Normalization Harms Identity for Children and Youth ~ 4PalKids | December 7, 2015.
No society should ever experience normalization. Why? Because it is an act that makes normal an element of social discourse as false or misleading so as to subjugate and deny the identity and rights of a target group.
Normalization in such a construct takes away from the spiritual, cultural and national identity of a people.
That children and youth grow up with these conflicts – being socially denied in spite of what they know about themselves and their people – is harmful to their being. Children and youth being inflicted by the normalization of misrepresentations of their culture and identity find themselves singularly denied the same rights, voices and ability to articulate who they are, in contrast to how they are presented to be.
The Normalization of Denial of Palestine
Below is an example of normalization:
In the above image we see in English several options of Za’tar (a compilation of herbs) by region for sale:
- Jordanian Blend
- Lebanese Blend (two different packages with same blend)
- Aleppo Blend (northern Syria) and
- Jerusalem Blend
In Arabic what is actually written and translated into English below is:
- Thyme from Jordan
- written in English on the jar: Jordanian Blend
- Natural thyme (premier quality)
- written in English on the jar: Lebanese Blend
- Thyme from Aleppo
- written in English on the jar: Aleppo Blend
- Thyme from Palestine
- written in English on the jar: Jerusalem Blend
Therefore, what is the meaning of the above picture?
Za’atar, being an herb native to Palestine, used extensively in Palestinian recipes, is not mentioned in English. And the silence in that meaning is that to say something is Palestinian would suggest something wrong, supporting something violent, something that is anti-Jewish, thereby denying its true existence by removing the adjective in this case “Palestinian”.
What message does that send to Palestinian children and youth?
Surprising found on Wikipedia:
Thymus capitatus (also called Satureja capitata) is a species of wild thyme found throughout the hills of the Levantand Mediterranean Middle East. Thyme is said to be a plant “powerfully associated with Palestine“, and the spice mixture za’atar is common fare there.
The line after that I did not add in as it referred to another species that grows abundantly in Israel. It may very well, but it is not native to Israel, it is native to Palestine as Palestine became Israel after it was ethnically cleansed of 723,000 Palestinians.
And furthermore, with the words of an expert (not Palestinian):
There is no direct translation for za’tar in English, although it is often called wild thyme. “It is a taste more than a species,” explains Jihad Noun, an expert on medicinal and aromatic Lebanese plant species:
“There are 22 herb species referred to as za’tar in the region. It is the essential oils they have in common. They all come from the same Lamiaceae, or mint, family, which includes savory, oregano and thyme.
To add more to the respect of the Palestinian za’atar:
In the Palestinian culture, folklore, art, poetry, literature, agriculture, history of the fellahin and the extensive Palestinian cuisine, Za’atar is a very important if not the most important element of what makes Palestine, Palestine. This herb grows wild far and wide, all over Palestine and is known for its fragrance, abundance and taste throughout the Arab world and the Mediterranean.
Pilgrims and others who travelled to Palestine before Zionism and the British arrived at the turn of the 20th century, noted in diaries and publications the fragrance that filled the air from the za’atar of Palestine as they walked the hills or stopped by a farm or a Palestinian place of welcome.
(Photo by Melissa Muller Daka/CNS)
Palestinians still forage for the herb in the wild because it remains an important symbolic role in their identity, said anthropologist Nasser Farraj, director of Palestinian Fair Trade, a company based in the West Bank that exports za’atar spice mixture. Farraj says the ban [Israel has made it illegal for anyone to pick wild za’atar] is a form of discrimination against Palestinians that has nothing to do with protecting the plant.
“Among Palestinians, though, little is taken at face value and even the consumption of food can be politicized. Farraj contends that Occupation can take place even “through our symbols,” and can be considered part of a “semiotic war” against Palestinians.”
That the image above of the jars of Za’atar was taken at a grocery store of a well-known chain in Canada, in a community that is not just diverse with hundreds of different ethnicities, including the third largest populace of Arabs in Canada, who most certainly have many who are Palestinian, why call it Jerusalem Blend?
Arz Fine Foods* is a Canadian company founded by a Lebanese family who have proud Armenian roots. They themselves are of a people who have experienced the horrors and denial of genocide, ethnic cleansing and food appropriation, which makes this even more upsetting. Not because they want to deny Palestine but because the truth is that they would shunned and marginalized for publishing Palestinian in English on the Palestinian za’atar jar. That is also part of the crime of normalization.
Palestinian children and youth should not be made to feel ashamed or shy for their heritage.
But with the normalization of not promoting something as ethnic Palestinian as it may be received as offensive or appear to support something negative, is also a crime because it fuels the denial. Palestinians are just as human and deserving as anyone else, and to refer to their Za’atar as Jerusalem is to distract the English speaking xenophobes. And to play up to the Israeli policy of denial. Palestinians living in Israel are not Palestinian, they are Israeli Arabs, so that should say it all.
And that hurts young people who have an identity that is just as interesting, wonderful and exciting as Lebanese, Jordanian or Syrian in this case.
Normalization of denying Palestinian existence is not a good thing. And this is just a small minuscule element of the normalization that denies Palestinians every day. And that is terrible way to raise generations of young Palestinians – that we as members of the same community allow their identity to be portrayed as not okay, that it is not legitimate and it is not deserving of respect or consideration, is really a tragedy and complicity to all this denial.
Upon leaving the store, the author of this blog article saw a tall young man with a Palestinian kaffieh advocating at the exit for shoppers to support a food drive for the local food bank. The author smiled at the young man and asked him if he was Palestinian. He responded after a few seconds with a sheepish expression, “No, I am Moroccan”.
The young man appeared uncomfortable until the author expressed support for Palestine. After communicating, the young man admitted that he was initially concerned there was going to be an altercation or attack for wearing the Palestinian kaffieh, another symbol of Palestine normalized as evil and negative. That the western world has been presented the Palestinian kaffieh as a sign of terrorism, that in fact is a symbol that goes back before Zionism that identifies the people of that region, just like the kaffiehs in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc., is subject to a level of negativity that none of the others experience or have to justify or explain.
*Arz Fine Foods is is a hardworking and respectable family run business based in Canada with hundreds of products from all over the Arab World and the Mediterranean. This organization has done much to expand the cultural experience in Canada and is a model of a well-run family business, doing their best, and making an overall positive cultural impression.