On anti-normalization, dialogue and activism

“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 are 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 [express 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.