Until a few years ago, it seemed that the narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict was determined mostly by Israel: there was the miraculous vote in the UN General Assembly recognizing the partition. Then the even more miraculous 1948 War of Independence, which established the State of Israel. Yes, there was the momentary setback of the 1956 Suez War, whose victorious territorial prize of the Sinai was wrenched from Israel’s hands by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower. But the Lord’s miracles continued in 1967 as Israel reunited the nation’s eternal capital, Jerusalem. The sparks of Messianic redemption were also sown by the return to our Biblical ancestral lands in places that came to be called by many in Israel, Judea and Samaria. Israel affirmed its rendez-vous with Jewish destiny by returning its sons and daughters to these Biblical holy places in Shechem and Hebron, where they became latter-day versions of the pioneers of the 1920s who “cleared the land and drained the swamps.”
There wasn’t much room in all this history, destiny, and messianic redemption for the narrative of the “loser.” Israelis, the most humane among them, could afford to acknowledge the sins that enabled the triumphs of Israel. These visionaries bucked the national consensus, but they were swimming upstream and against the prevailing winds. Over time, their voice became thinner and thinner until it was mostly snuffed out in the shouts of triumph from the Israeli nationalist camp.
But over the past decade or more, the tables have turned. With the onset of the Intifadas, Palestinians began to make a claim to a narrative of their own. It wasn’t just a story they proclaimed for themselves. They asked the rest of the world to acknowledge it as well. Slowly, ever so slowly, the world has turned from intense admiration of Israel’s achievements to recognition of the moral cost of those victories.
In the past 11 years, we have gone through two Intifadas, wars in Gaza in (2009) and Lebanon (2006). With each of these new developments in the Palestinian national struggle, Israel’s narrative receded and the Palestinian’s advanced.
Though the term Nakba has existed for decades, few outside the Arab world have been willing to acknowledge either it or the historical event it denotes. Until now. The historical truth of this tragedy can no longer be mitigated or denied as it has been for so long. Israel has tried to stick its finger in the dyke in order to suppress awareness. It was sung the praises of its own national myth attempting to drown out those who paid the price for Israel’s joy. But there is about the Nakba, what James Joyce called an “ineluctable modality of the visible,” something which can no longer be denied, a fundamental truth that has been repressed far too long.
Now, the tender shoots of the Arab Spring have burst forth. On Nakba Day last month, Palestinian supporters overwhelmed four Israeli borders demanding that the injustice of the Nakba be redressed. Tomorrow, many of these same protesters will do it again, this time to commemorate the Palestinian loss represented by the 1967 War. They’re calling it Naksa, the Setback. Perhaps slightly less tragic than Nakba, or Catastrophe. But the aggregation of these terms strengthens the sense of a wrong that cannot be denied.
News stories today indicate that Hezbollah has asked for protests on the Lebanese border be cancelled. So we don’t quite know what the dimensions of the event will be. But there is one thing of which you can be sure. The dimensions of this struggle will grow day by day, protest by protest. And as they do, Israel’s case will grow weaker and weaker.
Later this month, a Turkish flotilla consisting of peace activists from the Arab world along with Israelis and American Jews will set sail for Gaza. This voyage is a follow-up to the Mavi Marmara catastrophe in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turks last year. Turkish media reports that the U.S. has dangled a carrot in front of the Turkish government, promising to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Turkey if it will call off the flotilla and normalize relations with Israel.
The very notion of such a bribe is insulting both to Turkey and to the Israeli-Arab peace process. Can a nation be bought? Can peace be bought? For a mess of porridge? What does Obama take Turkey for? This is a proud nation that can’t be taken in by charades. Its leader, Pres. Erdogan is no fool. He ought to tell the U.S. and Israel that it knows what the price of peace is and when those two are ready to pay, then they have his phone number, as Secretary of State Baker said during the Bush administration, and should call. Until then, they should stop wasting everyone’s time with makeshift measures and blandishments like peace conferences. What good is such a meeting when Israel isn’t ready to deal?
As I wrote in my latest contribution to Truthout, a September date with destiny is looming for Palestine in the UN General Assembly. This is yet another incremental advance of the cause of Palestine and another nail in the coffin of the Occupation. From my reading of UN processes, the Security Council can delay but not deny Palestinian statehood. It’s only a matter of time. As Meir Dagan has been saying lately, time is not on Israel’s side. The longer it delays the worse the deal it will get.
I should make clear that I’m not talking about erasing the Israeli narrative or expecting Israelis to grovel at the feet of those they’ve injured. The Israeli narrative is still valid. All those achievements are laudable, something Israel and the Jewish people can be proud of. But not at the expense of Palestine. Not if Palestine must be denied. What the world demands is that there be two legitimate narratives neither of which eclipses or demeans the other. Two equal narratives. When Bibi Netanyahu or whoever is the Israeli PM at the time can do that, he knows Mahmoud Abbas’s phone number. He can call.