Anti-Normalization Is a Threat to Peace and Understanding
A few years ago, I was in the West Bank, in the South Hebron Hills. It’s a rugged, barren, and rocky land, home to some 70,000 Palestinian shepherds and farmers, mainly living in tents and caves. While there, I had the chance to visit the headquarters of a group called Comet ME. As they say in their annual report, “Comet-ME is an Israeli-Palestinian organization providing renewable energy and clean-water services to off-grid communities in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territories. We are a joint initiative of Israelis and Palestinians who believe that barriers of hostility can be overcome by working shoulder to shoulder toward a common cause, to build a better future for our peoples.”
On a later trip to South Hebron, I visited one of the residents. I’ll call him Jamal; he and his family live in a tent, typical of dwellings in the area. It’s a challenging existence. But thanks to Comet ME, there are improvements. As we sat drinking tea, I noticed a small flat screen TV on one wall. There was clean running water and a bathroom with a toilet and sink. They had cell phones and Internet access. They talked to friends on WhatsApp.
Israelis and Palestinians working together to improve marginalized communities. What’s not to like? Well, if the Palestinian anti-normalization movement had its way, Jamal would be living in a dark tent with no electricity and no running water. You see, according to anti-normalization dogma, people-to-people projects like Comet ME — even those that accuse Israel of “occupation” — must be shut down, because they only serve to legitimize the Jewish state.
As Palestinian analyst Yara Hawari explains, “Anti-normalization signifies Palestinians’ refusal to participate in projects, events, or activities that promote the notion that Israel is a legitimate entity which would, in turn, normalize the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed.” Thus, Joel Braunold and Huda Abuarquob write in Haaretz, “The only joint programs anti-normalization advocates condone are those that support resistance or protest. All others, they believe, undercut the Palestinian national struggle.”
In other words, all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians must be premised on an acknowledgment that the Palestinian position is correct. This includes the claim that five million Palestinian refugees have the right to eliminate the Jewish state by “returning” to land inside the Green Line. Thus, Jewish Israelis must agree that their state is illegitimate before any dialogue starts. This is one of the core tenets of the anti-normalization movement.
Anti-normalization advocates have been known to use violence to make their point. For example, Al-Quds University Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi had his car torched after he took a group of Palestinian students to visit the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an article about the episode, he writes: “Nine political student organizations on campus issued a public statement against me titled ‘Normalization = Treason.’ Students demonstrated against me on campus and delivered a letter to my secretary threatening to kill me if I returned to teach at the university.” He left shortly thereafter.
Anti-normalization advocates are not a splinter faction. They are in league with established leaders like Omar Barghouti, who helped organize the BDS movement. And the two movements share the same basic tenets. That includes rejection of joint projects that might lead Israelis and Palestinians to see each other as worthy human beings. For example, Barghouti has written: “Seemingly innocent activities with noble aims are increasingly used, sometimes with good intentions and often without, to give the impression that if Palestinians and Israelis jointly work on scientific, environmental, cultural, or health projects, they somehow make peace more possible or more attainable. Nothing could be further from the truth.” That’s because such projects “deliberately disregard the context of colonial oppression and deceivingly imply the possibility of achieving peace without addressing the root causes of the conflict.”
And again, as Barghouti sees it, the biggest root cause is the Jewish state’s refusal to recognize itself as illegitimate.
In the end, anti-normalization advocates are so intent on delegitimizing Israel, that they’re willing to deprive their own people of a decent life if that’s what it takes. It’s one more case of ordinary Palestinians getting betrayed by the “thinkers” and “leaders” who purport to speak on their behalf.
Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer, and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.