Thursday, August 18, 2005

Watching Gaza Burn on CNN

I'm sitting on a couch in a Caesarea home as the sun sinks over the Mediterranean and the battle for Gaza rages on CNN. It's not easy for a TV-phobe to stare so fixedly at a screen. But I'm managing. Reminds me of watching the LA riots way back when.

A soldier is trying to cut through loops of concertina wire as teen zealot miscreants hurl oil and dirt at him. Weird blue chemicals have been added to the water cannon. Contrast the vicious behavior of these last holdouts atop a synagogue with that of the solicitous policemen who continued talking to the holdouts in the Neve Dekalim synagogue -- or "mosque" as CNN's geopolitical wizards kept saying.

All but the most elite journalists were evicted from Gaza two days ago, so I beat a retreat after three unpleasant days in the sun. The settlers hate the press by now. I've never felt so vulture-like as when trying to get Gazans to answer questions. In fact, I drove to Kfar Darom three days ago, but two kids at the main gate turned me away.

"You can't come in."

"Who says?"

"The community has decided."

Power-mad, I thought, but intransigent.

So I turned the car around and drove away past two huge tanks.

TV again: The kids raging against the cops and the police are crazed yet curiously gentle in their violence. They'll all go to jail for this. The ironic thing is that few if any of these rebels even lived in Gaza; they're mostly infiltrators, or supporters, or mistannenim, which means sneaking people, a reference to how they bypassed the dozens of roadblocks. When I was down there, some of the sneakers cheerily told me that the sneaking stories were so diverse and inspiring that people inside the settlements had been talking about compiling them into a book. Car trunks played a big role, which makes sense, because none of the border guards ever checked my trunk.

Back to the screen ... Compare this extraordinary openness with how almost any other government on earth would treat such an operation: complete media blackout.

Some of the cops in riot gear look like they've been doused in frosting. The most frosted of them all is beset by the fundamentalist version of soccer hooligans, yet the kids are pretty peaceful; they mostly keep yelling at him and trying to take away his megaphone.

Now the cops are emerging from the synagogue in their underwear on international TV to be doused in bottled spring water. The question is whether they're suffering from a chemical agent flung on them by the protesters, or if they're suffering from the effects of the blue water they sprayed onto the roof, which has been bailed by the bucketful onto the cops attempting to break this final bastion of resistance.

Earlier I heard a police negotiation specialist in Maine, I think, opine that the settlers were holding fire in order to maintain the high road for their future relations with the rest of the country. Someone forgot to tell the Rooftop Kids.

Some annoying things about CNN:

"successive governments" -- how many times will they say that?
"mosques" -- Jews don't pray in mosques. Those buildings are synagogues.
Misidentifying the rabbis in orange vests as local overseers.
"watershed" "watershed" "watershed" "watershed"
"Smoke rising from the Israeli settlement of Neve Dekalim signals to the Palestinians that the patience of the weak wore down the strength of the mighty."

As Danny Ayalon, Israel's US Ambassador, tells CNN the Israeli position, the Hilltop Kids turned Rooftop Kids are being perp-walked past a huge pile of furniture they'd used to barricade the synagogue. Hilltop kids are ultra-rightist settlement youth who literally do live on hilltops, often in mobile homes.

There's something ludicrous about the containers dangling over the roof. They can't touch down, because the building probably wouldn't support them. But they've served their purpose: the cops have conquered the roof and now they're stripping down to their skivvies up there too. And the rebels have been led away.

My secular cousin just called and put everything in perspective. "Ah, they're just kids," she said. "The police didn't need to make such a big deal about them. If they'd left them up there for a week they'd have come down on their own." By those lights, this showdown is an event staged for the benefit of world opinion, which seems to be what the Arab press is sneering.

The sun has set. It's too late for a run. I'm on deadline. Back to work.

Oh, and it turns out the cops were being doused in acid.


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