Friday, November 11, 2005

Adloyada on History and Narratives: Recommendation and Response

Judy at Adloyada has come up with yet another great post (and no, I’m not trying to be sycophantic!), on history versus “narratives” in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Although Judy raises a number of excellent points, I don’t fully agree with her blanket dismissal of narratives that are demonstrably false or unverifiable; even when a narrative is not true in the objective sense, it nonetheless remains “true” in a very important sense when a large number of people believe it and aren’t going to be persuaded otherwise. Narratives have a life of their own, and if we dismiss them from our thinking because they are “untrue”, we will fail to understand and deal effectively with those who do believe them. In the Middle East, at least, the false can be very real.

I’ve got a fair bit of historical training under my belt, and as such I would certainly be happier dealing with a single, objectively true and verifiable account of events in our part of the world – especially if everyone else involved would accept the same set of facts! But while we can and should try to correct blatant falsehoods where we can, we also need to understand that our adversaries’ narrative is not going to go away, even if we disprove substantial parts of it. (We also need to apply the same sort of critical historical judgement to our own narrative as we apply to our adversaries’; objectivity cuts both ways!)

In my view, the real goal – for each side! – is not to fight for “our” narrative at the expense of “their” narrative. If we’re ever going to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict, we need to get beyond narratives entirely: Israel needs to allow some acceptable resolution of the Palestinians’ problems even if we inwardly believe that the Palestinians are a “phony” ethnic group; and the Arabs need to accept that Israel is going to remain here as a Jewish state in the Middle East, even if their narrative denies our identity as returning descendants of indigenous inhabitants of the region. In other words, we need to stop arguing about whose version of history is more authentic and which side’s claim to “native peoplehood” is more accurate, and accept that we are all living here, we are all “real” whatever our antecedents, neither side is going to disappear en masse, and we all have real problems that need to be addressed.


At Sat Nov 12, 12:59:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger lisoosh said...

Excellent post, couldn't agree more.

At Sat Nov 12, 11:44:00 AM GMT+2, Blogger Savtadotty said...

How do we accomplish this in a place where people earnestly worship their narratives?

At Sun Nov 13, 09:19:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger lisoosh said...

Savtadotty - good question, but if we don't, we will be stuck in this endless cycle of tit for tat and all the useless justifications for it for at least another generation.

At Tue Nov 15, 03:51:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Ruth said...


the general idea is that we (Israeli Jews) can compensate with extra good will and flexibility for the lack of good will and felxibility on the other side.

The bad news is: It can't be done. Without some basics on the Palestinian side: willingness to accept Israel's existence, forswearing terror as a means and accepting that compromises will be neccessary there is no way that the factual state of low-intensity conflict will be transformed to cooperation or even peace.

At Tue Nov 15, 05:15:00 PM GMT+2, Blogger lisoosh said...

Ruth, I disagree entirely with your analysis and I think you miss the point.

We both have narratives and dreams, and to some extent both have to be abandoned.
On the Israeli side (not including the religious aspect) the narrative goes like this: We escaped from persecution and came to this barren wasteland which we purchased and made it green. There were a few Arabs living here but they were primitive farmers who didn't own the land - lots of other Arabs came here to benefit from the great economy we were building. When war came, we were attacked by vicious enemies on all sides and we overcame them, in a miracle to form our own state. Jews are kind, thoughtful, sophisticated people who would never hurt an innocent soul and only retaliate to provocation, we are the victims here.

The Palestinian narrative goes something like this: We had a society that suffered under Turkish rule but a society nonetheless comprising farmers in small villages, craftsmen and businessmen in towns and cities (Ramle, Lydda) and fishermen on the coast. Foreigners, speaking strange languages and with a strange culture came with money and the backing of powerful governments and pushed us out of our cities and off of our land. They attacked us with arms and sent us into exile, far from our homes. Arabs have a strong culture and rich history in the area. We are the victims here.

Then there are the dreams:
Israel: The Palestinians will stop making demands of us and not one among them will attempt to fight us with physical means. they will sit quietly and patiently in silence until we decide what we will "give" them. Or maybe we will get lucky and they will choose to leave.
Palestinian: Maybe we will get lucky and the other Arab states will magically decide to attack Israel and wipe it off of the face of the Earth so that we can return to our homes. Or maybe a State of 6 million, many of them second and third generation will simply disappear.

See how ridiculous they BOTH sound? And I am leaving out a lot of voices - the Jews who want to forcibly remove all Arabs (when are we going to admit that they (and worse) exist and deal with them?); the Palestinians who admit that Israel is here to stay and that they have to accept it an move on and build a new culture/home; Israelis who desparately want to make peace and are willing to put themselves out on a limb to do so; Palestinians who never will rest until they kill as many Jews as possible (yes I admit they exist too).

The emergence of the State of Israel had its violence, there were winners and losers and a lot of suffering. Each side did things they should be ashamed of. It's history. The reality is that Israel exists and isn't going anywhere. The other reality is that the Palestinians exist and aren't going anywhere. We both need to deal with it and move on.


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