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The complexity of objectivity

Student reflects on Israel-Palestine conflict

By Annabelle Blair | Contributor

Last October, I paid $620 to reserve my spot as one of 29 journalism and media students traveling to Israel.

On Dec. 6, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Protests broke out in Palestinian territories, and an Israeli security guard was stabbed at a central bus station in Jerusalem.

On New Year’s Eve, I stood on a hotel balcony in Netanya, Israel, marveling at the Instagram-potential of a view I’d seen only once before: city lights and the Mediterranean Sea. For a journalism major interested in international affairs, it was the perfect place to be.

I had joined over 500 students from colleges across the United States for a 10-day educational trip and tour of religious and historical sites in Israel. I was a skeptical sponge: eager to hear both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I thought this would produce objectivity, the holy grail of journalism. I was wrong.

The trip was sponsored by three nonprofit organizations with interests in Christian and Middle Eastern relations, so I went prepared to fight anticipated biases. My fear of being biased toward “one side” of the conflict was proof of my glaring ignorance of the conflict as a whole.  Instead of a flat line between two points, an intricate 3D shape emerged as I witnessed firsthand the mosaic that is Israel — Jew, Arab, Palestinian, Armenian, Druze, Muslim, Kibbutz member, Zionist and settler.

I learned there were multiple sides to a conflict I had prejudged as two-sided from the comfort of my college residence in Brooklyn, New York, or my home in rural Iowa. Israel and Palestine expanded from two far-away entities in a struggle for peace to places of shared and unique cultures, religions, ideologies and histories.

This is Path to Peace, a collaborative mosaic situated on the border security wall between Israel and Gaza, meant to encourage hope and peace for the region. (Photograph provided by Annabelle Blair)

This is Path to Peace, a collaborative mosaic situated on the border security wall between Israel and Gaza, meant to encourage hope and peace for the region. (Photograph provided by Annabelle Blair)

Experiencing Israel firsthand was complex. We drove between active landmines in the Golan Heights, where Israel borders Syria. We ate a Shabbat dinner with an American-and-South-African Jewish family in Jerusalem. They attended a different synagogue every other week to accommodate the wife’s liberal beliefs and the husband’s more conservative ones. We watched bar mitzvah celebrations at the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and gazed at the golden dome on the Temple Mount just after sunrise.

These experiences challenged my understanding of the words “bias” and “ethics.” I realized the ethical problem of attempting to write a story about the Middle East based only on a brief trip or a few quick interviews.

I flew home with a question that four years of college hadn’t prompted me to ask: how can a journalist understand the complexity that is Israel or Palestine or the Middle East without first immersing themselves in it?

Shame enveloped me as I realized I’d missed the complexity of objectivity. I was worried about being unbiased toward what I deemed a two-sided conflict; but I should have feared the bias of ignorance.

Israel taught me to embrace, on a personal level, the complexity my profession demands. I will report truth plainly, yet retain the complexity every story offers.

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