Dmitry Shumsky
Haaretz (Opinion)
June 23, 2011 - 12:00am

In his article "Truth, not narrative," (June 17 ), Prof. Shlomo Avineri calls to separate nationalist narratives from historical truth when presenting the events of the Nakba (the Palestinian "catastrophe" that occurred when Israel was founded ).

He says that on the one hand, there is the Israeli-Zionist narrative regarding the Jewish people's connection to its historic homeland and the Jews' miserable situation, while on the other hand, there is the Palestinian narrative, which regards the Jews solely as a religious group and Zionism as an imperialist phenomenon.

Beyond these claims, he says, there is the factual, historical truth, which is not a "narrative": That in 1947 the Zionist movement accepted the United Nations partition plan, while the Arab side rejected it and went to war, as a result of which the Nakba events occurred.

But the historical facts that became the Middle Eastern reality leading up to 1947, and which were the background for the War of Independence and the events of the Palestinian Nakba, were a direct result of the Western powers' acceptance of the Zionist narrative three decades earlier.

In 1917, after the fall of Ottoman Turkey, which left the Middle East in the hands of the Allied powers, one of those powers declared that the Jewish people had a right to establish its national home in Eretz Yisrael. This declaration was issued because the British government recognized the Jewish people's connection to its historic homeland and the Jews' miserable situation. The Zionist movement got lucky; its fate had been placed in the hands of a power that had a theological sensitivity to the idea of a link between the biblical Jewish people and its land.

But just imagine if, after their victory in World War I, Great Britain and its allies had adopted the pan-Arabic narrative, or the developing Palestinian narrative. Then, in the spirit of the principle of self-determination for the peoples in whose name they were fighting, the allies would have decided that Palestine, including its nascent Zionist Yishuv, would be part of the pan-Arabic nation-state or the Palestinian nation-state. Of course, all this would have included an assurance that the civil and religious rights of Palestine's Jews wouldn't be compromised, and would remain as they had been for the Jews under Ottoman rule until the outbreak of the war.

One could assume that the Zionist Jews would not have sat idly, but would have launched an armed uprising against this new nation-state that had been established in their historic national home. It's certainly possible that in the absence of support from world leaders, this uprising would have failed, leading to expulsions, massacres, and ethnic cleansing, which were not uncommon in the late Ottoman Empire, in the Christian nation-states, or in the Eurasian areas.

After such a national catastrophe, would there have been even one Zionist intellectual claiming that beyond the two national narratives there is a factual historical truth? A historical truth in which the Arabs offered the Jews the same collective rights they had had under the Ottoman Turks - whose scope so impressed David Ben-Gurion in 1916 - but since the Zionists chose the armed struggle, they had to suffer the consequences and take responsibility for their decision?

I doubt it. Any such Zionist intellectual would have been condemned by his comrades as a traitor, who wasn't speaking historical truth but accepting the version of the oppressive enemy, which had, with the help of foreigners, seized control of the Jewish people's homeland.

The national narratives are an inseparable part of the factual reality of the Israeli-Palestinian national dispute. These narratives shape the dispute, nourish it and reconstitute it, time after time.

This, then, is the one and only historical truth - the truth and not a narrative. It's the bitter truth about two peoples in one land.


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