Heartbeat is a normalization project that violates BDS guidelines

23 February 2014
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (BfW) wish to clarify that Heartbeat, a joint Palestinian-Israeli cultural project (organization) is, in its current form, a normalization [1] project that conflicts with the BDS guidelines related to the cultural boycott of Israel [2]. 
Heartbeat not only avoids any mention of the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights as the root causes of the current colonial conflict; it obscures the glaring moral, legal and political differences in this oppressor-oppressed relationship.  Heartbeat therefore works in the model of co-existence under oppression rather than “co-resistance” to end oppression [3].  Such normalization projects, while purporting to further some abstract notion of “peace,” in fact pursue an agenda that is harmful to the realization of a just peace based on realizing Palestinian rights.  At a time when the BDS movement is growing around the world, we urge activists not to invite or promote such joint projects on their campuses that undermine our common struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
Other than omitting any mention of Israel’s regime of occupation, let alone colonialism and apartheid, the Heartbeat website attributes the existing problem to “fear, violence, ignorance and a pervasive lack of trust,” without explaining how these have come about.  No policies of occupation and discrimination or structures of oppression are held accountable.  Heartbeat thus fails to recognize the profound logic of oppression as explained by the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire:
“Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression.  Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual's ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.  With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun.  Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed.  How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence?  How could they be the sponsors of something objective whose objective inauguration called forth their existence as oppressed?  There would be no oppressed had there been no prior of violence to establish their subjugation.” [4]
Heartbeat declares “youth empowerment” as one of its goals, but "it is the hope of such programs…that given [Palestinian] empowerment in a bilateral context, they and their other individually empowered compatriots will temper their calls for justice with a broader understanding and calls for mercy as well." [5].  Of course, little is said about what this “broader understanding” is, and what exactly it means when the oppressor calls for “tempering” justice.
In July 2013, when Alicia Keys rejected the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel and played a concert in Tel Aviv, claiming she aimed to "unify audiences in peace and love" [6], Keys visited Heartbeat, along with the Peres Center for Peace [7] -  both organizations which emphasize dialogue and not basic human rights - in an effort to legitimize her decision. By playing for Keys, Hearbeat proactively helped to whitewash Israeli apartheid and undermine the Palestinian boycott call and Palestinian rights.
To put our objections to Heartbeat and similar ventures in perspective, we refer to the PACBI guidelines for the academic and cultural boycott [8] dealing specifically with joint Palestinian-Israeli projects.  According to these guidelines, 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 the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.  Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.
In their US tour, Heartbeat plans to further cement the logic of “dialogue” as opposed to pressure by raising $50 million for the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace that is to promote people-to-people diplomacy, a concept that has proven to be a whitewash used to cover up Israel’s intensifying colonization of Palestinian land and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  
While US funding such as Fulbright and USAID grants may not in themselves make a project boycottable, such sources of funding should raise a red flag amongst activists to dig deeper into the project.  Official US funding is more likely to go to projects speaking the language of co-existence rather than co-resistance, as well as to rebrand Israel, which would make such projects boycottable.  It is also more likely to go to Palestinians who are working in collaboration with Israelis. 
For all of these reasons, Heartbeat, in its current formation, is a normalization outfit that undermines the BDS guidelines.  Accordingly, we urge activists around the world not to invite or promote it.
The BDS movement seeks to reclaim the autonomy and dignity of Palestinians by ensuring that their voices can reach without the political condition of collaborating with Israelis.  It views joint struggle between Palestinians and conscientious Israelis on the basis of recognition of Palestinian rights under international law as the only normal mode of working with any Israelis, given the situation of oppression that exists [9].   
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within 
[4] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum Books, 1993