the one who matters most to Israel, President Bush, is likely to lean on Sharon while Israelis are fighting Israelis in Gaza or anytime soon after.
By David Hawkins