No to 'normalisation' will mean yes to apartheid

What is normal about normalization?

By Aziz Abu Sarah, +972

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.

When it comes to Arab countries and Israel, normalization is commonly understood as any relationship or ties between an Arab country with the state of Israel. However, some would accuse an Arab who visits Jerusalem of normalization, even if he did not meet any Israelis on his trip. That also means that visiting occupied East Jerusalem could be considered normalization. The same goes for meeting with Israelis for any reason, anywhere in the world, which can result in an Arab being labeled as a normalizer.

In Palestine, there are many definitions for normalization – it seems there are as many definitions as there are Palestinians themselves. Some Palestinians would define normalization as any contact whatsoever with Israelis or even Jews, regardless of their political stances. They would describe joint protests in the West Bank against the separation wall or settlements as normalization, and refuse to take part in them.

Others define it as contact with the official institutions in Israel, or any cooperation with people who work in these institutions. Joint work or attendance at events featuring Israeli academics who have been outspoken against the occupation could also result in accusations of normalization.

Perhaps the most confusing definition of normalization is any contact with Israelis who do not recognize the occupation, and are not actively working for the freedom of Palestinians. But this definition is problematic because the interpretation of it has led to different conclusions.

As an intellectual exercise, consider a Palestinian activist who meets Israelis in order to describe to them the effect of occupation on his life. Is he a normalizer? What if the meeting is with right-wingers, or even soldiers? What about a joint meeting between Israelis and Palestinians who support a bi-national state or a confederation? Many people who engage in these kinds of activities are labeled normalizers.

Organizations like the Parents Circle, Combatants for Peace and others who speak to classes at schools in Israel and give students an introduction to the implications of the occupation and conflict on the Israeli and Palestinian communities could be labeled as normalizers by some of the definitions above. The Israeli Ministry of Education doesn’t share the anti-normalization notion and therefore has recently banned the Parents Circlefrom having Palestinians speak in Israeli schools.

Another example would be +972 Magazine, which is sometimes criticized for not having more Palestinian bloggers. Many Palestinian bloggers are hesitant to write on a site with Israelis for the fear of being painted as normalizers. They don’t want to be smeared by the anti-normalization campaign and lose their reputation.

There is nothing normal about these “normalization” activities. Writing about life under occupation on a magazine with Israeli writers is not normal. Speaking to classrooms about life in Palestinian cities is not normal. Meeting with Israelis in a dialogue group to discuss how to change the current status quo is not normal. Normalization better describes armchair critics who complain about the occupation without taking action. Normalization is pretending that Palestinians can end the occupation by ignoring Israelis.

It is sad that some anti-normalization activists are so focused on protesting “normalization” activities that they have forgotten to show up to protest against growing settlements in Jerusalem.

Instead of mobilizing Palestinians to protest a joint Israeli-Palestinian event, Palestinians should be mobilizing to increase the numbers of Palestinians protesting in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. It is ironic that many of the Palestinians constantly present at these protests are labelled “normalizers.”

East Jerusalem and the anti-normalization dilemma
Growing up in East Jerusalem, I was very active in the Fatah youth movement. I was an anti-normalization activist, and at that time, I opposed any dealings with Israelis. I attacked people for being normalizers, and I used my writings to taint peoples’ names for working with the “enemy.”

Years later, I have come to understand that this position was immature and blind. My high school, Al-Rashidiyeh, which was the only school my parents could afford, was supported by the Jerusalem municipality. My parents had to pay taxes to keep their residence in Jerusalem. My father was hospitalized for heart problems in an Israeli hospital, while I was telling others that talking to Israelis is an unforgivable sin.

The reality in Jerusalem is too complex for some anti-normalization activists to understand. When my brother Tayseer was killed by Israeli soldiers, we had to get a permit from the Israeli government to bury him in Jerusalem. However, some extreme activists would say we were normalizing with an Israeli institution.

Anti-normalization activists ignore the reality in places like Jerusalem. Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem work with or for Israelis in West Jerusalem. If they work in the West Bank, they could lose their Jerusalem residency on grounds that their center of life is outside Jerusalem. Should they quit their jobs and endanger their residency status? If so, why has this not been brought up by the anti-normalization movement in Jerusalem?

Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem use the Israeli health care system, pay taxes to Israel, and receive social security benefits. The anti-normalization movement is blind to these realities, and is unable to define itself because of the implications.

Now, I wonder how many of those who protested the Israeli Palestinian Confederation gathering at the Ambassador Hotel and the Palestine Israel Journal event at the Legacy Hotel are subscribed to these services from the state of Israel. Would that make their protest hypocritical?

Anti-normalization activists and separation policy
A few weeks ago, a group of Palestinian and international activists boarded Israeli buses in the West Bank, to highlight the separation policy implemented by the Israeli state. Their message was that they don’t accept being treated as inferior to Jews in the West Bank. They wanted to show that roads and buses for Israelis only is not an acceptable practice.

According to many of the definitions above, their actions would be considered acts of normalization. They wanted to ride Israeli buses supported by the Israeli government. They wanted to ride buses with settlers who confiscated their own lands. These activists could have been painted as supporters of integration with settlers and therefore normalizers. It is true that the overall goal of these activists was to highlight the separation policy in the West Bank, but the Palestinian activists’ challenge to it was implemented through a normalization action.

The anti-normalization efforts play into the hands of the separation policy that the state of Israel is implementing in the West Bank. By refusing to engage and even on some level to cooperate with Israelis, Palestinians accept the state separation policy, they accept segregation and then cry foul about the separation and segregation policies.

This is not to say that all cooperation with Israelis is good, there is a place for non-cooperation as a method of nonviolent resistance. However, a clear strategy must be drawn – not emotional reactionary behavior that leaves the definition of non-cooperation or normalization vague and broad. I myself practice some of these non-cooperation strategies which I cannot discuss due to an Israeli law.

Perhaps the most confusing argument against normalization is the one made by those who support a one-state solution, yet at the same time consider themselves anti-normalization. If one supports a bi-national state of Israelis and Palestinians living together with equal rights then the best way to achieve that is to increase contact between the two sides and not limit it. A bi-national state with two separate populations is an apartheid state, therefore, those against “normalization” and for one-state are advocating apartheid.

Supporters of a bi-national state shoot themselves in the foot by refusing to create a model to advocate for. Demonstrating how a bi-national state would function by working together would be much more effective in achieving their goal than disengaging from Israelis.

In effect, some anti-normalization activists actually enforce the Israeli government strategy of segregation. If Palestinians believe that the current Israeli government is turning the West Bank into a ghetto, then they should be challenging the policy and not reinforcing separation.

Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians recognizing the goal of ending the occupation is an important act. It is not IPCRI and other types of joint Palestinian-Israeli organizations that Palestinians should be fighting, as some campaigns in the West Bank have been focusing on. It is the occupation. We as Palestinians must rethink what is normal so that we can truly fight normalization, which is accepting the status quo without action. Israelis standing hand in hand with Palestinians for freedom and human rights are brothers in arms and there is nothing “normalizing” about that except common humanity.

What is normalization?

By PACBI, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, +972blog

A recent post on +972 addressed the matter of Israeli-Palestinian “normalization.” The text sparked a debate and raised many questions about the definition, implications and ethics of the term and its associated activities. After monitoring the discussion for some time, we thought it would be useful to post the following text, which explains what anti-normalization is according to the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) campaign against normalization. The article was initially published on October 31, 2011 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott.

In the Palestinian and Arab struggle against Israeli colonization, occupation and apartheid, the “normalization” of Israel is a concept that has generated controversy because it is often misunderstood or because there are disagreements on its parameters. This is despite the near consensus among Palestinians and people in the Arab region on rejecting the treatment of Israel as a “normal” state with which business as usual can be conducted. Here, we discuss the definition of normalization that the great majority of Palestinian civil society, as represented in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has adopted since November 2007, and elaborate on the nuances that it takes on in different contexts.

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.

We break down normalization into three categories that correspond to differences pertaining to the varied contexts of Israel’s colonial oppression and apartheid. It is important to consider these minimum definitions as the basis for solidarity and action.

1) Normalization in the context of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Arab world
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context “as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.”  This is the definition endorsed by the BDS National Committee (BNC).

For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, any project with Israelis that is not based on a resistance framework serves to normalize relations. We define this resistance framework as one that is based on recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and on the commitment to resist, in diverse ways, all forms of oppression against Palestinians, including but not limited to, ending the occupation, establishing full and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and promoting and advocating for the right of return for Palestinian refugees – this may aptly be called a posture of “co-resistance” . Doing otherwise allows for everyday, ordinary relations to exist alongside and independent of the continuous crimes being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. This feeds complacency and gives the false and harmful impression of normalcy in a patently abnormal situation of colonial oppression.

Projects, initiatives and activities that do not begin from a position of shared principles to resist Israel’s oppression invariably allow for an approach to dealing with Israel as if its violations can be deferred, and as if coexistence (as opposed to “co-resistance”) can precede, or lead to, the end of oppression. In the process, Palestinians, regardless of intentions, end up serving as a fig-leaf  for Israelis who are able to benefit from a “business-as-usual” environment, perhaps even allowing Israelis to feel their conscience is cleared for having engaged Palestinians they are usually accused of oppressing and discriminating against.

The peoples of the Arab world, with their diverse national, religious and cultural backgrounds and identities, whose future is more tangibly tied to the future of Palestinians than the larger international community, not least because of continued Israeli political, economic and military threats on their countries, and the still-prevalent and strong kinship with the Palestinians, face similar issues with regards to normalization. So long as Israel’s oppression continues, any engagement with Israelis (individuals or institutions) that is not within the resistance framework outlined above, serves to underline the normality of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid in the lives of people in the Arab world. It is, therefore, imperative that people in the Arab world shun all relations with Israelis, unless based on co-resistance. This is not a call to refrain from understanding Israelis, their society and polity. It is a call to condition any such knowledge and any such contact on the principles of resistance until the time when comprehensive Palestinian and other Arab rights are met.

BDS activists may always go above and beyond our basic minimum requirements if they identify subcategories within those we have identified. In Lebanon or Egypt, for instance, boycott campaigners may go beyond the PACBI/BNC definition of normalization given their position in the Arab world, whereas those in Jordan, say, may have different considerations.

2) Normalization in the context of the Palestinian citizens of Israel
Palestinian citizens of Israel – those Palestinians who remained steadfast on their land after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 despite repeated efforts to expel them and subject them to military law, institutionalized discrimination, or apartheid  – face an entirely different set of considerations. They may be confronted with two forms of normalization. The first, which we may call coercive everyday relations, are those relations that a colonized people, and those living under apartheid, are forced to take part in if they are to survive, conduct their everyday lives and make a living within the established oppressive structures. For the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as taxpayers, such coercive everyday relations include daily employment in Israeli places of work and the use of public services and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals. Such coercive relations are not unique to Israel and were present in other colonial and apartheid contexts such as India and South Africa, respectively. Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be rationally asked to cut such ties, at least not yet.

The second form of normalization is that in which Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have to engage as a requirement of survival. Such normalization might include participation in international forums as representatives of Israel (such as in the Eurovision song competition) or in Israeli events directed at an international audience. The key to understanding this form of normalization is to consider that when Palestinians engage in such activities without placing them within the same resistance framework mentioned above, they contribute, even if inadvertently, to a deceptive appearance of tolerance, democracy, and normal life in Israel for an international audience who may not know better. Israelis, and the Israeli establishment, may in turn use this against international BDS proponents and those struggling against Israeli injustices by accusing them of being “holier” than Palestinians. In these instances, Palestinians promote relations with mainstream Israeli institutions beyond what constitutes the mere need for survival. The absence of vigilance in this matter has the effect of telling the Palestinian public that they can live with and accept apartheid, should engage Israelis on their own terms, and forgo any act of resistance. This is the type of normalization that many Palestinian citizens of Israel, along with PACBI, are increasingly coming to identify and confront.

3) Normalization in the International Context
In the international arena, normalization does not operate all that differently and follows the same logic. While the BDS movement targets complicit Israeli institutions, in the case of normalization there are other nuances to consider. Generally, international supporters of BDS are asked to refrain from participating in any event that morally or politically equates the oppressor and oppressed, and presents the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis as symmetrical. Such an event should be boycotted because it normalizes Israel’s colonial domination over Palestinians and ignores the power structures and relations embedded in the oppression.

In all these contexts, “dialogue” and engagement are often presented as alternatives to boycott. Dialogue, if it occurs outside the resistance framework that we have outlined, becomes dialogue for the sake of dialogue, which is a form of normalization that hinders the struggle to end injustice. Dialogue, “healing,” and “reconciliation” processes that do not aim to end oppression, regardless of the intentions behind them, serve to privilege oppressive co-existence at the cost of co-resistance, for they presume the possibility of coexistence before the realization of justice. The example of South Africa elucidates this point perfectly, where reconciliation, dialogue and forgiveness came after the end of apartheid, not before, regardless of the legitimate questions raised regarding the still existing conditions of what some have called “economic apartheid.”

Two Examples of Normalization Efforts: OneVoice and IPCRI
While many, if not most, normalization projects are sponsored and funded by international organizations and governments, many of these projects are operated by Palestinian and Israeli partners, often with generous international funding. The political, often Israel-centered, framing of the “partnership” is one of the most problematic aspects of these joint projects and institutions. PACBI’s analysis of OneVoice , a joint Palestinian-Israeli youth-oriented organization with chapters in North America and extensions in Europe, exposed OneVoice as one more project that brings Palestinians and Israelis together, not to jointly struggle against Israel’s colonial and apartheid policies, but rather to provide a limited program of action under the slogan of an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state, while cementing Israeli apartheid and ignoring the rights of Palestinian refugees, who compose the majority of the Palestinian people. PACBI concluded that, in essence, OneVoice and similar programs serve to normalize oppression and injustice. The fact that OneVoice treats the “nationalisms” and “patriotisms” of the two “sides” as if on par with one another and equally valid is a telling indicator. It is worth noting that virtually the entire political spectrum of Palestinian youth and student organizations and unions in the occupied Palestinian territory have unambiguously condemned normalization projects, such as OneVoice.

A similar organization, though with a different target audience, is the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which describes itself as “the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of ‘two states for two peoples’. IPCRI “recognizes the rights of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people to fulfill their national interests within the framework of achieving national self-determination within their own states and by establishing peaceful relations between two democratic states living side-by-side.” It thus advocates an apartheid state in Israel that disenfranchises the indigenous Palestinian citizens and ignores the UN-sanctioned right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Like OneVoice, IPCRI adopts the ubiquitous “conflict paradigm” while ignoring the domination and oppression that characterize the relationship of the Israeli state with the Palestinian people. IPCRI conveniently neglects a discussion of the roots of this “conflict,” what it is about, and which “side” is paying the price. Like OneVoice, it glosses over the historic record and the establishment of a settler-colonial regime in Palestine following the expulsion of most of the indigenous people of the land. The defining moment in the history of “the conflict” is therefore not acknowledged. The history of continued Israeli colonial expansion and the dispossession and forcible displacement of Palestinians is conveniently ignored, as well. Through IPCRI’s omissions, the organization denies the resistance framework we have outlined above and brings Palestinians and Israelis into a relation privileging co-existence over co-resistance. Palestinians are asked to adopt an Israeli vision of a peaceful resolution and not one that recognizes their comprehensive rights, as defined by the UN.

Another disturbing, but again entirely predictable, aspect of the work of IPCRI is the active involvement in its projects of Israeli personalities and personnel implicated in Israeli violations of the Palestinian people’s rights and grave breaches of international law. IPCRI’s Strategic Thinking and Analysis Team (STAT), includes, in addition to Palestinian officials, former Israeli diplomats, former Israeli army brigadier generals, Mossad personnel and senior staff of the Israeli National Security Council, many of them reasonably suspected of committing war crimes.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the desire to end the “conflict,” and the desire to realize “a lasting peace,” both of which are slogans of these and similar normalization efforts, has nothing to do with obtaining justice for Palestinians. In fact, the term “justice” has no place on the agenda of most of these organizations; neither can one find clear reference to international law as the ultimate arbiter, leaving Palestinians at the mercy of the far more powerful Israeli state.

An Israeli writer’s description of the so-called Peres Center for Peace, a leading normalization and colonial institution, may also well describe the underlying agenda of IPCRI and almost all normalization organizations:

“In the activity of the Peres Center for Peace there is no evident effort being made to change the political and socioeconomic status quo in the occupied territories, but just the opposite: Efforts are being made to train the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and prepare it to survive under the arbitrary constraints imposed by Israel, to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews. With patronizing colonialism, the center presents an olive grower who is discovering the advantages of cooperative marketing; a pediatrician who is receiving professional training in Israeli hospitals; and a Palestinian importer who is learning the secrets of transporting merchandise via Israeli ports, which are famous for their efficiency; and of course soccer competitions and joint orchestras of Israelis and Palestinians, which paint a false picture of coexistence.”

The normalization of Israel – normalizing the abnormal – is a malicious and subversive process that works to cover up injustice and colonize the most intimate parts of the oppressed: their mind. To engage in or with organizations that serve this purpose is, therefore, one of the prime targets of boycott, and an act that BDS supporters must confront together.

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