Normalisation with Israel in the heart of Palestine
It is not unusual for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in Ramallah to hold Israeli normalization events in Ramallah. However, it is strange indeed when such events take place in the Gaza Strip.
Despite Israel’s daily violations of Palestinian rights and its army’s atrocities against the Palestinians, most recently during Operation Pillar of Cloud, some Palestinians view those who are supposed to be their enemies as close friends. Normalization has become a reality in certain quarters of Palestine, and many Palestinians, whether intentionally or otherwise, are taking part.
For instance, it is no longer odd to see joint Palestinian-Israeli camps under the sponsorship of the PNA in Ramallah. Actually, what would be strange is for a fortnight to elapse without hearing about some secret meeting between Palestinian and Israeli figures in areas controlled by the occupation or at the heart of Palestinian cities controlled by the PNA, or even outside of historic Palestine.
Palestinians and anti-normalization activists are used to reading PNA statements sanctioning normalization. But to them, when similar statements are issued by the government in Gaza, this is nothing short of scandalous. Consider for example the notorious incident of Tahsin al-Saqa, manager of marketing in the Agriculture Ministry in Gaza, who said that the participation of farmers from Gaza in the Agro-Mashov International Fresh Produce Summit and Exhibition in Tel Aviv back in June was meant to “acquire expertise and learn about new technologies in the world of agriculture.”
A few months ago, the rulers of the resistance-controlled Gaza Strip fired Fajr-5 and M-74 rockets that landed not far from the venue of the agricultural exhibition. But a short while after, they had no qualms about allowing a delegation of farmers, in coordination with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to leave Gaza and attend the event – where they showcased produce from Gaza, paving the way for exports to Israel.
The Ministry of Agriculture in the Gaza government failed to provide a convincing explanation of its endorsement of this blatant act of normalization, and did not address the statements by Saqa either. The ministry issued a press release stating, “The participation at the agricultural exhibition was the result of a personal decision by the farmers themselves, to gain experience for development projects in Gaza.”
One farmer who attended the exhibition confirmed to Al-Akhbar that Gaza’s participation took place with the knowledge and approval of Hamas’ government, to promote local agricultural products and establish business relations.
In reality, the agricultural expo in Israel was not the first event to bring together victim and aggressor in recent times. In January, 30 farmers from Gaza attended a similar event in the Eshkol settlement in the western Negev, near the Gaza border.
Khalil al-Sheikh, a journalist working for the Arab Center for Agricultural Development, said that the Hamas-led government does not see participation at the Israeli event as normalization, but as coordination that the Palestinians are forced to engage in because of Palestinian-Israeli economic links under the Paris Protocol.
Sheikh stressed that the government was fully aware of the cooperation between local companies and the Israeli occupation authorities to export certain agricultural products. However, Sheikh added, some NGOs believe that participation in such events is unacceptable.
Normalization in Gaza is not limited to agriculture, but also involves music and the arts, in a manner primarily aimed at young people. Two years ago, Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim came to Gaza, which had not yet recovered from the war waged by Israel. Barenboim was invited by the UN and some Palestinian organizations to lead an orchestra of 40 musicians at the Mathaf Hotel in Gaza, an unprecedented event in the history of the Strip.
In the same vein, Haidar Eid, member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told Al-Akhbar that the Hamas government had denied that it allowed an Israeli conductor to perform in Gaza. However, it is near impossible to hold any event in the small enclave ruled by Hamas without the latter being aware.
Regarding efforts to combat normalization in Gaza, Eid said, “We expose all normalization activities through the media, and warn parties engaged in normalization against what they are doing.”
In 2013, an organization called One Voice has been active among young people in Gaza, hoping to rally more support for what it calls a permanent and comprehensive agreement between Israel and Palestine that would end the occupation. These ideas are the basis for the organization’s training courses in Gaza, often under the guise of “leadership skills and teamwork,” without there being any strong deterrent to counter these disguised normalization activities.