A conversation on 'no normalisation' that we need to have

September 12, 2012
Sarah Benton

On anti-normalization, dialogue and activism

By Noam Sheizaf, +972
September 10, 2012

“Thanks, this was the most awful thing I have read in a long time. Going into fetus position.”

This was the reply I got on Twitter from a friend after posting the Facebook anti-normalization debate yesterday. The exchange between Palestinians from Jordan and Israeli activists was unpleasant for me to read as well. I posted it because I think we should deal with the things that shake or trouble us, and because I have witnessed similar conversations taking place lately – perhaps in a more civilized manner – in different forums, and not just online.

Here are some of my own thoughts on this issue, and on anti-normalization in general; though they are not very conclusive or well-organized:

Three out of the four Palestinians in the conversation expressed a complete and absolute rejection of the Israelis they were speaking with – all of whom are anti-Zionists, and to the best of my knowledge, supporters of a one-state solution. “The problem” was not that the politics of the Israelis was rejected but that their mere right to existence here was denied.

When asked for their political vision or solution, the Palestinians replied that the Jews should leave Palestine and go back to their native lands. Yet there are no “native lands.” By now, the Israeli identity and existence is as real as the American, Australian or Afrikaner. Take my case for example: my father was born in Basra, Iraq. My mother’s family (except for my grandfather) has lived in this land since the 19th century. When Palestinians talk about us “leaving Palestine,” what people like me hear is expulsion and annihilation. If there is anti-Semitism directed at Israelis, this is it.

But should we expect this kind of nuanced understanding from Palestinian refugees in Arab countries? Read this comment, which was posted this morning on this site by someone named Farouk:

This is to anti-Zionist Jews in Palestine (I am anti-normalization and dialogue with Zionists) who are disturbed by the views in that conversation. Even if you reject Zionism it does not change that you are in a position of massive power.

You are living on lands and homes stolen by force from Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland and since then have lived a life of non-stop misery and humiliation. You are benefiting from the crimes of Zionism, even if you had little choice in that.

Palestinians expelled since 1948 are in the total opposite position, their homeland has been taken from them and they mostly have lived in refugee camps with no citizenship, no rights, and are oppressed by other Arab states/gangs who don’t want them there.

Palestinians have been massacred by Lebanese factions in the 1970s and 80s (supported by Israel and Syrian regime), I live in Lebanon and know Palestinians in the refugee camps and how they’ve been abused by all Lebanese factions alongside Zionist invasions and massacres.

Palestinians were also expelled and massacred by Jordan in 1970 (again supported by Israel). They were expelled from Kuwait in 1991 because Arafat supported Saddam, from Libya in 1993 because Arafat signed Oslo. They were massacred by Iranian regime allies in Iraq War and are now being killed by both sides in the Syrian War. This is just a picture of what being Palestinian is like, you have no safety or security because of being expelled from your homeland, you always being treated horribly and can be expelled again or killed at any time. No one supports you. No one protects you. Simply because they are Palestinian.

Jews in Palestine cannot understand this and will never experience anything like it. Open your mind and see it from their side. They have suffered their entire lives because of the stealing of their homeland which you are living on yet they will be killed if they try to return. How can you demand that when Palestinians come into contact with you that they be nice and want to give you flowers when you are a citizen of the terrorist state that destroys their lives every day, that you live in their homeland they can’t return to even for a visit and you are benefiters from their suffering? Would you not feel rage if you were in their position? They are only human.

You are in the position of illegimate power and privilege, you have a responsible to accept that and to work to destroy that privilege you have. Palestinians do not owe you anything. You do not have the right to use some of them being angry at you as excuse to join with Zionists.

I believe that the existence of Israel is the cause of the war and hatred and after the state of Israel is put to an end (peacefully or not) that the hatred will reduce, and it is possible for the Jews, Muslims and Christians in Palestine to live together in a democratic state and I am opposed to expelling anybody as it is not justice.”

Farouk makes some very solid points, especially with regards to the feelings of Palestinian refugees.

Still, I hear this rejection of any form of Jewish existence here also from activists who are not refugees or not even Palestinians. And it’s not just the personal threat I sense that troubles me, but the feeling that the conversation is dominated by a fantasy of moving history backwards. Solutions are always political in their nature, and they bring into account changes that occurred over years and decades. Then again, when Israel expresses zero interest in any form of justice for the Palestinians, and ethnic expulsion continues, it is no surprise that Palestinians and some of their supporters would express total anger and frustration at the first Israeli they meet (and the second, and the third).

Within Israeli society, anti-normalization benefits the Israeli right – at least in the short term. Take the joint struggle for instance: I have read a well-articulated text by a leading Palestinian activist arguing that Israelis should not come to the protests in the West Bank, and instead demonstrate against the occupation in Tel Aviv. It showed a lack of understanding of political activism in Israel: Facing soldiers alongside Palestinians is the most radical thing an Israeli Jew can do; protesting in Tel Aviv, even getting arrested, is much easier and even well-received by the mainstream.

Radical anti-normalization plays also into the hands of those wishing to impose ethnic segregation in Israel and Palestine; it prevents the political transformation some Israelis experience when they engage in joint political action with Palestinians; and it is often used as “common sense” argument that the one-state Solution is impossible, because if Palestinians reject all forms of cooperation with Jews, how could they share a state with them? For these reasons, most Palestinian anti-normalization activist I know of support the joint struggle and other forms of ties with Israelis which are in the context of opposition to the occupation – yet I don’t know for how much longer this position will hold, given current trends.

At the same time, anti-normalization, in all forms, has the strange effect of keeping the conversation more honest.

At the end, I feel that what the recent Facebook conversation showed is the futility of any form of “dialogue” at this point in time. As long as the political issue remains unsolved, such contacts make both sides more angry and “extreme.” The heart of the matter [is] the issues on the ground – the occupation, the refugee problem – and when these are solved, or even when there are some real steps taken in the right direction, I believe that rhetoric and ideologies will change too, at least in the mainstream.

Some of the Israeli activists shared yesterday’s exchange on their Facebook walls, and interesting internal debates followed. I want to close with a comment posted by Israeli activist Tom Pessah (who is also an occasional contributor to +972):

Considering the reality of refugees after more than sixty years, I am always surprised that not everyone [expresses such opinions]… So there is no room for depression or for despair. Pessimism is an irresponsible position when it comes from those with the privileges. As a man, I have no right to feel pessimistic about women’s chances for equality… think of the people of Bil’in, who suffer tear gas, live bullets, fines and arrests every week, and don’t give up. If they can do it, we can stand an unpleasant exchange on Facebook.

The normalisation debate
Selected paragraphs from previous posts on  normalisation by Israeli Arabs and Jews. To read the whole article, click on the relevant headline.

Israel’s victory tools: trap Palestinians in warehousing and despair

Jeff Halper

It’s important because our conception with the left in Israel has always been that whatever the solution was, it had to be inclusive, like in South Africa. Now, there is a retreat from that. In other words, the alternative to the South African model is the Algerian one. Once you liberate Palestine you guys go back to to where you came from – you’re out of here. That is why I don’t think it is settler colonialism. There is no mother country. It isn’t like France where you could go back to France. Where are the Israelis going to go back to, especially now with all those new generations? It’s not being articulated, nobody is saying it. It’s being articulated under the rubric of ‘normalisations’.

Both sides can destroy, neither can make things happen
Ray Hanania
As you might imagine, I have been accused of “normalization” a lot. I talk to Jews. And visit Israel, and Palestine, as if there was nothing wrong. I did stand-up comedy with Israelis (not just Jews) and that angered a lot of extremists who still attack me every chance they get to this day.

I understand their attacks. I recognize they are incapable of achieving anything on behalf of the “Palestine cause” and that in attacking me, they are assuaging their guilt and failure. Israeli critics are the same. They can’t save Israel, either. Both sides are failures, in truth.

They can stop things but they can’t make things happen. They can destroy things but they can’t build anything. That’s one reason why Israelis have never achieved their dream state, and why Palestinians have never established their own state.

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

It is helpful to think of normalization as a “colonization of the mind,” whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with. Those who engage in normalization either ignore this oppression, or accept it as the status quo that can be lived with. In an attempt to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights, Israel attempts to re-brand itself, or present itself as normal — even “enlightened” — through an intricate array of relations and activities encompassing hi-tech, cultural, legal, LGBT and other realms.

A key principle that underlines the term normalization is that it is entirely based on political, rather than racial, considerations and is therefore in perfect harmony with the BDS movement’s rejection of all forms of racism and racial discrimination. Countering normalization is a means to resist oppression, its mechanisms and structures. As such, it is categorically unrelated to or conditioned upon the identity of the oppressor.

No to ‘normalisation’ will mean yes to apartheid
Aziz Abu Sarah

The anti-normalization movement plays into the hands of the state of Israel’s policy of separation. By refusing to engage and even on some level cooperate with Israelis, Palestinian anti-normalizers accept this policy.

Anti-normalization is one of the hottest topics in the Palestinian community, although very few people can define exactly what it should mean. It is a term that gained strength in the 1980s against accepting the status quo of the occupation. Those who supported anti-normalization then were concerned about the occupation becoming a secondary issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A growing number of Palestinians working for Israeli businesses, a lack of political vision or a strategy for ending the occupation and the absence of the Palestinian case from the international discourse were alarming trends for Palestinian activists.

However, since the Oslo Accords “normalization” has become an out-moded term, a catch-all argument against Israeli-Arab cooperative efforts and a cover for character assassination in Palestinian politics.

No talking! Israel-Palestine meetings blocked by drive against ‘normalisation’

Gershon Baskin

Many Palestinians, especially in activist civil society organizations, are tired of waiting. They believe they must do something to shock the system, to create an understanding that Palestinians are not willing to continue to live under full Israeli control forever. One of the steps they are taking is to boycott Israel and Israelis, including meetings with Israelis.

For some reason they have the misconception that meeting Israelis in workshops, seminars, conferences and other activities organized by peace organizations – Israeli or international – is a form of punishment or some kind of motivation to get those Israelis to work harder for ending the occupation and making peace.

Unfortunately these ideas are mistaken and misconstrued and are counter-productive. I have asked Palestinian friends who support this form of anti-normalization just how not talking to me will advance the cause of Palestinian statehood, an end to the occupation and peace with Israel. I have yet to find a supporter of anti-normalization who can answer that question.

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