Time has a big piece by Nina Burleigh on Israeli settlements in this week’s issue. It’s a familiar framing: The Katzes, very normal, gentle people readers can identify with (they’re even from New York!), “consider themselves law-abiding citizens” and do painfully earnest and upstanding things like “publish a small community magazine and take part in civic projects. Sharon raises money for charity by putting on tap-dancing and theater shows.” There’s a smiling family portrait, and a picture of settlers playing in a swimming pool with their kids. They “don’t think their town is an obstacle to peace.”
These settlers from the large settlement of Efrat are contrasted somewhat with the more militant settlers who live in the small outposts–the “legal” versus “illegal” settlements, according to the Israeli government. The two are “profoundly unlike each other,” writes Burleigh, “but Palestinians revile them equally.”
In fact, that’s just about all Palestinians do in this article: “revile,” “hate,” “despise” and generally just be “unwelcoming.” A single Palestinian is quoted (and one Israeli human rights group that opposes the settlements). The “Two Views of the Land” the print headline promises–online the headline is “Israeli Settlers vs. the Palestinians”–may be given equal billing, but it’s far from an even match.
The piece wraps up by talking about Obama’s and Netanyahu’s strategies and options: “Challenging…law-abiding citizens like Sharon Katz” will be politically difficult, Burleigh observes–note that law-abiding has no qualifier here as it did in the beginning. The closing paragraph reinforces the normalcy of the Katz family: “Sitting around their kitchen table, with grandchildren’s plastic toys scattered on a deck beyond sliding-glass doors, the Katz family doesn’t look or sound militant. Indeed, to American ears, their version of the national narrative sounds rather familiar. ” Sharon Katz is given the last word: “Israel shouldn’t leave any hilltop! How did communities start out in the American West? With one log cabin. When we bought this land, it was a rocky hillside. Look what it looks like today.”
Political realities and options are shaped to no small degree by public perception of situations, which is in turn shaped by media coverage. Perhaps if Native Americans had been portrayed in media accounts as sympathetic individuals instead of a generally undifferentiated mass (a mass often portrayed as unwelcoming and hateful), the political realities of the American West would have turned out differently. U.S. media accounts of the Israeli settler issue that portray the settlers as highly sympathetic and “law-abiding” individuals against a backdrop of largely invisible but clearly hateful Palestinians obscure the illegality of the settlements and contribute to the intractable political situation the Time piece wrings its hands over.