Opinion: Anti-normalization campaign must be more selective
Published Sunday 06/01/2013 (updated) 10/01/2013 18:03
In the context of Palestinian-Israeli relations (or lack thereof), the anti-normalization campaign is, to date, the most dominant campaign on the ground. It is the BDS National Committee whose role it is to "serve as the national reference point for anti-normalization campaigns within Palestine".
Being an Israeli who has a great deal of solidarity with the Palestinian people and actually supports the three guiding principles of BDS, i.e., ending the occupation; full equality for Palestinians in all of Palestine; and a just resolution to the refugee issue, I find myself in a position that I can give voice to issues I hear in my many meetings with Palestinians behind closed doors.
The issue I hear from many of them is that the broad brush approach of the anti-normalization campaign is actually bringing harm to many individuals and organizations in Palestinian society.
They do not speak of "dancing/hugging/playing for peace" type activities, which are considered as clear normalization activities, but rather of academic, scientific and other types of cooperation that benefit, first and foremost, or at the least equally, Palestinian researchers, scientists, academics and even Palestinian civil society.
Blocking the possibility for joint research on issues relating to the space in which we all, Palestinians and Israelis, live in, such as the environment, water, health, business and other issues, is severely hampering and damaging Palestinian development and scientific advancement.
Blocking the possibility for Palestinian NGOs to work with an Israeli NGO on environmental or health issues is harming Palestinian environment and health. Sometimes even to the extent that is prevents or jeopardizes Palestinian economic development.
I can give an example in a project that the organization which I co-direct, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), is managing. IPCRI has, unjustly in my opinion, been included in the list of normalizing organizations. This has been done without giving IPCRI an opportunity to make a case against being included in this list.
It has led to treating an organization that has been acting honestly and with good intentions throughout, as an enemy of the Palestinian cause.
The project I would like to relate to is one that maps out the needs and interests of the small and medium businesses in East Jerusalem - no doubt a community that is one of the hardest hit by the separation wall. There is no Israeli benefiting from this project.
The field workers are Palestinian, the survey is in Arabic, the beneficiaries are naturally Palestinian businessmen and women with a goal of empowering them and strengthening as best possible, their businesses and Palestinian East Jerusalem society as a whole. And yet, the threat of the anti-normalization people is ever present.
The concern of some of the businessmen we surveyed from doing anything with IPCRI was real. Not because of their opinion or opposition to the project but because of a price they may pay for cooperating with IPCRI. The location where we presented our findings was also threatened by certain bearers of the anti-normalization cross.
Is this the sacrifice that all Palestinians have to make to reach the justifiable goals of the BDS movement?
Is this collateral damage that Palestinian society, Palestinian academy, Palestinian civil society and Palestinian business must pay? Is there no alternative, more targeted and less broad-brush approach that can be implemented?
To me this seems like tossing the baby out with the water.
Don't get me wrong, I understand Palestinian frustration, anger, and desperation and I fully support the Palestinian cause. And yet, in order to get the message through, to have an effective campaign and to continue to strengthen Palestinian society, should the BDS movement not consider, and the Palestinian people not demand, that a more selective approach be implemented?
It may be more complicated to implement, it may require new tools, but it is, I argue, something that will serve the Palestinian people better and that is what should be driving all of us.
The author is the co-Director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information