Saving Perspective for the Editorial Page

Epic drama like this doesn’t come around every day.

Jews barricaded in a synagogue, many wrapped in prayer shawls, refusing to leave. Settler women thrusting babies into the faces of young, weeping soldiers sent to evacuate them. Whole families being dragged out of their homes, while their children stand by, wailing.

It’s irresistible. The forced disengagement going on in Gaza provides the press with the perfect confluence of hard news story and human-interest bonanza. That’s why nearly 3,000 journalists have flooded into the Gaza Strip, a narrow sliver of land 25 miles long by six miles wide. They’re there to catch every last tear.

What has gone missing in the fray, as usual, is any kind of historical context. Drama on this scale usually overwhelms. The New York Times seems to acknowledge this today and tries to provide a little background history lesson. Oddly, the place it chose to do so was in its lead editorial, “Gaza Reality Check,” which offers a kind of critique of its own articles of this morning and the past few days.

Points covered: Gaza was never an original part of the Jewish State. Not in 1948 when Israel was born by UN decree or after the 1949 armistice that followed its war of independence. The Strip was Egyptian land and home to Palestinian refugees, and only came under Israeli control in 1967 when it was captured during the Six-Day War. The peace plan signed between Israel and Egypt in 1978 even stipulated eventual autonomy in Gaza for the Palestinians living there. But this never happened. Instead Israel began building the settlements it is now uprooting.

Also lost amidst the drama were the proportions. Just under 9,000 settlers were living on 33 percent of the land, with 1.5 million Palestinians inhabiting the rest. (And the compensation that most of the settlers will get ranges from $300,000 to $500,000 — apiece.)

Finally, the fact that most of the friction captured in the photos involves young protestors who have infiltrated into the Gaza Strip to disrupt the operation — not those who actually live there. And that these protestors have a real interest in making the disengagement appear as heart-wrenching and traumatic as possible. After all, they mostly live in West Bank settlements, which might be imperiled next.

It’s not that the Times’ news columns have entirely ignored this data over time, but this morning’s editorial, coming in the same section of the newspaper as abundant articles about mourning families and screaming children, serves as a useful corrective.

Now if other news outlets — particularly broadcast and cable networks — would only supply the same context to their customers, we might be getting somewhere.

Gal Beckerman

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.