Can Both Middle East Narratives Be Right?

With regards to the Middle East, narratives are crucial in understanding the key differences in history and perspective. Narratives in this region rely on a collective memory tarnished with emotional distress and pain, yet coupled with a desire for unity, compromise and peace. The Israelis and Palestinians are two peoples with an unwavering attachment for the same piece of land. It is because of this that this region has been a contentious topic of debate and conflict and a battleground for competing narratives.

The creation of the State of Israel is imperative in discussing exactly how narratives can be both contradicting and overlapping. According to a prominent Israeli narrative, the creation of the State of Israel marked the end of the suffering of the Jewish people and signified that the need for a Jewish national homeland had finally been recognized internationally — and rightfully so. The creation of the State of Israel was the realization of the Zionist dream of getting back land that the Jews had been yearning after for 3,000 years. Likewise, that the Jewish people who have been continuously exiled from the Soviet Union, Europe and virtually every Arab country now have Israel, a state that provides security for all Jews and non-Jews alike. Furthermore, it is crucial to note that on the day of Israel’s independence, it was attacked by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, thereby creating the Palestinian refugee problem still relevant to solving the conflict today.

Yet according to the leading and contrasting Palestinian narrative, the creation of the state of Israel is referred to as the “Nakba,” or the catastrophe. According to this account, the Jews came and inhabited land that already had inhabitants and kicked the Palestinians out. Moreover, the debate and the complexities of whether Israel or Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land” or whether it was a land already inhabited by Palestinians also defines the central narratives and histories of the two groups.

Zionism, too, is something that has been distorted throughout the emergence of narratives. It is wrongfully assumed, by many in the “pro-Palestinian camp,” that Zionism is racism.

Let’s have the enlightened and educated students here at UC Irvine decide. Here is the definition of Zionism from the World English Dictionary: it is a religious and political movement in favor of the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, now the State of Israel. Put simply, Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people. Like any and all people, the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their own homeland. Moreover, the Zionist movement started in 1891 and, while still a response to growing anti-Semitism, was created years before the Holocaust. Zionism is no different from any other national movement and can be equated to Arab nationalism, Indian nationalism, French nationalism and the like.

Although one cannot accept both narratives as entirely true (since one voids the other) and incorporate them into his or her own opinion of the event, it is also important to realize what parts of each narrative is emphasized and what is de-emphasized or even left out completely. What was the “catastrophe” for some, whether validated or not, was salvation and peace for the Jewish people. The importance in recognizing both narratives, however, is the way in which we can use the incorporation of these “multiple variations of truths” as a way for a future peace process in the region — a peace process where both accounts of history can be acknowledged and respected, where the word Zionism isn’t tarnished by radical people and where Israel’s independence day can be something positive for all.

Ilana Zelener is a fourth-year international studies major. She can be reached at izelener@uci.edu.