Published in The Express Tribune
In Judeo-Christian belief, Goliath is a giant, a warrior, and an oppressor of David’s people. In the books of Samuel, before the Israelites and the Philistines do battle, David and Goliath meet each other in single combat. A young boy, David is outmatched; Goliath brings shield, spear, and (ranging from scripture) six to nine feet of human height with him.
But David wins. He fires a stone from his sling, and the giant falls. Goliath similarly appears in the Qur’an’s Surah al-Baqarah as Jalut, felled by Dawood, ‘But those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: “How oft, by Allah’s will, hath a small force vanquished a big one?”’
Yes, David versus Goliath is the story of victory against all odds: that with enough faith, our hero can fight enemies bigger, stronger and fiercer — and persevere. It only follows that, thousands of years later, the star of David would become one with the story of David.
Ever since creation, the State of Israel has seen itself as David, projected itself as David, and warned of the many Goliaths that have tried eating it since birth. Thus far, it’s been a winning play — helping Israel drown violence in victimhood from Day Zero. But people tire of the same trick.
To humour the believers, let’s look at the stats. Hours after it declared independence in ‘48, Israel was invaded by five Arab armies — a David born, it would seem. Reality tells us Israel fought with thousands more troops, far better weapons, and deft command and control.
Still, we can excuse a state its founding myths. All of us have them. The trouble is, the David myth doesn’t stop at its founding. Not in ’56 or ’67 or ’73 — wars Israel won with pure brute strength, not guile or grit. The kind of strength needed, Tel Aviv says (changing tack), to fight a mindset. Hasn’t the Arab Goliath long called for crushing Israel?
But it is a cold, hard, sad fact that the Arab armies were motivated more by a free-for-all land grab in ‘48 — at the expense of the Palestinians — than destroying the world’s only Jewish state. It is as much a fact that Israel started ’67, losses that Assad and Egypt tried (and failed at) regaining in ‘73. Invading Israel, let alone destroying it, was never on the agenda.
Time has only gone to show that, if Israel be David, the Arab armies be dwarves. Today, the I.D.F. is the Middle East’s supreme being, Egypt and Jordan are officially at peace, and Iraq and Syria are too busy falling in on themselves. The Arabs are spent.
Hence the Iranians. But try as Binyamin Netanyahu does, the world has yet to accord Iran super villain status: the Persian Goliath 2.0. Because Iran has yet to invade Israel, yet to threaten invading Israel, and yet to build the bomb Israel’s already built.
Which brings us to the single least threatening, single most vulnerable nation in the neighbourhood: the Palestinian people, and the current conflict that tears them limb from limb. Stuck in a prison camp (a city that will be unlivable by 2020), a people without a land, killed in a war they never started, the Palestinians are hostages in hell. In the last op-ed on this subject, the death toll was at 150. In over a week, that number has risen to 1,060 — Israel’s from 0 to 43. Just the number is stunning; one thousand-and-sixty, over 50 Palestinians a day, the vast majority civilian.
But Israel still screams wolf; seeing Goliaths in dead women and children. As Noura Erakat’s recent expose uncovers, ‘Israel’s propaganda machine insists that these Palestinians wanted to die (“culture of martyrdom”), staged their own death (“telegenically dead”) or were the tragic victims of Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes (“human shielding”)’.
And Israel’s major cue card — that Hamas uses civilians as human shields — is yet another lie. It’s only been Israeli soldiers who have tied young Palestinians on the hoods of their cars, or forced them into militants’ hiding places.
At the time of this writing, the pain is on pause. The State of Israel has graciously allowed for a truce in view of Eid-ul-Fitr — allowing the Palestinians 24 hours to stock up on supplies and pull bodies out from under the rubble. The I.D.F. will resume momentarily, killing more boys on beaches.
So, where is the hope in all this? How long might an overpowered, overfunded apartheid state claim the mantle of David?
For that, we may have to look across an ocean. Footing $154 billion as of 2005, Washington’s love for Israel runs deep and unconditional. But mainstream America is changing.
Not yet where it matters, of course. Congress may have sunk to binary bands of name-calling and finger-pointing, but it still agrees to agree on Israel. The religious establishment is also unmoved: for the Second Coming to happen, the evangelicals say, the Jews must resettle in Palestine. Ironically, Christ then returns, end-times ensue, and nonbelievers are clapped out of existence. As Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg put it, the Christian fundos ‘love us as characters in their story, in their play [… and] it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act’. But that’s another story.
The heartening story is perception. America’s largest Presbyterian denomination has voted to divest from companies Israel uses to occupy Palestinian territory (like weaponising Caterpillar bulldozers). Last week’s Gallup poll shows a widening split between America’s old and young, a 26-point majority of 18-29-year-olds deeming Israel’s actions unjustified. That will spell serious long-run consequences.
And for the first time ever, Israel is losing the media war — Bibi’s sleek infographics can’t compare with the unfiltered anguish pouring in from Gaza.
But let’s not kid ourselves — Israeli aggression may only be curtailed by Western repulsion. And they’re closer than we are: protests in Paris and London outstrip any by the Arab world, while Pakistan seems to prefer flying flags at half-mast than retaining real-life foreign ministers.
Until then, Israel will continue masquerading as David; the Goliath that survived.