What does a Palestinian farmer who is living in a village tucked in between the secluded West Bank hills, a prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail and a Palestinian refugee roaming the Middle East for shelter all have in common? They are all characters in one single, authentic, solid and cohesive narrative. The problem, however, is that Western media and academia barely reflect that reality or intentionally distort it, disarticulate it and when necessary, defame its characters.
An authentic Palestinian narrative — one that is positioned within an original Palestinian history and articulated through Palestinian thought — is mostly absent from Western media and to a lesser degree, academia. If such consideration is ever provided, everything Palestinian suddenly falls into either a side note of a larger Israeli discourse, or at best, juxtaposed to a pro-Israeli plot that is often concealed with hostility. Palestinian news stories are often disconnected, disjoined news items with seemingly no relation to other news items. They are all marred with negative connotation. In this narrative, a farmer, a prisoner and a refugee barely overlap. Due to this deliberate disconnect, Palestine becomes pieces, ideas, notions, perceptions, but nothing complete or never whole.
On the other hand, an Israeli narrative is almost always positioned within a cohesive plot, depending on the nature of the intellectual, political, academic or religious contexts. Even those who dare to criticize Israel within a mainstream Western platform, do so ever prudently, gently and cautiously. The outcome of this typical exercise is that Israel’s sanctified image remains largely intact. In the meanwhile Palestinians constantly jockey for validation, representation and space in a well-shielded pro-Israeli narrative.
To counter these misrepresentations, the pieces must be connected to form a collective that would truly epitomize the Palestinian experience — the story and the history behind it. Once that has been attained, there are chances for greater clarity regarding the roots of the conflict, its present manifestations and future prospects. That can only happen if we return to the basics of a protracted tragedy that is draped with the names and stories of individuals. Doing so would ultimately articulate a consistent, generational discourse that deserves to stand on its own, without belittling juxtapositions or belligerent comparisons.
Most narratives concerning Palestinians in Western discourses are misleading or deliberately classified into simplified language that carries little resemblance to reality. History, however, cannot be classified by good versus bad, heroes versus villains, moderates versus extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns and predictable courses. By understanding the reasoning behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past. It also becomes possible to chart a fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead.
In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes or passive victims without a will of their ownRamzy Baroud
Perhaps one of the worst aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its reproduction of the past and mischaracterization of the present as it is based on simplified terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large. Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.
For these reasons, we are compelled to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which attempt to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed — the refugees and the fellahin who have been denied the right to tell their own story amongst many other rights. This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the privileged who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change.
In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes or passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because the Palestinians are unwilling to accept injustice and refuse to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians is what has shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history.
This composition of farmers, prisoners, refugees and numerous other manifestations and characters of the oppressed are resilient individuals. It is essential that we understand the complexity of the past and the present to evolve our understanding of the conflict, not merely to appreciate its involvement, but also to contribute positively to its resolution.
The Palestinian narrative has either been denied any meaningful access to the media or tainted through the very circles that propped up and sanctified Israel’s image as an oasis of democracy and a pivot of civilization.
In recent years, however, things began to change thanks to developments such as the Internet and various global civil society movements. Although it has yet to reach a critical mass or affect a major paradigm shift in public opinion, these voices have been able to impose a long-neglected story that has been seen mostly through Israeli eyes.
A narrative that is centered on the stories reflecting history, reality and aspirations of ordinary people will allow for a genuine understanding of the real dynamics that drive the conflict. These stories that define whole generations of Palestinians are powerful enough to challenge the ongoing partiality and polarization. The fact is Palestinians are neither potential “martyrs” nor potential “terrorists.”
They are people who are being denied basic human rights, who have been dispossessed from their lands and are grievously mistreated. They have resisted for over six decades and they will continue to resist until they acquire their fundamental human rights. This is the core of the Palestinian narrative, yet it is the least told story. A true understanding would require a greater exposure of the extraordinary, collective narrative of the “ordinary people.”
(Palestinian-American journalist, author, editor, Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) taught Mass Communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, and is Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle. Baroud's work has been published in hundreds of newspapers and journals worldwide and his books “His books “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion” and “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” have received international recognition. Baroud’s third book, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story” narrates the story of the life of his family, used as a representation of millions of Palestinians in Diaspora, starting in the early 1940’s until the present time.)