THE BLOG

Real Israel vs 'Nasty Israel'

04/08/2014 16:45 BST | Updated 30/09/2014 10:59 BST

Mehdi Hasan's recent post, "Debunking Israel's 11 Main Myths About Gaza, Hamas and War Crimes" is simplistic to the point of childish.

Take a list of straw man arguments then knock them down with cut and paste using any paragraph from the web which might support the alternative view. This is journalism? This is political commentary? Well sadly it often is when we are talking about Israel.

Successful writing for a liberal-left journalist about the Israeli-Palestinian arena is easy. All you have to do is write about how nasty Israel is, and 10,000 twitter sheep will say 'baaa' before you can say 'gone viral'.

It seems to me there are two Israels. There is 'nasty Israel', a dark and ghoulish place which exists in the minds and prejudices of certain political columnists and their readers, where Israeli policy makers act out of pure malice, and any accusation of evil doing is presumed automatically to be true.

Then there is actual Israel - where I have lived for the last eight years - a young, open, vibrant, democratic society, managing extraordinary national security threats, in which varied sectors and ideological groupings are competing to determine the future of the country.

Many commentators and journalists appear blind to real Israel. I think it's because they are in love with 'nasty Israel' - the one their followers enjoy reading about so much. Of course, the truly horrific consequences of the current fighting in Gaza are a field day for those who like to write about 'nasty Israel'.

If you don't want to know about real Israel, stop reading now. Here are six things that Mehdi Hassan is unlikely to mention or does not know about real Israel.

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu "sweated bullets" trying to bridge gaps with the Palestinians in the last round of peace talks.

In 'nasty Israel' the leaders are intransigent and immovable in negotiations with the Palestinians.

In real Israel, every Israeli Prime Minister since Ehud Barak has made substantial concessions on the Palestinian issue, including Netanyahu. Don't take my word for it. Listen to the words of US envoy Martin Indyk, who has now spoken multiple times at length about the causes of the failure of the last round of peace talks. Indyk has blame for both sides, but remarkably, according to Indyk, Netanyahu moved in talks with the US to the "zone of a possible agreement". Unfortunately, when John Kerry then tried to make progress with the Palestinians, in mid to late February, Abu Mazen had "checked out" of the talks, according to Indyk.

2. Polls show Israelis would overwhelmingly favour a two-state peace agreement

In 'nasty Israel', the public aren't interested in peace or the creation of a Palestinian state.

In real Israel, repeated surveys show that an overwhelming majority would vote in favour of a two state agreement if it were put to a referendum. There would even be majority support among voters of the right wing Likud party. Polls also show Israelis, sadly, don't believe such an agreement will be reached any time soon, having been burned by two decades of failure in the peace process.

3. The Israeli right did not grow at the last election, it shrunk.

In 'nasty Israel' there is only a right wing, and the centre-left is invisible.

In real Israel, there is a strong right, but the centre and left parties actually grew overall at the expense of the right in the last election, and the current government includes the largest centrist party (Yesh Atid), and the party which is most focused on securing a two state peace agreement (Hatnua/Tzipi Livni party).

4. Two of the parties in the current coalition favour a settlement freeze.

'Nasty Israel' is a country that relentlessly colonises Palestinian land. The unilateral withdrawal from all of the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank in 2005 didn't happen in nasty Israel because, well, it confuses things too much.

In real Israel the right does want to expand settlements. But the centre ground is torn between two very real problems: the need to separate from the Palestinians to preserve Israel as a Jewish democracy, and the need to avoid extremists taking over the West Bank, like they did the Gaza Strip.

The fact that two of the parties in the government (Yesh Atid and Hatnua), not to mention the Israeli opposition, are against expanding settlements, and that this is the subject of constant tension in the coalition, goes completely unnoticed by Mehdi et al.

5. When Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005 it signed an Agreement on Movement and Access with the Palestinian Authority.

In 'nasty Israel', the Israeli government besieges the Gaza Strip for kicks.

In real Israel, if Hamas had an unsupervised port in Gaza, the first consignment unloaded at the dock would probably be missiles sent by Iran.

After Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005, it signed an Agreement on Movement and Access with the Palestinian Authority to establish the basis for normal border relations. This gave the Palestinians, for the first time in their history, control over their own borders, both with Israel and Egypt (a whole other sovereign state that borders the Gaza Strip, frequently ignored by 'nasty Israel' watchers). Unfortunately Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and is not a signatory to any agreement with Israel. Hamas is explicitly committed to Israel's destruction and believes that this is possible.

In real Israel, Hamas's offer of a ten year Hudna (translation: end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank now, and we'll come back for the rest later) is not going to fly.

6. The IDF does not target civilians.

In 'nasty Israel', the IDF is deliberately engaged in the slaughter of innocent civilians.

In real Israel, the horrifying and distressing deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is an unintended and undesired consequence of warfare in a dense urban environment, in which Hamas and other armed groups dig in within civilian neighbourhoods and use those areas as a base to attack Israeli civilians or soldiers. Ask British officers who have faced similar dilemmas, and they will tell you that Israel's actions compare favourably with other Western armies facing similar challenges. This does not make the harm to civilians less tragic or distressing, and Israel should be prepared to account for its actions, but there is a huge difference between unintended harm, and deliberate harm of civilians.

In real Israel the IDF tries to operate within international law, and invests heavily in developing tactics to minimise civilian casualties that no other army in the world uses. This is not only because harming civilians breaches the IDF's code of ethics and international law, to which Israel considers itself bound, but because it is in Israel's interests to minimise civilian casualties. Civilian deaths enhance diplomatic pressure on Israel and limit its freedom of operations.

If you want to know more about real Israel, you can read Fathom, a quarterly journal of which I am the Deputy Editor. Fathom is about the actual existing Israel. There is left, centre, and yes also a right. There is religious and secular. There are responsible politician and populist politicians. There are views you'll like and views you won't. It is more interesting than 'nasty Israel', but it is also harder to understand, and to write about. It is up to you.