Normalization or National Duty?  And where does Gaza fit into all of this? by Abdallah Hamarsheh

When it comes to the ways in which Palestinians engage with the occupation and conflict, a great many things are left unsaid. Sometimes we keep quiet because we don’t want to cause controversy and risk upsetting the fragile sense of normalcy we have, and sometimes it’s because we’re scared of what the reaction to our words will be. But those of us who believe in the value and purpose of their work must be prepared to raise up our voices. Otherwise, we doom ourselves and our children to the unstable reality we currently live in.

There is a simple fact that many within Palestine have tried to erase: working with Israeli society is a necessity. Perhaps not every segment of society, and perhaps not every individual Israeli, but whether you are a proponent of one-state or two, shaping and correcting of misconceptions is needed to ensure that we have a partner for peace. As many have said before, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are going anywhere. It is up to us to decide whether that means we are destined to live together, or fight until we die. Personally, I favor the former option, and that means that we must begin correcting the misconceptions we have about one another.

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Successive extreme right-wing governments in Israel succeeded in producing a new generation of Israelis who are less progressive than their parents. These young people have been fed a lie that the status quo can be maintained forever, or that Palestinians — which number around 7 million when including Palestinian citizens of Israel — will somehow disappear, or be willing to accept a diminished life. How can these misguided perceptions be fixed? Not by the Israeli right-wing, which has only been growing stronger in recent years, and not by the Israeli left, whose influence seems to wane with each election. Of course, the desire for change must come from within Israel itself, but nothing about this conflict occurs in isolation. For too long, the Palestinian people have been seen as pawns in the international arena; it is time for us to become catalysts for change.

As much as I want to continue into a deeper exploration of the need for work that reaches across the Green Line, recent developments compel me to address what’s happening in Gaza. As President Abbas said earlier this year, engaging with Israeli society is a national duty — but should such work be encouraged in Gaza?

Palestinians in Gaza, especially the young people, are some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. I live under occupation in Ramallah, but I have far more freedom to move, work, travel, speak, and even resist the occupation than my brothers and sisters in Gaza. Not only must the people in Gaza endure the occupation, but there is also the siege, soaring poverty and unemployment, and a lack of resources like water and electricity. Their priorities is, first and foremost, meeting their basic human needs. When a father doesn’t know where his child’s next meal will come from, thinking about political solutions to a decades old conflict is a luxury he cannot afford. I don’t know that it is right to encourage him to engage in political action, especially given Hamas’s rule.

A lot of attention was given to the story that came out of Gaza few days ago, relating to the detention of Rami Aman. I am very glad that the story was picked up in international media, as it is important that people know about the unlivable situation the people of Gaza are forced to suffer. But many reactions — both in support and opposition to his work — were concerning to me. Opponents rushed to attach all kinds of labels to Rami, questioning his patriotism and calling him a normalizer. To disagree with his work is valid, we must not forget the degree to which he is suffering under occupation and siege, which is far more than what we experience here in the West Bank. But then there those who, while applauding his work, were surprised by his arrest. Really? Hamas will never accept anyone who acts outside their political paradigm, and to encourage people to engage with Israelis is like asking them to put a target on their back.

While it is encouraging to see the international community support the bravery of this work, it is critical — a matter of life and death — that we remember the different circumstances of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. If the international community wants to highlight stories out of Gaza, there are many organizations like my own, Zimam, who operate in both the West Bank and Gaza and are able to safely and smartly draw attention to the realities of life. And it is those very organizations, located in the West Bank, who are best positioned to engage with Israeli society and relate stories from every corner of Palestine, including Gaza.

The most immediate support the international community can provide for Gaza is humanitarian aid, education, and increased opportunities. The strength and resilience of the people of Gaza is awe inspiring, and their stories must be told. But let’s not put them in any more danger than they already are.

Abdallah Hamarsheh is a Palestinian civil society leader and the Executive Director of Zimam, a pioneering youth movement whose purpose is to incubate the leaders of tomorrow in Palestine. Previously, Abdallah served as the Projects Director for OneVoice Palestine. Over the past 15 years Abdallah has trained and mentored hundreds of Palestinian youth to become effective leaders within their communities.

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