Just Tell the Story

Today in the Times Jodi Rudoren writes that the peace talks have become “a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” It is because of this narrative, she claims, that Palestinians reject Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.

But what is this narrative, and what are the details of the dispute? Rudoren never tells us. She refers to this narrative no less than seven times in the article and never sets out what precisely is at stake.

She writes that there are “conflicting versions of the past” without stating what these versions are and where they conflict. If Rudoren wants to claim that the crux of the dispute is two varying narratives, two different versions of history, we should be told what these two competing stories are.

In fact, there is little dispute today over what took place in 1948 when some 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their towns and villages to make room for Jewish immigrants. Israeli historians, such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, have described this process of deliberate ethnic cleansing, and a new book by Ari Shavit, My Promised Land, also acknowledges some elements of this truth, describing a massacre in Lydda (which became Lod) and the expulsion of its Palestinian residents.

Likewise, no one here is denying the Holocaust or the ugly facts of European anti-Semitism. If these were at issue, no doubt the Times would say so.

Instead, we have vague references to competing narratives and no explanation about where the two histories might clash. It seems that Rudoren would rather avoid these details. They are not pretty, and the best Shavit and Morris can do with them is to say that they were unfortunate but necessary. Shavit writes, referring to those responsible for the crimes in Lydda,“I’ll stand by the damned, because I know that if not for them the State of Israel would not have been born.”

Times readers should also revisit Roger Cohen’s op-ed column, “My Jewish State,” which ran yesterday. Here he makes clear that for Palestinians Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as Jewish state would “amount to explicit acquiescence to second-class citizenship for the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel” and “undermine the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.” These are the main reasons they reject Netanyahu’s demand.

Israel is already Jewish, Cohen says, and Netanyahu’s demand is “a waste of time, a complicating diversion when none is needed.” He quotes an Israeli political scientist who says it is nothing but “a tactical issue raised by Netanyahu in order to make negotiations more difficult.”

Rudoren’s story fails to address the real difficulties for Palestinians in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. This would require a closer look at discriminatory laws and practices directed against Palestinians within Israel today and the misery of millions of refugees made stateless by the founding of Israel.

Rather than do this, Rudoren and Times circle around an unsubstantiated claim that “competing narratives” are the sticking point in the present dispute.

Barbara Erickson

3 thoughts on “Just Tell the Story

  1. The Israeli narrative has been engrained in the American psyche, but I have observed entrenched resistance to acknowledging the Palestinian narrative. Perhaps it evokes guilt regarding our own treatment of Native Americans, and/or perhaps the U.S. media have done a thorough job of depicting Arabs as sneaky and culturally backward. At any rate, Rudoren has taken the path of least resistance by relying on a fashionable phrase, emptying the words of meaning by ignoring that meaning.


  2. I wonder what Shevit thinks “stand with the damned” requires him to do, specifically, right now? Oppose BDS? Support collective punishment? I think I’ll ask him (via Twitter). Thanks, BE, for the inspiration!


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