By Ray Hanania, a Palestinian columnist and author.
December 22, 2007.
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” 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
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
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.
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
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
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.