The Use of the David and Goliath narrative in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A 2012 Masters thesis by Karey Ann Sabol examines articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers that contained references to the David and Goliath narrative. “Slingshots and Giants: The David and Goliath narrative as discourse in American news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (San Diego State University, 2012) examines the manner in which use of the biblical story “imprints a biblical framework on the public perception of the conflict”. The study also compares the use of the David and Goliath story in the 1967 six-day war with the First (1987-1993) and Second Intifada (2000-2005).

Intifada: David and Goliath

One of Sabol’s key conclusions is that

by imprinting a biblical frame on the conflict, use of [the David and Goliath and other biblical tropes] gives the impression that it is, at essence, a religious conflict, leaving little room for modern political solutions. In addition, by analogizing real people as archetypal characters, this type of media coverage oversimplifies their political identities, casting them as either victims or victimizers (good vs. evil) and decreasing the likelihood that the international community will respond once the more complex identities of these people are understood.

Sabol also observes the major change which occurred between the six-day war in 1967 and the First Intifada in the use of the David and Goliath narrative in the media:

Just as effortlessly as the narrative was used by American media in 1967 to describe an Israeli David surrounded by a sea of Arab Goliaths, it was applied in 1987 and 2000 to describe vulnerable Palestinians facing a well-armed Israeli giant.

Remnant of Giants notes that this reversal was already recognised by the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982:

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, 4 October 1982.

Sabol discerns that the imposition of a biblical narrative such as the David and Goliath story becomes problematic when the parties in the biblical story are equated with the modern parties in Palestine-Israel:

If, for example, the modern state of Israel is equated with the ancient Israelite community, the framework which emerges is one in which Israel, alone, possesses divine favor and rights to the land. Little room can be found for contemporary political solutions when ancient religious frames abound. Furthermore, biblical framing reinforces the perception that the conflict is, essentially, one of religion rather than a conflict between two modern, political entities vying for the same piece of territory.

Read her full dissertation here.

See also: Emanuel Pfoh and Keith W. Whitelam, eds., The Politics of Israel’s Past: The Bible, Archaeology and Nation-Building (Sheffield Phoenix Press, forthcoming 2013). And see Sheffield Phoenix’s news updates on their new Facebook page (h/t: Jim Davila).


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