David and Goliath: A letter from Ashkelon

The fight between Israel and the Palestinians is a struggle for narrative.

Palestinians in Hebron cheer as Gaza rockets fly toward Israeli population centers. (photo credit: screenshot)
Palestinians in Hebron cheer as Gaza rockets fly toward Israeli population centers.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Yesterday we heard that “southern Israel” now included Zichron Ya’acov. Unbelievable! No one would ever claim that Massachusetts is a southern US state, or locate the province of Cordoba in the south of Argentina. In Israel the south should mean the Negev. However, in Israel, “south” is not a definition that refers to geographical coordinates. Indeed, in Israel, south has been moving northwards over the years, and since yesterday is located about 70 km from Israel’s border with Lebanon.
However, Hamas has not only managed to make geography books obsolete, it also made international organizations like the UN and much of the international press a travesty of what they profess to be.
Actually, the fight between Israel and the Palestinians is a struggle for narrative.
Today, the Israeli narrative is virtually ignored by international public opinion. According to this narrative, the Jewish people lived in the land of Israel since biblical times, and after being exiled by the Romans in 70 CE continued dreaming of returning to the land of their ancestors. The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was the political expression of the desire for self-determination of the Jewish people.
The seed of the modern State of Israel did not sprout in the death camps. Israel was founded despite Auschwitz, not because of Auschwitz.
The First Zionist Congress took place half a century before the Holocaust. And nostalgia for Jerusalem is mentioned in the book of Psalms.
This Israeli narrative collapsed in the Six Day War (1967). Until then, Israel was seen in much of the world as a living example of historical reparation. A people who managed to rise from the ashes of Auschwitz and build their own state in adverse and hostile circumstances. A weak but resilient people.
Everything changed in that decisive war. Israel – in the eyes of much of the world – became a strong and assertive state, while in others’ eyes Israel became an imperialist and oppressor state. In that 1967 war, Israel justifiably went on the offensive, and the attacker usually gets bad press. Progressive and leftist public opinion – almost automatically – likes to identify with the side that is perceived as weak. Israel, in their eyes, was longer David, but Goliath.
The Palestinian narrative, on the other hand, argues that Israel is a racist state that expelled the Palestinians from their land and homes.
Palestinian armed struggle aims to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories. Often, the Palestinian narrative is “enriched” with other elements that are an insult to intelligence.
For example, it is often said that the Temple of Jerusalem never existed, and that the historical connection of the Jews with their eternal capital is nonexistent. It has even been claimed that the Palestinians are direct descendants of the Jebusites, or that Jesus was the first Palestinian.
The press bought the first part of the Palestinian narrative; the second part, for the moment, is not widely accepted.
Clearly, media reports bereft of agendas are technical and boring.
And since the main purpose of the news media is not to inform but to sell, it presents media consumers with simplistic portrayals of conflict; two sides, good and evil, strong and weak, oppressor and oppressed, David and Goliath.
This model of reporting has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a cheap Hollywood movie, in which there are no shades between black and white, between supreme evil and absolute good.
I do not think Israel has ceased to be David; the problem is that the fragility of Israel is not a military fragility. Israel has a strong army – but its immense military power can never be used in the service of its cause. Israel does not fight Hamas with what it has, but with what it can. Like David, Israel gets a single shot, no more. And as the son of Jesse, he must be accurate and avoid collateral damage.
Hamas, for its part, never ceased to be Goliath. Its military power is negligible compared to Israel’s but it has neither scruples nor tied hands. This lends enormous effectiveness to its relatively little power and transforms its narrative into an epic cause of heroism and freedom.
The Western pro-Palestinian media are a travesty because they support a narrative that holds no more water than a sieve. If Israel is a racist state, how is Haneen Zoabi – who justified the murder of three Israeli teenagers in June – a member of the Knesset who continues to draw a salary? If the territories have been occupied since 1967, why was the PLO established three years earlier in 1964? If the intention is to expel Jews from “occupied” territories, why does Hamas shoot rockets from land that was abandoned by Israel in 2005? If the Palestinian Authority wants peace talks with Israel, how can it share government with an armed movement that calls for the annihilation of Israel? How can the pro-Palestinian West accept that the perpetrator is actually the victim? That weak is strong and strong is weak? The binary model proposed by the pro-Palestinian press does not tolerate these kinds of annoying questions.
The world looks on from the side. At best it is silent, at worst consents.
The author is the rabbi of Kehillat Netzach Israel in Ashkelon.