I have recently been at the center of a controversy after publicly expressing my anger at someone in Gaza who would normalize relations with Israel and Israelis.
It happened quite by accident. I was scrolling through Facebook in early April when I came across a post promoting a meeting on Zoom – a popular communications tool during this coronavirus pandemic that keeps everyone trapped and isolated (in the case of Gaza, even more trapped and isolated).
The post bore Rami Aman’s face, which made me curious since he is quite well-known in Gaza for pursuing normalization activities. In June 2019, Aman – who is regarded in Israeli circles as a peace activist – organized a bicycle race that took place concurrently in Gaza and Israel.
The race saw him briefly arrested by the Hamas authorities in Gaza.
The Zoom meeting brought together Palestinians in Gaza with Israelis. Its stated purpose was to discuss the spread of coronavirus in Gaza.
I listened in; the meeting was open to anyone who saw the Facebook post. I heard Aman say how, “we Palestinians love Israelis,” how, “the majority are like me, they want peace.”
I heard him say how difficult it was in Gaza, but how he hoped to create a “new generation.”
It was clear to me that those listening in thought of Aman as the voice of two million people in Gaza.
Who the hell is Aman to speak for anyone?
Root cause of misery
I grew so angry listening to this meeting, I started to shake.
This was normalization, pure and simple. To me, there is no greater sin.
The root cause of Palestinian misery is the creation of the State of Israel, an original sin that saw most of the land’s native population cast out from their homes to become dispossessed, destitute refugees, if they were not simply murdered. The rest wound up under military law as second-class citizens of the new state.
Israel refused to countenance any recourse to justice for the Palestinians left stateless in 1948. Refugees were expressly denied return, their properties were confiscated by the state and doled out to new arrivals from Europe.
Even those who were internally displaced lost their properties and were categorized – incredibly – as “present absentees.”
It was theft, wholesale and complete. And it was compounded by the occupation in 1967 of the rest of historic Palestine.
Normalization seeks to deepen connections with Israelis without holding them accountable for the crimes – historic and ongoing – committed against the Palestinian people.
How can you so easily talk to the people who stole your land, robbed your people of their possessions and sense of belonging, killed tens of thousands and imposed hundreds of restrictions on your life?
How do you so easily talk to the people who call you a terrorist for wanting to reclaim what is yours? The people who demonize you and shoot you, imprison your relatives, humiliate your parents.
I was angry. I expressed my anger, clearly and directly, to Aman, who blocked me.
I tagged three Hamas officials on social media. “Hopefully this nonsense ends as soon as possible,” I wrote them.
This, it would seem, was my biggest mistake – at least for those who read a New York Times article and have since called me everything under the sun.
To give you a taster, these are just a tiny fraction of the angry comments made and messages I received after The New York Times story ran.
“I would wipe that smile on her face after seeing her jobless,” wrote one. “You are an animal, betraying sick, sadistic beast, really you are garbage,” another found the courage to message.
“I hope you lead a lonely miserable life,” said a third, while another simply commented: “Shame on Hind Khoudary.”
To be clear: I did not tag Hamas officials to ensure that they knew the meeting took place, as The New York Times reported. Aman himself noted during the Zoom meeting that Hamas was aware of his activities.
I tagged them still less for the authorities to arrest Aman.
I am no particular friend of Hamas. I am not Hamas. I was also arrested in March 2019 after covering protests in Gaza against Hamas rule.
I was accused of being a spy and an agent for unknown international parties. I was barred from working for five months after that.
While Aman broke the rules – he was arrested according to Article 153 of the Revolutionary Penal Code of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of 1979 – arresting people like him (or me, for that matter) won’t make a difference.
Banning the kind of activities Aman is engaged in may, however, make a difference. That is why I tagged the officials.
The New York Times article made it appear as if, first, Hamas was not aware of this meeting, which was promoted on Facebook, and second, that I wanted him arrested.
Normalizing the perverse
Many of the people who reacted to the article were angry that I, a journalist, should have stood in the way of what they perceive as Aman’s freedom of expression.
But that is to badly misunderstand both what I believe and what it means to be born and raised in Gaza, where freedom of any kind is a precious commodity, and where it is first and foremost denied us by our occupiers.
I am a journalist, yes, but I am also a Palestinian who has borne witness to Israeli crimes all my life.
I will never forget – when I was only 5 – watching TV and seeing Muhammad al-Dura dying in his father’s arms after being shot by Israeli soldiers.
I will never forget the sound of airstrikes slamming down around us – so many times – with my parents and brothers trying to act like they were just thunderstorms.
I have lived under endless blockade, survived two wars of aggression (I was outside Gaza during the 2012 attack) and covered the Great March of Return, where people have been used for target practice, their lives and limbs destroyed by snipers on a weekly basis.
I believe that the worst sin any Palestinian can commit is normalization.
I know that what happened may affect my future career, my relationship with international organizations I’ve worked with before, even my online presence. I have already been kicked out of a couple of online journalism groups.
But I’ve also received a lot of support from Palestinians, ordinary folk, journalists and political activists.
And to those who ask how resolution and peace can ever be reached without “dialogue,” the answer is simple: Peace begins when occupation ends.
Hind Khoudary is a freelance journalist.