Why should the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians absorb the attention of the world, as it does? It makes no sense when you look objectively at the Holy Land (a convenient term to describe the territory between Jordan and the sea: British Mandatory Palestine from 1920 to 1948 and controlled by Israel one way or another since 1967), which is about the size of New Hampshire or Wales, and has a smaller total population than Portugal or Ohio. And yet for decades that conflict must have filled more newspaper column inches and broadcasting airtime than tropical Africa, with nearly half a billion inhabitants, or India, with more than a billion. The violent death of more than 1600 Israelis and 6500 Palestinians over the last 20 years is lamentable, yet it compares with 70,000 killed over the same period in Sri Lanka, which has a population only twice the size, and at least 40,000 in Chechnya, which has a smaller population than Gaza. Such comparisons are indeed sometimes made by indignant partisans who think the media 'gang up on Israel', but then both sides in this bitter conflict have had reason to feel sorry for themselves.
LRB 6 August 2009 | PDF Download