I’m usually interested in facts and I do my best to keep this blog as fact-based as possible. However, I’ve noticed that facts are often not as powerful to get the message across as dramatic stories are. Everyone loves a good story, while facts are pesky things. They are simply dry and unforgiving statements, based on the closest reading of reality we can muster. Stories are much more powerful. As Jews, we’ve always excelled at storytelling. Most of the world are familiar with our stories. Adam and Eve. Noah’s Ark. The Exodus from Egypt. The conquest of Canaan. David and Goliath. The Babylonian Captivity. And so forth.
There are also individual Jews who in latter days excelled at storytelling. Freud, Marx and Kafka, to just name a few. One of the most famous reality-based stories of our time, is the Holocaust – perpetuated against the Jewish people.
Now, stories aren’t necessarily opposed to facts. As in the case of the Holocaust. The power of which, is derived not only from dry facts about the 6 million murdered or the existence of the concentration camps, or Zyklon-B. The story of the Holocaust is much more than that; it’s about the ultimate Other, the perverse and evil ideology which relegated fellow human beings, living in its midst, to sub-human status. It’s about this evil ideology holding one of the most enlightened nations of the time in its grips. It’s about the complicity in murder of ordinary people – transcending national boundaries, where “help” to the Nazi murderers was readily given by locals in the countries which they occupied. It’s also about Anne Frank. It’s about “Righteous Gentiles” who took great risks to help Jews. Like Raoul Wallenberg, and many others. It’s about many other things as well.
These are the stories that together have allowed the Holocaust to become such a powerful narrative. Anne Frank put a name and face on the story of the Holocaust. People care because of the stories, not because of the facts in and of themselves.
As I stated earlier, as Jews we used to excel at storytelling. In the more than century old Jewish-Arab conflict we used to be good about telling ourselves the story of our national reawakening. That story is based on true facts, but also on some half-truths and distortions. Although the power of the narrative transcends these things. In the struggle over public opinion I’ve come to believe we are making a fundamental mistake. We don’t present the world with our true story, weaving the facts into a narrative that is easy to grasp and stirs emotions on our behalf.
Our enemies don’t seem to care very much about the facts of this conflict. We spend so much energy on countering their often ridiculous claims and complete distortions of reality. They don’t care. Like Baghdad Bob they’re neither embarrassed at being caught lying, nor do they very often bother countering our claims. They appear very unconcerned with the facts. I don’t know how or why it happened, although I can speculate, but our enemies have discovered the power of the narrative. It’s not only what they tell themselves, but it’s what they tell the world that matters. We on the other hand fail to tell the world anything but dry facts. In fact, we tell ourselves the story of how we got here – we never truly left. We tell ourselves about our roots here, where every hilltop is meaningful in our collective history. We tell ourselves of the communities of Jews living in Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere long before Zionism and the return from exile. We tell ourselves about the longing of the Jewish exiles to return, about how we’ve prayed for countless generations – every day – to return to Zion and the land of our forefathers. When we talk about the Jewish communities in Gush Etzion, East Jerusalem and Hebron, we barely mention that these communities were thriving BEFORE the founding of the State – communities now referred to as “illegal settlements” by the so-called international community. We don’t bother mentioning how these communities were ethnically cleansed by the Jordanians and others in the War of Independence in 1948 (or in the case of Hebron – the place where the patriarchs and matriarchs are buried – massacred and driven out by local Arabs in 1929). We barely mention the fact that this war that was forced upon us caused the massive destruction of the ancient Jewish communities of the Middle East, where they enjoyed the dubious privileges of 2nd class citizenship and all of the benefits inherent within, of whom a great number are now proud citizens of Israel. Can you say 850,000 refugees? Massively dwarfing the number of Arabs who were expelled in our war of defense and roughly comparable, in our favor, to the total number of Arabs who were displaced.
These are also facts, and despite having said we only tell the world dry facts and not our true story, we somehow don’t manage to tell all of them. And in any case, no one appears to be interested in listening. These facts should be part of a wider narrative we tell the world. Yet, today we talk about the facts of Palestinian Authority incitement and money paid to convicted terrorists, of Hamas suicide bombs, rockets, tunnels and shootings, of knife attacks in Jerusalem, but we have no real encompassing story.
On top of that, we have a fundamental disconnect between the story we tell ourselves and what our politicians tell the world. This disconnect isn’t necessarily anyone’s direct fault, but it stems from the fundamental clash between our narrative and our pragmatism, as exemplified by our desire for peace. Within ourselves, within our people and especially so among us Israelis, we have the same conflict. The majority of us, not the fringes to the Left or Right. Not in Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Haaretz, Meretz and others on the Left. Not in Arutz Sheva, nor in large elements of the religious Zionist groups, Jewish Home and others on the Right. I mean the rest of us. Including our current Prime Minister and virtually every one of his predecessors.
Our narrative speaks of our bitter exile with repeated pogroms, massacres and expulsions, our return to Zion, our just struggle against virtually all our Arab neighbors who promised to go Genghis Khan on us; to massacre us and drive us into the sea, before we even declared our state. They incessantly cry over their failure to do so, while accusing us of ethnic cleansing and unjust usurpation of the land. Never mind that the land we first held, and where our returned exiles began to toil the earth, was legally bought by our own money. Never mind that our enemies didn’t have a more valid claim themselves, other than to the land that was privately owned by individuals, families and communities. Never mind the massacres they inflicted on our minority community long before we declared the state, as a means of our collective protection. By Natural Law (according to Hobbes), “.. every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war.” We armed our entirely legal pre-State communities to protect them against marauders. Having failed at protecting ourselves sufficiently in the Arab Riots of the late 30s, we developed even stronger fighting forces, such as the Haganah (lit. “Defense”). We sought peace by accepting the UN Partition Plan, yet by Natural Law and common sense (which supersedes any other legal claims), had EVERY RIGHT by the laws of God and Men to fight until victory. This is how our State was founded – it wasn’t given us by anyone, not even by the UN or in some people’s deluded minds by the United States or the Europeans because of the Holocaust, nor was it unjustly acquired by offensive war.
Benny Morris, famous revisionist historian, recently reiterated his case that “at no stage of the 1948 war was there a decision by the leadership of the Yishuv [pre-State Jewish community] or the state to “expel the Arabs” – neither in the Jewish Agency nor in the Israeli government; neither in the Haganah General Staff nor in the Israel Defense Forces General Staff. Nor did any important party in the Yishuv, including the Revisionists, adopt such a policy in its platform.”
He further states that “Incidentally, Arab countries carried out ethnic cleansing and uprooted all the Jews, down to the last one, from any territory they captured in 1948 – for example, the Jordanians in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem’s Old City, and the Syrians in Masada, Sha’ar Hagolan and Mishmar Hayarden. The Jews, on the other hand, left Arabs in place in Haifa and Jaffa, and in the villages along the country’s main traffic arteries – the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway and the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway – a fact that does not conform with the claim of “successful” ethnic cleansing.”
When we acquired Judea and Samaria in 1967, in a preemptive war forced upon us by our bellicose neighbors once again, calling for our slaughter and the destruction of everything we held dear, as well as countless border-crossing terrorist attacks over decades and the closing of the Suez Canal to Israeli ships, we once again acted out of necessity, not out of any belligerent desires. Our enemies desired war and lost land as a result. We humbled all of our enemies in less than six days and astounded both ourselves and the world. Should we then apologize for controlling Judea and Samaria? Hardly. There may be pragmatic political reasons for giving up our control of the land in return for true peace and recognition, but our claim to it is greater. The land in question was a staging ground for countless terrorist attacks since the founding of the state. Terrorism is not a recent phenomenon. The Oslo Accords didn’t cause terrorism, but ceding control of part of the land caused it to multiply and grow in lethality. This is a story for you: when we control the land, a relative, but not complete, cessation of hostilities is in place. This is true with regards to areas of Judea and Samaria, and it’s true in the case of Gaza where violence grew exponentially with the withdrawal of our civilians and troops.
Looking at current events through the lenses of our shared history, we can’t help seeing the justness of the existence of our communities in East Jerusalem, Hebron and anywhere else. We may at the same time oppose them for pragmatic political reasons in the quest for peace. Some of us do, others don’t. What is virtually universally agreed on, is that our pragmatism only extends so far as to give land for a true peace. Not a flimsy peace on a piece of paper. Not for promises made by an equally flimsy international community. The story of Czechoslovakia in the prelude to the 2nd World War and the story of Ukraine in recent years, have reminded us what such promises are worth. Other events etched in our collective memories are how the British promised us a “national home” in 1917, yet did their best to renege on the promise in order to appease the Arabs. President Obama, Vice-President Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry have all declared their support for Jerusalem as our undivided capital, yet all of them today cry foul when we build in East Jerusalem. We don’t intend to trust promises, as broken promises are part and parcel of our collective history, not by allies and certainly not by our enemies. We don’t intend to put our security in the hands of others. Not now, not ever. What we could trust, beyond ourselves and our own military might, is to see the Palestinians not only talking the talk of peace (in English), but doing so in Arabic – and walking the walk. It means an end to incitement and monetary encouragement of acts of terrorism, it means educating children for peace, it means recognizing our roots in the land, it means an end to popular support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. I don’t intend to hold my breath.
Neither does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who before the last election declared that there won’t be any Palestinian state if he was reelected. This was met with near-universal condemnation by all the knaves and fools who didn’t bother to find out what else he said. Let me enlighten you or refresh your memory: “I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel,” Netanyahu said. “The left has buried its head in the sand time and after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand.” (Haaretz) As anyone familiar with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as popular sentiments among the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, would agree with. What Bibi said is that it’s completely unrealistic to expect any other outcome, no matter what’s signed on paper or promises made, given the lack of conditions for real peace I listed above. Whatever Haaretz would lead you to believe, this is what we all know to be true. Even if there isn’t a 100% certainty (only taxes and death are that certain), it’s close enough that we’re not willing to just toss the dice and see how they fall. Bibi was of course forced to “backtrack”, but basically merely reiterated his position that he’s accepted the principle of two states. He would be a fool to backtrack from the requirement that the peace must be real and in my assessment he never will. Once again the dry facts didn’t matter as the story of how Bibi rejected the two-state solution was spread far and wide.
So this is where we are at the beginning of 5777, or approaching the end of 2016 if you will. It’s only a few hours until Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, but our presence here in Jerusalem, and elsewhere, is something we will not apologize for.
Recommended Reading: Ynet – The Sickness of Narrative Thinking