Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Israeli David and Arab Goliath

Posted by NT Wrong on August 13, 2008

It’s not only sticks and stones that hurt our bones. The ‘David and Goliath’ metaphor has provided a powerful lens through which to view the Israeli-Arab conflict. Moreover, the metaphor has helped determine the way in which the Israeli-Arab conflict has developed in the real world.

“Israel’s partisans have worked hard to present the country as a tiny David facing a Goliath Arab military machine. In fact, however, virtually all experts—including the U.S. Department of Defence—believe the Israel Defense Forces have always been more than a match for their Arab neighbors.”
– Yahya M. Sadowski, Scuds or butter? : The political economy of arms control in the Middle East. Brookings Institution Press, 1993: 104.

“the Zionist Emergency Council and local Zionist groups provided the basic financial support for this Christian front, which soon, through local chapters and a budget of $150,000, was “crystallizing and properly channeling the sympathy of Christian America.” An effective speakers’ bureau dispatching lecturers across the country, supported by a monthly publication and other propaganda material, helped implant in Christian minds a picture of Israel as a “democratic little David taking on an evil Egyptian David.””
– Alfred M. Lilienthal, The Other Side of the Coin: An American Perspective of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Devin-Adair. 1965: 7.

“No simile better fits the war … than the legend of David and Goliath. David, of course, is little Israel, numbering less than 2.5 million souls. Goliath, of course, is the Arab world … a population of 20 to 40 million. … The Arabs and Communist representatives accused Israel of firing the first shots. [But] obviously, a nation that knows that it is in danger of stragulation will use its fists.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr, “David and Goliath” (Editorial). Christianity and Crisis 27.11 (26 June 1967): 141-142.

Political Stereotypes Israelis (Jews): Modern; western; having democratic orientations; good fighters; underdog; Israel as David facing an inept Goliath; trusted ally, and a true friend of the United States; a threatened party seeking and deserving peace and security in the midst of implacable enemies, etc.”
– media portrayal of Jews and Arabs, in Mohammed E. Ahrari, Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987: 9.

“In the official Zionist rendition of the 1948 war the events are presented as a battle between a Jewish David and an Arabic Goliath. Central to key narratives in Israeli culture is the myth which depicts the Israel-Palestine conflict as ‘a war of the few against the many’. Since the early twentieth century Zionist historiography has based this narrative of the ‘few against the many’ on the biblical account of Joshua’s conquest of ancient Palestine, while mainstream Israeli historians continue to portray the 1948 war as an unequal struggle between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath, and as a desperate, heroic, and ultimately successful Jewish struggle against overwhelming odds.”
– Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-Colonialism in Palestine-Israel. Zed Books, 2007: 56.

“The story of David and Goliath provided a reassuring myth of survival, not only because it told of the victory of the weak against the strong but also because the youthful victor of the battle against Goliath eventually emerged as the great ruler of ancient Israel, King David. By identifying with David, the Jews of both the pre-State and State periods could allow themselves to believe that they too would eventually achieve a high degree of political sovereignty, analogous to that of David in ancient times.”
– David C. Jacobson , Does David Still Play Before You?: Israeli Poetry and the Bible. Wayne State University Press, 1997: 84.

“the claim of “defenseless Israel facing the destruction of the Arab Goliath” does not correspond to historical facts. [Flapan] argues that Israel, on the eve of the “Arab invasion” had between 25,000 and 65,000 (low and high estimates) standing soldiers, while all the “Arab Goliath” had was 20, 269 to 23,500. By June of 1948, the Israeli fighting forces reached 41,000, and by December of the same year 96,441 ([Simha] Flapan[, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. Pantheon,] 1987: 194-199). Concealing this fact came to valorize the “national spirit” and show its “superior and just cause” compared to the “evil, unjust, and destructive Arabs.” Then, in this discourse, the powerful is presented as “defenseless” and the “defenseless” is presented as the “destructive Goliath.”
– Riad M. Nasser, Palestinian Identity in Jordan and Israel. Routledge, 2005: 51.

“The international phase of the 1948 war has been filtered through the David and Goliath iconography with regard to the size of opposing forces and belief that Israel was on the defensive – the war taken to be an unalloyed military necessity rather than an outgrowth of expansionist goals. Concerning the relative size of military forces, Ben-Gurion claimed that 700,000 Jews are pitted against 27 million Arabs – one against forty.” The Arab countries equally indulged in wild propaganda about the magnitude of their threat to Israel. For example, the secretary general of the Arab League declared: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre that will be spoken of like the Mongol invasions and the Crusades.” This hyperbole about Arab strength, coming from both Jews and Arabs, could not alter the fact that the Arab Goliath was suffering from extreme poverty, domestic discord and internal rivalries. Nearly all the Arab countries were in imminent danger of internal collapse.”
– Thomas A. Baylis, How Israel was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Lexington Books, 1999: 80-81.

“Arab intransigence. On one side, a few million Israelis. On the other side, twenty Arab countries with a population of 100 million. Through ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage, the beleaguered Jewish settlement in Palestine was able to forestall the attack of five Arab armies. David versus Goliath.”
– Summarising a media perception: William A. Gamson, Talking Politics. Cambridge University Press, 1992: 244.

“”The Auschwitz theme is back again,” says Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee. “The issue of Jewish survival is again at stake. You can’t have Judaism without Jews. The war assumes a metaphysical importance beyond the importance of individual Jewish lives.” Clifford A. Straus, who is organizing bond rallies in Miami, made the same point: “We’re scared as a people. How many times can David beat Goliath?” … The Chicago Civic Center was jammed with 5,000 people who applauded an enraged Mayor Richard Daley: “Go ahead, Israelites. Be sure to remove every Arab from the soil of Israel.””
– “A Unique Burst of Giving.” TIME Magazine, October 29, 1973.

“The relative sizes of Arab and Jewish populations have always been a serious concern, first to the early Zionists who sought in vain through Jewish immigration to build up a Jewish majority in Palestine, and later to Israel which has sought a larger population base to meet the threat implicit in the disproportionately Goliath-like Arab populations that surround it. But since 1967, the greatly disproportionate sizes of Israeli and Arab populations are only one part of the population problem. The new factor is the higher growth rate of the Arab population within Israel itself. For deriving from the conquests from the Six-Day War, the proportion of Palestinian Arabs to Jews within Israel’s new boundaries rose to a level that, if their higher growth rate continues, Palestinian Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel itself within a few decades, all other factors remaining constant.”
– Willard A. Beling, The Middle East: Quest for an American Policy. SUNY Press, 1976: 49.

“To the Arabs and the supporters of their cause, Israel is the Goliath, gigantic with American arms and money …”
– Ronald Segal, Whose Jerusalem?: The Conflicts of Israel. Cape, 1973: 11.

“In Washington, Ronald Reagan, by instinct a warm supporter of Israel, reflected that in the public perception, Israel had been transformed from the “David” to the “Goliath” of the Middle East.”
– William E. Smith, “Crisis of Conscience.” TIME Magazine, October 4, 1982.

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