Israel in review

European news outlets recap last year’s events in the Middle East, and give their predictions for the coming year.

A Palestinian protester dressed in a Santa Claus costume rings a bell as he argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest near Bethlehem (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian protester dressed in a Santa Claus costume rings a bell as he argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest near Bethlehem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the year 2014 came to an end, European news outlets were busy pumping out Israel stories and making sure readers got them in time.
Videos of Palestinian protesters in Bethlehem dressed in Santa Claus costumes could be accessed on brand new iPads and Macs all over Christmas-crazy Europe. Other stories included reports of Hamas’s new efforts to honor the ceasefire, which raised eyebrows among some readers – as another story was simultaneously published of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal receiving grand applause from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters, when he made a surprise visit to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Another popular story appeared in German daily Die Welt, titled “The catastrophe after the Gaza conflict,” and it began poetically: “A few hours [produced] enough rain to flood parts of the densely populated coastal strip in late November. Thousands fled before the water masses…” According to the story, rainfall in Gaza threatens to wreak havoc on civilians due to inadequate infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. A picture showed a group of Palestinians perched on couches amid rubble from what used to be their home, as UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna raised the alarm of a threatening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
Also available to German readers was the translation of Israeli journalist Matti Friedman’s piece criticizing media outlets – his alma mater the Associated Press in particular – in how they frame the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Friedman’s piece, which originally appeared in the online news platform Tablet Magazine with a follow- up in The Atlantic, appeared in Die Welt and argued that Western media often follow a clear anti-Israel bias and dramaturgy.
Israel is portrayed as the perpetrator, the Jews are representative of supreme moral failure and the Palestinians are portrayed as the victim.
Disinformation about Israel was also on the agenda when Dany Boon, a popular French comedian who converted to Judaism in 2002, was in Israel last week to promote his new movie Supercondriaque.
(Boon is famous for having produced and acted in Bienvenue chez les Chti’s, one of the most-watched French movies of all time.) When asked in an interview with I24 News about rising anti-Semitism in France, Boon responded: “There is a type of information that spreads about Israel and turns to disinformation.
One big problem is that people take mental shortcuts to answer difficult questions.”
Finishing off the year of Middle East reporting in a tidy fashion, European news outlets embarked on the social media trend of recapping the entire year (oddly enough, a week before New Year’s Eve) in the region with a series of headlines such as “Key events that shook the Middle East.”
To say that last year was a difficult year for the region and Israel is an understatement. With the Israel-Hamas conflict, Islamic State spreading fear in Iraq and Syria, and the international community increasingly eager to ostracize Israel, many look forward to different stories in 2015.
The Middle East
France Info, France, December 25
A French radio segment featured a discussion with three political analysts on the current status of Israel-Hamas relations, and the problems and opportunities that lay ahead for the future.
Sebastién Laugénie, the Radio France correspondent in Jerusalem, was asked regarding the conflict what changes were made in 2014. He replied: “The Palestinians have changed their normal tactics and instead seek help from the international community. The international community has responded with actions such as acknowledging a Palestinian state, increasing pressure on Israel. An increasing number of international states, including France, exercise more pressure on Israel today.”
Frederic Encel, a political science professor, was asked if these tactics truly change anything on the ground. He replied: “No, I don’t think so; Americans have shown they will continue to support Israel. Recently, I think five resolutions have been discussed in the UN regarding Israel, and every time the US has flagged a veto.”
Encel added that the more Israelis feel the international community is against them, the more radical they will become.
Christian Makarian, an international relations expert, agreed with Encel. “Sure, but what these efforts aim to do is to isolate Israel in the diplomatic arena. Even though I don’t think this will lead to tangible problems for the state, this is still not great news for Israel.”
Would a possible new Center-Left political coalition in Israel bring something new to the peace process? “Difficult to say,” said Laugénie. “One problem to overcome is the colonization of land, another is that Hamas is currently rearming themselves, Gaza is very sensitive and of course, Syria/Lebanon as well.”
Makarian added: “In order to progress things, there has to be a new idea, a new perspective...
what is surprising is the complete absence of any new perspectives. And the situation simply can’t last.”
Do Israelis want peace? Encel opined: “Yes, generally I think so, looking back at the 1993 [Oslo] Accords, for example. But the devil is always in the details. Yet in the long term, I am actually very optimistic.”
Really, very optimistic? “Yes,” Encel answered.
“Even the Palestinians, according to polls, are positive toward a two-state solution.
“But for 2015, I don’t think anything will happen, especially since [US President Barack] Obama is demonized and lacks a majority in the Senate.”
Middle East: Why so many wars?
L’express, France, December 25
Pierre Razoux, research director at the Institute for Strategic Research, wrote an extensive piece in the French magazine about why there are so many conflicts in the Middle East.
He pointed out some key factors that are usually involved: First, the idea of identity is central to the Kurdish and Palestinian struggles; second, nationalism and charismatic leaders play their part in the regional quest for power; third, between 1950 and 1990, Arab nationalism has been the dominant ideology in the region, and as the Arab states have been in the difficult process of unification, they have focused on Israel as a common enemy.
While he pointed out that three quarters of maritime trade passes along Middle Eastern coasts, Razoux added that the underlying reasons for why conflicts break out in the region is not what we might usually think: “[Accessible energy, new markets and free marine traffic] have only rarely been the direct cause for war.
Freshwater, however, has led to many conflicts in the past and will lead to many more in the future.”