Tel-Aviv at night. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Simon Roughneen in Tel-Aviv – Israel has taken a hammering once more in much of the world’s media after the recent flotilla incident and due to the Gaza blockade. Despite the country’s uncompromising “siege mentality” image, a few days in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem suggests that many people are sensitive to what the world thinks. Gali Ginat is a reporter for Maariv newspaper, the second-biggest seller in Israel. She lamented that “it seems that the rest of the world hates us now”. And while the Government and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) have mounted a vociferous defence of the country’s actions in recent weeks, many Israelis are not fully-convinced.

I spoke with Gal Lin at the Media in Conflict seminar organised by the IDC Herzliya, where he is a student. He said that “it’s almost a consensus in Israel that the execution of the operation to stop the flotilla was poor”. During the seminar IDF spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Liebovich fielded tough questions from Israeli journalists who thought the operation was a mess, and from Turkish reporters who questioned the official account of events.

After the flotilla incident and a Red Cross statement that the blockade contravenes international law as it involves collective punishment of one million Palestinians living inside Gaza, Israel announced that it would relax some of the blockade’s provisions. Most Israelis I asked about this said that they are happy for anything that could not be used against Israel by Hamas to be let through, as the Red Cross and others say that humanitarian conditions inside Gaza are “dire”. It is difficult to get information from Gaza and Israeli journalists are not generally permitted to enter the strip. Foreign correspondents are encouraged to go to Gaza, according to the IDF spokeswoman, but this reporter had not yet been granted permission to enter the territory at time of writing.

Jewish settlement in the West Bank, viewed from road into Bethlehem. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Israel’s politics features multiple viewpoints and opinions, from secular Zionism to radical leftists to  ultra-orthodox religious parties.  Despite the country’s small size and population, over 30 parties ran in the 2009 parliamentary elections, contesting 120 seats. That vote resulted in a right-leaning coalition under current PM Benjamin Netanyahu gaining power – which opposition leader Tzipi Livni accuses of destroying Israel’s already-shaky standing in world opinion. 12 parliamentarians represent the roughly20% of Israelis who are Palestinian, sometimes called Arab-Israeli  to distinguish them from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. These are Arabs who remained in Israel after the 1948 war, and while they have full citizenship rights, with surveys suggesting that a majority prefer to live in Israel than in neighbouring Arab states, subtle forms of discrimination exist according to various high-level reports.

But when human right abuses take place in countries such as Sudan or Burma, Israelis scent a double-standard, believing that what happens in these places does not spark the same level of ire in the West . IDC lecturer Dr Jonathan Fine reflected that “the Turks just killed 140 Kurds a few days ago, but where are all the demonstrations?” Israeli opposition parliamentarian Nitzan Horowitz believes that one reason why Israel is vilified in world opinion is that “people have higher expectations of us than many other countries as we are a liberal democracy”. However he disagrees with what he terms “the siege” of Gaza, saying that it not only does it make life excessively-hard for Gazans, but that it bolsters Hamas rather than the given rationale of undermining it.

Israelis soldiers give a busker a break in market area of Jerusalem. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Now, after the Government’s decision to relax the blockade, the next test will be implementation – whether or not revised list of goods actually gets through and living conditions improve for Gazans. But according to almost every Israeli I spoke with, a full ending of the blockade cannot be considered until at least Hamas frees kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and probably not until Hamas officially recognises Israel.

The Gilad Schalit casee remains emotive in Israel. Palestinians say that the capture of one Israelisoldiers cannot be compared to the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
Self-deprecatory humour? (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
Follow us on Twitter