The People of the Narrative

Tuesday’s news contained a particularly infuriating although totally predictable report to add to my collection of “things that show why coexistence is impossible.” It seems that Israel is required by the 1994 Paris Protocol to the Oslo Accords to grant permission to ‘qualified’ Palestinian tour guides to work in Israel. Tour companies hire them because they cost about half as much as an Israeli tour guide, or in some cases if the company wants to provide a ‘balanced’ tour in which both the Israeli and Arab narratives are honored.

So what happens is that Palestinian guides take naïve foreigners to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and  explain that the lessons to be learned there are that today’s Israelis treat Palestinians the way the Nazis treated them; that Israel was founded because of Western guilt over the Holocaust; and that Palestinians are victims of genocide (despite the fact that their number has tripled since 1970).

Then they go to the Old City where they tell their clients that the Jews have no history in Jerusalem, and that whether or not there was a Jewish Temple there is “controversial.” They explain that there was a Palestinian civilization in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years, until colonialist Jews came along and dispossessed, expelled and occupied them.

This is yet another small but significant way that the Palestinian Arabs chip away at historical reality and promote their narrative – an untrue story that they believe with absolute sincerity.

They believe that the Jewish state is entirely illegitimate and has no moral or legal authority to arrest or imprison Palestinian murderers, who are not terrorists or criminals but political prisoners or prisoners of war, and that it is appropriate to treat them as heroes and for the Palestinian Authority to pay pensions to their families.

And they believe that the occupation narrative justifies any form of ‘resistance’ including the murder of Jews, whom they call “settlers” (even if they live in Tel Aviv). They even believe that like James Bond, they have a license to kill, granted to them by international law!

But it isn’t merely a belief about historical facts or international law or human rights or who was here first or whether Arab refugees fled voluntarily in 1948 or were kicked out (both happened). There is an overwhelmingly powerful emotional content in the narrative. It places a massive weight of humiliation and shame on the shoulders of the Palestinian Arabs, whom the entire world knows were defeated in war, expelled and subjugated – by Jews, of all people!

Every argument is used to prove that the Jews didn’t do it themselves – that they had the Western world on their side  and the money of international Jewry behind them, that the Arab nations betrayed the Palestinians, and so on. But excuses don’t cut it. The only thing that can lift the burden of the narrative from the Palestinian man is the blood of the Jews who humiliated him.

The narrative is independent of the religious imperative that drives pious Muslims to murder infidels who infest a land that was once and therefore must forever be, Muslim. It is independent of the fury born of shame felt by a Muslim who has to submit to even the slightest restraints on his right to worship (like metal detectors, or temporary closures or age restrictions at the Temple Mount) imposed by Jews. But the intense shame and rage it generates fit neatly alongside the religious humiliation felt by Muslim Palestinians.

If you sat down and tried to invent a way to prolong a conflict forever, you couldn’t do better than the Palestinian narrative. It is the narrative that justified the way the Arab nations that hosted the 1948 refugees forced them into refugee camps and refused to allow them to integrate into their societies. Even the Palestinian Authority, which they claim is actually the “State of Palestine,” refuses to end their refugee status! It is the narrative that fuels the rejection of any kind of “normalization” process that might help make it possible for Jews and Arabs to live side by side in the future. It is the narrative that insists that only the “return” of the descendents of the 1948 refugees to “their homes” – that is, the expulsion of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel – can even begin to correct what they view as the moral inversion of 1948.

Some Zionists say that there is no Palestinian people, that they are just a bunch of Arabs whose ancestors migrated into the land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it is correct that few of them have any long-term history here, and that they don’t have a distinct language or religion.

But I would not agree that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people. If the Jewish people are “the people of the book,” the Palestinians are the people of the narrative. The narrative, and the always simmering and sometimes boiling conflict with the Jews, made a people out of them just as the journey through the desert finished the work of creating the Jewish people.

The Palestinian identity today rests entirely on their narrative and their opposition to us, even their hatred of us. If the Jewish people disappeared tomorrow, there would be no Palestinians, just Arabs.

And this is why the conflict will not be ended by a peace agreement, a compromise of some kind, another partition or even a gradual reconciliation. An end to the conflict would mean an end to Palestinian identity, something which they will not give up voluntarily. It’s all they have.

The narrative feeds on itself and only grows stronger with conflict and time; and the stronger it is, the more conflict there is. There is only one way for it to end: one side must win and the other must lose.

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