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(Hatem Omar / Maan Images)

Was New York Times’ Ethan Bronner duped by an Israeli Facebook fraud?

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Moad Arqoub, a Palestinian graduate student, was bouncing around the Internet the other day and came across a site that surprised and attracted him. It was a Facebook page where Israelis and Palestinians and other Arabs were talking about everything at once: the prospects of peace, of course, but also soccer, photography and music.

“I joined immediately because right now, without a peace process and with Israelis and Palestinians physically separated, it is really important for us to be interacting without barriers,” Mr. Arqoub said as he sat at an outdoor cafe in this Palestinian city.

That is how an article in today’s New York Times by Ethan Bronner begins. But much of Bronner’s article is misleading and possibly false, as The Electronic Intifada discovered.

The Facebook page Bronner profiles is called YaLa-Young Leaders and is founded by Uri Savir, a former Israeli diplomat and head of the Peres Center for Peace. It is supposed to be a forum for interaction and normalization between Israeli and Palestinian youth in particular, and Israeli and Arab youth in general.

It is endorsed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and Tony Blair – figures more likely to repel than attract Palestinian youth.

But Bronner’s story reads more like a promotional piece than a report. He appears to have relied only on the page’s creators for information, and presented people involved in managing the project as if they were unaffiliated users. Whether he was duped, careless or engaging in advocacy, Bronner’s report raises many questions about his standards of reporting from Palestine.

Moreover, while falsely presenting the project as popular with Palestinians and Arabs, Bronner ignores the vast body of Palestinian public opinion that opposes such projects for violating the Palestinian civil society call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Who are Moad Arqoub and Hamze Awawde?

Moad Arqoub and Hamze Awawde are real people whom Bronner quotes in his story as if they were just ordinary Palestinian users of the YaLa Facebook page.

But examination of online records shows that Arqoub and Awawde are likely involved in the YaLa project, and already knew each other long before YaLa was created through their work with and participation in MEPEACE, an organization and Ning social network founded by an Israeli activist, Eyal Raviv.

Bronner’s claim that Moad Arqoub was merely “bouncing around the Internet the other day and came across a site that surprised and attracted him” is highly suspect and not credible as the evidence will show.

YaLa’s Facebook page was apparently created in early May (the first postings are on 4 May). Arqoub began participating on YaLa’s Facebook page as early as 22 May.

Both Arqoub and Hamze Awawde “liked” a posting from that day which announced the upcoming creation of a discussion forum.

Awawde also makes an appearance in Bronner’s story and is pictured in it:

Most of the talk seems to be between people in Ramallah and Tel Aviv. But Hamze Awawde, a 21-year-old student here in Ramallah said he got “friend” requests on Yala from Morocco and Egypt.

He said: “I asked one Egyptian why he had contacted me and why he was taking part in this, and he said: ‘After the revolution, everything is permitted. I want to see what Israelis are like.’”

This is Bronner’s only reference to Awawde, presenting him – like Arqoub – as just another user.

But what Bronner does not disclose is that by every indication Awawde is a representative of the YaLa project, and there are strong indications that Arqoub assists him. Moreover, apart from fleeting comments here and there, Arqoub and Awawde appear to be the only Palestinians with any involvement or investment in YaLa.

Who manages the YaLa Facebook page?

Awawde’s role as a representative of YaLa can be easily seen from his frequent postings on the page’s wall – answering questions from other users and posting information about a photo contest that Bronner mentions in the article.

Awawde used the YaLa logo as his avatar on his personal Facebook page and when responding to questions and leaving comments (Awawde replaced the avatar with the picture of him that appeared in The New York Times a few hours after Bronner’s article was published online).

While Hamze Awawde clearly appeared to be acting as a representative for YaLa, Arqoub’s role is slightly less clear. But the nature of his involvement in it and the fact that it began a lot further back than “the other day,” as well as his prior relationship with Eyal Raviv and Awawde through the very similar project MEPEACE casts severe doubt on Bronner’s account.

At times, Arqoub appears to assist Awawde in representing the project. For example on 19 June, Arqoub answers a question posed in Hebrew by another user about the date of the photo contest.

On 16 June, Eyal Raviv posted congratulations on the YaLa wall for reaching the milestone of 1,200 fans.

Both Awawde and Arqoub responded enthusiastically, Arqoub writing, “Ahlan Eyal Raviv Fast progress :1,277 now ! we will be 1 000 000 soon Inshallah :)” – suggestive that Arqoub felt some responsibility for ensuring the success of the page.

Awawde and Arqoub already knew each other through MEPEACE

MEPEACE was founded in 2008 according to a Haaretz profile and has similar goals to YaLa: encouraging normalization between Palestinian and Israeli youth.

On his Facebook profile, Awawde lists under “Employers”: “mepeace.org with Eyal Raviv.”

Arqoub has also been involved in MEPEACE since 2008, the same year it was founded. In December last year, for example, Arqoub is acknowledged along with Raviv for work on an MEPEACE video called “Middle East Peace start with each of us” [sic].

Photographs posted publicly on mepeace.org show Awawde and Arqoub seated together in a January 2010 MEPEACE event. The two are recognizable in the photographs, and images of the same event posted on Facebook are tagged with Moad Arqoub’s name and describe the event as a “Leadership Training” held in the occupied West Bank town of Beit Jala. Other photographs taken at the same event show that Eyal Raviv was also present. Awawde is pictured at many other MEPEACE events in 2010 and 2011.

4.JPG

Hamze Awawde (left) and Moad Arqoub (second from left) in January 2010.

(Waleed Hammad / MEPEACE)

Thus, Awawde, Arqoub and Raviv are part of a tight “peace dialogue” circle. The notion that Arqoub just happened upon the YaLa site serendipitously as Bronner claims is simply not credible. Awawde and Arqoub have not responded to emails requesting comment, but this article will be updated with their responses if they do.

Raviv offers congratulations for New York Times article

After Bronner’s profile of YaLa was published on The New York Times website, Raviv, Arqoub and Awawde quickly began to circulate it among their networks, especially on mepeace.org and Facebook. Raviv posted the following message on Facebook: “Congratulations to MEPEACE Peacemakers Hamze Awawde and Moad Arqoub on their success and sensational story in the New York Times about YaLa-Young Leaders.”

Exaggerated claims of participation

Bronner writes:

Called Facebook.com/yalaYL, the site, created by a former Israeli diplomat and unambiguous about its links to Israel, has had 91,000 views in its first month. Of its 22,500 active users, 60 percent are Arabs – mostly Palestinians, followed by Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese and Saudis.

Yet close examination of the Facebook page finds little to substantiate this. When first viewed by The Electronic Intifada at approximately 6:30 p.m. in Chicago on 9 July, the page had just 2,971 fans. This rose above 3,000 within hours, almost certainly as a result of the publicity from Bronner’s article.

The page’s wall and discussions reveal little activity and much of that is by Israelis. Very few Arabs participate, with the exception of Awawde and Arqoub. An early participant in MEPEACE had the same observation about that group in 2008 – the vast majority of the activity was by and about Israelis.

Bronner ignores mainstream Palestinian opinion

Bronner presents YaLa as unambiguously positive – a “virtual bridge” – and even claims that:

the Facebook page has surprised those involved by the enthusiasm it has generated, suggesting that the Facebook-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may offer guidance for coexistence efforts as well.

Not only is there no evidence for this enthusiasm on YaLa’s page, but there is strong general resistance to such normalization projects within Palestinian civil society and in the Arab world more broadly. These initiatives are opposed because they reward Israel with normal relations and integration without requiring it to end its oppression of Palestinians and its occupation of Arab land. They may also violate the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as well as the call for cultural and academic boycott of Israel.

The guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel are explicit:

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 framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.

There is nothing on YaLa’s page that expresses opposition to Israeli occupation and oppression, and indeed Bronner quoted Salah al-Ayan, “a Palestinian Authority official and a friend of Mr. Savir’s who is helping with the site” saying:

“Our goal is to start by talking about art and sports. Since Israelis and Palestinians don’t meet face to face anymore, this is a virtual place to meet. I was happy when I saw that some Palestinians had voted for Israeli photos in the contest.”

Palestinian youth reject normalization

Last year, dozens of Palestinian youth organizations throughout Palestine and the diaspora signed a joint statement condemning such initiatives under the banner of “Palestinian youth united against normalization with Israel.” The statement rejected:

the efforts of Israel and its apologists around the world, who aim to direct our efforts at convincing Israel of our inalienable rights rather than resisting its oppression through legitimate and legal means to obtain them; especially organizations that aim to convince us that that conflict is but a symptom of psychological barriers that can disappear through dialogue with the other. Such organizations they completely ignore the reality which is Israel’s oppression and systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people. Organizations like Seeds of Peace, One Voice, NIR School, IPCRI, Panorama, and others specifically target Palestinian youth to engage them in dialogue with Israelis without recognizing the inalienable rights of Palestinians, or aiming to end Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid.

While Bronner might disagree with these positions, his job is to report the views of Palestinians, not to help promote astroturf organizations where a tiny minority of Palestinians are falsely portrayed as speaking for a nonexistent groundswell.

Where are the Palestinian organizations YaLa boasts about?

On the info section of its Facebook page, YaLa makes the following claim:

YaLa is an opportunity provided by Israeli and Palestinian organizations, led by the Peres Center for Peace and the Palestinian Wide Link Media company, as well as international business, cultural and sports entities….

Little is known about the Wide Link Media company. A domain name (wlinkmedia.com) that is registered to the company in Ramallah is devoid of content and up for sale. A LinkedIn profile for Wide Link Media names the director of the company as Mamoun Matar, who elsewhere identifies himself as a media consultant and also has a profile on Eyal Raviv’s MEPEACE social network.

There is no indication of any participation from grassroots Palestinian organizations.

Conclusion

Ethan Bronner’s report is no more than a press release from the YaLa-Young Leaders initiative, which is itself nothing more than another Israeli attempt to use social media for hasbara.

Comments

The negativity and hatred oozes from you - it makes me want to throw up.
In his congratulatory remarks, Peres writes "War, rejection, terror, occupation are not an option. Make peace the only alternative." Clearly the page takes a stand against occupation, as does Uri Savir.

As my article points out, many Palestinians – the mainstream – have a well-thought out critique of such normalization projects precisely because they feel such projects take them further away from the goals of peace, justice and equality, by covering up injustice and normalizing the relationship between oppressor and oppressed under the rubric of “dialogue.” I have provided links to these critiques which are widespread. Now you may disagree with them, but to dismiss them as nothing more than my own personal “oozing hatred” is to show a profound disregard and disrespect for what Palestinians think. Is that what you call dialogue? Shimon Peres is not the spokesperson for Palestinians. Palestinians can speak for themselves. Finally, I saw nothing on the page that takes a stand either against the occupation or the other multiple forms of Israeli oppression and apartheid that Palestinians are struggling against.

You've never had a positive, constructive thing to say in your life, and instead you seek to slander anyone who tries to humanize both sides of the conflict. If Israeli Jews learn more about the Palestinians and their suffering, how would this further peace?
In any case, who authorized you to speak for the "Palestinian mainstream"? There are plenty of Palestinians who don't agree with your unhelpful mentality.

without Zionism there would be no "conflict" aka settler colonization and aparteid. If poor little Zionists cannot see that Palestinians are human, they could not be helped - they should be stopped from seeing themselves as "master race", because during 100+ year of Zionism was not enough for them to see light.

Stop pretending that the only reason of Zionist colonization is not enough Zionist awareness about suffering of their victims. Zionists must be stupid but not SO stupid. They know, they just do not give a damn or get a sadistic pleasure out of Palestinian suffering.

To Mark Kerpin: You are against ad hominem attacks but look at what you are doing - Instead of addressing the questions I raise in my article, it’s all about me and my “mentality.” A classic tactic that I won’t fall for. I did not claim to speak for anyone. Instead I quoted statements that have been endorsed across Palestinian civil society. I realize it is convenient for you to ignore that, just as it is convenient for Bronner to ignore it. Also, I’ve written a book and hundreds of articles putting forward my quite positive views. People can find them there. Your attempt to turn me into the problem will not distract my focus from the issues that need discussion - Bronner’s misrepresentation of an astroturf project with little or no real support as if it were popular and broad based.

I was suspicious. The line "At a time when Arabs generally shun contact with Israelis…" did not ring true. From what I know, it is more often the other way around. Most Israeli Jews don’t even acknowledge the Arabs who are citizens. Read Susan Nathan's "The Other Side of Israel." The truth can indeed be negative and hateful. Interestingly, when I posted the link to this article on YaLa (just prior to "unliking" it), the first/only person to "like" my comment was Hamze Awawde, the Palestinian student featured in the NYT piece.

well, nice to be informed that the : "many Palestinians – the mainstream – have a well-thought out critique of such normalization projects precisely because they feel such projects take them further away from the goals of peace, justice and equality, by covering up injustice and normalizing the relationship between oppressor and oppressed under the rubric of “dialogue.”

*sigh* so this is going to continue for how many generations, then ?

so, I am sure I will see it - and I am not so young. There will be life after Zionism, with a place for the dialog between the equals, no matter their religion or lack thereof.

"so this is going to continue for how many generations, then ?"
until liberation and return, until our human rights are respected and honored, until the end of racism and apartheid. or do you think palestinians don't deserve the same rights as everyone else? in case you don't understand what "normalization" means, it is to normalize the current status quo and make palestinians accept permanent inequality and injustice. of course we will never accept that! (duh)

Those of you who say this conflict will last forever without "both sides" acknowledging their wrong do not realize that this conflict is about the oppression of one people (the Palestinians) by another (the Israelis, particularly the government). The Palestinians were not attacking Jews in 1910. Jewish settlers came to Palestinian land, armed, and developed a well defined program for the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arabs. Over a million Palestinians live as second class citizens in the state of Israel, which discriminates against them in where they can live, whether they can serve in the army, and now, what they can say. Millions of others live under military occupation in the west bank and siege in Gaza. Israel expels them from their homes and bombs their densely populated cities--and you expect them to have dialogue with a power infintely stronger than them? Really, that is not realistic thinking. That would be like asking an African American under Jim Crow to have dialogue with the KKK.

You hit the nail on the head. Hard to believe that there is anything fair about I/P issue. Israel using US tax $ to keepPalestinians down. $1 million to sen. Joe Lieberman to protect Israel... Give me a break.

This looked like bs from the first sentence. You're the king Abunimah.

I thank you for your comments Mr. Ali Abunimah. The information provided is interesting. I certainly respect the views you express on your blog. But regardless of who started YaLa and what their aims may have been, it appears the site is striking an important nerve beyond the Middle East.

Perhaps it will do the same in a larger number of Middle Eastern contributors as time goes on. Perhaps I have been duped, but it seems to me that the ultimate good that could be done by the conversations and connections made possible by this site may serve a far more significant and positive purpose than anyone imagines.

One State, Two States, let the people talk about these alternatives and any other issues that impede peace. Isn't that what your blog is about? Let any means possible be used to get the politicians to take notice and public opinions be honed and reshaped! And let the people whose lives and futures are at stake do the talking and thinking, One day some of them may be the deciders, the policy changers, the visionaries trying to lead us all to a more peaceful, prosperous, and friendly future.

You use that phrase twice, and it's a good one. That's exactly what's wrong with YaLa -- it is not a spontaneous, grassroots effort to begin a dialogue between unequal, separated peoples. There is a cloud of suspicion behind who created it, and for what purpose. Yes, it may morph into something bigger than its handlers intend, but only if there are guarantees the conversations will not be manipulated, or artificially crafted to further a particular agenda. I am still waiting for YaLa's creators to answer the questions Mr. Abunimah presents in this article. Better to "let the people" come together on their own. Isn't that what Facebook is for? Better yet, let the Palestinians come home as equal (and equally represented) citizens, and pay reparations for ruined farms and villages and lives. And help those who must then return confiscated Palestinian property (or buy them passage to other climes if they cannot live amongst returned exiles).

Normalization is exactly what is needed. By defining in the terms that Mr. Abunimah has, is just a recipe for continual conflict. The the utter dismissal of the notion that both groups have concerns, claims and rights, and only accepting a single side's narrative, there will never be an end to the conflict. This is as true for the Palestinians as it is for the Israelis.

I have found EI to be much a cheerleader for Palestinians intransigence as websites like Arutz Sheva are for the Israel rejectionist front.

Keep up the good work. Only our grandchildren will need pay the price.

I was raised in the US west and learned poems as a child that described the land theft, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, imprisonment and finally the effort to destroy the culture (civilizing) of Native Americans as a "conflict" or a "feud of the white man & the red". The "feud" was referred to in a poem about a flower & was referring to blood that was shed. (although the suffering continues) Is this the normalization you want; with or without Reservations?

Zionism is the same BS as Manifest Destiny. Blame human greed on God.

It is 2011 and Zionist colonists are just plain too late for the racist game to fly. Apartheid is apartheid and it stinks. Stealing people's land because they aren't a particular religion stinks. Imprisoning people for years just because you can get away with it stinks (think Gaza...men, women, children. think all the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli military prisons for year after year.) Yes, the US did & does the same thing; and that doesn't make it right or defensible anywhere else.

I live in the American South now. Do you call the fight to end segregation & discrimination based on DNA & melanin intransigence?? Guess so. BTW... it isn't over.

I do not support the "normalization" of racism, theft & discrimination.

Since my government representatives will not speak up for justice or equality in anything that concerns Israel; I'll speak with the only voice I have as an American who is responsible as a taxpayer for this 20+ year charade of "Peacetalks = Settlers Build" while Israel kills 1200+ in Lebanon or 1400+ in Gaza every two years and calls it defense...

As my old mother said during Cast Lead, "Is there NOTHING Israel can do that the US will NOT support?" (She is a former Zionist supporter. She used to believe that Palestinians should pay with their lives, land & freedom for the inaction & actions of the US and Europeans during the Holocaust.)

But wait!! Even though I am powerless to sway MY "representatives" regarding US foreign policy on equal rights for Palestinians & Israelis, there is something I can do. I can support Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions of Israel and THAT is what will bring about something WORTH normalizing. It's called equality. One person.. one vote regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. Freedom of movement, equal employment opportunities. The right to live wherever you want as long as you can pay the rent. Call me old fashioned.

Lastly, if you really care about ALL our grandchildren, you will demand equality for all. Just because people are defeated doesn't mean the suffering ends, even when its "normalized". (I'm assuming "normalization" means acceptance of the status quo with a big smile.) Trust me. Silence does not mean people are content.

The real irony is that someday people like Abunimah will be fighting for the equal rights of the Israeli/Jewish minority in Palestine with the same fervor, dedication, and clarity as they fight for the equal rights of the Palestinian majority in the the borderless "nation" of Israel and the areas it occupies militarily & colonizes and imprisons as well as the Palestinian diaspora, many of whom are still in refugee camps their parents & grandparents were "displaced" to.

Being "friends" doesn't take away inequality and discrimination. It just means you are friends, except I have more freedoms and live in less fear ... or vice versa.

Meanwhile, I support BDS; just like I supported US divestment of South African apartheid & boycotting grapes/lettuce for equal rights/wages for farmworkers. Its peaceful, effective and if the leadership doesn't sell out; it wins.

Equal Human & Civil Rights.
What a concept.
It's worth digging in your heels for wherever you are.

I suggest you read up on Middle East and Jewish history and avoid attempting to make irrelevant analogies.

The Israeli MFA responded to a letter I sent during the first intifada the same way, except the writer said it would "behoove me" and accused me of supporting terrorism.

I am speaking from my own experience and knowledge, as are you.

Best wishes for equal rights for ALL.

I am an Israeli-Canadian living in Tel Aviv who personally knows both Moad and Hamze for over a year. I won’t respond to who said what and what are lies and what aren’t and I wouldn’t encourage them to respond to that level of knit picking over an article either.

I will say that I have been interviewed by the media (when I was 10 years old ) and what they printed was not at all what I said. Media people sell stories and don’t care about the detailed facts. But forget that level of the criticism.

You and many other Palestinians around the world are against normalization with Israelis. I and most Israelis still have a difficult time even understanding what that concept means- are Palestinians not to talk to Israelis at gas stations? What about Israelis who come to shop in Palestinian stores? How about children with cancer who come to Israeli hospitals? Where does normalization start and end? Unlike most Israelis, I have spent time in the occupied West Bank both with Palestinians and Jewish settlers and I will not sugar coat what happens or ignore the harsh realities of day to day life. However, I will put it to you this way: meeting Palestinians who you would likely claim are normalizing relations with Israelis has changed my viewpoints and perspectives which never having met them would not.

Like most Israelis, I did not understand even what Palestinians wanted from Jews. To me, Palestinians were people who hated Jews and tried to kill us. Palestinians were dangerous. When I finally met Arabs in Canada and talked about the conflict, I was shocked at their radical views. At that moment I became a Zionist and would have voted far right in response- Lieberman, etc. because the right will protect me from the Arabs. Later I became involved in One Voice (an organization that fell apart because of the BDS spreading rumours of normalization and giving up rights) and met a Palestinian from Jenin. He told his story of being shot, losing his friend and having his family terrorized by the IDF. Suddenly, Palestinians were not people who wanted to kill me but people who were victimized but still had the courage to reach out to me. I felt shame. Later I met people like Moad and Hamze who have varying views. I am someone who is very against the idea of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel or a one state solution. I don’t understand how you can go from 100+ years of conflict to neighbours overnight without creating a new Beirut or Yugoslavia. However, through Moad explaining why he feels a connection to the village of his grandfather, I had to question my views. I am not a supporter of the right of return however, after knowing Moad, Hamze and many other Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, meeting them at workshops, having them visit me in Tel Aviv, visiting them, I am more comfortable with the idea if they represent the Palestinian people. I would be honoured to have them as my neighbours. I have met many BDS people as well- mostly outside the region. I wouldn’t want them as my neighbours in Canada or Israel and if anything, they made me believe there was no point in working for peace between out two peoples.

I should also let you know that I studied conflict in an MA program. I understand the reasons for the hesitancy in dealing directly with Israelis. From your perspective, these are the people who made you into refugees and then continued to make your lives hell. I will let you into a secret- Israelis do not know this and even if they did, why would they want to listen to someone who is yelling at them? The armchair psychologist in me understands that Palestinians create their collective identity by being against all things Israeli, deconstructing Israeli actions and Zionism. If you were to humanize and deal directly with Israelis, what would the affect be to Palestinian community identity? (the same is true of Israelis dealing with Palestinians in any way other than as terrorists).

To me the issue of normalization is an issue of pride. Speaking to Israelis as equals damages the collective pride of a people whose pride has already been damaged. But sometimes we must set aside our pride and do what works better for the long run.

As someone who knows the Israeli psyche very well- my advice to you and all Palestinians is to come spend time in Israel and live with average Israelis. Only then will they humanize you enough to begin thinking of living with you in peace and equality. If you don’t believe me, ask any average Israeli.

I am an Israeli-Canadian living in Tel Aviv who personally knows both Moad and Hamze for over a year. I won’t respond to who said what and what are lies and what aren’t and I wouldn’t encourage them to respond to that level of knit picking over an article either.

Corey, If you have any information suggesting that the information contained in this article is inaccurate, or even worse, “lies,” I strongly urge you to provide it to us so we can publish it. No one has so far come forward to contradict any of the facts stated in this article. You can respond here or write to us privately through our contact page.

Corey, your response demonstrates all of the failings in understanding that initially led Palestinians to reject people-to-people dialogue projects. Your answer focuses on the way in which your interactions with Palestinians have transformed your personal understanding of the conflict. You highlight how you have become more open and understanding. You make clear that talking with Palestinians has been important in helping you see Palestinians as equal to yourself and as individuals with legitimate grievances and rights. However, instead of taking this information and saying that your new understanding has led you to actively opposed occupation and to work for a transformation of the unjust structures found in your society, you instead say that Palestinians need to do more to convince Israelis that they really are good people. This approach focuses on transforming Israeli attitudes while leaving unchallenged the structural and systemic inequalities that are at the root of the conflict.

In this approach Palestinians are responsible for “humanizing” themselves to Israelis and proving that they are worthy of respect and equality. Rather than focusing on ending oppressive actions, this approach places primary responsibility on the shoulders of the victims, asking that they prove that their victimization is wrong. The whole structure of this dialogue is imbalanced. Palestinians cannot initiate dialogue projects of this sort due to Israeli military restrictions which ban Palestinians from traveling to locations where they can meet Israelis and which ban Israelis from entering Palestinian areas. The special military dispensation that is needed to make these programs happen guarantees that Palestinian voices are never equally heard during the planning process. These programs are also premised on an idea of false equality. They hold up each group’s suffering and narrative as equal and present Palestinians and Israelis as equally responsible for the conflict. While it may be true that each side has suffered, there are real legal and structural imbalances that exist between Israelis and Palestinians and which leave them unequal. Because these types of programs don’t address or usually even acknowledge the political and power imbalances that exist between Palestinians and Israelis they cannot work.

I was present at the Palestinian NGO Network meeting in late 2000 when the decision was made to cut all people to people programs. This decision was taken in the context of the violence occurring at the beginning of the second Intifada, but it was not a reactionary decision. Rather, it was a decision made after a careful review of how people to people programs had worked over the previous decade. Prior to that decision I spent six months talking with both Israeli and Palestinian participants in people-to-people and peace education programs. On the Israeli side the programs got mixed, but generally favorable reviews. On the Palestinian side these programs were universally condemned. They were not condemned because Palestinians didn’t want peace. They were condemned because they were set up in a way that only allowed for transformations in interpersonal relationships. When issues related to ongoing injustices arising from the occupation and impacting Palestinian lives were raised they were shut down by Israeli participants. During the peaces process Palestinians saw these programs continue while the political situation deteriorated. Personal relationships are nice, but because they didn’t lead to political action and efforts to transform injustice Palestinians ultimately saw them as at their best useless and at their worst damaging. Damaging because they gave a venire of normality to what remained an abusive and unjust situation. They provided a false yes to the question, “can’t we all just get along”. They were picked up in the international press as demonstrations of how the “peace process” was working when in reality Palestinians rights were being stripped away.

Please note that the decision to cut people to people programming in 2000 was not a ban on all contact with Israelis. It explicitly left open room for cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and this cooperation continues. It also left open the possibility of cooperation in a basis of true equality. We see this type of cooperation today in Nilin, Bil’in and Sheikh Jarrah as Israelis involved with Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah and Anarchists Against the Wall work with Palestinians to bring change. To answer your question about where normalization starts and ends, in my opinion it starts and ends in situations where an individual or group tries to bring together Palestinians and Israelis as part of an effort to demonstrate that normal relationships can exist between the two peoples but where they do not first openly address the deeper structural injustices and inequalities that exist between the two people.

The ban on normalization programming also was not a ban on individual contacts with Israelis and therefore has no relevance for the types of contacts that might happen at Gas stations, in stores and in hospitals. However, as I am sure you are aware, these types of interactions are also very limited due to Israeli imposed restrictions on the movement of both Palestinians and Israelis which make it illegal for Israelis to enter Palestinian areas and which ban Palestinians from Israeli areas. When Palestinians can enter Israeli controlled areas, whether in settlements or in Israel, they do so on military issued permits that place them on an inherently unequal footing. When my daughter had heart surgery in a hospital near Tel Aviv several years ago, over half of the patients in the pediatric cardiac care center were Palestinians from the West Bank. They were all thankful for the care they received, but also very conscious of the fact that they were only present in the hospital as a result of having received a special permit. In most cases both parents could not be present to support their young children because both did not receive permits.

Daily interactions happened between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis in the hospital, but they were far from normal. Take the following (real) experience as an example:

Hospital psychologist: “Your daughter is having heart surgery today, that must be stressful.”
Me: “Yes”
HP: “Where do you live?”
Me: “Ramallah”
HP: “Oh, I did my military service in Ramallah.”
Me: “Oh”
HP: “So do you want to share about your feelings.”
Me: “Thanks, but no.”

There is an unconscious acceptance of militarism and occupation in Israeli society that really doesn’t allow for normal interactions between most Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. However, people on the powerful side of this imbalance aren’t generally conscious of the screwed up nature of these relations.

Finally, a brief comment on people-to people programs that are aimed at building understanding between youth and/or young adults. Of all of the types of normalization programming these are the worst. They are abusive and in many instances do more to undermine peace than to build peace. They take young adults and push them together in unnatural environments where young adults are asked (forced) to see each other as “equal”. It is great when Avi and Mohammed can get along at a camp in Maine and can appreciate their shared love of soccer, but the truth is that they are not equal and as soon as they leave their camp setting they must reenter their lives. Avi will have to join the military. Mohammed will face all of the restrictions on his life that come with living under occupation. More often than not this results in youth becoming jaded. What happens when Mohammed returns home and realizes that despite the fact that he and Avi had a good time together Avi is still going to participate in a system that oppresses Mohammed? How does this build trust and understanding? Avi may feel like he is a more humane soldier as a result of his time with Mohammed, but what change does Mohammed see?

These programs also place the burden of social and political change on the backs of children while failing to challenge the political injustices that leave these children unequal. They build up false hopes while doing nothing to bring about the changes needed to make the hopes for change that they raise a reality. Adults can make their own conscious decisions about participating in these types of programs, but to target these programs at youth is abusive.

None of this is to say that building understanding is not important. It clearly is important for people to understand each other. Getting Israelis and Palestinians together is a great idea. However, when they come together they need to come together as true equals who are working to end real injustices, not just to change attitudes.

Just want to say that was one of the most clearly articulated responses I have read in a while on the conflict. Thanks.

And I would also note to all the Palestinians and Jews (and their supporters) who live outside of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza- it is easy to see the world in black and white terms and tell people how they should think when you don't live in the same reality. So I suggest putting your views to the test and come live in the West Bank if you are Palestinian, Israel if you are Jewish and join your brothers and sisters living here. and before you tell me it is not possible because of Israel, I know lots of foreigners/diaspora Palestinians living here.

As a Canadian Jew, you are free under Israel’s discriminatory laws to move to and settle in historic Palestine and gain Israeli citizenship. Palestinians, including refugees born there, living in the diaspora are not free to move back to any part of historic Palestine. The only diaspora Palestinians who can return to the West Bank are those with US, Canadian or EU passports and they live there on temporary permits as foreigners under constant threat of not being allowed to return by the occupying power if they leave the country. This fundamental inequality is part of what needs to be challenged. As we saw, Palestinians who attempted to peacefully return to their country last May were gunned down in cold blood. No Palestinian is allowed to return to any part of Palestine as a Palestinian. I urge you to denounce this gross injustice and call on Israel immediately to respect and implement the right of return of Palestinians to their original homes, in accordance with universal principles of justice and international law.

Mr. Abunimah, I urge you to denounce illegally breaking through an international border which is a crime under international law.

There is hardly a border anywhere in the Middle East that is not an artificial remnant of colonial imaginations. Why not a Levantine confederation, not unlike the EU? Why not allow open borders, free trade/travel and migration, between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel/Palestine (or Palestine/Israel -- you could alternate on odd/even days)? Of course the ONE WORLD wackadoodles, fundamentalists just itching for Armageddon, would spontaneously self-immolate, but once the idea catches on, you could expand the confederation to places like Iraq, the Arabian penninsula, Turkey, Iran, North Africa, and beyond. Imagine the possibilities and then consider that the alternative is nationalism, which quickly morphs into fascism and apartheid and other forms of faux patriotism which is only the paganism of secular idolatry.

Too bad that Israel has NOT "international border" with Lebanon or Syria - they are still occupy parts of those states. Not mentioning that Israel was established against the will of the majority of natives, so it has very dubious legality. But if Zionists say "might is right" as they usually do, so Palestinians have ALL rights to return to their land, stolen from them, no matter if this robbery was /is condoned by imperialist states and their lackeys.

Anyway, Zionists use "international law" bs ONLY when it could suit them.

When I last checked, Israel had no defined borders. Corey, I urge you to denounce Israel's wanton murder.

'So I suggest putting your views to the test and come live in the West Bank if you are Palestinian, Israel if you are Jewish and join your brothers and sisters living here.'

I am not an armchair psychologist, but a basic ingredient for moving forward is acknowledging and correcting the wrongdoing. Also, the above sentence is quite telling about Corey's point of view. First, There is no recognition of Palestinians living in Israel or historic Palestine. Yes, it is not black and white. Second, my parents who were born in the Ramallah area cannot come back to the oPt to live because upon leaving the oPt, they were told to leave their ID cards at 'border control' and that they would returned to them upon their return. However, upon their return, they were informed that they no longer hold West Banks IDs and they can only come in as tourists. When my parents wanted to prolong their stay beyond the three month visa, their 'request' was denied. During this same year, my cousin was denied entry because he had 'violated' his three month visa status - to the land where he was born...Need I say more? Yes, I do. With all due respect, who are you to decide who YOU want your 'neighbors' to be given that you are talking about the indigenous people here?

Acknowledge the wrongdoing...the dispossession and forced displacement of a people, and then we can 'dialogue.'

Israel: 63 years of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.
The only solution and inevitable outcome is one democratic state. Zionism, a 19th century European settler-colonialist ideology based on mythology, racism and the dispossession and expulsion of Palestine's native people, is doomed. Nearly one million Israeli Jews have emigrated seeking better lives elsewhere and thousands more are applying for foreign passports. The handwriting is on the wall. The Zionist enterprise in historic Palestine will prove to be an anachronism, a blip in history. The Crusaders occupied Palestine in whole or in part for 250 years. The Zionist occupation will be comparatively brief. Unfortunately, more suffering, death and destruction will take place before it is relegated to the dustbin of history.

acknowledgement on the part of israel that it is an apartheid state, and putting an end to the practice, may be a good place to start real and meanful dialogue.. right of return is a major issue too.. 'normalisation' is useless rhetoric..

(Derived or off topic). I do not read Arabic. Could the name YaLa "Let's go", also be a jab at Palestinians, as in "Let's go elsewhere", and at the same time for Jews: "Let's go to J&S/WB"? My suspicion is raised more so because the director of the site, Uri Savir (of Peres Peace), did not give a single positive word about Palestinians from him in 20k Google hits.

It's a jab in any context. Telling Palestinians Yala, is like asking the African Americans during the times of slavery to solve White racism. Several carts before the horse, you know
.

"All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott."

It is common knowledge that Palestinians and Jews originated from this same place called Palestine/Israel, this assumption is based on history, archeology and linguistics.

The a.m. guidelines sounds pretty much like a classic example of Apartheid. According to these guidelines, apparently Israeli citizens are to be kept strictly apart from Palestinians unless they oppose their own existence and renounce their right to an independent state alongside Palestine according to the UN resolution of 1947.

The above mentioned guidelines tell us that any "balance" in the dialogue between individuals is to be opposed. This is discrimination because you place one side in a superior position versus the other.

Dialogue is an individual business. But these guidelines force the individuals to take the stance of their governments. It is meddling in people's rights to make a personal choice whether they want to boycott or engage in dialogue.

Dialogue with the other side never served the function to ensure a status quo. It has always been a means to make changes.

The forces who opposed dialogue were the same repressive ones that opposed all changes.

With best regards from Germany

Not speaking about the origin of Jews/Palestinians, I liked the Anon calling the BDS "aparteid". Next time he will call the demand of equal rights for Palestinians "racism".

About dialog and status quo - given that "peace process" has been doing exactly this - preserving the (real) aparteid Zionist rule on Palestine, it is no wonder that the same Zionists use fancy names for the same goal - to stop Palestinians from getting their rights, their land and their equality.

Anon speaks as if the call for BDS is an order from some "government", while it is NOT. It is a call of Palestinians themselves, and if they want BDS, it is NOT for Anon from Germany to teach them how they should manage their matters.

On the other hand, Zionists are always happy to speak between themselves and pretend they are "dialoging". See the farce by BHL in Paris - a bunch of Zionists pretending to speak in the name of Syrians.

Why do you think Israelis are asked to “oppose their own existence”? Were whites in South Africa, or in the Jim Crow South of the United States asked to “oppose their own existence”? No. They are asked to recognize the existence and equality of Palestinians – something Israel has absolutely refused to do.

"They are asked to recognize the existence and equality of Palestinians – something Israel has absolutely refused to do." Sir, did you mean the Israeli government? Or all Israeli citizens? Or the majority of them? The fb page you attacked is a meeting place for individuals whose personal opinions are different from the mainstream. Some people hate us just for proving their generalisations to be wrong. I do not think you fall into that category. I assume you are serious about your vision of a secular state with the same rights for Arabs and Jews. It does sound good. But I am afraid this works only in theory. Practically, with extremist religious and nationalistic groups spreading terror, it will mean endless civil war. It was because of the civil war that the British gave up their mandate and the UN voted for the partition. So I believe that a two-state-solution should be the first step. When this has been achieved, both Israelis and Palestinians have no choice but to mutually recognize their existence and equality. And gradually, when the anger and distrust fades and the people understand the necessity to cooperate economically and politically, then maybe it will be possible to form a kind of federal republic beteen Israel and Palestine. I would hope so. Regards from Germany

Ethan runs a Jerusalem bureau that can't get facts straight with what the paper published 60 years ago from the same city. The tone of the paper has gone from journalistic to Zionist propaganda in the same time frame. He lives in a stolen Palestinian home in Jerusalem and his American son serves in the Israeli army? Why would anyone expect anything decent from the NYT-Jerusalem? Obviously it's more lies.

This hitpiece is pathetically transparent. It's sad that this website has been reduced to delegitimizing a real and meaningful way for Jews and Arabs to communicate above politics. For all Ali's ranting and ravings there are hundreds of "real Palestinians" posting on the Facebook page. I encourage those of you who haven't been fully brainwashed by this article to check out the Facebook page, it grows by about a hundred people per hour. Very exciting!

James, would appreciate it if you could point out any factual errors in the article. The article focuses on Bronner’s shoddy reporting. You can like the astroturf Facebook page as Bronner clearly did, but you can’t misrepresent people who are behind the project as if they are simply unaffiliated users. It’s completely dishonest.

"I encourage those of you who haven't been fully brainwashed by this article to check out the Facebook page, it grows by about a hundred people per hour. Very exciting!" - James

This article merely highlights the distortions, exaggerations and lies of Ethan Bronner's article. Taking just one of Bronner's lies at face value, then the Facebook page has gone from "22,500 active users" to around 6,700 fans (assuming an "active user" = a fan who Likes a page). That's a LOSS of 15,800 fans in just over 2 days or a loss of 310 fans per hour.

Exciting? NOT VERY!

Arguing that an organization put together by Shimon Peres is seeking peace defies all logic. Peres was an ardent backer and apologist of Israel's war on Gaza in 2009, which killed 1000 Palestinians. If Peres and his facebook cohorts want peace, they will stop killing Palestinian civilians.

Peres : a former Haganah member (a terrorist Jewish militia that participated in the Nakba) and the butcher of Qana ....and now the old guy preaches peace ...REALLY

These programs also place the burden of social and political change on the backs of children while failing to challenge the political injustices that leave these children unequal. They build up false hopes while doing nothing to bring about the changes needed to make the hopes for change that they raise a reality. Adults can make their own conscious decisions about participating in these types of programs, but to target these programs at youth is abusive.

Thank you very much Ali for this outstanding article exposing the true colors of Yala Ya ...., I found this article after googling "Hamze Awawde" because I was suspicious about his intentions and it came out to be true .Eyal and Moath no longer comment on that page ,Hamze commented once and disappeared ,the page is now moderated by Nimrod BZ who is the most diplomatic Zionist I've even talked to .Very few Palestinians participate and only one has a real face picture.I thought I was paranoid about it,I was like wth is going on ... but now I unerstand the whole farce ....shokran kteeeeer