David Ricci

Two ridiculous narratives

Why are we at war in Gaza? That depends on which narrative we believe in.

(1) The mainstream narrative is fiercely nationalistic, preached by Netanyahu and many other Jewish Israelis, who insist that we are fighting Israel’s “Second War of Independence.” That is, this is not a war over territory but a struggle for our collective existence, like in 1948-49.

In this view, the Gaza War is not about occupied lands because, in 1967, we could not have “occupied” what already “belonged” to us. Therefore, the coalition agreement (from December, 2022) refers to that divine patrimony when it declares that Israel has an “inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.”

To that end, even Jewish MKs in the opposition may claim that bombing Gaza has nothing to do with the occupation but only with the fact that Palestinians – all anti-Semites, presumably – refuse to abide by that right. And their refusal, in this narrative, turns Palestinian “insurgents” into “pogromists.”

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This narrative is ridiculous because it is false and self-serving. It is false because the Hamas prepared their assault in imitation of Sadat’s 1973 political ploy. Like Sadat, Hamas did not attack us to destroy our state but to compel us to negotiate. Note that, after all, Hamas fighters were in Israel for little more than one day and, in that time, got no further than Ofakim, which is only 22 kilometers from the Gaza fence.

As for being self-serving, the story Bibi invented about Hamas’ true aim, of destroying Israel, serves our right-religious government perfectly. It shifts attention away from the occupation, which the right doesn’t want to discuss because it constitutes colonial rule and thereby encourages much of the world to spurn the plucky “sabras” of Leon Uris.

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So, there is one narrative, effective but false. Unfortunately, no other narratives attract a significant number of disciples. After all, what vision of modern Zionism do men like Benny Gantz, or Yair Lapid, or Avigdor Lieberman promote? Mostly, they stick to expressing disdain for Netanyahu.

In short, only one narrative stands out. And that belongs to Bibi, who peddles it relentlessly to emotionally vulnerable people who are thoroughly frightened and massively depressed. In fact, however, this story is so far from being true that its advocates babble when asked about where we will be, in reality, if the current war ever ends.

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(2) Historians know there is a second narrative. It is based on a series of palpable circumstances rather than political calculations. But, like the first story, it is also ridiculous, at least to many Jewish Israelis, in the sense that they regard it as entirely traife for public consumption.

The second narrative starts in late May of 1967. The IDF was threatened by regular, standing armies of Egypt and Syria, which mobilized on Israel’s borders while Egypt blockaded Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. Israel could not afford to keep its reserves indefinitely mobilized, and so war broke out on June 5 between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, and, in a minor way, Jordan.

In that war, the Palestinians had no army or state, because Egyptian and Jordanian soldiers prevented them from establishing either from 1949 to 1967. Therefore they did not fight in the Six Day War. Which means that they did not kill or wound Israeli soldiers.

In other words, the Palestinian community as a whole was not a party to the war, did not participate in it, and was re-subjected to foreign rule (this time by Israelis) immediately afterwards.

Following the fighting, Egypt, Israel, and Syria negotiated, and Egypt recovered Sinai. But since 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been occupied by Israeli soldiers because (according to Jerusalem) there is a “conflict” concerning their disposition which can only be resolved by diplomacy.

Therefore, until an agreement is reached, the occupation will continue, mainly because Israel offers less than the “other side” is willing to accept.

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In this narrative, a Palestinian state containing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, linked by a forty-kilometer long tunnel, and serviced by a port city and an international airport, could be created by Chinese workers if Israelis would agree to stop settling on Palestinian land and go home to where, by international law, they belong.

Technically, the thing is feasible. But recently, Netanyahu and his government have declared explicitly that, even via negotiations, they will never permit an independent Palestinian state to arise.

Consequently, occupied Palestinians will continue to suffer for a long-ago war precipitated by other Arabs. In the circumstances, Israel will perpetuate its colonial rule over Gaza and the West Bank, occasionally fighting wars there, because (a) the present government believes that war is the default setting in life, or, (b) as Max Weber described Martin Luther’s fanaticism – which is duplicated by MKs like Bezalel Smotrich – “Do God’s will, and He will take care of the rest.”

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Two narratives. Which will we choose?

About the Author
Professor David Ricci lives in Mevaseret. He grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and made aliyah to Israel with his wife in 1970. He was Chair of the Department of American Studies, and then Chair of the Department of Political Science, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has taught in several American universities, including Penn State, Michigan, Penn, Wake Forest, and Tulsa. He was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and also at the Center for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. D.C. His latest book is Post-Truth American Politics: False Stories and Current Crises (Cambridge University Press, 2023).