The Narrative Challenge
The war of narratives shaped itself as a “slam dunk” win for the Palestinian people and had the potential to change the lineup of forces in the struggle for a just solution to the Middle East crisis. After all, unlike the Zionists, the Palestinians are a singular people, speak a common language, have common customs, and lived a shared history. They inhabited the area for centuries, if not for millennia, and tilled and watered the land to which they had legal title. Western nations restructured the Middle East, denied the Palestinians a country, and placed them in a British Mandate. Refusal to agree to surrender any of their lands to the UN Partition Plan led to the catastrophe in 1948 (Al-Nakba), which left them stateless and subject to Israeli occupation and oppression. As a community, the Palestinians are now headed toward destruction.Can they prevent that destruction by winning the war of narratives?
A Palestinian Negligence
Despite their more compelling narrative, the Palestinians have been unable to successfully articulate their experiences or implement a powerful rebuttal to Israel’s narrations, and Israel has prevailed in the war of narratives, a feat that defies being possible. Adding to the failure is the perplexing manner by which Palestinian institutions and persons unknowingly validate portions of the Zionist narrative and its falsifications of history. As an example, this excerpt appears on the website of a Palestinian “think tank” in Washington, DC.
The Canaanites were the earliest known inhabitants of Palestine. They became urbanized and lived in city-states, one of which was Jericho. Thus Jericho is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth.
The Israelites, a confederation of Hebrew tribes, defeated the Canaanites, but found the struggle with the Philistines more difficult. The Philistines had established an independent state on the southern coast of Palestine and controlled the Canaanite town of Jerusalem. The Philistines were superior in military organization to the Israelites [and] severely defeated them about 1050 BCE.
David, Israel’s king, united the Hebrew tribes and eventually defeated the Philistines. The three groups assimilated with each other over the years. The unity of Israelite tribes enabled David to establish a large independent state, with its capital at Jerusalem. However, that did not last long as that state split into two: Israel in the north and Judea in the south.
Unknowingly, The Palestinian “think tank” has published a dubious biblical history, which Israel’s propagandists use to advantage. History and archaeology contest the presentation:
(1) Jericho, one of the earliest cities, no longer existed at the time of the later Canaanites (it eventually recovered), which means it was not continually inhabited, and there was no Jericho for Joshua, and probably no conquest by a Joshua of other tribes.
(2) The Exodus, Conquest and lives of David and Solomon are myths. If a David and/or Solomon existed, they were minor chieftains and not leaders with a capital in Jerusalem.
The Exodus and lack of proof of its occurrence
Although the ancient Egyptians kept meticulous records, no manuscripts, drawings or documents describe Hebrew slaves in Egypt or an exodus. Besides, Egypt was not, as Rome, a slave state and only kept foreigners captured in war as slaves. If they wandered 40 years in the barren desert, would not the 100,000 plus Hebrews have left some traces for future verification: pottery shards, implements, shreds of garments, or weapons? If they had the latter, which they needed for conquest, how were they obtained or forged? Lastly, because the earliest examples of written Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE would not the Hebrews, after being captive in Egypt for centuries, have spoken and written a Middle Egyptian language? What language did they speak?
Did Joshua assault Jericho?
Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, in her book Digging up Jericho: The Results of the Jericho Excavations, 1952-1956, Praeger, New York, estimated the city was destroyed before 1550 BCE, 150 years prior to Joshua’s supposed arrival, and remained dormant until the 11th century BCE Radiocarbon tests by Hendrink J. Burns, Tell es-Sultan (Jericho): Radiocarbon results of short-lived cereal and multiyear charcoal samples from the end of the middle Bronze age, Jacob Blaustein, Institute for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, confirmed Ms. Kenyon’s conclusions.
If Joshua did not conquer Jericho, was there any conquest?
The most definitive rebuttal to biblical history before the 9th century BCE comes from recognized Tel Aviv University archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, who documented their explorations in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Simon & Schuster, 2002).
Their archaeological diggings demonstrated that “the Israelites were simply Canaanites who developed into a distinct culture. Recent surveys of long-term settlement patterns in the Israelite heartlands show no sign of violent invasion or even peaceful infiltration, but rather a sudden demographic transformation about 1200 BCE in which villages appear.”
Finkelstein and Silberman continue with discoveries, which “suggest that Jerusalem was sparsely populated and only a village during the time of David and of Solomon. During the time of Solomon, the northern kingdom of Israel had an insignificant existence, too poor to be able to pay for a vast army, and with too little bureaucracy to be able to administer a kingdom, certainly not an empire.” It was not until the eighth century BCE, 200 years after David, that Jerusalem began to grow.
Control of Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s status is furiously debated in “balanced” discussions. Israel demands total control of a “united city,” which it claims is essential to its heritage, and Palestinians are willing to defer to Jerusalem becoming a shared city. In these “balanced” meetings, the Palestinians cannot gain the offensive, and are unable to obtain a reply to a simple question: Why are Jews allowed to settle in East Jerusalem and reclaim a few dubious properties, while Palestinians are not allowed to settle in West Jerusalem and regain multitudes of usurped properties?
Examine the Holy Basin. The Holy Basin contains well-marked Christian and Muslim institutions and holy places that have had historical placement for more than a millennium: Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Al Asqua Mosque, Dome of the Rock, and Mosque of Omar.
Although Hebrews had a major presence in Jerusalem during the centuries of biblical Jerusalem, which included rule by several kingdoms and control by the Hasmonean dynasties, their control and major presence were interrupted between the kingdom and dynasty and became insignificant after 70 CE. Commentary has enabled the more than two thousand years of lack of control and presence to seem as if they never happened, and that today is only a short interval from the ancient years of King Hezekiah. Centuries of Christian and Crusader rule and more than one thousand years of Muslim rule are less noted, and their tremendous constructions and creations in Jerusalem are downplayed. The Christian and Muslim everything become nothing and a minor Hebrew something becomes everything. Myth replaces reality. Ethereal spirituality replaces physical presence.
Some remains of Jewish dwellings, burial grounds and ritual baths can be found, but few, if any, major Jewish monuments, buildings or institutions from the Biblical era exist within the “Old City” of today’s Jerusalem. The oft cited Western Wall is the supporting wall for Herod’s platform and is not directly related to the Second Temple. No remains of that Temple have been located.
The Western Wall, which erroneously entered the vernacular as the Wailing Wall by someone during the 19th century, is considered to be close to the “holiest of the holies,” the most revered site in Judaism. According to historian Karen Armstrong, in her book Jerusalem (Ballantine Books; April 29, 1997), Jews did not pray at this part of the Western Wall until the Mamluks in the 15th century allowed them to move their congregations from a dangerous Mount of Olives and pray daily at the Wall. At that time, she estimates that there may have been no more than 70 Jewish families in Jerusalem.
This portion of the Western Wall lacks absolute proof of its being close to the “holiest of the holies,” and therefore has religious significance by default — there is no other readily apparent religious construction from the ancient Hebrew’s Jerusalem. Or, is it significant because Israel wants control of part of the wall that surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, a site it hopes to control one day?
In an attempt to connect ancient Israel to present day Jerusalem, Israeli authorities apply spurious labels to Holy Basin landmarks.
- Neither King David’s Tower nor King David’s Citadel relate to the time of King David.
- Neither the Pools of Solomon nor the Stables of Solomon relate to the time or life of King Solomon.
- Absalom’s Tomb is an obvious Greek sculptured edifice and therefore cannot be the tomb of David’s son.
Why should anyone acquiesce to Israel’s demand for incorporating all of a Jerusalem that has no ancient religious institution standing? The answer is conditioning — the constant repetitions of “If I forsake thee Jerusalem,” and “Jerusalem is indivisible” — internalization of a dubious argument and done for covert reasons.
Israel is a physically small and new country with an eager population and big ambitions. It needs more prestige and wants to be viewed as a power broker on the world stage. To gain those perspectives, Israel needs a capital city that commands respect, contains ancient traditions and is recognized as one of the world’s most important and leading municipalities. To assure the objectives, there can be only one Jerusalem and it must be the one that contains the Holy City. A united Jerusalem with a single tourist and business authority is worth a lot of Shekels.
It is distressing to witness “balanced” discussions characterize Jewish identity in Jerusalem as the same, if not of greater intensity, than that of the Palestinians (Muslim and Christian), not have this “balance’ politely refuted, and be tacitly approved by audiences.
And not only is Jewish identity in Jerusalem questioned; modern Judaism’s roots also deserve to be questioned.
Relation of modern Judaism to the Holy Land
In a posted interview on Nov 18, 2008 of an American PBS program Archeology of the Hebrew Bible, William Dever, Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, who has investigated the archeology of the ancient Near East for more than 30 years, said, “This is awkward for some people, the notion that Israelite religion was not exclusively monotheistic. But we know now that it wasn’t. Monotheism was a late development. Not until the Babylonian Exile and beyond does Israelite and Judean religion-Judaism-become monotheistic.”
The last sentence is significant.
After the prophets returned from Babylonian exile, possibly influenced by Zoroastrianism, a religion whose God of good and light fought evil and dark, the Hebrews became Jews, instilled with a change in belief from monolatry, exclusive worship of one God without excluding foreigners to worship other Gods, to monotheism, exclusive worship of one universal God. David Danzig in an article, “Evidence for Survivals of Mesopotamian Civilization in the Babylonian Talmud,” clarifies the reason: “The concept of a single God whom all nations would eventually worship evolved among a conquered and exiled people no longer assured of their divinely protected status.”
Many Jews remained in the regions of their exile. Later, hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived in Mesopotamia and Persia during the Persian Parthian and Sassasian Empires (248 BCE to 641 CE). In this area, schools of Judaism flourished, eventually codifying the oral and written laws and producing the Babylonian Talmud, which, rather than the Jerusalem Talmud, became the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the basis for all Jewish law. In Iraq and Persia, from 500 BCE and through the Middle Ages, the Jews from Judah shed themselves from the restraints of arid lands and a controlling priestly class, achieved almost total male literacy, developed intellectual prowess, and by 650 CE, had changed their occupations from artisans, and struggling farmers to those of agriculturists, merchants, and traders, many becoming wealthy from the silk trade.
The biblical “Exodus” story did not free the Jews. Just the opposite, it has been used to keep Jews in perpetual bondage to a spurious history and to promote an attitude of constant victimhood while distracting them from realizing they might also play a role in the injustices done to others.
The Jewish exodus from the southern Levant to Babylonia and Persia (and throughout the Roman Empire), during the centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and several centuries after its occurrence, freed the Jews from a pastoral life, arid conditions, and restricted economics. The already weakened and dispersed Israelite tribes completely disintegrated, and the Hebrews lost a place in an ongoing history. As in the hypothesis of punctured equilibrium, where new species suddenly arise to replace a dying species, new communities of Mesopotamian Jews, knowledgeable and worldly, quickly appeared in the Fertile Crescent. In that region, which soon housed the three great Jewish academies of Surah, Pumbadita and Nehardea, the legacy and heritage of modern Jews and Judaism are best expressed. In The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492, winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship, by Maristella Botticini, Zvi Eckstein (Princeton University Press, 2012), the authors claim that “Judaism reached its Golden Age in 800-1200 CE. During that time, Mesopotamia and Persia contained 75% of world Jewry with the rest in North Africa and Western Europe.”
Which brings us to the battle between the dead and the dying
The World War II Holocaust, which cost the lives of several million Jews, is firmly established in the Israeli conscience and its history is continually circulated throughout the world. The Palestinian catastrophe, Al-Nakba, hides in the shadows of the World War II onslaught. Why is it not more revealed?
Because the Zionist movement to Palestine started decades before World War II and almost all refugees from the conflagration had been relocated before establishment of the state of Israel, the relationship between the creation of the state of Israel and the European Holocaust is tenuous. Nevertheless, Israel makes full use of the Jewish tragedy to secure sympathy, periodically reminding the world of previous era horrors, repeating them daily to its children, as if they are being threatened, and convincing a world they need to define their own security in order to prevent the next genocidal attack against them.
The Palestinians have not been alert in changing the direction of the dispute, still regarding it as a conflict between them and the Israelis, when it is now only a crisis for them. After the initial arguments between the Zionists and the Palestinians erupted into a conflict, the Israel military victory in 1967 essentially ended the conflict; the Arab allies of the Palestinian allies were defeated and the Palestinians were subjected to Israeli occupation. From then on it has been a growing crisis, which could lead to total destruction of the Palestinian community. This is not semantics; it focuses on the real problem and prevents resources and attention from being diverted to useless activities. As a matter of fact, the attacks on the Palestine community resemble the UN definition of genocide:
- Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Israeli forces have been continuously guilty of the first four acts. Without assistance from international organizations, Arab countries, philanthropies, individuals and private fund raisers, all of whom have supplied the Palestinians with food, energy, training, funds, education and resources that counter Israeli oppression, the precarious plight of the Palestinians would have reached a critical level a long time ago.
Genocide is not necessarily broadcast; it can be silent and stealth — breaking bones and imprisoning males to deny children of working fathers; preventing expansion of food, water, and housing supplies so a population is economically deprived and exists at a subsistence level; confining families to limited areas to stifle education, knowledge, and community interaction; restricting travel so that people are not able to contact others and learn the new tools and mechanisms for adaptation to a modern world; planting harassment and sowing fear to create psychological disturbances. Recipients of these Israeli government policies in the West Bank and Gaza have no means to cope, except to leave the area or suffer until death.
The World War II Holocaust is over, the dead cannot be reclaimed and yet their lives are continually discussed. In Palestine, the destruction continues, lives can be reclaimed and yet the threat to their existence is insufficiently discussed. The crisis started with Al-Nakba and the Palestinians have not been able to make the world react to the seriousness of the growing catastrophe.
The War of Narratives
What have Jews accomplished by in-gathering and becoming citizens of the state of Israel? They have bolstered a spurious interpretation of history and identified themselves with twelve tribes who established some states and administration, but apparently vanished from history and left little imprint of having been a strong or extensive civilization for a long period of time. By incorporating biblical history into its ‘reason to be,’ Israel has exalted Joshua the warrior, guilty of nine genocides, David, a bandit, suspected murderer of those who barred his route to kingship, and philanderer who coveted the wives of others, and Solomon, who used forced labor and exorbitant taxes to build huge construction projects (For this, Moses took them out of Egypt?), and kept a harem of 700 wives. Evidently, the Israelis intend to accomplish in real life what a mythical Joshua and his Israelites accomplished — conquer the city of Jericho, lay the entire West Bank to waste and “let the people be hewers of wood and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.”
It seems strange that Jews embrace the dubious connection with wandering tribes and errant kings and reject the well established memories of their most precious epochs and proud moments of history — their centuries of sojourn in Mesopotamia and Persia. Readily absorbing the new wisdom they encountered after their exodus to ancient Iraq and Persia, the Jews compiled the Talmud, and moved rapidly into achieving almost total male literacy, obtaining economic advancement, and becoming leaders for progress and modernity. Hopefully, Jews who absorb actual history will awaken other Jews to the destructive impulses generating from Israel, which prevents them from recognizing the roots of modern Judaism and instead reverts them to become atavistic and reactionary relics of the ancient Hebrew world.
The Palestinians have found themselves thrust in an unenviable role with specific challenges – expose the contrived narrative of the Israelis and impress the world with their narrative of continuous transitory life as Canaanites, or possibly Hebrews, to Christians, to Muslims, to Arabs, to citizens of the Ottoman Empire and finally to suffering the Al-Nakba, which started their route to being oppressed. Despite decades of mental, physical and emotional fatigue, they owe this task to themselves, to their communities in Diasporas, to Jews who don’t want to be involved in the injustices, to a Middle East that suffers from the expansion of the crisis, and to a world that might soon face a related catastrophe. They owe it and should show it.