Are Palestinians Victims or Actors?
The importance of a shift in narratives cannot be overemphasized. It is the key to peace.
With the advent of President Trump’s administration, massive changes are expected, not just on the domestic front, but internationally. One of the first regions that will require immediate attention is the Middle East, where the policies of the Obama administration have led to a diminished role for the United States and therefore for global freedom.
If the Trump administration is to make rapid progress in the peace process (to the extent there is one), their first priority must be to demolish the Palestinian narrative. It is a false narrative from beginning to end. It tells historical falsehoods about the origins of the “Palestinian” people, the precedence of Jews in the land, the Jewish and Christian identity of holy sites, and the self-inflicted “Nakba” of 1947-48. But a purely historical approach is unlikely to appeal on the political or emotional level. Something more has to be addressed. That something more must, it would seem, be a hard-headed dismissal of the narrative of Palestinian victimhood. It is this perception of Palestinians as the constant victims of an aggressive Israel that drives pro-Palestinian Christians, human rights activists, moral campaigners, socialists, and many others.
The importance of a shift in narratives cannot be overemphasized. It is the key to peace. “Just as real peace could come to Europe after World War II only after Germans abandoned the ‘German narrative’ and accepted the true history of the war that Germany started, so only abandonment of the ‘Palestinian narrative’ and acceptance of the true sequence of the events of 1947-48 can serve as a basis for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs,” wrote Moshe Arens, former Defence Minister of the State of Israel.
The Palestinian Arabs, their leaders, and their worldwide, manifold aiders and abettors have deluded the international media, the United Nations, politicians just about everywhere, religious leaders from most of the Christian churches, and human rights activists on every continent, into believing them to be the world’s greatest victims, a struggling and persecuted people whose woes and sufferings have for decades eclipsed those of every other suffering minority on the face of the planet. You never have to look far for evidence of this.
Writing in 2015, shortly after Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to the UN General Assembly, Dr. Eran Lerman of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies expressed this sense of Palestinian victimhood thus:
The speech delivered by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly last week was proof, once again, that the Palestinian “narrative” of victimhood has become a threat to any practical prospect for peace. Palestinian leaders consistently advance an interpretation of history which is at odds not only with the facts but also with their people’s best interests.
At the core of Abbas’ plaintive narration is the notion of the Palestinians as innocent victims, whose right to statehood and independence has been taken away and brutally ignored for much too long. In this telling of history, the Palestinians deserve to be backed by coercive intervention, as soon as possible, so as to impose on Israel a solution which would implement their “rights.”
“The false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all efforts in the direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Global actors need to help the Palestinians move beyond wallowing in self-pity and rituals of bashing Israel, and towards difficult compromises with Israel.”
Writing at Honest Reporting in October 2016, Zahava Raymond speaks of an article in Ireland’s anti-Israel newspaper, the Irish Independent, promoting a photo exhibition entitled, “This is Palestine” by the choreographer and would-be Middle East authority, John McColgan.
In the world of the Irish Independent and McColgan’s exhibition, every Palestinian is a victim of Israeli oppression. There are no Palestinians who harm other Palestinians, and there are no Palestinians who harm Israelis. It is the usual, one-sided, simplistic narrative that the media generally favor, where Israelis = oppressors and Palestinians = victims.
This false trope of Palestinian victimhood is pretty well universal by now, and is seldom resisted or exposed anywhere outside media and political circles unless they are pro-Israel or genuinely balanced. Whether it be the New York Times, The Guardian, or The Independent.
It is not just the media that think that way. Many Protestant churches across the world adopt the same attitude. Writing for Commentary two years ago, Melanie Phillips declared that, “within the Protestant world, many churches are deeply hostile to the State of Israel. They present the Palestinians as victims of Israeli oppression while ignoring the murderous victimization of Israeli citizens at their hands.”
Psychologically, it is easier to embrace a good cause (or, for that matter, even a bad one) in simplistic, “black and white” terms. For many people a “good” cause is made up of people who suffer from “imperialism” and “colonialism”, plucky minorities, third-world victims of first-world oppression, revolutionary vanguards, and anyone put upon by the United States, Great Britain, France or any former “imperialist” power. Other “imperialist” powers, such as Russia, China or Iran, are conveniently overlooked or forgotten — not to mention the centuries of Islamist imperialism covering Iran, Turkey, Greece, all of North Africa, Hungary, Serbia, the Balkans, virtually all of Eastern Europe and which we see still continuing.
The Palestinians, in this narrative of “good” and “bad”, have purportedly been permanently “dispossessed” by, of all people, the Jews — whom they had the misfortune to attack in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 — and lose to. The Palestinians have been offered their own state time after time — if they will sign an “end of conflict” agreement. They not only turned down the UN Partition Plan in 1947, they also refused 97% of their demands offered first by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They even refused to negotiate — “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations” — in Khartoum, three months after the Six Day War they lost in 1967. The Israeli-Palestinian cause, therefore, has to be the blackest and whitest of all: before you attack another country, keep in mind that you might lose. In the Palestinian narrative, any hint of grey, any introduction of counter-arguments, any presentation of different facts is anathema. Only the flat, false and unvarnished Palestinian “truth” must be permitted.
|In Khartoum, three months after the Six Day War they lost in 1967, Arab leaders refused to negotiate with Israel — “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations”. Pictured from left to right, on September 2, 1967 in Khartoum: King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Abdullah Sallal of Yemen, Sheikh Ahmad Sabah of Kuwait and Abd al-Rahman Arif of Iraq. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Bibliotheca Alexandrina)|
Here is where it gets tricky. It does not take much study to learn that the Palestinians have actually been responsible for a lot of bad things themselves. Innocent Jews have been victims of decades of Palestinian wars of aggression and terrorism. Things are far from being black and white. This means that supporters of the Palestinians have to create a narrative of their own or embrace one invented by Palestinian propagandists. On one hand, the Israelis (aka the Jews) must have done “all the bad things” that are thought to have taken place in the territory set aside by the League of Nations for the Palestine Mandate. On the other, nothing “bad” can ever be said to have been done by any Palestinian. The violence, the killings, the terrorism can only be from one side, the Israeli one, whereas the Palestinian Arabs are only to be seen as the victims of Israeli barbarism and Jewish ill will.
This one-sided concern to absolve the Palestinians of their many sins and, what is worse, to offload those sins onto Jews and Israelis, has consequences. Perhaps the most serious of those is that Palestinians are deprived of any sense of responsibility. To be ever passive, to suffer and never act, to complain yet never offer constructive suggestions — or even counter-offers — for a way out of suffering, in the end strips the Palestinians of any sense of agency.
To become agents of their own destiny, it is time for the Palestinians — as a group and through their leadership — to take action to resolve their internal difficulties and their engagement with the outside world. This will require a realism that has been absent from their lives for so long, a sense of purpose for an achievable goal (namely, a state that does not entail the abolition of Israel), and a recognition of their own mistakes over many decades.
Palestinian refusal so far to do any of these things exposes a deep psychological problem, a problem that has trapped them in an endless round of violence and rejectionism — tragically, one entirely contradictory to their own best interests. People who suffer generally opt for solutions they are offered, even if acting on them involves some pain. Someone dying of cancer or diabetic complications will usually agree to a mastectomy or an amputation on the understanding that it will save his life. The Palestinians have no hope of ever beating Israel so long as they cling to the old formula of “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Yet they have consistently refused to take the least action that might bring them better lives, regardless of how far it is obvious that Israel seeks a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
If members of the new US administration seek to advance the moribund “peace process”, they could find no better place to start than direct confrontation with Palestinian rejectionism. No one wishes to see ordinary Palestinians suffer needlessly, but so long as their leaders persist in a preference for victimhood, that suffering will not be relieved. This means that those leaders must be pressed as hard as possible to end their persecution of their own populations. If necessary, Palestinians must be presented with a stark choice between violence and freedom. There must be carrots, but there must also be sticks. The UN, the EU, and the OIC will offer only carrots. Will the U.S. now add the threat of real consequences to that mix?
Dr. Denis MacEoin was a university lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute
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