Ray Hanania: Getting Past ‘Normalization’

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Palestinians I meet always point to the Israeli occupation as the main stumbling block preventing them from achieving independence and improving their lives.

But on my latest trip to Palestine, I began to understand that an additional obstacle exists which many Palestinians are afraid to acknowledge.

Maybe because I was raised in America, or because I am a realist, I see this obstacle clearly: Palestinians are too focused on the past. Progress is impossible because Palestinians have chained themselves to what they call “normalization” – in reality a commitment against genuine normalization.

“Normalization” is the act of refusing to accept reality. Palestinian activists use “normalization” to keep Palestinians in line like sheep. Extremists pull the strings of suffering and frustration, throwing down the “normalization” card whenever a Palestinian tries to break free of mental bondage and address the reality of the Israeli occupation.

By working with Israelis, Palestinians argue, they might somehow undermine their rights or the struggle against the occupation.

Maybe Palestinians haven’t looked around, but they are dealing with Israelis in every circumstance, location and on every level humanly possible.

Earlier this year, a group of mostly Israelis involved in a movement called One Voice sought to organize an event that would showcase Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. Music. Speeches. And genuine normalization. Of course, the extremists spoke out against One Voice, and so did PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He reportedly spread the word that he did not support One Voice, and the plans for the music festivals were cancelled.

Now, I have my own issues with One Voice. The founder, Daniel Lubetzky, seems to be a Jewish version of a common ailment most often found in the Arab and Islamic world – a “president for life.” I have a problem with organizations built around individuals.

But Abbas didn’t trash One Voice because of Lubetzky’s leadership approach. Palestinian leaders from Fatah and Hamas are not against the concept of a tightly controlled organization. They thrive on it. But they are against anything that might allow Palestinians to start thinking outside of their self-imposed imprisonment.

As most know, Abbas’s son Tariq is the head of a Palestinian marketing firm called Sky. Tariq Abbas recently declared in a news interview that he didn’t believe it was possible to work with Israelis in the current situation. But what really shocks me is that Abbas’s son is involved in professional marketing. Why?

As a journalist and former executive for an American PR and marketing firm, I recognize that the Palestinians have no formal PR or marketing strategy whatsoever.

The dismal nature of this Palestinian failing in the communications arena is apparent throughout. Visiting the PA’s Ministry of Information a few years back, I was handed a business card from one of the officials that had an embarrassing error. The card did not identify him as a “public relations” specialist, but rather as a “pubic relations” specialist, an unfortunate typo. I didn’t have the heart to explain how stupid the card made him look.

During my latest trip through Palestine I worked closely with many Palestinian journalists, trying to help them find ways to navigate through this real tragedy of Palestinian immobilization.

All said they wanted to attend a journalism conference in which editors and reporters of several prominent Israeli newspapers were also scheduled to speak. But they said they were pressured to stay away.

“Normalization,” they said, means Palestinians are not yet ready to deal with Israelis as regular people. Only as enemies.

That didn’t stop many Palestinians from coming to my stand-up comedy performances, which featured myself, two Israeli comedians and several other up-and-coming Palestinian and Israeli comedians. But far more might have attended had it not been for the fear of “normalization.”

Nearly every theater in Palestine refused to answer my simple question: Can we perform on your stage? They love comedians. But not comedians who dare to partner with Israelis.

To my Palestinian compatriots I say: Why not just be honest and tell the truth. You don’t want peace. You want revenge.

I leave this trip to Palestine and Israel recognizing that Palestinians are suffering from several layers of occupation, and one of them is a self-imposed oppression that has become an excuse for their failings.

They say they want peace with Israel, but many deep down can’t accept the damage to their pride that compromise would entail. They can’t accept that their efforts over the past 60 years have been futile – because of their own leadership.

While Palestinians are stifled in their aspirations, only kilometers away Israelis are enjoying life, growing as a people and flourishing as a society.

The ability of Palestinians to establish their own state continues to erode. That the people driving this erosion are Palestinians themselves is most troubling to me.

Imprisoned by a wall of ignorance constructed by their own foolish failure to see through the rhetoric and the hatred of the past to the reality of today, Palestinians have only one option: They can either start living in reality or they can disappear in the past.

The writer is a Palestinian columnist and author. www.hanania.com

Ray Hanania: Getting Past ‘Normalization’

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