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 “siege mentality” image, a few days in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem shows 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 “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”. Previously, IDF spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich fielded tough questions from Israeli journalists who thought the operation was a mess, and from Turkish reporters who questioned her 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 provisions of the blockade. 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.

The Red Cross and others say 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.

When human right abuses take place in countries such as Sudan or Burma, Israelis scent a double-standard 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

Now, after the government’s decision to relax the blockade, the next test will be in implementation and whether or not revised list of goods gets through. But, according to almost every Israeli I spoke with, a full ending of the blockade cannot be considered until Hamas frees kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and beyond that will not happen until Hamas officially recognises Israel.

Peter Fray

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