Opinion | The dangers of a single story in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Religious indoctrination has got some people thinking other people are children of a lesser God. Israelis and Palestinians have the right to co-exist. We are yet to see how diplomacy will solve this decades-long conflict.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been running for reelection with a promise to annex more land. They argue that the Kingdom of Jordan should absorb the Palestinians. A man who picks up a gun to resist the loss of his homeland is not a terrorist. Our freedom fighters were not terrorists, but the world was made to believe they were, and now the world believes the same of Palestinians.

The current occupation of Israel on land that initially belonged to the Palestinians is a product of colonisation, where the native population was expelled in 1948. The Palestinians were driven out of their villages and homes to create space and territory for the new state of Israel. 

The Palestinian Arabs were never allowed to return to their homes, even though that was the international law at that time. Israel has a speedy, flexible, and deadly military. 

After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel’s Arab neighbours will not willingly and directly engage in the current conflict. They know the humiliation that might await them. Peace negotiations started in the early 1990s to try to unwind the consequences of the 1967 war. Nevertheless, the fault lines that run between Israeli and Palestine are intractable.

The legacy of the Six-Day War of 1967 is the root cause of the current crisis. Since then, Israel has succeeded in making the lives of the Arabs in the Middle East miserable without international condemnation. They take away their water, segregate and bomb them once in a while. However, when Palestinians retaliate, it becomes international news, and they are termed, terrorists.

No sane person being of sound mind will justify the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) firing rockets into Israel. Of course, if Hamas militants fire rockets at Israel, then like any other nation, Israel must defend itself since the priority of any government is the protection of its citizens. I have never advocated anything different. 

However, I also said this, unless we are okay with an unending shooting match, we need to ask a simple question – what made Palestinian militants wake up one morning and start firing rockets into Israel? Israel says the airstrikes are a justified response to the missiles. 

The Palestinians say the missiles are a justified response to the killing and violence against Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque. So who is justified? Israel or  Palestine? Both or None? 

While I am not excusing rockets being fired at anyone (and those firing the rockets should, of course, be prepared to face the consequences), are you telling me that of all that has happened in the past week, the rockets are the only problem or that the problem started with the rockets? I want a response.

Palestine needs support in its struggle for freedom and not condemnation. Where are those who created this mess in 1948? Renowned author Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie once talked about the danger of a single story. In the TED Talk, she argued that “the single story creates stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”. 

For example, if you start a story on the violent conflicts between European settlers and Native American Indians in the USA and start that story from where Native Indians carried out a brutal campaign against the settlers, you would see the natives in one way. 

However, suppose you start the story from how Native Indian lands were forcefully and, in many cases, violently taken over by the settlers. In that case, you get a different view of the Natives’ reaction. 

The same principle applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where do you start the story from? Who is to blame for the latest clashes?

Why is Israel carrying out airstrikes against the Palestinians? Because Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups fired rockets at Israel. 

Why did they fire rockets at Israel? Because Israeli soldiers and police officers killed an unconfirmed number of Palestinians and injured hundreds more when they fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a Mosque that is one of the most sacred sites in Islam during a Ramadan prayer. 

Why did they fire tear gas and rubber bullets into a Mosque? Because Palestinians planned a protest after the prayer against the forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes by Israeli police officers in the Sheikh Jarrah region of East Jerusalem to make way to expand Israeli settlements. 

So who is to blame? The ones trying to evict people from their homes or those who reacted to the forced eviction by planning a protest? The ones who carried out airstrikes or the ones who fired rockets that led to the airstrikes? The ones who reacted to the desecration of a holy site during prayer or the ones who desecrated a sacred place to stop a planned protest?

In other words, a vicious cycle. 

Furthermore, this is all without even considering the other underlying historical issues. We could start from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967 or the Arab-led war against Israel that preceded that occupation. 

Alternatively, we could start from the fact that the Israeli occupation included the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, which was controlled by Jordan almost as a trust for the Palestinians since the earlier Arab-led war of 1948. 

Alternatively, we could start from the fact that through the “Palestinian Mandate” agreement after the First World War, the British took over East Jerusalem from the Palestinians (Palestine was then controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which itself collapsed after the First World War). 

Alternatively, before the Ottoman Empire, Jerusalem was controlled by the Byzantine Empire. And on and on…

The point is, the history is long and complicated. There is no easy solution, and no side is entirely innocent or entirely guilty. 

However, whatever you do, try not to see things through what Chimamanda Adichie called the danger of a single story. Condemn the reaction if you must, but do not start the story from the response (s) while ignoring the preceding action(s). May cooler heads prevail; may justice prevail; and may innocent people stop paying the price for the decisions made by others.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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