What are they fighting about now?
July 13, 2006 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Why is Israel and Palestine so important on the world stage?

Every time there's a flare up with these two countries, the news covers it almost 24/7. Why is this conflict and/or countries considered so important?
posted by anonpeon to Law & Government (56 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the world overall? I don't think it's all that important. It's important news in the US because of the huge number of Jews living here and vice versa. Not to mention the fact that Israel is one of the more stable countries in the middle east from a US standpoint.
posted by JJ86 at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2006


The Middle East supplies a large amount of oil to the rest of the world. Conflicts between Israel and its neighbors always have the potential to spread into regional conflicts. Additionally, America and Israel have a "special relationship" such that any conflict in which Israel is involved has the potential to be one in which America is involved.
posted by trey at 2:20 PM on July 13, 2006


Also, many military and diplomatic thinktanks see the next global or large regional conflict beginning in this area, as the issues tend to be very polarizing.
posted by SpecialK at 2:24 PM on July 13, 2006


Objectively: Jerusalem is home to sacred sites of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque are all located there. Beyond that, the region as a whole is believed by a small but well-armed group of people to be their god-given property. Meanwhile, numerous other, less heavily armed people disagree vehemently. A group of christians believe that the region is destined to be the site of a cataclysmic doomsday battle. There are also breathtaking atrocities committed by many which is always fodder for the media.

In a nutshell, it gets press because it's a target-rich environment for news stories.
posted by mullingitover at 2:24 PM on July 13, 2006


It's also sort of cumulative. Britain was responsible for its creation, it was the site of a bunch of Cold War positioning, and Western countries have been heavily involved in peace talks (etc) for decades now. By this time a large proportion of news-readers are invested in the story and curious about further developments.
posted by Marquis at 2:28 PM on July 13, 2006


Just to add a bit of a frame to what others have already said, Jerusalem has been one of the most prominent cities in the Western mind, for millennia.

Sri Lanka has loads of suicide bombings, and way more deaths, but Sri Lanka is not the birthplace of 3 major world religions. Nor are there very many prominent Sri Lankans in the West.

Also, many Muslims regard the plight of the Palestinians as the central, most important, most humiliating and unjust thing going on in the world today. The West cares a little bit what Muslims think because many Muslim areas are rich in oil. Without oil, of course, most of the Middle East would capture the imagination and attention of the Western media exactly as much as sub-Saharan Africa does today.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:31 PM on July 13, 2006


In the world overall? I don't think it's all that important.

It's been incredibly important from a world perspective for a number of years and will continue to be so.

The current problems have arisen because Palestinian factions captured an Israeli soldier and Israels response was to increase their military presence in the area and then launch attacks.

Another two soldiers were then captured and, with the Palestinians launching rocket attacks into Israel, the Israeli attacks became more severe. That's it simplified.

You need to recognise that the region is a melting pot of cultures, religions and ideologies, all of which have been in constant conflict with one another for a significant number of years.

Any rise in tension - and this is developing into a major crisis - impacts on all countries within the region due to the reasons mentioned above. And on preview, ibmcginty sums it up nicely: no other area has given birth to three world religions. Or has plentiful oil reserves.

The BBC has a Lebanon timeline which you might find useful.
posted by Nugget at 2:48 PM on July 13, 2006


It's an example of E. H. Carr's observation that the grievances of the powerful--the Arab and Muslim world, in this case--get more attention than the grievances of the weak. Compare the Palestinians to the Tibetans, for example.

I would suggest that Western guilt over the Holocaust is also a factor. (European Jews couldn't emigrate from Europe during the 1930s because other countries wouldn't accept them. A dramatic example: the voyage of the S. S. St. Louis.)

ibmcginty: The West cares a little bit what Muslims think because many Muslim areas are rich in oil.

More than a little bit. As well they should, because it's a potent weapon. See the 1973 oil crisis. The members of the EEC had been unable to achieve a common policy during the first month of the Yom Kippur War. The Community finally issued a statement on 6 November, after the embargo and price rises had begun; widely seen as pro-Arab, this statement supported the Franco-British line on the war and OPEC duly lifted its embargo from all members of the EEC.
posted by russilwvong at 2:55 PM on July 13, 2006


JJ86 says......the huge number of Jews living here...

There are about 6.2 million Jews living in the US, which equates to approximately 2.2% of the population. That's opposed to about 133 million Christian Church adherents, which works out to about 47.4% of the population.

Not sure where the adjective "huge" comes from here...
posted by jasper411 at 3:18 PM on July 13, 2006


At least one of the two nations is believed to have nuclear weapons.
posted by fatllama at 3:22 PM on July 13, 2006


Looking at the English version of various foreign news pages, the Israel/Palestine conflict is getting coverage, but not to the level it is in The West:

Times of India (World News page)

China Daily

The Moscow Times
posted by justkevin at 3:28 PM on July 13, 2006


Jasper, the adjective huge is quite logical if used to describe the proportion of Jews worldwide. Yes, a huge number of the world's Jews live here in the US.
posted by luriete at 3:36 PM on July 13, 2006


Because Israel is the only democracy in the middle east, and a staunch american ally.
posted by Izzmeister at 3:36 PM on July 13, 2006


Israel has always been seen as the center of the world (military conflicts throughout the ages, as well as the center where many believe human history began.)
posted by Izzmeister at 3:39 PM on July 13, 2006


American support for Israel was a motive for some of the people involved in the September 11 attacks, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohamed Atta, and was also a motive for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Osama bin Laden cited US support for Israel in his 1998 fatwa calling for war against the US. Israel is the top recipient of US foreign aid.

Also, Florida and New York have a lot of electoral votes. New York is the second-largest Jewish population center in the world after Tel Aviv.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:51 PM on July 13, 2006


... florida's climate is similar to Israels (which is why alot of Israelis settele there)
posted by Izzmeister at 3:53 PM on July 13, 2006


Palestinians are Arabs, who hate the Israelis. Arabs have oil. Ergo, it's important because the guys holding the strings on the world oil supply spend their time and energy futzing with Israel. Whenever there's a dust-up, it sends shockwaves through the world via the oil supply.
posted by frogan at 3:57 PM on July 13, 2006


I'm not surprised that China Daily has more coverage of the Mumbai bombings than Israel, they are neighbors after all. And the Moscow Times is understandably focused on the upcoming G8 Summit. But the Times of India seems to have rather a lot of coverage of Israel/Palestine/Lebannon all things considered. I think you're seeing what you want to see.
posted by scalefree at 4:06 PM on July 13, 2006


There are about 6.2 million Jews living in the US

There are about 5.3 million Jews living in Israel. That's how the American population is huge.
posted by oaf at 4:15 PM on July 13, 2006


Sidetrip: has anyone ever *seriously* real-world evaluated the peace proposal Tom Clancy made up for his book? (I think it was in Executive Orders.)

Would something like that play in the Real World?
posted by baylink at 4:50 PM on July 13, 2006


I wonder what we will think of Israel when the last survivor of the Holocaust has passed away.
posted by parmanparman at 5:00 PM on July 13, 2006


Israel is an incredibly unique state.

Is there any other state that has been resurrected after 2000 years?

Also, is there any other state that can get away with attacking two of it's neighbour like Israel is currently doing?

Is there anything similar in the rest of the world?
posted by sien at 5:10 PM on July 13, 2006


America sends around 1/3 of its total foreign aid to Israel. Keeping the conflict on the front pages is a kind of advertisement justifying this aid, which otherwise could be spent saving people in the third world from preventable deaths.

Because Israel is the only democracy in the middle east

Not quite true. Off the top of my head, Turkey is democratic, as is Egypt, at least nominally. Even Iran has democratic elections, although the constitution there means that there is a tension
between the elected president & the mullahs, with the latter having the upper hand.

and a staunch american ally

Well, they would be, wouldn't they? They know on which side their bread is buttered. All that cash & military hardware, gratis! All of that protection from UN resolutions! You would think that Israel must be sucking America's cock, but it's actually the other way around.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:18 PM on July 13, 2006


Many of these answers ignore the fact that prior to 1967, there was comparatively little coverage, despite the fact that Israel was the only democracy, there were a lot of Jews in the U.S., the Middle East was full of oil, &c &c.

The current problems have arisen because Palestinian factions captured an Israeli soldier and Israels response was to increase their military presence in the area and then launch attacks.
Another two soldiers were then captured and, with the Palestinians launching rocket attacks into Israel, the Israeli attacks became more severe. That's it simplified.


So what? The question is, why do people outside Israel care so much? Three soldiers have been captured, huh? Go look at how many people were killed in India—by terrorists, not by some boring bus plunge or plane crash—and then tell me the coverage is a rational response to objective facts.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on July 13, 2006


Lebanon is also democratic -- one of the reasons this situation is so untenable is because of the weak (but democratic) government there.
posted by trey at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2006


languagehat: --prior to 1967, there was comparatively little coverage--

Any references? (I believe you, I'd just like more details.) I would have thought that the 1956 war and the rise of Nasser would have resulted in a significant amount of coverage.
posted by russilwvong at 5:30 PM on July 13, 2006


The question is, why do people outside Israel care so much?

Perhaps begging the question there. Who says they care so much? Media coverage does not necessarily imply public interest.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:59 PM on July 13, 2006


Perhaps it's the prime example (in modern times) of the "clash of civilizations" as described by Samuel Huntington -- an interesting book regardless of whether you agree or disagree with him.
posted by bim at 6:00 PM on July 13, 2006


In American democracy, Big Issues and policy decisions (sugar price supports that enrich a cartel, for a less volatile example, or local school board budgets) are decided by the determined minority. American Jewry has a sense of history and is understandably determined. The current attitude of many Christians is a plus. If there were as many assimilated and determined, say, Darfurians in this country, we migh well be discussing a different geo-political area.

Also, highlighting the plight of the Palestinians is a good way to distract one's own population of have-not from their not having.

I suppose the longevity of this situation creates its own weary fascination. I was restoring an old house a few years ago and pulled out a newpaper from 1957. Headlines were all about tension between Egypt and Israel. Plus ca change and all that.

But you did say world stage. Europe has its own reasons, and I've used up too much space already. As to Asia- does it really rate much on the local meia there? Anyone?

(I've read elsewhere that Jerusalem was until relatively recently (crusades notwithstanding) not that big a deal to the Muslim world, compared to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad. Any thoughts or footnotes on that?)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:11 PM on July 13, 2006


local media, sorry
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 PM on July 13, 2006


If there were no oil in the middle east, we would care about it as much as we care about, say, the entire continent of Africa, where worse shit happens every day but never makes it onto the news.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:53 PM on July 13, 2006


Three soldiers have been captured, huh? Go look at how many people were killed in India—by terrorists, not by some boring bus plunge or plane crash—and then tell me the coverage is a rational response to objective facts.

languagehat: the coverage is proportionate to Israel's response to both those kidnappings and the near constant barrage of missle fire from Lebanon and Gaza. A major American ally is facing a two-front, likely coordinated, attack from three separate terror organizations.

Bus or plane crashes are one-offs. Tragic, but limited in scope. This situation is in flux and is arguably the most dangerous moment in the recent history of the Middle East. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah are trying to test the mettle of Olmert and Peretz. The outcome of this conflict affects us all and hence, is being heavily covered by the American news media.
posted by felix betachat at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2006


Also, is there any other state that can get away with attacking two of it's neighbour like Israel is currently doing?

A lot of countries fight back when they're attacked first.
posted by inigo2 at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2006


(I've read elsewhere that Jerusalem was until relatively recently (crusades notwithstanding) not that big a deal to the Muslim world, compared to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad. Any thoughts or footnotes on that?)

Correct. Jersualem is not mentioned in the Koran at all. Here's Daniel Pipes' take on the history of the city from July 2000, though obviously I need to stress the caveat that he's about as big a Zionist as they come.

posted by Asparagirl at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2006


...if I misspell thee, O Jerusalem...
posted by Asparagirl at 7:51 PM on July 13, 2006


the coverage is proportionate to Israel's response to both those kidnappings and the near constant barrage of missle fire from Lebanon and Gaza. A major American ally is facing a two-front, likely coordinated, attack from three separate terror organizations.

I think languagehat's got a good point. Israel may be a close ally and their response may be huge, but India's just huge, period. Their sheer mass almost makes global repercussions from events there inevitable. Not to mention they also have long standing conflicts with Islamists, and are a nuclear power. How India and its population responds could be absolutely huge, yet I've heard little about it.
posted by weston at 8:05 PM on July 13, 2006


Jersualem is not mentioned in the Koran at all.

Jerusalem is not named in the Koran, but most Muslims believe it's mentioned in it:
Sura 17:1: "Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram (the Holy Mosque) to al-Masjid al-Aqsa (the farthest mosque), the precincts of which we have blessed."
"The farthest mosque" is widely believed to refer to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Holy Mosque is in Mecca.
posted by scalefree at 8:58 PM on July 13, 2006


Sidetrip: has anyone ever *seriously* real-world evaluated the peace proposal Tom Clancy made up for his book?

That was in The Sum of All Fears. For the people on the thread, the idea was that a highly updated version of the Swiss Guards would literally be hired as unbiased third party to essentially take over Jerusalem and run it as an independent city-state, like the Vatican is a city-state, and keep the peace for all parties.

I don't know if anyone's tried. I highly doubt it would fly for even a moment in the real world. Nobody's interested in peace, only control.
posted by frogan at 9:25 PM on July 13, 2006


Israel is an incredibly unique state.

<theelementsofstyle>Arrrgh!</theelementsofstyle>

Its likely a self-perpetuating phenomenon. The Senate gets more coverage than the House because there's fewer Senators, so people recognize them more easily and are more interested them. Israel has had a pretty busy few decades, and so Americans are more familiar with its background, and more willing to tune into a tv segment on it.
posted by gsteff at 9:27 PM on July 13, 2006


Re: The Tom Clancy Thing

I can't imagine that would work without Israel giving up sovereignity in what is their capital city.

What would Israel really have to gain from that? Unless the US stopped acting as their UN bitch, they would have exactly zero motivation to hand over power to anyone else.
posted by bshort at 9:38 PM on July 13, 2006


I can't imagine that would work without Israel giving up sovereignity in what is their capital city.

What's Tel Aviv got to do with it? The Tom Clancy "plan" was apparently for Jerusalem.

Apart from that, the Palestinians were displaced from their entire country. Sharing a city might be nice, but they really want their country back, no?
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:44 PM on July 13, 2006


Because Israel is the only democracy in the middle east

There are many others.. Turkey, Egypt. For the record even Lebanon is a democracy, and a US-backed democracy at that.

Palestinians are Arabs, who hate the Israelis
Almost 15% of Israel's populations are Arabs too. They are called Israeli Arabs. And they comprise of Muslims, Christians, and Druze. Theirs is a unique set of problems within the broader Israel-Palestine conflict since their roots are Arabic, but they are fully native Israeli citizens.., yet they get step-motherly treatment from Israel (like don't get drafted in army, their schools/towns get less funding etc.). Some of them identify themselves closer to the Palestinians than Israel.

I think one of the major reasons why the world cares about it, is that three of the popular Abrahamic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism share history/culture and land in that region. Whatever conflict happens there invariably gets everyone interested. This is the historic reason.

Add to that the modern geo-political situation, Middle east oil, US-Israel friendship, Jews & Arabs not seeing each other eye to eye, and MiddleEast in general being antiWest (or West being anti-MiddleEast..whichever way you want to frame it), Jews controlling the NY stock mkt (or atleast that being the popular perception, since I am not sure how far is that true?) and you've got a melting pot of conflicts.

If someone in that region sneezes, the world catches a flu.
posted by forwebsites at 10:51 PM on July 13, 2006


forwebsites: Minor correction, Druze do get drafted into the Army. They were initially exempt but the Druze community actually demanded they be drafted.
posted by PenDevil at 1:54 AM on July 14, 2006


Interestingly, lots of people engaged in actual peacemaking there are engaged because they think peace is so achievable there! This may or may not be true, but the reason people THINK this is because they find it easy to relate to Israelis and Palestinians.
And Palestinians and Israelis find it easy to relate to us in the West. Jerusalem has the most NGOs of any city of the world, and Palestinians and Israelis both create their own NGOs and manage the funding agenda - neither is a passive recipient of aid. Both sides are highly educated and literate and communicate easily to Westerners in ways that we understand.
Many people think that if we can JUST MAKE PEACE (this tantalising peace that is always on the cusp of being achieved) we can solve so many other problems of the world, such as Arab and Muslim negative sentiment against the West, oil trading issues, and anti-Semitism. Whether it's true or not is up for debate, but that's what people think.
People also see this crisis as a model for other crises in the world. These people think the crisis is difficult, not easy, and say that if we can solve this one we can solve the other crises in the world.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:01 AM on July 14, 2006


(Thank you, Asparagirl.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:13 AM on July 14, 2006


I wonder what would happen if a party in Mexico got elected with the specific aim of destroying it's northern neighbor, then after some time, it briefly invaded the northern neighbor and captured two border guards and threatened to kill them, if not all Mexican prisoners were freed.
posted by KimG at 5:16 AM on July 14, 2006


There are many others.. Turkey, Egypt. For the record even Lebanon is a democracy,

Turkey passes muster, but Egypt is not a democracy & Lebanon barely is, now that Syria's gotten out of there.
posted by scalefree at 5:20 AM on July 14, 2006


I feel I should say more about Lebanon since it looks like it's the key to the current conflict. Although Lebanon is no longer occupied by either Syria or Israel, the central government is still too weak to exert control over the whole country. Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamic organization with roots in Iran & Syria, effectively controls much of southern Lebanon. Although they started out as pretty much a purely terroristic group they've grown into a full-spectrum militia, political & social welfare movement as well. It's a lot like the way Northern Ireland was not too long ago, with Hezbollah playing the role of both IRA & Sein Fein & Syria as England. But like I said, Lebanon is not strong enough militarily to kick Hezbollah out, which is what the Israeli air strikes are meant to encourage. And they can't very well ask Syria or Iran (or God forbid Israel) for help with it either, because they'll just end up occupied again, which they're just done celebrating the end of. It's a pretty pickle & I don't see an obvious answer.
posted by scalefree at 6:06 AM on July 14, 2006


I wonder what would happen if a party in Mexico got elected with the specific aim of destroying it's northern neighbor, then after some time, it briefly invaded the northern neighbor and captured two border guards and threatened to kill them, if not all Mexican prisoners were freed.

Another analogy would be if that happened with an Indian Reservation, since it's not like the Palestinians have their own state.
posted by bshort at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2006


Any references?

No, sorry, just my memory—I was reading the papers all through the '60s and that's how I remember it.

I would have thought that the 1956 war and the rise of Nasser would have resulted in a significant amount of coverage.

They did, but neither of them is particularly relevant. The '56 war was a major-power confrontation over the Suez Canal, and the rise of Nasser had nothing to do with Israel, it was about Egypt and Britain.

Bus or plane crashes are one-offs. Tragic, but limited in scope
.

Your reading skills need work. My point was that the India bombings were not bus or plane crashes.

I've read elsewhere that Jerusalem was until relatively recently (crusades notwithstanding) not that big a deal to the Muslim world, compared to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad. Any thoughts or footnotes on that?

No, that's wrong. Jerusalem has always been of major importance to Islam; in fact, for a period in the seventh century (CE, the first century AH) Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem rather than Mecca. I'm sure some people will get offended at what I'm about to say, but it's the truth: there is a group of scholars so dedicated to the cause of Israel that they twist history to make Arabs look bad, and Daniel Pipes (quoted by Asparagirl) is a charter member. "Consider the source" is an important injunction in any circumstance, but it's absolutely vital when dealing with the Middle East.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on July 14, 2006


PenDevil: thx for that correction. The wikipedia link says that they(IA) are now allowed to voluntarily join the army (they still don't get drafted automatically). Maybe it's different for the Druze. I am not too updated on the current situation. It's certainly possible that certain groups within IA would've have fought and gotten some rights for them. There's already talk of affirmative action for Israeli Arabs due to years of neglect/discrimination in their own state.

It's surprising how in this mess of Israel-Palestine conflict (which is always seen as Jews/Arabs or West/Islam conflict), such a big problem remains unsolved. I think it'd be an absolute suckage to be an Israeli Arab Christian at this pt of time. You get neglected from all sides. The Palestinians (or Muslim world) don't care abt you since you are Christian. Israel doesn't care about you bcoz you are Arabs, not Jews. And the rest of the world doesn't even know that people like you exist.
posted by forwebsites at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2006


So ... basically, then: oil and religion.

IMO, the world would be such a peaceful place without a dependency on either.
posted by General Zubon at 10:38 AM on July 14, 2006


languagehat: agree with you. Not only muslims prayed towards jerusalem, the Al Aqsa mosque is considered to be the third holy site after Mecca and Medina. Both Israel and Palestine claim ownership of the site. Not sure under whose control it is currently (?)
posted by forwebsites at 10:50 AM on July 14, 2006


Not only muslims prayed towards jerusalem, the Al Aqsa mosque is considered to be the third holy site after Mecca and Medina. Both Israel and Palestine claim ownership of the site. Not sure under whose control it is currently (?)

It's under the control of an Islamic endowment called the Waqf. In Islam you can declare property waqf & it's set aside for religious purposes & no longer subject to normal rules of ownership & inheritance, but rather a whole new set of rules instead. There's a specific administration that handles the al-Aqsa Waqf.
posted by scalefree at 11:27 AM on July 14, 2006


And under an agreement between Israel & Palestine, no Jews are allowed on the Temple Mount at all. Ariel Sharon famously breached that when he toured some excavations under the Mount & set off one of the intifadas, & every year a group of Zionists called the Temple Mount Faithful approach the Mount & try to start rebuilding the Temple, but get turned away by Israeli security forces. They spend the rest of the year producing authentic Temple equipment to furnish the Temple with once they succeed. One of the big stumbling blocks is they need a herd of red heifers they can sacrifice & use the blood & ashes of to sprinkle over things, which are apparently really diffcult to come by.
posted by scalefree at 11:41 AM on July 14, 2006


Reason I ask. Thank you, Languagehat.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2006


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