To normalize or not to normalize. How much is too much or too little? There is an in between called compromise.It’s clear that the direction most Israelis and Palestinians are headed is away from peace and actions that might help end the conflict. When the brutality of the Israeli occupation increases, the thought of reaching out to negotiate seems incoherent. Yet despite the intensity of Israel’s Apartheid, war-crimes and oppression, we have to continue to apply strategies of non-violence and recognize that actions such as normalization are our only means of achieving Justice.
By Ray Hanania
Palestinians are in a box. Israel has now occupied Palestine for 67 years. The Israeli occupation has been characterized by violence and brutality, and by a form of Apartheid that one might describe as “smart.”
American Jews, who once led the fight for civil rights are now the driving force behind efforts to undermine civil rights when it comes to Israel. Palestinians who sought justice are now seeking equality not just in rights but as antagonists.
The oppression has created a despair and emboldened the extremists who argue that the only response to Israeli violence is Palestinian resistance, which includes violence. They argue effectively int he face of suffering that we can’t extend our hand in friendship to Israelis as long as they sit back and do nothing as their government occupies and brutalizes us. Yet, will confrontation, negative rhetoric and embracing a total boycott of Israel really help Palestinians achieve freedom? Or, will it just reinforce the conflict into perpetuity?
It’s OK to scream out at the injustices, the violence and the killings. It’s good to educate the world about Israel’s extremist actions and expose the lies of Israel’s high-priced propaganda. We must expose Israel’s injustices. But, that doesn’t mean we should give up on peace.
How hard do we resist in order to achieve equality. And, can we be equal if both sides so viciously injure the other. Can we really live together or have we created a generation where conflict is the lifestyle and peace is just a dream?
I always wonder if African Americans faced the same kind of dilemma. Did they have internal struggles between wanting to strike back at your foe in the same way that the foe strikes you? Did they distinguish between friend and foe on the other side, or was everyone on the other side the enemy?
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., advocated a form of non-violent resistance that brought on a huge wave of violence from Whites in America, and that took his own life. African Americans today in America are still not free, but they are more free?
Can we as human beings really be truly free? Can Palestinians and Israelis really achieve equality? Maybe eliminating racism completely is the impossible dream. Maybe erasing it as much as possible is all that humans can expect, even if they continue to strive for the 100 percent goal. 100 percent equality. 100 percent non-violence. 100 percent elimination of strife, suffering, oppression, violence hate.
I am not sure that we can honestly expect 100 percent of anything. It’s the lynchpin that holds the conflict together. I believe that the idea that we can achieve a perfect world, 100 percent of anything, is actually preventing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. As human beings, shouldn’t we accept the reality that 100 percent is impossible. And while we should strive for it, we need to accept the failure to achieve it. That our acceptance level of tolerance should be somewhere between 80 and 100 percent? Or, should we bring the bar down to 75 percent? Where is that line is the real conflict not just between Palestinians and Israelis, but among ourselves.
It’s called the battle of normalization. Is normalization good or bad? How much does acting like a good human being contribute to the continuation of injustice? At what point do we stop being good human beings and live behind a shield and sword of resistance? Is there a line?
Writer Rifat Odeh Kassis offers a classic explanation of why Normalization is wrong at the website of the informative International Middle East Media Center (IMEMC). Though I disagree with it, reading it might help you better understand the issues of normalization and why so many activists believe opposing normalization is “the only way.” Click here to read it.
I believe there is a line, a line that has been crossed by Palestinians and Israelis many times. The killing of children, for example, has no place in resistance. Palestinians and Israelis have both intentionally murdered children during this conflict. For every Ma’alot there is a Shujaiya, Gaza Strip.
That’s why the Rev. Martin Luther King’s concept of achieving freedom is so important. Non-violence means non-violence. In otherwords, there is no instance were violence is justified. Non-violent resistance is not the same as resistance.
Is this conflict about egos and vanity? Do people on both sides put their own needs above the needs of society or the national needs?
When an Israeli soldier beats you, or beats someone close to you, or beats someone like you who you don’t even know, what should your response be? And when this kind of conduct continues not just days or weeks, but months and years, do you change your response?
Violence from an oppressor never justifies violence from the victims. But it doesn’t stop there.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King spoke about non-Violence, he was also speaking about “non-Hate.” In other words, it’s not enough to embrace non-violence. You also have to reject hate. To fight racism, you can’t be racist. To fight hate, you can’t be hateful. To fight violence, you can’t be violent. Even if everyone else around is.
I believe that there can be a peace. I believe in the “Two-State Solution” as the only real goal. I believe that it could result in a situation where both sides one day come together and live together as one, in some form of “One State.” I know that’s what the Palestinian foes of Two-State’s argue, that Two-States will one day mean One-State. But I also know that the Israelis have the same logic. They believe that rejection of peace and Two-States will one day also mean One-State for them, a state devoid of non-Jews. They want a Jewish Israel where non-Jews don’t exist.
That won’t happen for either side. Yet, the hatred that is necessary to believe in either has a moral price that is too high for any righteous human being.
Palestinians need to continue their struggle for freedom. They need to continue to expose the extremism in Israel. They must boycott that which is wrong. A BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) is necessary. But in all of this, 100 percent is the formula for failure not success. Striving for 100 percent is the problem. Finding the acceptable point below that impossible goal is the challenge.
“Normalization 100” percent is wrong. But normalization among people who share a common decency and a respect for the Rule of Law is good.
You can stand up to Israeli oppression by singling out the leadership of Israel, and still embrace Israelis who support justice, too. Normalization shuts those pro-justice Israelis and Jews out. Examples of great organizations fighting for civil rights justice with facts and information include the human rights organizations B’Tselem and Adalah? They are the most effective voices for human rights, B’Tselem is Jewish and Adalah is Palestinian. Is it normalization for Palestinians to work with B’Tselem, or Israelis to work with Adalah?
And how can we make normalization the battle ground when our goal is peace? In other words, is it wrong for Palestinians and Israelis who believe in peace and justice to not work together? Or, must they swear allegiance to reject their own until 100 percent is achieved?
I support BDS, but I support a BDS focused on what is wrong, not what is right. I support boycotting Israeli policies that violate human rights and the Rule of Law, but not Israeli policies that are just. I support working with Israelis to end the conflict and working with Palestinians and Israelis who reject violence.
[Some extremist critics claim because I support two-states and compromise, that makes me a “Palestinian Zionist.” But that is just a distraction from their own failures and their rejection of democracy and their intolerance of freedom and debate. Those who attack people personally and reject debate and tolerance are as sick as are the Israeli settler terrorists!]
We can and must speak out against those who embrace extremism on both sides. In Illinois, two legislators have bullied through a law that punishes people for “boycotting Israel.” State Sen. Ira Silverstein and State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz are extremists because they define “Israel” both as the state that exists and the illegal settlements that are founded on the destruction of the human rights of non-Jews, by Israel. In other words, we also have to be able to see when the enemy also uses strategies to embrace injustice by mixing it with justice.
The Israeli settlements are havens for hatred, extremism and terrorism. A price must be paid for the settlements, either to destroy them or exchange them. We know that’s the only real solution among human beings who are far from perfect and never 100 percent. We need to compromise, not be reticent and reject peace like Silverstein and Feigenholtz have done. They are just symbols though of what is wrong in our society, good people who do bad things because of extremist rejection of peace and justice.
I support normalization knowing it has limits on both ends. I don’t know exactly where the line is drawn but I know that 5 percent is not good and 95 percent is too much. Compromise is what the Rev. Martin Luther King advocated. He taught that we must not only see those who oppress us as human beings, too, but we must also see ourselves as being human beings. We must act like good human beings even when the other side doesn’t always act with righteous intent.
Instead of resisting normalization, and compromise, we have to resist racism, hatred and violence. He we have to resist the temptation to be vindictive for the sake of personal satisfaction and fight anger. We need to see hope through the despair. I know it is not easy.
But if it were easy, this conflict would have ended long ago. The fact that it is now 67 years, though, doesn’t mean it should not end. But it also doesn’t mean that we should forget about injustice. We do need to compromise and accept the past for what it is, something to be remembered, not something to be used as a tool to prevent justice moving forward.
Palestinians and Israelis can have peace together. We just need commonsense and a recommitment to what is right, what is just and what is fair.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. He began writing in 1975 publishing The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues as Special US Correspondent for the Arab News ArabNews.com, at TheArabDailyNews.com, and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel, Houston Chronical, and Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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