January 9, 2014
Palestinian activists tried to prevent a meeting of the pro-Israel organization Minds of Peace in the occupied West Bank today.
Activists scuffled with Palestinian Authority forces guarding the City Inn Palace Hotel in al-Bireh, on the outskirts of Ramallah, and chanted "The right of return is not for sale," "No negotiation, no normalization" and "Israelis out!"
Minds of Peace billed the event and another scheduled for 10 January in occupied East Jerusalem as a "Public Negotiating Congress" where an "Israeli delegation, Palestinian delegation and an audience will negotiate solutions to their conflict."
It has for several years staged similar sessions between Israelis and Palestinians in different cities across historic Palestine including Tel Aviv.
As the above video from Zamn Press shows, some of the protestors held signs saying "BDS" – a reference to boycott, divestment and sanctions.
"We protested to send a message to the Palestinians meeting the Israelis inside the conference that they have no right to speak and negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, more importantly disregarding the rights of the Palestinian refugees in exile and diaspora," Diana Alzeer, an activist who took part in and tweeted the action, explained in an email to The Electronic Intifada.
"We also wanted to kick out the Israeli participants from Ramallah as they have no place in the city, especially that we heard that some of the participants are retired Israeli commanders who at some point have killed Palestinians," Alzeer stated.
Although a full list of participants of today’s meeting has not emerged, a Minds of Peace "negotiation" session last November included Israeli colonel Zeev Raz, a "combat pilot [in] the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981."
"Normalization … is something we do not accept not in Ramallah nor elsewhere," Alzeer wrote.
Inside the building, as the video shows, Ibrahim Enbawi, a Palestinian "member of the board of directors of Minds of Peace and negotiations moderator," defended the meeting.
"Negotiation is not normalization," Enbawi said. "The Palestinian people have their demands and it is important that the Israeli public understands them."
"We have our fundamentals and we will not be moved from them no matter what the price," Enbawi added.
Negotiating or negating refugee rights?
However previous "peace agreements" reached through Minds of Peace’s public negotiation sessions indicate that the organization has no respect for these "fundamentals," especially the right of return.
A December 2012 "agreement," for instance, defines refugees as "people that lost their property as result of the 1948 war, facing humanitarian problems, and living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza."
This definition apparently only mentions property owners and does not include the direct descendants of refugees who, under international law, are also refugees.
It thus negates the rights of millions of Palestinians.
The "agreement" moreover states that "50,000 refugees will be permitted to settle in Israel within 10 years or receive financial compensation," and then "If peace is kept then another 50,000 refugees will be permitted to settle in Israel within the following 10 years or receive financial compensation."
These are positions – repeated with slight variations in other Minds of Peace "agreements" – that are in line with Zionist priorities of ensuring that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians never return in order to maintain a Jewish majority within present-day Israel.
Minds of Peace was co-founded by Ronnie Y. Fredman. It raises funds through a US-based tax-exempt organization called "Mind of Peace," whose address is a St. Louis, Missouri, post office box belonging to Fredman.
According to filings with the US Internal Revenue Service, Mind of Peace has received several small grants from the Fredman Family Charitable Trust.
Other recipients of the Fredman trust’s generosity are anti-Palestinian groups including: Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, MEMRI, the Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish National Fund.
What is "normalization"?
Opposing "normalization" was a key message of the protest.
"We view Israel as an apartheid state that exercises discriminatory laws and practices on all Palestinians including Palestinian citizens in Israel. Our prisoners are behind prison bars, our land is constantly taken away and our houses are demolished," Alzeer wrote.
"Accordingly an act of normalization is not accepted nor it will be anytime soon. Without our rights granted there is nothing we can talk about with Israelis."
As noted, a conference organizer argued that "negotiation is not normalization."
A simple definition of "normalization" is carrying on "business as usual" as if there were no power differential or occupier-occupied relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.
One definition that might apply is included in the guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), which states:
Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote "balance" between the "two sides" in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the "conflict," are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or "reconciliation between the two sides" without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.
All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.
But some Palestinians and other Arabs insist on even more stringent conditions or reject any contact at all with Israelis.
Regardless of what definition one uses, Alzeer anticipates that those like her who protested today’s conference will be accused of being against "peace."
But "that is complete nonsense," she says. "We all want peace and it is a basic need, but without justice and equality, peace will not be achieved."