Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Normalization pt. 2

The word normalization has been on everyone's lips around Israel and Palestine because almost two weeks ago, according to the Jerusalem Post, Fatah Declared War on Normalization With Israel.

Sulaiman showed me the JPost link and the comments that followed his posting of it on Facebook. I could tell by his mood that he considered this a positive development, so I don't remember what my own first impression was. Living in the West Bank, I understood normalization and the dilemma of it, but the reaction that trumped all was "THIS IS A PR NIGHTMARE." For one, the article was from the Jerusalem Post, for which I have few polite words. Secondly, the comments that followed this Facebook post were from mutual Israeli friends who were all alarmed at the news. The work they were doing in their reconciliation groups seemed to be going unappreciated by the Palestinian powers-that-be. Counterproductive....inciting....very, very unfortunate news. I had no way of reassuring them, I was just as confused about how this move was supposed to get anyone...anywhere.

Then I read the article:
"The Fatah leadership fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership."

Alright, so that was the beginning of my understanding. It isn't hard to believe that the Israeli government is better at exploiting the Palestinians than reconciling with them. But I still couldn't wrap my mind around the logistics, I saw a huge FREEZE sign, and no way around it. What was going to happen now?

Now Sulaiman has two phones, one Palestinian, one Israeli. They were both blowing up non-stop after this story. Israelis wanted to know what his take on the situation was, people from the Palestinian Authority as well, the reason being that he was quite squarely in the middle. He co-founded Combatants for Peace and did reconciliation projects, films, events with Israelis, but he was an ex-fighter, and an ex-prisoner, and thus had a lot of connections in Palestinian government, which employs a lot of ex-prisoners. This sounds strange, but most of my friends and adult students have been in prison, some for throwing stones during the Intifada, some for nothing at all.

Anyways, so Sulaiman was always on the phone, arguing in Arabic or Hebrew, and I knew it had something to do with the reconciliation projects he worked with. They needed to re-organize, and register with the government and get a permit before they get involved with Israeli groups. Ok, I'm starting to understand the logistics a little more, but it still doesn't sound right! It still sounds like we're discouraging dialogue, and that just sounds...bad.

So I was confused.

The next news article read thus: Israeli-Palestinian Event Cancelled Over Threats from Anti-Normalization Activists

One of the comments on this Facebook post read: Where is the international outcry protecting Palestinians right to have Freedom of Speech?????Yet another example of how no one sincerely cares about Palestinians (or any Arabs) if they can't blame Jews or America....

I found that comment rather annoying, but I still didn't have any answers. I also didn't have the time or energy to respond to someone who probably hasn't had many positive experiences with Palestinians or Arabs. That's not something you can tackle easily over Facebook.

So I asked Sulaiman, when we were driving somewhere, some day, after he'd hung up his phone, "what are you actually doing?" He was understanding to my misunderstanding, and explained his last phone call. And it finally made sense.

So, Sulaiman is the general director for a Palestinian organization for promoting dialogue and understanding, and they work especially with youth, in the realm of sports. One of their biggest partners throughout the years has been an Israeli NGO based in Tel Aviv. So they've been working closely together, bringing Palestinian and Israeli soccer players to Germany, Australia, etc....and this center, on the Israeli side, is able to help their Palestinian partners get travel visas. That sounds all well and good, but it's also where the problem arises. If the Israeli center doesn't want to plan its joint Israeli-Palestinian activities through Sulaiman's organization, they can find another group or individual to represent the Palestinian side, and in a lot of cases, the incentive is money or travel permits. So they can choose to work with Palestinians who are naive to politics and power, and are easily manipulated because they live under occupation. In the end, the image of this "equal" partnership brings millions in the Israeli side.

So in one sense, what Sulaiman has been doing is contacting the families of the program participants and withdrawing his organization's (and the government's) support while the Israeli center is going over their heads and working with people who aren't cleared by the government. So now, the participants are dropping like flies and the Israeli center is starting to freak out. One of Sulaiman's colleagues relayed his conversation with their liaison at the Israeli center, who asked, "what about Sulaiman? What is he doing? Doesn't he need permits?" to which his friend replied "Sulaiman knows a hundred organizations, he can take care of himself."

I told him that story was the only thing in this whole mess that made sense to me. His position isn't representative of Fatah or even a general consensus on normalization (not that there is one!) but it's the one that will probably stick, because it goes through the Palestinian Authority and the NGO's. The result being, this isn't the end of reconciliation meetings. But now there's a PA committee that's in charge of re-organizing the system, because all the groups need to be registered, and all the events need to be cleared in advance.

Anyways, this issue is getting horrendous press, so I felt it important to share that story. More to come, insh'allah...