Ron Kronish

The Dilemma of the Double Narrative in Israel and Palestine (and beyond)

Photo of olive branch for cover of Profiles in Peace by Ron Kronish. Courtesy of Sari Kronish
Photo of olive branch for cover of Profiles in Peace by Ron Kronish. Courtesy of Sari Kronish

Several years ago — in the days when I was still working at the Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel — I was responsible for many dialogue groups that took place between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs — for clergy, educators, youth and young adults. One year, we sent graduates of our young adult programs to Northern Ireland for a seminar/workshop with Irish counterparts, during which the young people were supposed to prepare projects for implementation in their communities upon their return home.

In a follow-up conversation, one young Israeli Jewish woman by the name of Avital told me that she wanted to implement an educational project whereby Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews who had been through dialogue groups (and wanted more) would actually study in depth about each other’s narratives with teachers and written resources. “Why do you want to do this?” I asked her. Her answer: “Because I have heard in my dialogue groups that they say they have a narrative and I don’t know much about it. And I think that the same can be said for them about our narrative as Israeli Jews. So why not try to learn more about each other’s narrative?”  Indeed, she implemented the project with the help of trained facilitators and it was an enlightening experience!

I have never forgotten this conversation. It serves to remind me about how little we Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs actually know about each other’s history, culture, psychology, sociology, religions, and much more. And it reinforces my conviction that much more needs to be done in our formal and informal educational systems — and in the media — to educate about each other.

This ignorance — and even denial — of each other’s narrative has become more pronounced than ever before during the last three months, since the brutal attack by Hamas militants on communities and IDF bases in the south of Israel on October 7th, 2023, which led to the current Gaza war. With the onset and continuation of this horrible war, each side seems to feel and understand only its own pain and suffering, with no empathy for the extreme pain and suffering on the other side.

In Israel, we mostly hear the main Israeli narrative over and over again in the print and electronic media. We were massacred in large numbers on October 7th and we have over 130 people still suffering in Gaza as hostages. The IDF spokesman appears on the nightly news to tell the citizens of Israel that there are two goals to this war: defeating Hamas and returning all of the hostages. Never mind that many citizens of Israel, including myself, don’t believe this and see that our government has effectively given up on the hostages (see my last blog post). This narrative is drummed into the heads of Israelis without stop, with very little or no concern for the suffering of the Palestinians on the other side. In fact, according to some extreme versions of this narrative, they (the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank) all deserve what they are getting because they started it and they will not give up.

On the other hand, the Palestinian narrative sees only its victimhood. They feel that they have been suffering for decades under “the occupation” (even though Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in August 2005). They say that they have a right to “resist” the occupation, even violently. Even though there is a difference between Fatah (which  recognizes the state of Israel and has negotiated several peace deals with Israel) and Hamas, which avows to destroy the state of Israel, with the help of other Iranian proxies like Hezbollah and the Yemenite Houthis, in general the Palestinian people (according to recent polls) support the Hamas “resistance” of October 7th, even though it involved despicable massacres, rapes and torture. Some Palestinian extremists –and some of their supporters abroad– have even denied that there were massacres or rapes on October 7th, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Facts don’t affect deeply held narratives very much.

Unfortunately, these two meta-narratives are now colliding, both on the battlefield and in the arena of national and international opinion. They seem to be mutually exclusive, with no room for any understanding of the other’s narrative, at least not right now, in the heat of battle and ongoing tragedy.

But is there another way? Must we remain in a zero-sum, lose-lose situation?

For those of us like myself who have been in dialogue with Palestinians for a long time, we know that there is another way. We have witnessed it, been part of it and learned from it in genuine dialogue and discussion over many years.

There is a possibility of understanding the narrative of the other, if we are willing to take the trouble and time to listen empathetically and systematically to him or her or them. And vice versa, Palestinians whom I have known who have been in dialogue with me and with other Israeli Jews over the years have come to learn and be sensitive to our meta-narrative, as well as the diversity of our narratives concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We both know that both sides are suffering in this conflict. We have come to learn and express empathy with the pain of the other side. It is OK for us to acknowledge that while we have suffered greatly and continue to do so, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are also suffering, due to our actions (and theirs!)

To this day, there are many organizations in Israel and Palestine which include thousands of people who are still committed to understanding each other’s narrative via dialogue and cooperation.  The website of the Alliance for Middle East Peace lists more than 160 organizations which are committed to seeking another way other than continued violence, war and conflict.

It is not treason to still believe that there is another way, that peace will be beneficial to both Palestinians and Israelis. On the contrary, this is the ultimate patriotism, in my view. We cannot go on via the current path forever. It is too dangerous and counter-productive for both sides. So much money and personnel are wasted in warfare, instead of being invested in health and education on both sides.

This war will end too, like all other wars. And then the search for peace and coexistence in this region can begin again. But why wait? Why not do it now?

Hillel the Elder said: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But when I am for myself, then what am “I”? And if not now, when?”

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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