Anyone who regularly uses the Internet is aware of the crisis in the Middle East by now. I grew up in a neighborhood with a highly Jewish population, so the situation has hit particularly close to home for many of my friends. I also know a fair amount of people whose families are originally from various areas of Palestine. There is a fairly clear-cut pattern that in terms of public forums like Facebook, Jews stand firmly with Israel just as people of Palestinian backgrounds consistently come to the defense of Palestine. No surprise there, right? Why wouldn’t you defend your own people? As an observer without any personal connection to Israel or Palestine who has been grappling with the situation and the projection of it on social media, my reaction is that this act of blindly and publicly “defending the homeland”–especially by those who are particularly aggressive with their social media usage–is contributing to a greater problem among young Americans. From what I’ve seen, defendants of both sides of the conflict are very guilty of this phenomenon. I can understand choosing a side based on heritage and personal ties, but what I cannot understand is taking this stance and attempting to force it on others by blatantly attacking an entire group of people.
I generally keep to myself on Facebook. I’m not one of the ones posting articles every day. This is not to say that I don’t keep myself informed on current events; I do regularly. But I’ve never felt the need to share everything I read and post my opinions. I wondered recently why it is that I don’t share the articles I read. My first thought was that I sometimes find people who frequently post things such as death counts and articles with titles like “What You Need to Know About Israel Right Now” to be a little obnoxious. What do you know? I usually find myself repeating this sentence to myself as I scroll down my newsfeed. Since when are you an expert on a conflict that has been ongoing since long before we were born? But I soon remembered that I have fairly regular conversations with my other friends who follow the situation about our questions and thoughts on it. We’re not experts either. So why not have those conversations on a public forum and open ourselves up to new ideas? I’ll stop judging everyone who posts incessant articles, I thought to myself. They’re just trying to have an intelligent and open-minded conversation. But it was then that I realized exactly why the politics on social media craze irks me in the way that it does: the majority of these people aren’t actually trying to start a conversation. They are trying to bring the conversation to an abrupt end. They have an agenda.
When was the last time you clicked on a Facebook link about the Israel-Palestine conflict that didn’t lead you to a pathos injected post about dying children in Gaza or a video arguing that Israel has done nothing wrong? Nearly everything I see posted is full of bias and propaganda. And it is largely for this reason that so many young Americans are confused about the whole situation. For better or for worse, most college students get a large part of their news from social media (I do have to say I’m happy Facebook finally added a news feature). But the problem with obtaining the majority of our news articles from social media is that when our primary sources on current events are our peers who have already taken a (most likely biased and/or influenced by extreme propaganda) stance, the chances of forming an independent opinion are slim to none.
Yes, it is difficult to find unbiased news sources online. But it is not impossible. And it is absolutely necessary that we as a generation take the time to think critically and seek out sources other than the people on our Facebook newsfeeds who have already made up their minds. The situation is infinitely more complicated than absolute statements like “Israel just wants peace” would lead an uninformed person to believe. All I ask is that everyone takes a few steps back from allowing friends with personal agendas to sway your own thoughts. If you are one of the many people with personal ties to the situation, do everything in your power to educate yourself on both perspectives. Don’t immediately believe everything you see. Read as many hard facts and credible sources as you possibly can. Constantly keep in mind that innocent people have suffered on both sides. Not just Jews, not just Palestinians, but human beings with the same beating hearts as you and every one of your family members and friends. I can only hope that we as young Americans are ultimately praying for nothing but peace in the Middle East. Don’t post something if your ultimate goal is to make your Facebook friends hate Jews or Palestinians. A productive social media post is the beginning of a dialogue, not the end of it. Start reading and start talking.