Colonization of the Mind: Normalize This!

By Samah Sabawi

(Full Transcript. Excerpts from this speech were presented at the University of Sydney Australia during Israeli Apartheid Week 2012.)

I would like to talk about normalization. I found the best definition of the word normalization on the Palestinian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott’s website:

“Normalization is the colonization of the mind, whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with.”

So projects that constitute normalization are not about freedom, justice or liberation, but about numbing our minds to the horror of the occupation, so we accept it as normal, as permanent, as an unchangeable fixed reality! 

A typical normalization project brings Palestinians and Israelis together to talk about acceptance of one another to reduce the ‘hate’ that drives the conflict! But without taking action of any sort to change the environment that creates the animosity.  As if Palestinian resistance is driven by emotions of hate not acts of oppression, by irrational anger and not dispossession, by senseless loathing and not acts of ethnic cleansing!

Advocates for normalization would have us believe that their so-called joint peace initiatives are the defining test, to tell the difference between a moderate and a terrorist. A moderate would engage, cooperate, reconcile and co-exist but never directly challenges the oppression.  A moderate would learn to live with the status quo and cope with it. Anyone who rejects the status quo and takes action to change it is not interested in peace, is hateful, is a radical and is a terrorist. And for as long as these labels are waved around they hope that people would be intimidated into acquiescence.

An important feature of “normalization” projects is providing the illusion of symmetry, pushing the idea that Palestinians and Israelis share equal responsibility and claiming that both people have been locked into this time old struggle. They try hard to convince you that both people just have two different narratives, reducing the facts to fiction and the reality to storytelling, insisting that if we hear both narratives then we’ll come to agree that the truth lies somewhere out there, in an abstract world, perhaps in a third version that is yet to be told.

And like old people sitting around swapping tall tales over bitter Turkish coffee to pass the time in a place where no one cares about truth or consequence, we the Palestinians are encouraged to sit with Israelis and listen to their narratives while they listen to our narrative and that is the end of that! They go back to their vibrant cities that once carried Arabic names, and we go back behind the walls where nothing changes but the fact that our Bantustans keep on getting smaller with every passing day!

Subscribing to this idea of  ‘narrative’ requires that we erase our collective memory and close our eyes to our present reality.  It requires that we forget history, forget dates, numbers, UN documents, human rights reports, sights of destroyed villages, camps filled with the internally displaced and camps filled with the refugees from 1948.  It requires that we forget all concrete evidence because it all comes down to story telling and narratives.

And while they talk of some looming existential threat we are supposed to forget that it is
Palestine that has been wiped off the map and that Palestinian are the ones who are fighting everyday for their right to simply exist on their land.

I guess they hope that it would take a few sessions of narrative swapping to finally make us see the necessity of firing a gas canister into the face of an unarmed protestor. Or that it would take a few football games with house broken Palestinian players paraded in a field to finally make us appreciate why one-ton bombs must be dropped on refugees in Gaza. And maybe if we were to spend a summer camp together getting to know one another, we will finally see the light and apologize for not quietly moving out of their way when they took our homes and tore down our villages.

The message conveyed in normalization projects is consistent: We the Israelis have to do what we need to do because YOU MAKE US DO IT and the only way might slow down (not stop) is if we feel that you like us and if you make us feel secure enough. Now if you choose to be good Palestinians, join in these initiatives and stop this resistance nonsense, maybe then, we will bring you into the house of moderates where you may not eat with us in the dining room, but at least we’ll take you in from the cold and let you sit on the kitchen floor where it is safe and warm.

So this is how they try to colonize our minds and force us to accept the inequality. Expecting us to exchange our freedom for breadcrumbs and to reduce our existence to coping with this deformed reality.

And while they live in their high towers in narrative land do they not see us marching through our fields where the olive trees that were planted by our ancestors have been ripped from the earth with their hands. Their severed roots reaching out like amputated limps, life seeping away through their tips, reeking of broken hopes and dreams. If they could just STOP the rattling of their bulldozers for just one minute they may actually finally hear that heartbreaking sound the earth makes when it weeps beneath their feet.

If they could hold their fire, turn off their tank engines and lower their guns, they may finally hear our voices.  We have been chanting loud and clear! We have told them you are welcome to come and co-resist with us to bring down this ugly system of domination. We have said to them if you want to get to know us, then come and march with us against the wall.  Come and stand with us against the bulldozers. Visit us in our prisons. Shelter us from the stones your Jewish settlers throw at our children.

We have said it loud and clear: We will not co-exist with you in your world of inequality. If you want to co-exist with us, you are welcome to join us in our struggle for freedom, because right now, this is the only place where we exist!

We see through their attempts to whitewash the oppression. No hasbara video they will EVER create about their supposedly gay loving and democratic state will alter the reality that every Palestinian family has experienced; arbitrary detentions, torture in their prisons and house evictions and demolitions.

And no sleek brand Israel campaign will ever explain why a woman in Jerusalem has fallen to her knees, broken on the sidewalk, with bits and pieces of her life scattered on the pavement as Jewish settlers look through the windows of what was once her home.

There is nothing normal about this!  There is nothing normal about any of it!

There is nothing normal about sentencing nine year olds in military courts. There is nothing normal about forcing pregnant women to have babies at checkpoints. There is nothing normal about the imprisonment of a million and a half people in Gaza, then bombing them at will knowing they have no place to run and no place to hide.  There is nothing normal about nailing shut the front doors of houses in Hebron forcing entire families to jump from rooftop to rooftop to go to their schools and work.  There is nothing normal about stealing our water then forcing us to buy it back in drops. There is nothing normal about making Palestinians pay for the gasoline the Israeli bulldozers have used when they demolished their house.  Above all, there is nothing normal about their expectation that with enough brutality we will give up.

So how about they normalize THIS: We will continue to resist! Their checkpoints have made us cherish our freedom. Their bombs have made us resilient to fear. Their bullets have made us embrace non-violence. Their hypocrisy has made us love the truth.  Their tyranny has made us stronger. Their apartheid wall has forced us to stand so tall, so tall, we can see the whole world, and the whole world can see us. While they hide behind their piles of concrete and lies.

So let these walls they have built confine them!  Let the word ‘apartheid’ define them!  And when they ask you where you stand on normalization, join us and say that you stand with those who have stood their ground, shouting into the barrels of their guns, ‘you may have occupied our villages and towns, but you will never colonize our minds’.

They will never colonize our minds! 

Thank you!

– Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and is Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine. She contributed this article to

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