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In terms of casualties at least, the conflict isn't that important - there were around twice as many casualties in the last year due to the ongoing Somalian civil war as Israeli casualties in the last 50 years (statistics taken from wikipedia). Yet it seems to recieve far more media coverage than other ongoing conflicts (at least in Britain, and I assume the US as well). Why is this?

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You are correct that the Israeli-Arab conflict has not resulted in nearly so much death as ongoing conflicts in Africa. You can see from this webpage that, even though the vast majority of conflict-related deaths over the past several decades have taken place in Africa, the British and American media consistently cover other continents more.

However, this is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. For some time now, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been a primarily military conflict, but a political one. The last major conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, the Second Intifada, died down around 10 years ago, and Israel's last conventional war was fought thirty years ago.

This isn't to play down the violent threats that Israel faces. Hamas, though severely weakened since the current Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power, still launches attacks against Israel. Hezbollah, even though not currently in active conflict with Israel, has been amassing more and more advanced rockets along the Israeli border. However, the news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to come less from intermittent violence and more from the politics of the conflict between Israel and the PA.

To provide a brief historical background: In 1993, under the Oslo Accords, Israel gave a portion of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, establishing the Palestinian National Authority (PNA or PA) to govern it. This agreement created temporary borders for a Palestinian state, but required that the Palestinians renounce violence. Israel and Palestine have so far failed to reach an agreement on final borders, and though the Palestinians have engaged in violence since the Oslo Accords, the temporary borders continue to define a kind of Palestinian state, under the authority of a Palestinian government.

Activism against Israel, as well as much of the media coverage around Israel, tends to focus not on the violent conflict, but on Israel's interactions with the PA and with Palestinians in the West Bank, especially in portions of the West Bank Israel still governs. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel focuses not as much on the violent conflict, but on characterizing Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank as Apartheid (which isn't a particularly accurate comparison).

So, to answer your question, while it is true that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to result in proportionally fewer deaths than other violent conflicts, the media (by-and-large) are not covering the violent conflict, but the political conflict. They aren't talking as much about the few people who may be killed, but about negotiations collapsing or the Palestinian UN Statehood bid or new settlement construction.*

It does not make sense to compare the coverage Israel receives to the coverage other violent conflicts receive because coverage of Israel tends to focus on the political conflict rather than the violent conflict. Of course, that raises another question: does Israel receive disproportionate coverage when compared to other political conflicts? Quite probably, but that question is much harder to answer with reliable metrics, and much more subject to opinion. It is beyond the scope of what can be reasonable discussed here, but hopefully the information I was able to provide helps with your question.

*- Note: my linking to these articles should not be construed as an endorsement of their views. It is just to illustrate what the media are covering.

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    Thanks. An interesting link I found on the exact subject of disproportionate coverage of Israel-Palestine was linked from the first link you provided - I found it very useful. – rlms Jun 16 '14 at 10:55
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    This answer doesn't mention the role anti-zionism or anti-semitism may play in the disproportionate amount of attention the conflict receives. Was this intentional? Would you say that neither of them play an important role in fueling the media coverage of the conflict, or at least the criticism of how Israel handles it? – Josh Jul 21 '14 at 19:58
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    @Josh my point was more to address the false comparison in OP's question then to assess whether there even was disproportionate attention dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much less what the motivation for that attention might be. – Avi Jul 21 '14 at 22:21
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    Thanks @Avi. I bring this up because the original question was "Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such a big issue?", which can be understood as (1) surprise that it gets so much media attention (the question directly talks about media coverage) and (2) why is that. – Josh Jul 22 '14 at 12:34
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    This is a thorough, well balanced and well cited answer. Thanks Avi. – ChrisR Jul 27 '14 at 12:13
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It's because Israel and the whole near-east region which is affected by it has more economical ties to Europe than Somalia and its surrounding. So the situation in the middle-east affects the western world a lot more.

According to the MITs OEC atlas, Israel has a trade volume of over 50 billion US$ with Europe and North America. This makes it a relevant factor for the world economy. And this is just Israel. Other countries which are involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also important players on the world market of various goods. This means the situation in the near east has direct impact on the life in the western world. This makes the conflict very news-worthy.

Somalia, however? It's one of the poorest countries in the world. Their exports and imports are negligible, especially those with Europe and North America. It is pretty much irrelevant for world economy. It might sound very cynic and inhumane, but it's the reality: Whether or not thousands of Somalis live or die doesn't concern the western world much.

  • Not a conclusive proof, but definitely an important factor – user4012 Jul 22 '14 at 14:11
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    I tend to think the ties are more social and cultural than economic. The ties to the western nations are there and are a major factor, but economically, Israel isn't really a major player. – tj1000 Jun 22 '17 at 15:08
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There are several reasons the conflict is more covered than many other conflicts:

  1. the occupation (annexation?) has been going on for a very long time. According to some it is the longest ongoing occupation (Though that opinion is contested - Tibet by China, Japanese islands by USSR/Russia, Scania by Sweden et.c).
  2. Israel is a democratic western country. This means they are held to a higher standard than a third-world dictatorship (perhaps unfair, but that's how it is) and that reporters can work there easier.
  3. the conflict is tied in with the greater Israeli-Arab conflict and that was in turn tied into the cold war.
  4. the conflict just drags on because the leadership on both sides are not really interested in ending the conflict as it is too useful as a political tool. This leads to more drama and thus more reporting.
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    Your first and last points factually inaccurate. First: China has been in Tibet for longer than Israel has been in the West Bank, and that's just the first example I could think of off the top of my head. Second, if you're going to make a statement that leadership on both sides have been unwilling to end the conflict, you need to explain why previous offers haven't been viable. If you look at poll data, you will find that the attitudes of Palestinian civilians are far more detrimental to the peace process than leadership. – Avi Jun 16 '14 at 11:51
  • @Avi That's why I wrote that it is according to some. For instance Tibet was incorporated in China in October 1951 while Israel incorporated at least a part in 1948. But then some consider Scania to be under occupation since 1719. – liftarn Jun 16 '14 at 12:08
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    @S Vilcans Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. Not even the UN considers Israel's control over the land within the '49 armistice lands an occupation. – Avi Jun 16 '14 at 12:25
  • @Avi, do you have a source for the UN not considering Israel's control over the West Bank an occupation? I was under the impression that UN's permanent PR against the blockade enforced on the West Bank was related to them considering the West Bank as being occupied. – ChrisR Jul 27 '14 at 12:17
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    @ChrisR Israel is occupying Area C of the West Bank, but the West Bank isn't within the 1949 Armistice Lines, and there is no blockade against the West Bank, there is only a blockade against Gaza. – Avi Jul 28 '14 at 0:38
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Others have provided some reasons why Europe or the US might care more about Palestine than about other regions and obviously media attention is always somewhat arbitrary but at this point, this has become a self-sustaining process. What happens in this conflict is news in the West, just because.

On a more practical level, I imagine that if you were managing a news media outlet and deliberately decided not to cover some significant development in the Middle East, some of your audience would probably feel you were not doing a very good job. Most of the events that do get reported can also be construed as painting one side or the other in a negative light so not reporting them will also attract accusations of bias.

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  1. The Jerusalem is a holy place for both Muslims and Jews.
  2. The life and safety of many people (Jews and Muslims living there) is at risk at that place of earth because of the wars between Palestine and Israel there.
  3. The ownership of that holy place is important religiously for both Muslims and Jews and in history has been owned by both side.
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    While completely correct, I'm not sure the holiness of the place to religions explains why the conflict is such a big issue, especially for Christians (or for that matter, for Muslims, who had no issue while the place was being controlled by British Empire after they took it from Ottomans) – user4012 Jul 24 '14 at 19:53
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    Jerusalem has passed through a lot of hands over the last millenia or two. To remember Casper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon: I don't see how anyone can claim right to it, except by right of possession. – tj1000 Jun 22 '17 at 15:10
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In The Ethics of War, Bertrand Russell outlined the justification for war of colonization:

In order that such wars may be justified, it is necessary that there should be a very great and undeniable difference between the civilization of the colonizers and that of the dispossessed natives. It is necessary also that the climate should be one in which the invading race can flourish. When these conditions are satisfied the conquest becomes justified, though the actual fighting against the dispossessed inhabitants ought, of course, to be avoided as far as is compatible with colonizing. Many humane people will object in theory to the justification of this form of robbery, but I do not think that any practical or effective objection is likely to be made.

In 2014, the climate factor is probably no longer relevant. A third factor, which is implicit in the passages that followed, becomes even more relevant, that is, the complete victory of the invading race. Bertrand Russell is a wise man, but is never a moralist. He is a shrewd clairvoyant with an extraordinary foresight. He condemns Israel because, although Israel represents a far advanced civilization, events in the Middle East will eventually lead to its own destruction, and therefore ruin our Lord's beloved Western Civilization.

This statement on the Middle East was dated 31st January, 1970, and was read on 3rd February, the day after Bertrand Russell's death, to an International Conference of Parliamentarians meeting in Cairo. Notice "miscalculation," that is the kind of word our Lord Bertrand Russell would use.

The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to resist. This is the lesson of all aerial bombardment.

The Vietnamese who have endured years of American heavy bombing have responded not by capitulation but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940 my own fellow countrymen resisted Hitler's bombing raids with unprecedented unity and determination. For this reason, the present Israeli attacks will fail in their essential purpose, but at the same time they must be condemned vigorously throughout the world.

The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested “negotiations”. This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has the right to annexe foreign territory, but because every expansion is an experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.

The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral millstone around the neck of world Jewry.” Many of the refugees are now well into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements. The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently homeless. With every new conflict their number have increased. How much longer is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine settlement in the Middle East.

We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number. of refugees to misery; not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to military rule; but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging from colonial status, to continued impoverishment as military demands take precedence over national development.

All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East.

Source: http://www.connexions.org/CxLibrary/Docs/CX5576-RussellMidEast.htm

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