Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whose narrative?

On Weds I went to a meeting at Netanya Academic College entitled "Culture, education and intellectuals in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," presented by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialog and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Fund).  Since I did not attend all of the conference I cannot comment on all of it, but the two sessions I did attend gave me pause.
First, one should note that this was not a well-attended program, only about 40 people showed up (compared to over 300 for the conf. held two days before on the Anusim of the Balearic Islands in the same hall) indicating low interest in this topic (both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role of intellectuals in it?).  I attended a session entitled "Learning the Narrative of the Other" which had a chair and four discussants.  I was particularly disturbed by the intellectual discourse in which the term "narrative" was used very often.  It seemed to me that this was a catch-all for all sorts of historical, ethical and other differences between the two sides and the term "other" was a way of avoiding saying "Arab" or "Palestinian" or "Jew" or "Israeli."  Why not call a spade a spade, or is that what intellectuals assiduously avoid.
In the use of the term "narrative" there was an implied assumption that all narratives are equal, and that this allows the user to be polite about the "other's" narrative and to give it equal footing, thus everybody is equivalent and happy.  For example, the American Indians had a nice "narrative" but it didn't help them.  For example, the Egyptians still believe that that they won the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but by any rational standard they lost.  There has to be a rational test of the value of any narrative.  It was also evident that the term "narrative" is always self-serving. My narrative is what I think is right, and he thinks his narrative is right, but this prevents dialog, since it is virtually impossible to have a "narrative" in between.  You either accept my narrative or I accept yours.  And since many Israeli intellectuals seem to accept the Palestinian narrative but not vice-versa, that is an "asymmetric" outcome.  As one of the participants stated, the use of 'narratives" reduces the tendency to dialog, which is what the intellectuals seem to really want.
In the next session "The role of intellectuals and media in forging dialog between the two societies," there was a lot of talk, but not much substance.  One of the few Israeli Arabs participating was Yehia Kassem, Chief Correspondent of Ahurra TV in Israel.  I had never heard of Ahurra TV, but apparently it is widely watched throughout the Arab world and is bought to them by the munificence of the US tax-payer.  In answer to the question, why is the media not more effective in promoting dialog between Israelis and Palestinians, he said that with everything going on in the Arab world, the Arab Spring uprisings, the war in Syria, the problem with Iran, people in the Arab world today are just not that interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict.


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