North Africa, West Asia

Palestinian Jerusalemites leading Israelis towards normalisation

Normalisation holds an incredibly vague definition, and varies from one Palestinian to another. There are Palestinians, and Arabs in general, who do not truly understand the meaning of the word, yet they stamp it on any and all relations with Israelis.

Ali Ghaith
27 June 2018
PJLITowards Normalisation

Muammar Awad/guoyu/Xinhua News Agency/PA images. All rights reserved Since Israel formalised its annexation of East Jerusalem when it passed the Jerusalem Law in 1980, Palestinians have been enduring numerous repercussions that rendered their mere existence difficult. Their fundamental human rights have been compromised, and their sense of national identity has been relentlessly challenged. And although Israel considers Jerusalem to be unified, Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not feel they are part of the Israeli cohort, and never will be.

At many occasions, Palestinians voice their disapproval against the actions of the Israeli government, to which, they are faced with strict responses. House demolitions have increased in East Jerusalem, residency statuses have been revoked, and more stringent security measures have been exercised to suffocate the nationalism out of East Jerusalemites. And while one could see many youngsters retaliating when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upsurges its oppression in East Jerusalem, many others refrain from participating in any form of protesting on the streets or even on their social media accounts. It would be fair to say that Israel has been quite successful in desensitizing the sense of “Palestinian-ess” in the mind-set of the newer generation thus dramatically decreasing the number of activists in East Jerusalem.

Being an activist requires one to adopt a particular lifestyle that dictates their day-to-day activities, socializing sessions, and online presence. Being an activist who supports the Palestinian case and cause, demands one to fulfil the criteria mentioned above clandestinely, especially if they were residing in Jerusalem.  

The reason is due to the newfound understanding of the Israeli government, that by diminishing the numbers of Jerusalemite activists – who are witnessing first-hand the doings of the government – they would control the story delivered to the world regarding Jerusalem thus shifting the optics to their favor.

The majority of Palestinians in Jerusalem hold a temporary Israeli identification card where its holder needs to prove their center of life is Jerusalem. Vis-à-vis employment, there is a magnitude of Palestinian Jerusalemite youths – 18 years of age and above – saturating hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, senior-care centers, construction sites, and the Jerusalem Municipality. Usually, these Palestinians fill the minimum-wage positions, leaving decision-making posts to Israelis.

Nonetheless, there are others who choose to enter the Israeli working force from an alternative gateway; one that provides them with a new form of contact with Israelis in Jerusalem – not merely through serving them a hot cup of latte.

These well-meaning individuals, who got frustrated from the on-going conflict, have turned into the fields of Social Development and Conflict Resolution within Israeli organizations. Their motivation to pass the boundaries and work for what many other Palestinians consider “The Enemy”, stems from their internal need for stability. They are trying to hold on to their waning Palestinian national identity and defend it at many occasions, simultaneously they are fighting off their increasing affection towards the modern Israeli lifestyle they grew up within; a case of societal schizophrenia, one might say.

East Jerusalemites who follow this path, become the ultimate guides for Israelis, mostly leftists, and provide them with an insight on the Palestinian mind-set, translate texts in Arabic and sometimes recruit other Palestinians to join their respective organization. You would find these amiable Palestinians working in high-positions at Israeli organizations that claim to be working towards realizing peace and tolerance between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

This clan of Jerusalemites consider themselves the bridge between the conflicting parties. Although they have good intentions at heart because they are desperately aspiring to live a healthy life in Jerusalem, however, sometimes they fall into the trap of normalisation.

Those who decide to swim against the current risk their status within the Palestinian community. For, any interaction with Israelis in such organizations is deemed normalizing in the eyes of many Palestinians.

Normalisation holds an incredibly vague definition, and varies from one Palestinian to another. There are Palestinians, and Arabs in general, who do not truly understand the meaning of the word, yet they stamp it on any and all relations with Israelis. In my case, and after working in Journalism for a while, I had my confusions about the word because I could see different descriptions of it among the Palestinian people, which rendered me oblivious and frustrated. Until I came to understand that a normalizing person, views the notion of the conflict as obsolete and that Palestinians need to look towards a future that is more peaceful and harmonious. This act comes forth without acknowledging the facts of the past - at least from a Palestinian point of view.

I could understand this notion because I adopted it at some point when I got frustrated and unmotivated to think outside the political box and societal foiling; I was thinking to myself that we should move on and accept that the Israeli occupation has taken place and that we are the weaker link. That sense of psychological defeat rendered me submissive to the violations I had witnessed and experienced over the years.    

However, in a gradual turn of events, I came to realize that one should not shy from demanding their birth right of being respected and dignified. When I was hearing the statement of Mr. Donald Trump, the President of the United States, on December 6th 2017. I pondered upon his understanding regarding Israel being the most democratic country in the Middle East. I thought to myself: Yes, perhaps it is, in comparison to other Arab countries in the Middle East. On the other hand, I am living in Jerusalem, which Mr. Trump considers the capital of Israel, and I could testify along with the other Palestinian Jerusalemites that it is not democratic towards us at all.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem can deduce the anti-democratic sentiment towards them when the police or IDF soldiers profile them on the street, or at Ben Gurion airport. They notice that their Arabic language is not properly and comprehensively used at governmental institutions in Jerusalem, so they tend to hire lawyers to finalize their papers and submit them only due to the language barrier; tasks that Israeli civilians can usually perform single-handedly. The sentiment extends to other mundane tasks, such as the renewal of travel documents and IDs, where East Jerusalemites have to endure inhumane conditions while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior’s building to be admitted.

Being an activist requires one to adopt a particular lifestyle that dictates their day-to-day activities, socializing sessions, and online presence.

The heads of Israeli organizations in Jerusalem who wish to include Palestinians in their activities are not aware of the numerous difficulties East Jerusalemites face due to the Israeli occupation, however, they rely on their Palestinian guides to inform them. On the other hand, occasionally, these guides fail to disclose the pains of East Jerusalemites because they themselves were looking for a way out from the feeling of being disrespected, and have fully adopted the Israeli lifestyle, in addition to being shunned by their Palestinian community for being stamped as a normalizer, so they take on a different route.

They would still identify as Palestinian; however, they will start calling for Palestinians to take on responsibility for their situation and shed the cloak of victimization. Similarly, they would call for Palestinians to solve their internal issues and become mindful citizens before they can demand the cessation of occupation. A notion these guides utilize to show Israelis their just attitude. They also assume that both Israelis and Palestinians are on the same level, and both should be proactive in reaching the peace and justice Jerusalem needs; being the epicenter of the conflict.  

To the Israeli organizations, who are sometimes genuine about reaching out to the Palestinian society in Jerusalem, and who are ignorant of the internal context, the notion provided through their trusted Palestinian guides becomes the core of their work and the Palestinian story gets lost in the cracks and they would all fall into the normalisation pit.  

However, the leftist Israeli society members, being against all forms of injustices, including that which befalls the Palestinians precisely, fail to genuinely understand the Palestinian case and cause. The only type of understanding and knowledge they receive comes through the Palestinians of the abovementioned class. Therefore, their efforts in diffusing the adverse effects of their government on Palestinians go in vain. These Palestinian guides become –to the organization- the compass to their efforts. However, when the compass is rigged, directions become unreliable.

I am taking the liberty of describing the guidance of these Palestinians as rigged because they bring in their personal experience in navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and generalize their findings on the rest of Palestinians. Their cases are too specific which render their conclusions inapplicable.

For the Israeli employer, who has a genuine interest in being inclusive to Palestinians, they feel they had hit the jackpot by taking directions into the Palestinian society and mindset. They think they have a grasp on who Palestinians are, and start forming deluded perceptions on the Palestinian narrative.

I believe that this class of Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, partake in stigmatizing Palestinians, on the other hand, they aid in unknowingly leading these organizations into the abyss of normalization.

I am not against Palestinians working in high positions at Israeli companies and organizations; on the contrary I think it is crucial. However, one needs to be vigilant and deeply understanding of the vision and mission of the entity they work for. On the other hand, one needs to be professional enough not to apply personal notions to their work and deem them universal to all Palestinians. Because when a Palestinian is at a position where they represent other Palestinians, they need to transfer the information with no personal prejudice, especially against their own people, and convey the most accurate information of how Palestinians perceive the situation, and guide the Israeli counterpart correctly towards achieving a better understanding. And it is true that Palestinians need to inspect their actions within their societies, but occupation has proven, unquestionably, to be one of the main reasons for these actions to have surfaced in the first place.  

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