Alex Massie has a sensible take in response to an absurd question from earlier this week:

Is this Glenn Reynolds post a plea for more coverage of Tibet or less of Palestine?
 GOOD QUESTION:  Why Do Palestinians Get Much More Attention than Tibetans?


But, just perhaps, the Israel-Palestine question receives lots of coverage because it’s a question, at root, of competing rights, not because the media has an incurably anti-Israeli bias or is, in this instance at any rate, acting in an especially hypocritical fashion.

The other answer, of course, is that readers, are much more interested in the Middle East than they are in China and Tibet and, consequently, this is just market forces at work. Shocking!

The Prager article to which Reynolds linked misses these and other important reasons.  For that matter, why are Cyprus and Kashmir not receiving the same attention as either one?  Partly because both places are relatively quiet right now, but partly for more obvious political reasons.  In the one case, Greece does not wield so much clout that it can make Cyprus into a top priority for other states, and few are very much interested in championing the Greek Cypriot side, despite the absolutely clear illegality of the Turkish invasion and occupation.  In the other, I think neither state claiming all of Kashmir wants to internationalise the issue for fear that it risks losing something it already has.  The world tends to pay attention to disputes when those involved clamour for outside action and when they have more powerful patrons to champion their cause, or when they involve states that outsiders have some extremely powerful ideological or geopolitical reason to support or oppose.  Maintaining relations with China typically trumps concerns about Tibet, or Burma, or any of the quasi-satellites it has been developing over the last decade.  Meanwhile, the Palestinians are often treated by many Western governments as a symbol for improving relations with Arabs and Muslims more generally, while their plight is used as a perennial distraction by the region’s governments; actual Palestinian interests effectively go unrepresented because, as I’m sure many have noted before now, no one has any incentive in resolving a conflict that serves such useful functions for so many different states. 

The brutalities and injustices of occupation in Kashmir, the terrorism perpetrated against Indians and the competing claims of different groups are all there to make for compelling stories, but it lacks the geopolitical edge that Israel-Palestine possesses because of the previous and ongoing international uses of the conflict as a proxy for larger struggles.  Besides, Washington does not have and has not had the kind of close relationship with India that it has with Israel, and it likewise has no interest in drawing attention to Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir and the rest of India, since that would rather undermine the idea that we are opposed to state sponsors of terror. 

Now let’s turn the question around: why does the Israeli occupation of Palestine get so much more attention and more favourable coverage than the Chinese occupation of Tibet?  Pretty obviously, it is because outside audiences, and esecially Western audiences, have more of a political and psychological investment in the one than in the other.  (For instance, we don’t usually harangue our presidential candidates about their ties to figures who are supposed to be pro-Tibetan, and neither do we reward them for being zealously pro-Beijing.)  Conflicts that can be treated as representative of regional or global problems appear to possess more universal relevance, even if the assumption that the conflict is relevant to the rest of the world is false.  Certainly, there is some association of the Palestinian cause with other anti-colonialist movements of the post-war era that most outsiders do not usually see in the case of Tibet, perhaps because it was not/is not fashionable to think of the Chinese as colonialists–a fashion that Beijing is expeditiously working around the world to make outmoded.  The sacred geography of Palestine commands more worldwide attention, which makes issues of territorial concessions or talk of an independent state much more meaningful to people who would otherwise have no connection to the cause of either side.  Kashmir and Tibet have holy sites, but most of them mean little or nothing to most people around the world and few of them possess the kind of centrality or significance that the sites in the Holy Land possess for Christians, Muslims and Jews. 

In the countries directly involved, it simply isn’t true that Israel-Palestine receives more coverage, but because we take note of foreign news coverage mainly when it talks about things we are already talking about all the time Americans and Westerners may come away with the impression that the world is preoccupied with Palestine.  In fact, if you looked at Indian newspapers, you would probably find that the Indian public is much more interested in Kashmir and other questions immediately relevant to India.  It is to some degree the West’s preoccupation with this conflict that causes Westerners to wonder why other nations take a similar or even greater interest in it, as if the world’s attention to the Palestinians doesn’t have some fairly direct connection with the strong American and, to a lesser extent, European focus on Israel.