Unravelling the “narrative”

Over and over I keep hearing the word “narrative”. Most often it is spoken by people who insist on the importance of understanding and respecting the “Palestinian narrative.”

How many people have actually paused to consider what “narrative” means? More importantly, how should we respond to a narrative that is not our own?

As a storyteller, a marketer, narrative is something I am very familiar with, something I deal with every day. The narrative is critical, it is a driving motivator, it is what convinces people to “swallow the bait”, to buy whatever it is that you are selling.

The thing is that “narrative” is just that – the story you tell. There is a perspective, a narrative and then there are facts. These words are not synonyms. Each is important and none should be confused with the other.

Perspective is an individual point of view, the way a person sees the world.
Is your glass half full or is it half empty? Is an event positive or negative? These are decided by personal perspective.
The way an individual is raised and the culture he or she is immersed in effects their perspective but does not control it. Often the individual will automatically conform to the reigning attitudes of society, but not always. If I am raised in a strictly mannered culture it is most likely that I will adopt the social norms and mores as my own, however, my individual perspective might see the strictness as oppressive and stupid, leading me to rebel and be different. This is what led the invention of the bra, to women wearing pants and many other sudden deviations in the way things were always done – one person saw things differently, behaved accordingly and in response others changed their perspective as well.

Narrative is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and our place in the world.
Every individual has a story he or she tells themselves about themselves and the life they are living. Nations also have a narrative, a story that is collectively used to define that people or state. Narrative on both the individual and national levels shapes the way you feel about yourself and, subsequently, the way you are treated by others.

Facts are well… facts.
We may be living in a “post-factual” world but that doesn’t mean that facts have ceased to exist. It is true that history books are written by the winners and good vs bad are often a matter of perspective (or in the case of nations, narrative), however, even if these things are true, there are still undeniable, provable, facts. People can dispute facts all they want but cannot make them go away without lying or turning the argument into something that has no relation to facts (emotion based arguments).
Your perspective does not influence where or when the sun rises and sets. Perspective cannot make water cease to be wet or fire cease to be hot. Perspective may determine a war to be a triumph or a tragedy but there is no arguing when it happened or who emerged victorious.

What do they teach in school these days?
I recently had a conversation with a history teacher who teaches Zionism in a prominent Israeli school. Disturbingly she seemed unable to differentiate between perspective (the individual point of view), narrative (on the national level) and facts.

It is popular to focus on understanding the “other”. In Israel, this always seems to mean teaching Jews to understand the Arab narrative (“We are victims, you victimized us”). Somehow teaching Arabs to understand the Jewish narrative never seems to come up.

The rationale is: “If we (the Jews) don’t understand the perspective of the other (the Arabs), how can we have a discussion with them?”

And I agree with that.

Being familiar with the story of the “other” facilitates effective discussion. Understanding that this story motivates behavior is critical. At the same time, understanding that someone thinks a certain way and behaves according to the way they were raised is very different from accepting their behavior or accepting their narrative.

Narrative is a story, it is not facts.

I might feel like a princess. My guy can call me a princess all day but that doesn’t mean I have a kingdom to rule over (unless we are calling my kitchen a kingdom). A person or a nation can say that I or my people victimized them all day but that doesn’t make it true.

One can dispute whether or not certain policies are appropriate or not. Certainly, many of Israel’s policies towards our Arab citizens and Arab neighbors are hotly disputed. At the same time, there are facts that are undisputable (unless the arguments are based on lies and utter disregard for facts):

  • The land of Israel is historically the land of the Jewish people. This is known from the bible, through countless archeological finds and references in the cultural documents of other nations (including the Koran).
  • There never was a Palestinian Nation State.
  • There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for 3000 years.
  • Religious Jews pray facing Jerusalem three times a day, every day. The Jewish people have been yearning to return to Zion for 2000 years and in the last century – we did.
  • In 1948, the nations of the world officially acknowledged Israel to be an independent homeland for the Jewish people.
  • In 1948, 1967, 1973 Arabs tried to wipe the Israel off the map and failed.

The “Palestinian Narrative” is important to understand because that is the driving force behind activists of the younger generations. Those that are too young to have witnessed these events themselves are not raised with facts, they are raised on a story and that story has become the only “truth” they know. The Palestinian story is told so often and with such passion that even many of the older generations, people who should know better because they were there, are getting confused.

When we forget the facts we end up comparing stories
Why does this matter? If the facts don’t matter what we end up comparing stories. Everything being equal, it is the better story, the story told with more passion and conviction, that wins – with no connection to right or wrong, justice, rhyme or reason.

At the moment, the “Palestinian narrative” is winning, hands down. This should not be happening, not only because the facts do not support that story but because the Jewish story is so much more glorious and empowering.

Why would you root for the story of the perpetual victim when you could choose the story of those who miraculously overcame all odds? Why would you choose the story of violence and hate over the story of self-sacrifice and love?

To put it in a completely different light, the “Palestinian” narrative is most damaging to Arabs. Their story does not inspire the creation of a better life for the downtrodden. In fact, it is a story that keeps the downtrodden, down. It teaches Arab youth that they are victims of the Jew, that the path to improving their lives is to throw their own lives away in attempt to be rid of the Jews. Instead of teaching life, this story teaches death – for the Jew and often for the Arab as well.

And while the majority of the Arab population is busy hating the Jew, fighting the Jew, Arab rulers are busy enjoying the opulence of their corruption. The Arab people suffer while their rulers have access to all the comforts and pleasures of life. More than it is used against the Jewish people, the “Palestinian” narrative is used by Arab and Muslim leaders to distract, control and retain power over their own people.

If we truly want peace, we must unravel the narrative.

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