Pro-Palestine Clubs Discuss Israel Normalization

Kim Makhlouf, Staff Reporter

A verse from the Quran with the Dome of the Rock on wood from an olive tree from Palestine. (Photo/ NU-Q Palestine Student Club)

Pro-Palestine student clubs in Education City held a collaborative webinar to discuss recent normalization agreements with Israel on Wednesday, Sept. 9. 

The webinar, titled “Formalities and Normalities: Israel and Normalization,” was hosted by the Palestinian Student Club at Northwestern University in Qatar and Students for Justice in Palestine at Georgetown University in Qatar. It featured panelists Dana El Kurd, an assistant professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and a researcher in the Arab Center for Research and Politics, and Esraa Al Muftah, a member of Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization, which she co-founded in 2011. 

The event was put together to discuss the impact of the United Arab Emirates’ peace agreement with Israel, declared publicly on Aug. 13. Since then, other Arab nations, such as Bahrain, are taking steps to normalize their relationships with the Israeli government despite its occupation and annexations of Palestinian land. 

Al Muftah began by defining the term normalization: “Normalization refers to a process by which something that is perceived to be abnormal becomes acceptable; hence, it becomes normal.” She asked the audience to take a step back and deconstruct the term within the context of the Palestinian struggle and understand why Palestinians and their allies resist normalization. 

“We would be talking about normalizing colonialism in the 21st century, normalizing military occupation, normalizing the presence of an apartheid state in the midst of us, and a state that has been trenched in its law supremacy and control of one religious group over another,” said Al Muftah. 

She listed examples of Israeli violence against Palestinians, including bombings, abductions and killing of Palestinian children, women and men, controlling the calorie intake of Palestinians, expanding settlements,  ethnic cleansing, and forcing Palestinians demolish their own houses.

“We cannot disregard that Israel has been ignoring international law,” explained Al Muftah. “This is what we are normalizing: giving a state the exception to behave illegally, occupy Palestinian land illegally… without any accountability.” 

Al Muftah emphasized that anti-normalization is also about not forgetting the events that led to Israel’s creation and the occupation of Palestine. “Anti-normalization is a kind of memory work; resisting with memory so that we don’t forget the trauma inflicted on Palestinians for generations,” asserted Al Muftah. “It is about keeping the history of the people in mind. It is like a humane promise that we make to never forget how Israel was founded. To never forget the Nakba.” 

Al Muftah also contextualized the definition of normalization as articulated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in 2007. Activists who promote anti-normalization actions often refer to that PACBI definition: “specifically in a Palestinian and Arab context, as the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.”

The United Arab Emirates will sign the “peace agreement” with Israel on Sept. 15 in Washington, D.C., but the country has been engaging in forms of normalization with Israel for several years, particularly within the academic, art and sports spheres. Al Muftah added that Qatar also has a record participating in these same engagements. Examples include funding a stadium in Israel in 2005, hosting an Israeli gymnastic team in 2018, and inviting pro-Israel speakers to Education City, such as when Qatar Foundation invited Alan Dershowitz to hold a lecture in NU-Q’s building. This despite the country’s Law No. 13 of 1963, which boycotts Israel on a governmental and policy level, including banning trade and the interactions of the Qatari people with Israel or even those “working on behalf or in favor of Israel.”

During this webinar, El Kurd deconstructed the peace agreement from a more political and academic perspective. She referred to Israel’s deal with the UAE as “theatre.”

“The rhetoric and the discourse around this act of normalization was that Emirati [normalization] was basically pursued in exchange for Israeli suspension of annexation,” she said. “The suspension of annexation has no proper value or purpose; the UAE doesn’t care about the theft of Palestinian land.” 

El Kurd explained that the Israeli plan to annex one-third of the already illegally occupied West Bank was happening even before the recent UAE agreement with Israel. 

“Annexation was never a date on a calendar. It is an ongoing process, which was happening way before the so-called Abraham Accord and it is continuing after. So annexation is and has been happening even though they don’t call it by that name. So settlements continue to expand and the possibility of a viable Palestinian state is technically nonexistent,” she said. 

This peace agreement would only be considered a show of power reflecting an “authoritarian front” and will eventually set a precedent for other Arab nations to follow suit and acknowledge Israel as a legitimate state in the region, regardless of its crimes against Palestinians, she added. 

This signals to Israel and to the international community that the Palestinian cause is not important, El Kurd said, adding: “But it is important! Not only because of the moral obligation we have to Palestinians who continue to suffer on the ground, but also because Israeli occupation in Palestine has been at the crux of most of the Arab world’s conflicts…this can’t be solved by Emiratis vacationing in Tel Aviv.” 

The Arab states had already agreed on a peace initiative proposed by the Arab League in 2002, pioneered by Saudi Arabia. It states that Arab-Israeli peace can only be achieved if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict comes to a “fruitful conclusion,” meaning that unless Israel acknowledges the Palestinian struggle and ends the conflict by the creation of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital and the ‘return of refugees,’” Arab nations wouldn’t offer normal relations. 

El Kurd also disclosed that more than 75 percent of Arabs, according to her research, support the Palestinian cause. Despite most Arab countries being authoritative regimes, they would face large backlash from their populations for making such a bold and unwelcomed move. “That’s why you see them [the UAE], when they engage in normalization, they go above and beyond to try and preempt and scare people to not speak out,” she said. 

Some attendees asked how they can support the Palestinian cause without being in direct contact with governments that support normalization with Israel. In response, Al Muftah encouraged them to engage in independent community projects such as webinars and student clubs to raise awareness about the ongoing suffering of Palestinians. 

“As long as states keep seeing resistance from the population and people continue to raise awareness about the losses that are going to happen if the process of normalization continues, they are going to have second thoughts about entering into relationships with Israel,” said Al Muftah. “I think we need to continue working towards that even if we are facing restrictions. There is still some hope to work and organize together.”

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