I’m going to summarize my subjective understanding of An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth by Matti Friedman. I encourage you to read the whole article although it is long. He does a way better job at explaining his point of view than I do. Still, here it comes.
The main question of the article is why the world is obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are many conflicts in the world, many involve human tragedies. But we hear more about Israel than about any other conflict and there are more journalists reporting on it than on any other conflict.
In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.
Does this mean that the average person knows more about the background of the conflict and the parties involved? On the Israeli side yes, every action is analyzed and critized (although maybe not put into perspective). But there is not much analyzing going on about the Palestinian groups. We do not hear much about the factions in Palestinian society or the motivations and dreams of the average Palestinian. Not even about Hamas’ treatment of the Gaza population in the last round of the war.
The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story.
Why? Because what the world wants to see is this conflict as the one where the Jews are the strong guys and thus the responsible party. They are the reason for the conflict (settlements, right-wing extremists, etc). Implicit is the assumption that if this conflict is solved, the whole region will have peace.
Some may say but that’s what it is. So what other views does Friedman offer? He has two alternatives:
Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise.
An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.
I am usually not fond of explaining everything by shouting "antisemitism". Our national Jewish leaders do that far too often and that makes the argument stale when it is really warranted. But maye Friedman has a point here. He argues that the ills of the world are projected onto the Jews. At the moment people in the west see "racism, colonialism, and militarism" as the main ills of the age. And what is Israel accused of? Racism (or apartheid), colonialism (or occupation, or settlements) and militarism (or being the agressor, or occupying force).
So what is the real story? What is the real danger in the middle east?
The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.