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There’s a quasi civil war going on in Palestine between Fatah and Hamas. The former is in power in the West Bank, and the latter in the Gaza Strip, which are the two parts of Palestine, also known as the Palestinian territories. I have visited Gaza and the West Bank, I have been to Ramallah and I have also met Palestinian ministers and even Ehud Olmert.

To me, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians does not clearly have good and bad guys. Sometimes it’s the Israelis committing the atrocities, and other times it’s the Palestinians. But the leading Spanish newspaper, “El País”, believes that the Palestinians are the good guys and the Israelis the bad guys. And when a civil war started between the two Palestinian factions breaks out, “El País” didn´t know how to bring “bad” Israel into the picture and published an article like this, in which the Israelis still come off as the bad guys even though they were not part of the dispute.

What I don’t understand is how Spaniards, who have reached a fairly high level of sophistication when it comes to matters of domestic policy and are mostly skeptical about their own political parties, continue to be fairly unsophisticated in matters of foreign policy, and don’t demand more objectivity from the local press.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be resolved when everyone recognizes their mistakes, and changes, and not just when the Israelis do. The Israelis pulled out of Gaza unilaterally Gaza fell into utter chaos. It does not surprise me that the Israelis now believe that if they pull out of the West Bank, the civil war among Palestinians, as well as the attacks on Israel, will only get worse.

If the Palestinians had created a well functioning state in Gaza that provided Israel with some reasonable security, the Israelis would be pulling out of the West Bank, just as they have left the Sinai Peninsula and other previously occupied territories. The majority of Israelis don’t want the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as part of a greater Israel. Those that do constitute an organized and fanatic minority, but that minority was forcefully removed from the Gaza Strip and the results were awful.

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Mandi on November 26, 2008  · 

Israel has demostrated with 40 years of actions that it pls a to incorporate the land -without the people- into it’s borders.

The mess in Gaza is the result of an economic blockade ok he territory and he violation ofthe truce agreement in the part of Israel two weeks ago when they made an incursion into Gaza, killed a handful of Palestinians and waited for the retaliation.
It was covered extensively on haaretz.

Spare me the lecture on “sophistication”. Every human rights organization, every scholar, every international body knows that Israel is collectively punishing one point five million people.

When was the last time Madrid blocked electicity, food and did a maritime blockade of the Basque country? When did it starve it’s population to death? When did it use F16 bombers to assasinate ETA leaders? When did of demolish their houses? When did it “nationalize” heir land and forbid them from building new houses?

Israel is commuting crimes against by humanity and violating he Fourh Geneva conventions

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José Cohen on November 26, 2008  · 

Great post, Martin!

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Liam on November 26, 2008  · 

This post remind me an older post you wrote about how hard was being Jewish in Spain. There is no doubt that there is a link between both things.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 26, 2008  · 

@ Mandi:

Mandi would you care to comment on what is going on in Mumbai right now? What do you think of the frequent bombardments that Israeli civilians are subject to, the human bombers, the buses full of murdered school children? And do you think Islamic terrorists really care if Bush or Obama are in power? What do you make of the terrorists who are going around Mumbai now murdering people who carry US passports after the US has shown such a clear change in leadership? No Mandi, this goes both ways. US has committed atrocities, Israel has as well, but Islamic terrorists attacked USA on 911 way before anything was done to the Taliban.

yaelg on November 27, 2008  · 

It reminds me of Pilar Rahola’s lecture during the AIPAC meeting in Washington DC last June.

The spanish journalist explained that the exacerbated hatred against Israel determines the pattern of newspapers around the world. No other conflict suffers a distortion of information like this one. Israel is the only country in the world that has to apologize for its existence, has to ask for forgiveness in defending itself and has to apologize for not disappearing. Its military actions are elevated to the rank of horror. Its victims are despised and its enemies are considered heroes..:

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Mandi on November 27, 2008  · 


Beyond the name dropping that you did in this piece (as you typically do) your knowledge on the actual situation of Palestine seems to be razor thin.

Israel has been illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza against the UN Resolution 242 since 1967. And it has been far from a mild occupation, it has been a brutal occupation and it has violated the Fourth Geneva Convention repeatedly to the point that it has no meaning anymore.

Not only they have been occupying, they have blocked the free movement of Palestinians in their own land, they destroy their houses with bulldozers, they create illegal settlements (against international law) in the occupied territories and as members of the Apartheid in South Africa said last week “The West Bank is worse than Appartheid”.

Trying to switch the subject to Mumbai ignores the problem: Israel has placed the civilian population of the West Bank and Gaza under military rule for 40 years. Not one, not two, but forty years and have tried every possible trick to get the Palestinians to leave their land hoping to grab some of that land for the Greater Israel.

The 1948 “war of independence” was one of the largest Ethnic Cleansing operations in the modern history. It continued in 1967, but international pressure made it difficult to expel as many natives as they wanted, so they limited themselves to 200,000 on that iteration alone, but they figured they could make their life miserable and hope they would leave on their own. That they have pretty much succeeded in doing.

For 40 years the Palestinians in the West Bank have been second class citizens and their rights have been violated left and right.

The literature on the subject is deep.

And yes, a “one sided view” is required in this case. This is not a conflict between equals, this is a conflict between a powerful nation with powerful funding, with powerful weapons against a starving, uneducated, mostly peasant community.

There is no “50/50” split when human rights are being stomped on. Of course there are going to be two sides of this problem, but every human rights organization has been pretty consistent on this one: there is no ambiguity, the Israeli administration is to blame here fair and square.

Next time, instead of name dropping and spending a weekend hanging out in Ramallah, what about reading some of the academics that have devoted their life to peeling the layers of propaganda and PR that Israel has engaged in for years and listen to them?

Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”; Norman Finkelstein’s two books on Palestine (both great on debunking the state-sponsored myths and sycophants) or any of the texts from the New Historians of Israel that have uncovered the actual policies and secret laws that apply to civilians in the occupied territories.

Or if your schedule does not permit it, John Pilger’s one-hour documentary on “Palestine is Still the Issue” or “Occupation 101”.

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Ouriel Ohayon on November 27, 2008  · 

Martin, this media attitude towards israel is not spanish only but nearly worldwide. It is hard for editors to switch positions when for years they have blamed Israel for this situation. Balance in media is not part of this region.

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Jorge (laser15) on November 27, 2008  · 

I’ve read the article you comented in your post and I guess there are two parts of the text that support your post statement: firstly, it’s the title of the article and secondly the last parragraph. The author of the article believes that Israel didn’t take care so much of the group of palestinians that crossed the frontier although Israel protected and healed them from their own palestians soldiers. You think this is a clear example of El Pais news middle East editorial style. I belive Israel handled this situation with military prothocols in mind. Israel undressed the group of palestinians because it wanted to secure that anyone weren’t carryng any bombs attached to their bodies. Israel had the chance afterward to dress again this people with their clothes and return them back to Palestinia. However Israel didn’t do something like that at all. This posibility is what the author of the article made indirectly evident in the text. Israel military prothocols reduce palestinians prisioner dignity, although it is not necessary for security to return back prisioners in pants. This attitude is what many occidental newspapers write about.

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Liam on November 27, 2008  · 

Dear Mandi:

Do you think Israel have the right to exist??
If you do, where?

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Mandi on November 27, 2008  · 


We are not taking about *Israel* we are talking about the West Bank and Gaza which are territories *occupied* illegally by Israel in the 1967 war, and of course, the brutal military rule that they have subjected the population of those two areas for 40 years.

Your question is stupid, Israel exists, nobody is disputing that. The problem is what this state is doing to a colonized country.

This is like claiming “Does Spain have a right to exist?”. But the fact that Spain has the right to exist, does not mean it can have colonies around the world, govern other people and try to evict them from their land. The brutality shown today by Israel was shown by Spain 500 years ago when it first colonized America.

Since then, I like to think that -we- as humans have come to agree to the basic rule of law, to recognize the United Nations as a place to avoid conflict, to recognize the International Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention for the times of war. If someone can not accept these for whatever legal constructions, or mental construction, or personal beliefs, then they are no better than the war criminals that have plagued our earth.

For those joining late,

Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! has a summary of the situation in Gaza in the last two weeks:

There is again the quote that the recent round of violence was not Hamas starting by sending rockets into Sderot, but the barely mentioned incursion raid into Gaza with tanks that killed six people which lead to the Hamas response.

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José Luis on November 27, 2008  · 

Martin, with regard to Israel or US, the average Spanish voter in not as sophisticated as you think. As for the average El País reader, usually an avid socialist voter, all I can say is that they vote socialism in part because it feeds on their childish anti-American and centuries old anti-Semitic sentiments. As you have probably observed, when elections approach in Spain, in order to mobilize their voters, current prime minister Zapatero stirs the anti-American and anti-Semitic prejudices, along with saying that voting for the opposition is bringing back Franco from the tomb and that will mean the end of pensions for the elderly (many bad things can be said about Franco, but he in fact stablished social security). Usually, the sophisticated voter you refer to, plays along the socialist propaganda.

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Liam on November 27, 2008  · 

Dear Mandi,

You talked about the 1948 war, and I noticed you were not very happy with the results. That is the reason why I asked you such question. (And that is the reason why it is not a stupid question)

You said “The 1948 “war of independence” was one of the largest Ethnic Cleansing operations in the modern history”. That is simply false. By the way, 5 Arabs countries rejected the two state solution in 1948 and started the war against Israel. Israel was fighting for its survival.

The other reason why it is not a stupid question is because Hamas don´t recognize Israel´s right to exist (and say that they never will), so I ask you: How do you achieve peace with an organization that don´t even recognize your right to live?

PD – “The brutality shown today by Israel was shown by Spain 500 years ago when it first colonized America.” Very funny

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neoyorquina on November 27, 2008  · 

It’s not only El País’ coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that is one-sided. A lot of their foreign coverage is sorely lacking.

True journalism, a la Upton Sinclar, Edward R. Murrow, Woodward & Bernstein, et al., generally is not practiced in the Spanish press. Spanish newspapers are banal political pamphlets stuck in the past and they are not equipped to truly inform and enlighten their readership.

El País, the so-called New York Times of Spain, is a prime example of this. It is a boring, predictable, lazy publication which never breaks any real news and never shows any real initiative in terms of investigative, muckracking journalism, neither at home nor abroad. It’s laughable how many “progre” Spaniards consider El Pais some kind of bible from which they get their talking points. Actually, it’s pathetic.

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José Luis on November 28, 2008  · 

Neoyorquina, couldn’t agree more with you. I have been a long time reader of El País and nowadays it has nothing to do with the original liberal paper it was supposed to be. In the early 80s it decided to be the market place of the “progressive” culture left and since then the message has become quite predictable. Sometimes, I do not need to see the firm to know the author of the article. If it about how terrible Jews are and how nice palestians are, I know is Maruja Torres. Americans are terrible?. Pradera wrote it. Some of the best articles in fact are translations from the American press or writers such as Paul Krugman.

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Uri on November 28, 2008  · 

@Martin, 2 questions:
1. Have El Pais or other major Spanish newspapers tried to delve deeply into the profound distinction between Fatah and Hamas, and explain how does this struggle will critically affect the Palestinian society, it’s identity, and the whole area?

I’m asking this, since a so-called human-rights, justice advocating pro-Palestinian journalism should probably be interested to analyse the differences and at least results would be if Hamas wins or manage to assassinate Abu Mazen.

2. One thing I was curious about ever since starting to read the posts here that cover the Middle East – What does the Spanish blogosphere (other than martinv 🙂 say?

@neoyorquina – thanks for the interesting comment. I had a chance to speak with a worker in the Spanish embassy here in Tel-Aviv, who said something similar, and it was quite weird to hear it. Many here think of Spain/Catalonia/Euskara as amazing lands and culture empires, and the contrast with the “unequipped journalism” is confusing.

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Haim on November 29, 2008  · 


About UN resolutions:
I think that in 1948 some people did not accept the UN resolution and wanted to throw all the Jews to the sea.

In light of the perfect and pacific human organization that the Palestinians leaders are building in the Gaza strip, I am really surprised how come Israel is reluctant to retreat completely from the west bank. Such a pacific and quiet neighbors!

Palestinians are second class citizens in all the Arab world (Lebanon, Jordania, Kuwait, Qatar, etc, etc, etc). Is someone complaining about that in your neighborhood?.

I know ! Is the Israeli citizenship is what they are after? It’s not worth it, believe me, kids must serve in the Army for 3 full years + the reserve for life, high risk of being kidnapped (as Gilad Shalit, hopefully alive somewhere in Gaza) or killed. The IRS will take 50% of your salary, and Sundays is a working day. Well, at least medical services are good and universal, both for Arabs and Jews of course.

And lastly, are you writing some of your detailed letters to the Palestinian leaders? Because I believe that there is SOMETHING they can do for their own people. They are probably waiting for some enlightening directions or instructions. So far, they are only bringing more suffering to their own people.

Salam Alekum


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Felipe on November 30, 2008  · 

Martín your message is wrong on so many levels it is difficult to believe you ar blind to so much reality:
-The article does not picture Israel “as the bad guys” as you say anywhere in any shape or form. It just describes what happened in an objective balanced way without using any adjectives.
-Saying that whatever (good or bad thing taht happens in Palestine is completely independent of what happens in Israel or unrelated to what Israel does is absurd, childish, or stupid. You chose the adjective.
It is funny that you use the description “one-sided” when you then proceed to be exactly that.

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glem on December 1, 2008  · 

In Spain the vision of the Israëli/Palestinian conflict is ioften shaped by the vision about jews in general. I have been sometimes amazed to meet young educated people speaking about jews using almost middle-age imagery, conspirational theories etc. while older countryside people, which are not or hardly educated, show more openness.
Does it come from educational sphere then? Does someone have an idea?..
Regarding the post, I want to say that it is understandable that the Gaza blockade would fuel anti-Israël sentiment, but it’s difficult to understand why it would be the cause of a civil war between Palestiniens. Mandi mentions a series of things and he is right to do so but he does not answer this point, which is at the core of Martin’s post.

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Dani on December 1, 2008  · 

the good news is an increasing number of Spanish readers realize the biased, partisan paper El Pais has become, to the point that El Pais is coming close to losing leadership to El Mundo (which also has its flaws). Things might end up even more dramatically – JL Cebrian, CEO of Prisa, which publishes El Pais, is through his incompetence leading the company closer and closer to bankruptcy. Maybe there won’t even be El Pais in a few years. That’s what happens when you put ideologues rather than professional journalists/managers at the helm.

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