Israel - Normalising the abnormal (III): Boycott inside Palestine

Israel - Normalising the abnormal (III): Boycott inside Palestine
Comment: Arabs should reject normalisation, but for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the issue is more complex, writes Azmi Bishara.
6 min read
26 Aug, 2016
Palestinian citizens of Israel must work through Israeli institutions and political structures [Getty]
This is the third part in a series on Israel: Normalising the abnormal. You can catch up with part I here and part II here

Rejecting normalisation with Israel is a top issue across the Arab world, but what about anti-normalisation inside Palestine?

In the territories occupied in 1967, this has meant Palestinian communities and institutions such as universities and trade unions refusing to cooperate voluntarily with Israeli institutions.

Though not the subject of this article, this mode of struggle against the occupation was undermined after the Oslo Accords in which the Palestinian leadership normalised relations with Israel to the extent of security coordination, which in my opinion is the worst form of normalisation with Israel.

Those who speak about rejecting normalisation and boycotting Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, but who turn a blind eye to security coordination, are advancing empty rhetoric and slogans without credibility.

A large number of Palestinian civil institutions continue to reject any collaboration with Israeli institutions, despite an entire Western-funded industry pushing for Palestinian-Israeli dialogues and meetings. Yet these did little to change Israeli society, and only created a marginal bubble and a source of living for some and an avenue for donors to safely disburse Palestine-related allocations without antagonising pro-Israel lobbies in their countries.

Inside Israel, meanwhile, it is meaningless to speak of normalisation. Palestinian Arabs born there are citizens of Israel. This citizenship constitutes the legal basis that allows these Palestinians to remain on their land under Israeli sovereignty.

With time, this mere right of abode developed into demands for civil rights, within the context of Israeli citizenship. In recent decades, we have worked hard to develop this citizenship on the basis of the rights of the indigenous people of the land.

One fruit of this struggle has been a critical change in the political culture of Palestinian residents of Israel. However, the legal translation of these demands is bound by the context of Israeli laws and institutions.

Ultimately, however, Palestinians living in Israel study Israeli-approved curricula in schools and universities. They pay income taxes, apply for permits, and receive services all via the state of Israel. Therefore, there is no room to use the term of normalisation when it comes to Palestinian Israelis, as one would use it in the context of Egypt, for example; otherwise, a struggle for civil rights becomes a struggle for normalisation in that flawed understanding.

This difference... lies in the political position, national identity, and stance taken related to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination

Yet there is indeed a vast difference between accepting to serve in the Israeli army and refusing to serve, or between accepting Israeli symbols and holding on to Palestinian ones. There is a difference between surrendering to Israel's treatment of its Palestinian citizens as a minority of aliens in their own country, and asserting their pride as a native people.

The difference we speak of can manifest itself in different political attitudes and cultural discourses, as well as behaviour. This is no small detail when it comes to political struggle inside Israel.

This difference does not lie in whether or not to vote and run in Israeli legislative elections, because in both cases, Palestinians here would experience the same kind of relationship with Israeli institutions, be they the government, the municipality, or the local council. It lies in the political position, national identity, and stance taken related to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

More commentary from Azmi Bishara 
- The slaughter of innocents and the moral burden
- Israelis don't vote for the sake of the Arabs
- On displacement and the wave of Europe-bound asylum seekers
- Libya: Peace deal now, or full-scale civil war
- Palestinians, terrorism... and Facebook

For example, does the Palestinian in Israel under scrutiny seek to be a member of the Knesset's foreign affairs and security committee? Does she or he accept to be a member of an Israeli committee of friendship with another state?

Would they call on Israel to conclude deals with "Palestinian moderates", or call on Israel to meet some demands of its Palestinian citizens to protect Israel's reputation in the world? Does she or he accept the Zionist narrative of the conflict, or accept the premise that there are two competing true historical claims?

Rejecting normalisation in Palestine means rejecting the adoption of the Zionist discourse and terminology in understanding history and reality, in a context of struggle against the occupation

There is an endless list of questions for the representatives of the Arab community. Indeed, it is these crucial questions - and their answers - that separate the preservation of Palestinian cultural identity, as a native people of the land, even if they have to seek this through Israeli institutions, Israelisation and buying into the Zionist narrative in the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

Needless to say, boycotting Israeli goods is not possible in this case. All goods there are Israeli, and even goods made by Arabs may have Israeli raw materials; they pay Israeli taxes, and deal with Israeli banks.

Therefore, rejecting normalisation in Palestine means rejecting the adoption of the Zionist discourse and terminology in understanding history and reality, in a context of struggle against the occupation. Those who claim to boycott and reject normalisation, while living in Palestine and not fighting against occupation, are not really saying anything.

In short, Arabs should reject normalisation, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should reject normalisation in varying degrees, and the boycott is crucial in the Arab world and the rest of the world. But inside Palestine, the main issue is the struggle against occupation and racism.

The means of the struggle are a different matter, not discussed in this article.

Here, it is important not to project one context unto another. Palestinians in Israel are Israeli citizens, legally speaking, and mostly operate through Israeli institutions. They have no other choice, except to emigrate.

We must mention here that some Palestinian residents of Isreal compare their rights in Israel to those of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world, and show no desire to switch places, in which case their citizenship is not entirely a compulsion. In this case, the main issue remains the political position and national democratic struggle.

It is not logical for Palestinians in the West Bank, for example, to mimic the political modus operandi of a Palestinian who works through Israeli citizenship and the rights acquired through its framework. And while Palestinians in historic Palestine may have to deal with Israeli institutions, this does not mean Egyptians, Jordanians, Moroccans, Saudis, Emiratis, or Qataris may do the same, because in their case, they would be voluntarily normalising relations with Israel.

This is the third part in a series on Israel: Normalising the abnormal. You can read part I here and part II here. The final installment will be published here soon. 

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.