Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s unproductive cycle in media

Thamidul Alam, Contributing Columnist

Given that confirmation bias and cherry-picking evidence is such an ingrained element of the human psyche, how impartially evaluate the Israel-Palestine situation? (Shivani Bondada)

The social media cycle of tragedy has been normalized. Something terrible occurs in the Israel-Palestine region. Supporters of both sides take to social media to defend their respective sides. Eventually a ceasefire is established until violence breaks out again. 

As most people have realized, even providing evidence of violence by either side does not lead to consensus; rather, confirmation bias causes us to inch toward polarization. Religion further adds to this a sense of tribalism. No one wants to see their side in the wrong, so people will either reinterpret the information to fit their viewpoint or choose the evidence that supports their view.

For example, among my friends who support Israel, when asked about the morality of Israel evicting multiple  Palestinian families, which started the May 2021 conflict, they stated that it was Israel’s right to reclaim its land and that the Jewish people have no other country other than Israel. Instead of seeing it as eviction of innocent people, the evidence is interpreted as reclaiming the homeland.

Social media promotes this because it allows users to follow and communicate with people who support their views. No pro-Israel person would follow an Instagram page defending Palestine. Sites like Instagram and Facebook will also recommend pages that are associated with the ones you already like. 

When one only communicates with like-minded individuals, the lack of diversity causes one to delve further into their already established views. They effectively generate an impenetrable bubble around themselves. If anything attempts to burst this, it is met with strong resistance. 

Many of my family members are pro-Palestine. And though one of the major political parties of Palestine is a recognized terrorist organization, my family sees it as Palestine defending itself against a hostile entity. They pick out evidence that depicts Israel as the villain in the story and choose to ignore the flaws of the Palestinian government. 

Religion, social media and tribalism all play powerful roles in swaying our votes to one side of the conflict. Many of us are at the point where no evidence will change the path we have stuck to. Given that confirmation bias and cherry-picking evidence is such an ingrained element of the human psyche, how do we go about removing these limitations in order to impartially evaluate the Israel-Palestine situation?

First, one must approach the situation with a clear mind. Understand that both sides are not innocent and that both countries are striving for a world where their people can reside in peace. Next, one should try to set aside their religious bias. 

While the Jewish people have no other homeland, this does not mean that the Israeli government can evict Palestinians from their homes. These evicted Palestinians aren’t Hamas soldiers. They are civilians who want to feed their family, raise their children and have a roof over their heads. They did not ask to be born into a country that does not want them. 

Third, try to obtain information from more than one source or spend time with people of the opposite view. Even if you do not agree with the news they are broadcasting, it does not hurt to hear the opinions of others. By doing this, you can establish a sense of empathy for the other side. Social media makes this harder than it should be; why would I want to see posts about people I do not support? But by doing this, you start to humanize the opposition. Oftentimes when we find ourselves doing this, things do not seem as futile as they used to be.