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The Media’s Impact on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Updated: Sep 17, 2018

Op-Ed By Jacob Kagon

Open up a newspaper and chances are you will read something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has become one of the most widely reported conflicts in the world today. It also happens to be one of the most complicated and divisive. Why has this conflict between two small territories in the Levant region, exploded into a huge global issue? A possible answer could lie in the media’s coverage of the conflict. The continuous coverage of the conflict has kept it in the public eye, thus elevating its perceived importance.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sparked protests all around the world. Millions of people are emotionally charged by the conflict due to a multitude of reasons, from religion to human rights. The media has capitalized on people’s emotions concerning the conflict by increasing coverage. The increased coverage leads to more people seeing what is going on in Israel and thus increasing its relative importance in their minds. This can be understood by the psychological phenomenon known as the availability heuristic. The availability heuristic is defined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman as the tendency, “to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory.” According to the availability heuristic, if a piece of information can be recalled quickly, then a person will be more likely to believe it is important. In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the media’s regular reporting on the conflict, it is often at the forefront of our minds which makes it easier for us to retrieve information about it. When information regarding the conflict is recalled easily, it will seem to be more important than information that may not come to mind as quickly.

I experienced the availability heuristic phenomenon during the Gaza-Israel clashes of 2012. There was daily media coverage of the rockets being fired into Israel and the subsequent Israeli retaliation.  Also during this period, I witnessed many pro-Palestinian marches in my hometown: Los Angeles. These protesters were influenced by the availability heuristic. These protests took place because the Israeli violence was fresh in the minds of the public. During periods of relatively little news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would assume there would be fewer protests, thus proving the availability heuristic to be correct.

There are many reasons why the media and specifically media in the United States would be so focused on Israel. One possible reason is that Israel is a holy place to the three major religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Many individuals practicing those three religions pay attention to Israel because they feel personally connected to it. When Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the news, people may become very emotional because of what Israel means to them. When people become emotionally attached to a new story, they may be more likely to tune in. Based on this, the religious significance of Israel could factor into the heavy media focus. Another reason why American media companies may have increased focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to the deep connection between Israel and the United States. The United States gives Israel $3.15 billion a year, easily the most aid provided by the United States. Because the United States gives a large amount of aid to Israel, the American media wants to pay extra attention to Israel.

Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sparks so much emotion from different religious and social groups, the media is likely to increase coverage which elevates the perceived importance of the conflict. This does not mean that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not important, but the media’s consistent coverage of it has elevated its relative importance in our minds. The media knows that conflict and violence sparks viewership. Which is why many of the year’s biggest news stories involve violence. When rockets start flying, the 24/7 news cycle is quick to pounce. When this happens, the world’s attention will once again be turned to the Levant and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, monopolizing our media.

Jacob is a Junior, studying International Relations with a minor in Spanish. Originally from Malibu, California where he likes to surf and play ping pong, his favorite activities in DC include going to Air and Space Museum where he works and making French Press coffee. Last summer, Jacob spent three months in Israel interning at an Israeli think tank, NGO Monitor. While in Israel, he traveled to the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan to get a better idea of the regional makeup. Not only interested in Middle Eastern politics but also the ongoing refugee crisis, Jacob will spend a month this summer in Chios, Greece assisting refugees fleeing war zones.

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