For 40 years, Chaim Yavin was the symbol of objective journalism in Israel, the figure people looked up to in time of crisis, despair or political change. As the anchorman of Channel One's IBA news, for years the only legal TV network operating in the Israeli media arena, Yavin was the Israeli Walter Cronkite, the man behind the news.
When the right-wing Likud party defeated the Labor party in 1977, creating an upset and promoting Menachem Begin as prime minister for the first time, Yavin was there. So great was his surprise when the numbers started pouring in, that he invented, on screen, a new word to describe the phenomenon: "Mahapach," a word now commonly used by Israelis to describe a "small scale and peaceful revolution". He has continued to anchor every election night since then, as well as every other major news event, including the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
But in "The Land of the Settlers" one finds a different Yavin -- opinionated, defiant and almost enraged. Many in Israel see this five-episode documentary series, in which Yavin follows the settlers throughout the territories of the West Bank, as his journalistic emancipation. Yavin, 72, tends to agree: "Things have changed in the media today," he told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot last May, after "Land of the Settlers" came out.
In the episode focusing on the old Jewish neighborhood in Hebron -- one of the most hardcore and controversial settlements -- which will be screened on March 1 at the Workmen's Circle co-sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Yavin tries to decipher what motivates a handful of settler families to remain embedded in the heart of one of the largest Arab cities, creating a constant conflict with the locals and risking their own lives.
Working on the series, "I came to realize, once again how extremely powerful the settler groups are," Yavin said in an interview with the Israeli magazine Yediot Ahronot. "In fact, they are the ones dictating our daily national agenda in Israel."
Yavin worked on "Land of the Settlers" for two years and in some occasions preferred to forgo the use of a film crew and just go out by himself, with a small hand-held video camera. After the series aired in Israel it garnered critical praise for its honest and raw portrayal of the situation. Not surprisingly, Jewish leaders in the West Bank were not as pleased, and Elyakim Haezny, who is interviewed in the Hebron episode, called it "The Hunt of Settlers" and accused Yavin of becoming "detached from reality."
"The Land of the Settlers" screens at 7:30 on March 1 at the Workmen's Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. $5 (suggested donation).