The following post was written before the most recent wave of violence began, tragically claiming lives on both sides, and resulting in increased police presence, arrests and clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian civilians. While I recognize the heightened emotions that Israelis and Palestinians both have and the desire to distance ourselves from each other, I still stand by the following words, with all sensitivity to those suffering from these tensions.
As I wait for the Palestinian Israeli doctor to finish his routine examination of my son in his Jerusalem clinic, I am once again amazed at how intertwined our lives can be and yet how separate they are.
I recall a recent conversation with a lovely young woman, one that presented me with a challenge and a difficult reality.
Her face, framed by the intricate hijab she was wearing, seemed drawn and I could tell she was holding something back. It was confusing to me as she sounded so excited about the project I was presenting when we spoke by phone. She finally, quietly, explained the truth -- one word left dangling awkwardly between us, waiting to be grasped.
“Normalization.” Just a little word, yet an enormous wall, mocking me with its impossible height, daring me to even try to scale it, especially in Jerusalem.
I am connected to Israelis, even married to one! How could I attempt to engage in a joint project with Palestinian Jerusalemites and expect to be trusted? I could see the question in her deep brown eyes. She was apologetic, telling me that she is personally interested, she just didn’t know how she or her organization could be involved with the current climate in Jerusalem.
Not again, I groan inwardly, having experienced this in a previous job, and now causing me recurring problems with this current project.
We continue to converse on Facebook for days, speaking about many things, such as non-violent resistance, whether boycotts are justified, gender issues and our faiths. We really like each other and seem to be cultivating a friendship, though one with limits placed on it by outward forces.
This may be a frustrating thing, but I understand it. Or at least I try to as best that someone who has not been the victim of this oppressive system can. The suspicion, the desire to distance oneself from the occupier, however well intentioned they may be -- it all makes sense when I look at the history and repeated failed attempts to reach out and grasp at peace, some of which led to even fewer rights and increased disillusionment.
I am left with a few lingering questions:
Can we work together in a way that doesn’t compromise justice, that doesn’t just lay down and surrender to the “status quo?”
How do I encourage cooperation with “the other” while not perpetuating an oppressive system as normal?
How can I be a conduit of hope, pushing others to not just accept things as they are but to believe that there is something better and that we can work together?
Lastly, how can my faith be instrumental in this process? Do I encourage a spiritualized version of normalization-encouraging connections with Palestinians only based on “enlightening” them to accept the current system as godly and view challenging it as ungodly? Or do I instead use my faith to bring hope and change to the people and society around me?
I ask these questions, realizing that the concept of normalization has been misunderstood, both by this woman and by many others; it is an attitude I cannot accept, even while I understand it.
Avoiding one another actually contributes to “normalizing” the status quo. Simply accepting things as they are is true normalization, whether this is done jointly or by remaining separate.
Meeting together for change or empowerment, on the other hand, is inherently working against normalization by challenging the status quo.
We must find the courage and hope within ourselves to not give in to the prevalent attitudes of separation or occupation. Anything less results in us all losing. It always has and always will.