The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

A new Palestinian narrative

The forthcoming change of the guard at the IDF has brought an outpouring of praise for Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, mainly for the victory over the Palestinians and their intifada. The same tributes for Avi Dichter, head of the Shin Bet, were heard as well.

Many talk shows and publicists have bestowed grades of excellence to these two warriors because, in their assessments, Israel has won the war that the "Palestinians imposed on us."

Some have said that the Palestinians themselves share the belief that Israel won the war, proven by the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who was against the militarization of the intifada. It is wise to caution ourselves against accepting this Israeli version of the story as presented. Reality is more complex than the "good guys bad guys" account of the past four years.

Who won the Yom Kippur war? The answer depends on which side of the border you're sitting on. Military history is as much a question of geography as of politics. How does one assess a military victory particularly when there is a belief of being the victim?

The Egyptians hit us hard, they surprised us and our very survival was in question. But we hit back, surrounded their army, crossed into their territory and had them on the run.

Some Israeli generals have even stated that the victory of 1973 was, in pure military terms, larger than 1967's. In Egypt they don't exactly see it in the same way. But what does the Egyptian interpretation of history matter? In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had led our troops into Egyptian territory, says that the Egyptians should now deploy all along our shared border from Gaza to Eilat.

Did the Israeli-Egyptian peace emerge from an Egyptian defeat alone, or did Egypt and its people also have the sense of victory on their side that enabled them to regain their dignity from the bitter losses of 1967?

The Palestinians are licking their wounds of the past four years thousands dead, tens of thousands wounded, the economy destroyed, infrastructures in ruins so much suffering.

Yet there is no sense of defeat in Palestine. There are no articles in the Palestinian press about losing the war. The Palestinian collective memory has added many new chapters to their story.

It is more than interesting to imagine how these past four years will be depicted some day in the Palestinian National Museum. One only need look at some of the mainstream Palestinian political cartoonists to get a sense of reality as seen from across the fence.

The Jenin refugee camp was decimated by the IDF, but the Palestinian cartoons show Palestinian men of steel, heroes fighting against the mighty Israeli military machine. Palestinian children stand tall under the tracks of Israeli tanks.

Pictures of the Palestinian heroes of resistance will long decorate the walls in every Palestinian town. Squares and streets throughout Palestine will be named for the "freedom fighters" The Aksa Intifada has produced a new Palestinian narrative adorned with heroism and a strong sense of justice being on their side.

So intense has been the suffering that the power of the new narrative has potential to replace the old Palestinian narrative as the central theme of their collective identity.

Since 1948 the Palestinian narrative was their nakba the disaster, the tragedy. The Palestinian narrative has been one of loss and suffering, of exile and refuge. That is why the refugee issue and the demand for right of return has become the most fundamental facet of their collective identity.

The narrative being shaped in the past four years is one of heroism, of struggle for freedom, liberation and independence. It is a narrative of the meek against the mighty; of resistance and determination. It is a narrative that is still being written, and it is still affected by the unfolding events every day. It is the narrative that has the potential of giving birth to the Palestinian state that will choose live at peace with Israel.

With all the skepticism about the chances for peace, most Palestinians have a sense that they are taking their destiny in their own hands. Their sense of victimization has not disappeared, and the immediate tendency to imagine a conspiracy in everything Israel does is still prevalent. But there is also a sense of Palestinian initiative, and not only a response to Israeli unilateral steps.

Will the new Palestinian narrative be strong enough to overcome the old, or will it lead to the next intifada? The new narrative provides a positive dynamic of state-building, whereas the old is draped with sorrow and suffering.

With the new Palestinian leadership and their determination to emerge on the world stage as a responsible and successful nation, the chances for real reconciliation increase. As we hope to get back to the negotiating table it is worthwhile to be cognizant that the next chapters in our shared history are being written every day.

The positive outcome of this narrative will depend on whether or not Israel and Palestine are successful in doing a much better job than the last time around.

The writer is the Israeli co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

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