I returned from my two-year stay in Israel to my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, on August 3 of this year. Several days later, an hour away in the St. Louis area, known as Ferguson, Missouri, a new media frenzy took the world by storm. A black 18-year-old, unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer. This news headline was right next to the headlines of Israel-Gaza war, and the cruelty of ISIS.
Yet what I found to be interesting is that even though Ferguson was mere hour away, people in Springfield, and other states, were asking me if I was happy to be home and away from the crazy situation in Israel. My answer is both enlightening to some and confusing at the same time: “Um, no... I loved living in Israel (mainly for the weather, beaches and amazing people I know there),” and I find myself saying that just as life is going on in Springfield, Illinois, with Ferguson right around the corner, life went on for me and many others in Israel, and continues to do so, with Gaza right around the corner.
Asymmetrical conflicts exist everywhere you go, and I believe the media plays a huge detrimental role in this. Due to the media I came across people in Israel from all over the world who were afraid to come to the US, because in the worldwide media the US is seen a dangerous place. I laughed when I first heard this; I had never even considered such a thing. I had been used to hearing that it was Israel that is such a dangerous place, again, because of the media. So in this article I just wanted to focus on these two very different conflicts that were both “right around the corner” from me, the psychological role the media plays in both, and my solution for it.
Ferguson, the talk of the news media worldwide, has stirred up a wave of emotions in people from all walks of life, political parties and races. Facebook, Twitter, news channels and even coffee houses have become the dumping ground of opinions, finger-pointing and accusations. Yet I had seen this all before: during my time in Israel in Operation Protective Edge that is still going on today.
Both conflicts are psychologically similar due to the role the media plays in each. The media (depending on whatever channel you watch or radio shows you listen too), has spoon-fed the public information in whatever flavor suits the taste of its target audience.
Unfortunately, many people have uncritically allowed the media to infiltrate their homes and minds and to negatively influence their emotions. Regarding conflicts in general, when it comes to the media, people must understand that not all of the facts will be presented, and that the facts that are won’t necessarily be presented accurately. This phenomenon is the cause of major disruption and mass confusion on a local, national and global scale. And it will only get worse if people don’t wake up.
In May, when I was in Israel, I witnessed the media frenzy surrounding the three Israeli boys and Arab teen being kidnapped and murdered, to the start of Operation Protective Edge, to the ground invasion, to the ongoing situation now, and I experienced many different feelings, from hate to sadness to disgust to desire for revenge, to basically balagan (the Hebrew word for craziness); what is going on? Now in August, back in the United States, I am witnessing a similar phenomenon with Ferguson, as stirred on by the media: not knowing the facts, various testimonies, democrat versus republican debates on the issues, protests, the involvement of the National Guard, anger, frustration and violence, basically balagan; what is going on? My hope is that for future discourses on racism and racial inequality, people of color choose to take the higher road, counter the victim mindset in a dynamic, purposeful and professional way in order to see progress.
Yes, to get media attention if need be – but not the way the way it has been done in Ferguson. Yet the paradox is that if that were to actually happen, perhaps the media wouldn’t pay as much attention. In Israel we know this to be the truth as well; that as long as it is negative news about Israel, the entire world will know about it, and when something good surfaces, the media remains quiet.
In both of these asymmetrical conflicts, underneath it all is the fight for identity. For both situations there is no clear answer or direct pathway to understanding the truth behind events. But we can surely learn from each, and from the patterns local and international media have set. As a citizen of the US and an Israeli expat, it is my heart’s cry that before we even voice our opinions about what we hear and see in the news, we first stop, think about the source, and play devil’s advocate. Look at the basis of the situation and analyze from multiple angles and points of view. Apply the situation to yourself.
Opt out of choosing to be a victim, and choose to develop a dialogue about solutions. Let us work on making the solutions to conflicts the desired headlines of our news articles, talk shows and social media discussions.
The author is from Springfield Illinois with an MA from IDC Herzliya in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security Studies with a certificate in Cyber-Terrorism and Diplomacy and Conflict Studies.