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Narratives of Conflict

Listening to Netanyahu’s speech yesterday, once again I was struck by the centrality of belonging. When Bibi demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he is expressing a desire for them to recognize Jewish belonging in this land. When he asserts his conviction that the conflict is still about 1948 and not about 1967 borders, he is articulating the threat to belonging we all felt at the sight of Palestinian refugees storming our borders.

Daniel Bar-Tal and Gavriel Salomon, two important Israeli academics in the field of peace education, wrote an article in 2006 about narratives of conflict. They suggest that in a situation of ongoing conflict, people develop narratives with four main themes: existential justification of the conflict, positive image of one’s own group, delegitimizing the opposing group and seeing one’s own group as the victim.

Mutual recognition of the belonging of both groups could promote change in all these different themes. Firstly, the conflict would seem less existential if both groups recognized each other’s right to belong. If both Israelis and Palestinians recognized that both sides were here to stay, and had the right to be here, we could turn our attention to working out how both groups could best achieve those rights.

Our positive image of our own group might initially be under threat – listening to the Palestinian narrative regarding 1948 is a painful process for Israelis’ self-image. On the other hand, in the longer term our self-image could undergo positive change. Rather than relying on denying the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, our self-image could be based on our ability to deal with conflict, to recognize our responsibility and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Recognizing the validity of Palestinian belonging would in essence involve re-legitimizing the Palestinian people.

Finally, recognizing Palestinian belonging and validating their narrative would also involve relinquishing our exclusive position of victimhood, and recognizing the fact that both sides to the conflict are both perpetrators and victims. I hope it goes without saying that the same applies to the Palestinians, who need to recognize the Jewish-Israeli narrative of belonging. Bar-Tal and Salomon conclude that a major move towards peace is to legitimize the narrative of the Other group. Recognizing each other’s narratives of belonging would be a good place to start.



3 thoughts on “Narratives of Conflict

  1. You fail to understand reality.
    Prof. Daniel Bar Tal is a political activist who found a way to sponsor his activism by teaching at a university. Unfortunately for Israeli universities, this is the case for many academics. The political party which the activists belong to got them this position.
    At the same time you also fail to understand another issue. There was no such a people called Palestinians, yes, there is a strech of land called this. Like the Golan, there are no people called Golanians. So as soon as it was decided by the world that the Jews should go back to their land of origin, the Arabs of the world wanted to prevent it and take over this land, so based upon this, they invented the Palestinians.
    Now don’t get me wrong, since the nineteen sixties there are such people called palestinians, but their goal is not to create their own state, as they could do many times, but to destroy Israel.
    Should Israel destroy them? No.

    Posted by Merav | May 18, 2011, 10:58 am
  2. Oh dear. It’s always worrying when people who disagree with an argument assume that you “haven’t understood reality” – just maybe, Merav, jerusalempeaceseeker interprets reality differently?

    How sad too to see JPS’s analysis so immediately proved to be on the nail. JPS’s attempt to analyse how conflict narratives are played out is immediately shouted down with the line that “there is/was no such thing as a Palestinian nation”, and they are all out destroy us (that’s points 1,3, and 4 of how conflict narratives always work, according to JPS. Only missing ‘positive self images’, and I guess Merav’s last line provides this.

    I wish you’d been wrong, JPS.

    Posted by Simon | May 23, 2011, 3:32 pm
  3. Dear JPS
    I have just come across your blog and have enjoyed reading them greatly all your reflections. I particularly agree about your point here and I am aware of others who share your view in this area. Are you familiar with the work of Jonathan Glover talking about Simone Weill’s ideas there was a program on our ABC in Australia about this in 2008 in Dec. Here is a link to a transcript of the program:

    Thanks again. Colin

    Posted by Dr Colin Riess | May 31, 2011, 7:56 am

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