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Arab 'Narrative': Short on Facts, Not Drama

April 12, 2007 By:
John R. Cohn, M.D.
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The term "Palestinian narrative" is used to describe the Palestinian's version of events surrounding the creation of Israel and the subsequent decades of conflict.

A search of the popular Web site dictionary.com produces this definition of narrative: "a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious."

Consider some recent stories and columns that appeared in The New York Times regarding this Palestinian narrative.

On March 12, Page 1 of the Times carried above the fold a picture of a slingshot wielding Palestinian youth, framed by burning tires -- an obvious photographic metaphor of a Palestinian David, armed with a slingshot, facing down the Israeli Goliath. The headline read, "Years of Strife and Lost Hope Scar Young Palestinians."

Following this photographic appropriation of the Jewish narrative (it was the future Jewish King David who famously took down the Philistine giant with his slingshot), the accompanying column described the suffering of Palestinian youth, trapped in endless conflict, attributed by the Times' Steven Erlanger to everything but the Palestinians refusal to live in peace alongside Israel.

To him, "throwing stones" at Israelis is just "civil disobedience." The Palestinians' misfortune is because "young Palestinians have grown up stateless, seething at Israel as the visible agent of oppression" -- not victims of corrupt Arab leaders who have repeatedly rejected a Palestinian state if it meant an end to their war to destroy Israel.

Days later, another cover story reported an interview with Lebanon-based Al Qaeda militant leader Shakir al-Abassi. The 51-year-old Abassi, readers were informed, was "born in Palestine, from which he and family were evicted by the Israelis."

The problem is that 51 years ago, the area consisted of Egyptian-controlled Gaza, Israel and Jordan. The Arabs who fled Israel's birth -- in contrast to those who stayed on and are now citizens -- had departed years earlier. There was no Palestine to be born in, and there was no expulsion. Abassi was born on the West Bank, occupied at the time by Jordan, not Israel. No matter. No Palestinian leader's narrative is complete without a claim of suffering at the hands of the Jews.

Two days later, the narrative moved to the opinion page, where columnist Nicholas Kristof took to task Democrats for their lack of criticism of Israel.

Noting the Jordanian King's recent visit to Washington, he wrote, "King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to Congress this month and observed: 'The wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.' "

Though roundly criticized, King Abdullah was right: from Morocco to Yemen to Sudan, the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people in coffee shops more than almost anything else.

It costs nothing in the Mideast to adopt the Palestinian narrative that says Israel is the root of the region's problems. Readers are asked to believe that if there were no Israel, then Sunnis and Shi'ites wouldn't be massacring each other in Iraq, Syria would relinquish its designs on Lebanon, women would not be treated as chattel, and Iran would lose interest in a nuclear device.

Erlanger was back March 23 with a report on the behavior of Israeli soldiers at certain checkpoints: "Checkpoints are part of a security network, including the separation barrier, that protects Israel, but [they] also deeply inconvenience Palestinians who would never consider strapping on a bomb."

Presumably, Erlanger is not one of the millions of passengers inconvenienced at airports for security reasons. Certainly, most of these people would "never consider strapping on a bomb," but are made to languish in line because of the few who really would do such a thing -- terrorists.

Maybe the Times has a point. Truth or fiction's not important. When it comes to the Palestinian narrative, it's the story line that counts.

This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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