Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Normalization Skeleton in my Closet

It’s been a very long time since I’ve last written anything here, not because I didn’t know what to write about, I knew exactly what I should write about, but this topic in particular is not an easy one to discuss openly, and I’ve been putting it off for a while now; almost a year. But I’m guessing it’s about time it’s out, since it's all I ever think about. 

Everybody has a skeleton in their closet, and I’m no different. So today, we’re going to talk about the very skeleton I’ve been hiding for a while. In previous posts on this blog, I said that the way that got me to study in the U.S. for a semester wasn’t one that I was proud of.

The experience I ended up having as a result of going was one of the toughest, self and thought provocative, and agonizing experiences to ever go through. Everything about this experience was against my morals, yet till this day I can’t bring myself to, completely, regret it. Before explaining why, let me clarify what it was.

So basically, my skeleton was a normalization program, and what is a normalization program? It’s where “they” basically bring Palestinians and “Israelis” together, to make them have “dialogue” sessions to help bring peace. If the program I joined had only these features, I would’ve never even considered it, but this program was too tempting to say no to. Part of what made me agree to join, was the chance to study one semester at NYU (New York University); which maybe shows how materialistic I am, but anyway. I won’t get into the details of how perfect the timing was of my mother entering my room to tell me about this “scholarship” she found in the newspaper, or how depressed and exhausted of everything I was, or how my father really persisted on me going …

Actually, no, let me just stop trying to blame them. It was all me. I just needed to go, to leave for a little while and breath, just a few days without checkpoints, Israeli soldiers (little did I know they’ll be in my face everyday), the news of another kid being shot by Israelis, or another settler attack … I just needed a few days, weeks, or months to breath. That was my intention, but choosing this particular program to do so wasn’t the right call.

Even though my real intentions were personal in joining this program, I still needed other reasons to go. Solid ones that would justify this Dr. Faustus moment I was having; where it really felt like I was selling my soul to the devil, and for what? A semester abroad. I was desperate and pathetic, so I started going with “I’ll go show them hell these Israeli soldiers, I’ll give them a taste of what they do to us, and on top of that I’ll let other people in the United States know about what the real situation is like back home.” This lie worked in getting me there, to the one and only New York City, but it didn’t work in making the feelings of disgust I felt towards myself go away.

I’m one of these people who don’t have much to offer or give (and trust me I’m not being modest here), I’m not extraordinary or unique, not that nerdy smart, and definitely not a miracle maker; all I had were the morals and ethics I convinced myself  to have owned, and by convincing myself of all that crap of before and going on this program, I lost all I really had. And that feeling of having nothing, never really left me alone ever since.

 So there I was, in New York City on a normalization program, and filled with all the crap I kept telling myself, till it stopped working. I left home to breath, to live without checkpoints and this entire “occupation” atmosphere; and instead I was suffocating. Everyday I’ve spent there tightened the grip around my throat more and more, “occupation” as it seems is not defined by geography, and it was with me the entire time. The only time I could really breathe easy; was when I went back home to my family 4 months later.

But that doesn’t make all of what I’ve learnt and earned go away. I won’t lie to you, every once in a while I did breath a little, at least when I lived in complete self-denial and convinced myself that I was not part of a normalization program.

There are certain facts that I can’t deny, because in the end I did get to study at one of the best universities in the United States. I got to ACTUALLY meet someone from Gaza, IN PERSON, which is something I can’t put into words of how amazing it was. It was beyond a dream come true. I got to lecture about Palestine and what’s happening for American students. I got to meet some of my favorite people, that I only saw online on youtube, people like Remi Kanazi and DAM. 

And the most important one of them all, is that I got to meet and get to know family members that I’ve been disconnected from for years; my uncle, my cousins and my aunt (she’s technically my uncle’s wife but this is how we refer to her back home), and to be honest if I was to sum up the benefits of this stupid normalization program, it would definitely be getting to spend time with my family members abroad, and getting to know someone from Gaza. And the shittiest part about it, other than it being a normalization program, would be leaving all these amazing people behind. And leaving amazing people like them could leave you a little hollow inside, like it did with me.  

But I’m sure a lot of people won’t understand that, and I will still be named a traitor, unpatriotic and a coward. I understand that, at least if it came from certain people. A lot of the Palestinians, SJP students and activists we’ve met there wouldn’t understand why we were doing this, and would often judge and attack us. At the time I wouldn’t respond to their attacks and accusations, because I believed what they said to be true. I was a traitor, unpatriotic and a coward.

But now that I’m back home, you know back to my holy glorified prison, I find myself a bit not so understanding as before. On the contrary, I can’t believe they dared judge us in the first place?

On this program Palestinian students from Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem (East Jerusalem) have participated. Those from Gaza having suffered 2 massacres and life under siege, and those from the West Bank and Jerusalem can’t travel freely, face house demolitions, checkpoints, arbitrary arrests, humiliation … etc. I know these may sound like sad little words put together, but they’re real. They’re part of the real life that we went back to after the 4 months in New York were over, the 4 months that labeled us stupid-unpatriotic-little-ignorants serving an Israeli agenda. After going back to that, these little attacks of opposers to “normalization” programs seemed so ignorant and superficial to me. How would they know? Really, how would they? Life under occupation is something they read about, hear about in the news, and maybe even live personally when they visit Palestine, but that’s about it! It’s not a reality to them, it’s just a phase, just like how New York was to us.

So now, after all this time, I can’t regret going on this program. Maybe I’ll regret certain things that I should’ve stated a more powerful opinion about, but other than that I won’t.

Again and for the last time, if a normalization program brought me closer to my family and to my own people, and helped me grow more on my own, so be it. I’m not saying I agree with what these programs are doing, I don’t. But at the end of that program, we proved that these little “dialogues” they want us to have weren’t the answer, putting us together on this leveled footing, while in “real” life we weren’t, wasn’t just or right, and we proved that in order to “overcome” this occupation, consequences need to be put into consideration. Yes it’s just talk, but it mattered to us personally. There might have been an Israeli agenda to put a pretty face on the occupation, but we sure worked damn hard to prove otherwise.

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