Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Perceptions of the Middle East and the Gaza War: Views from Europe

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Perceptions of the Middle East and the Gaza War: Views from Europe

Article excerpt


The perceptions of Western elites and publics, and the policies of Western governments toward the Middle East have always been viewed as vital to events in the region. Perhaps such concepts are exaggerated, yet this subject is well worth examining. Thus, in the wake of the Gaza war, people from a number of European countries were asked to look at trends in the places where they live. Three levels are examined: the policies of governments, the attitudes of intellectual-media-culturaljournalistic elites, and public opinion. Several European countries were chosen to get some sense of whether these factors are changing and their current status.

Biographies of contributors can be found at the end of each section.


1. Andrea Loquenzi Holzer, "Italy"

2. Ilya Meyer, "Sweden and Norway"

3. Dave Rich, "United Kingdom"

4. Benjamin Gondro, "Germany"

5. Michel Gurfinkiel, "France"


Andrea Loquenzi Holzer*

Milan, Italy

In Italy, the two main political factions have diametrically opposite views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In general, while Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's PdL (People of Freedom) is generally pro-Israeli, Veltroni's PD (Democratic Party) is typically pro-Palestine. The war in Gaza sparked debates among politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens. Yet to what extent did these events actually change people's minds about the conflict?

Massimo D'Alema, a former foreign minister, well-known for supporting Hamas, during a sit-in held in Assisi, said that the Gaza war would tarnish the reputation of the Israeli government and could even cause people to become anti-Israel: "It was a bloody useless war. I am not trying to hide Hamas's- a fundamentalist group-enormous responsibilities, but they are the beneficiaries here?. This war was a terrific propaganda for the radicals."

D'Alema's position remains the same as usual, since he advocates (as he did before) the diplomatic recognition of Hamas as a legitimate political party. In Assisi, he continued by acknowledging that his opinion "is a taboo, [but] I don't feel like I am by myself here, I even received letters of solidarity from the foreign ministers of some moderate Islamic countries."

The former foreign minister is not the only one whose position has not changed much. Even Berlusconi's recent remarks are quite familiar: "It was the population of Gaza that suffered more from the recent crisis, since Hamas used them as human-shields to combat the Israeli action. Israel, on the other hand, must absolutely be comprehended. I spoke with many Israelis, every day they went to sleep staring at their roof and asking themselves if they would be able to make it through the night." Berlusconi continued, "Italy is very close to Israel in this troubled time," he stated at the meeting in Sharm al- Shaykh, Egypt, called to discuss the crisis.

Other politicians, however, think that the war has changed the situation in the Middle East and that some Italians may even have begun to sympathize with Israel. As PD's Congressman Emanuele Fiano puts it:

Something has changed. Hamas's fundamentalist nature, its violent constitution, its appeal for a holy war against the Jews, and its inclusion in the list of terrorist movements identified by Europe, have perhaps for the first time caused a split in Italian public opinion, between a judgment of Palestinian versus Israeli rights and unconditional support for Palestinian representatives. Hamas's fundamentalism has made us understand Israel's right to defend itself. This is obviously without diminishing the sorrow for any innocent victim of this war.

Fiano's position is somewhat similar to that of Senator Domenico Benedetti Valentini (PDL):

I think that Hamas' cruel proclamations have convinced the free world of Israelis' absolute right to live in peace and prosperity inside well guarded borders. The tribute paid in blood by the Gaza civilians might have caused someone to lose faith in Israel. …

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