Caroline Brand | A race against the word count

A Brand You Can Trust | Why the DP is an inadequate forum for discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

· December 10, 2013, 9:02 pm   ·  Updated December 11, 2013, 12:51 am

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Caroline Brand
A Brand You can Trust

You wouldn’t send a cover letter via text message to a job recruiter.

Yet frequently, Penn students attempt a written exercise through a medium equally as unfitting: expressing their views on the Arab-Israeli conflict in a mere 700-word opinion column.

Most of these articles acknowledge that the conflict is “nuanced,” but after glossing over this point, they still try to cram their thoughts on a subject that spans almost 3,000 books in Van Pelt into half a newspaper page.

After attempting to do this last January, I now realize that trying to make a reasoned argument about the conflict in 700 words can lead to blatant inaccuracies through omissions and corner-cutting.

Furthermore, both sides have spread propaganda and exaggerated or downplayed various events in order to meet a wide variety of goals. Sifting through narratives, which are often a melange of fact and fiction, in order to glean hard facts requires pages, not paragraphs.

Consider the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, a small village near Jerusalem. During the height of the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic, Zionist military forces attacked the village, killing approximately 100 people.

For decades, massacres like this one were denied. However, as part of the ongoing peace process, the Israeli and Palestinian education ministries have made attempts to publish more accurate textbooks that acknowledge the other side’s story and the use of myths in nation-building.

Now, the occurrence of the massacre is no longer in question — but specific details remain disputed. For example, many sources claim that rape and pillage occurred during the massacre, adding to its brutality.

Last semester, I attempted to uncover the truth as to whether Palestinian women were raped during the massacre. Whenever a book claimed that rape occurred, I traced its footnotes back as far as possible. Oftentimes, footnotes would lead me through five different books before I reached a primary source.

My research revealed that both Israelis and Palestinians initially asserted that rape occurred, but shortly thereafter, both parties reneged on these claims. Originally, Israelis hoped to scare individuals in neighboring villages into fleeing, and Palestinians aimed to discredit Zionist forces and draw the support of other Arab nations.

However, Israelis then realized they were destroying the state’s reputation, and Palestinians felt they were embarrassing their wives and daughters for the purposes of propaganda. Witnesses began stepping forward to rectify the false testimonies.

Furthermore, a researcher conducted extensive interviews with surviving villagers and could not find anyone who had been raped nor anyone who had even heard of instances of rape. A medical examination of the corpses revealed the same conclusion. It was as if this idea had been pulled out of thin air.

Once something is ingrained into a narrative, it cannot simply be removed.

There are still many sources claiming that rape did occur — and many sources that quote these sources. Most do not bother to trace the evolution of the story through footnotes or examine the use of myths.

Thus it is extremely problematic when a DP column attempts to credit or discredit one side or the other based on prior events. Both parties have used myths and propaganda extensively throughout the conflict, and it is difficult to disentangle the exaggerations from the facts.

As professor Ian Lustick said in an email, only by striving to be factually accurate — a task that takes far more than 700 words — can we appreciate “how far the battle-worn slogans that pass for ‘conversation’ … are from the tangled web of tragedy, lies, betrayals, schemes, desperation, myths and struggles remembered as heroic, that comprise the real ‘back-story.’”

Paradoxically, in attempting to educate our peers about specific events in the Arab-Israeli conflict through a short column, we are actually doing them a great disservice by proffering an overly simplistic view of what happened.

If we want to promote an educated outlook on the conflict, we need to stop cramming layers upon layers of narratives into these short bites.

This conflict represents a critical part of history, and its continued discussion and the exchange of opinions is imperative for facilitating the evolution of our viewpoints.

This venue, however, is not conducive to a reasoned discussion. Instead, we should grab a mug of coffee and a few friends and sit around a table where our words can flow endlessly.

Caroline brand is a College senior from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Her email address is cbrand@sas.upenn.edu. Follow her ?@CBrand19. “A Brand You Can Trust” usually appears every other Thursday.

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