11 Aug 2011

Riots and stone throwing, but it’s London not Jerusalem

How is the world viewing Britain after the scenes of street violence? From east Jerusalem to east London, an Israeli journalist working in the UK writes for Channel 4 News on the chaos he witnessed.

Israeli journalist Doron Bar-Gil reports on the London riots.

It was almost unthinkable for me, an Israeli journalist based in London, to run in the streets of Hackney looking for a place to hide when looters were breaking into shops, fighting with police officers and intimidating every innocent passer-by, writes Doron Bar-Gil.

These scenes took me back to working as a journalist in Israel; to the streets of wild east Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents and police officers play a game of cat and mouse, stones are thrown everywhere, and ambulance and police sirens are heard at all hours. This week in London evoked these images and memories from home, in a way that I had never experienced before.

It’s a bit ironic that while in Israel demonstrations are being held in the most peaceful way, it is London that is being set on fire. Doron Bar-Gil

The Israeli audience could not get a grip of the developments. It is hard to explain to the readers sitting in Tel-Aviv what are the causes for this massive unrest, when even here in Britain there is still an ongoing debate about the nature of these riots.

Israelis like clear-cut answers, wishing to know who are the good guys and who are the bad ones in the story, and they still have not managed to figure this out. Yet, after a week of full coverage there is obviously a significant sympathy with the police.

Israel's Maariv daily newspaper reports on the UK riots.

On the other hand, only yesterday some Israelis opposing their government warned that they might use some of the same kinds of tactics used by the rioters in London to put pressure on Jerusalem.

Following intensive coverage from the UK, which has included the Royal Wedding, the Olympics preparations and the phone hacking scandal, some Israelis now have a tarnished image of Britain as a peaceful place where lords drink afternoon tea and princes marry their loved ones.

The riots took place at a time when thousands of Israelis are taking to streets of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, demanding social justice from their government in a massive demonstration.

It’s a bit ironic, said one of the Israeli protesters, that while in Israel demonstrations are being held in the most peaceful way in what is one of the world’s most complicated and conflict-ridden areas, it is London, of all cities, that has been set on fire.

The writer is the London correspondent for Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper