Jeff Halper is an American-born Israeli Professor of Anthropology as well as a peace and human rights activist for over three decades. In 1997, he co-founded the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), and as its Coordinating Director "organized and led nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience against Israel's occupation policies and authorities."
ICAHD's mission is now expanded well beyond home demolitions. It helps rebuild them and resists "land expropriation, settlement expansion, by-pass road construction, policies of 'closure' and 'separation," and much more. Its aim is simple, yet hard to achieve - to end decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict equitably and return the region to peace. For his work, Halper was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
Besides his full-time work, he writes many articles, position papers, and authored several books. His latest and subject of this review is An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel. Israeli-based journalist Jonathan Cook (jkcook.net) authored two insightful books on the conflict that are highly recommended. Information can be found on his web site and much more. He calls Halper's book "one of the most insightful analyses of the Occupation I've read. His voice cries out to be heard" on the region's longest and most intractable conflict.
Halper is a "critical insider" and insightful commentator of events on the ground that he witnesses first hand. This review covers his analysis in-depth - in two parts for easier reading. It exposes Israeli repression and proposes remedial solutions. It provides another invaluable resource on the conflict's cause, history, why it continues, and a just and equitable resolution.
Halper's observation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is accurate. Knowing how to end it isn't the issue. Overcoming fear and Israeli obstruction is at its heart. There are "no sides," and Halper stresses that as a "chief claim of (his) book." Critical discussion and effective action must involve everyone this conflict affects as the way to "get out of this mess" and achieve justice.
Thinking "out of the Box" is key, reframing the issue, offering an alternative way, and using it to open "possibilities for resolution foreclosed (by) security framing." Halper has a "clear, empowering message: if we the people lead, our governments will follow." But it takes empowering ourselves to do it and a commitment for the task. The goal - a "win-win" peace for all parties on a global scale taking into account "equality, human rights, international law, justice, peace and development." Make no mistake. Israel bears most responsibility for the conflict, continuing it, and preventing its just resolution. Overcoming that is no small task, and 60 years of trying so far have failed.
One home demolition transformed Halper from a progressive, liberal-left Zionist to his post-Zionist state. It was a year after ICAHD's creation, but he'd yet to see demolitions firsthand. He described his background and values - third-generation American, small town midwest, Conservative Jew (as differentiated from Orthodox or Reformed), not religious, but believing in the "essential rules of life" that he learned as a child: play fair, don't hit other kids, ask forgiveness when fall short, and take nothing belonging to others. He's now lived in Israel for 35 years, arrived as a young doctoral student, is very much an Israeli, and saw his Jewishness transform into "Israeliness."
He was never a committed Zionist, then over time saw how destructive and racist it is. It made Israel a colonial state and redemption requires that it "transverse a long and painful trail from de-colonization through reconciliation" to a new political form that's just, equitable and inclusive for all its inhabitants.
Conflict was never inevitable, but a combination of "exclusivist nationalism" and high-level ideologues led pre-1948 Jews to be confrontational, not conciliatory toward Arabs. Conflict resulted and normalcy was sacrificed. Sixty years later, Israel is deeply polarized, a colonial enterprise, hugely repressive to Palestinians, including Israeli Arab citizens. In Halper's judgment and many others, "the present situation is untenable." His task is "hasten a just peace and, in the process, help Israel" transcend Zionism and "redeem itself from (its) worse-than-colonial situation...." He begins with a vital question. "Why in the hell did (Israel) demolish (one) family's home" that he witnessed with horror.
What bulldozers destroy, 200 settlements restored for 500,000 Jews in 150,000 housing units. It's on Palestinian agricultural land where zoning restrictions deny them building permits. Since 1967, Israel demolished over 18,000 Palestinian homes, a process now routine, and nearly always for no security reason. Halper calls it a "national obsession," collective punishment, in defiance of international law that Israel disdains. For Palestinians, it's traumatic and devastating. It renders men powerless and emasculating for being unable to provide a family home.
For women, it's worse - dispossession and loss of one's life that's like losing loved ones. Children as well are affected, traumatized, and rendered scared and insecure. It causes bed-wetting, nightmares, fear of abandonment, a drop in grades, leaving school, and exposure to domestic violence that results from parents' emotional upheaval.
Palestinians have no recourse. They get demolition notices. No formal legal, administrative process or orders accompany them. No warning or time to remove belongings. Barely time enough to escape alive, and at times not that when army policy destroys homes on top of residents suspected of being "wanted." Demolitions may be carried out immediately, months later or even years, and nearly always in early morning when inhabitants may be sleeping or at other times when they're most vulnerable.
Five government bodies control the process on both sides of the Green Line:
It affects Palestinians, never Jews and is part of a process to "de-Arabize" lands and confine their inhabitants to small disconnected enclaves (Sharon's "cantons") on about 15% of the entire country. It encompasses Areas A and B in 42% of the West Bank and 3.5% of Israel where Arabs are confined by zoning, social pressure and plain fear if they show defiance. Another 1% is in East Jerusalem.
Israeli zoning and master plans authorize demolitions and deny building permits in ways to seem non-discriminatory. It's hardly so in a country where Jews control 95% of the land from which Palestinians are barred.
Take Jerusalem for example. West Jerusalem is for Jews and its East portion maintains an artificial 72-28% Jewish majority over Arabs for a 220,000 Palestinian population. They're in highly circumscribed enclaves. Israeli settlements took 35% of their land, and over half of East Jerusalem is designated "open green space." Palestinians can own but not build on it. The result: Palestinian housing and communal needs are confined to 11% of East Jerusalem and only 7% of all Jerusalem as Palestinians can't live in Jewish West Jerusalem. Here's how it works:
A similar system exists for the West Bank and for the same reasons - confinement, induced emigration and continued Israeli expansion. Civil Administration "Master Plans" zone 70% of the West Bank as "agricultural land" and prohibit Palestinian building. The 1995 Oslo II agreement also divided the Territory into Areas A, B, C and D (for Jerusalem) and H-1 and H-2 in Hebron. Further division established reserves for Jews only; security zones; closed military areas; "open green spaces" for Jewish-only housing developments in over half of East Jerusalem leaving Palestinians confined to unconnected cantons surrounded by Israeli settlements, restricted roads and hundreds of permanent and "flying" checkpoints.
A restricted interconnected highway and bypass road system links settlements and effectively incorporates them into Israel proper like suburbs are to downtown cities. These and other Israeli measures violate international law under which home demolitions constitute war crimes. They violate Fourth Geneva Convention provisions, especially Article 53 that states: "Any destruction by an Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons....is prohibited."
UN Resolution 1544 (May 2004) obligates Israel to observe Fourth Geneva law and deplores the deteriorating conditions on the ground. Israel remains defiant. Creating a Jewish "ethnocracy" on both sides of the Green Line takes precedence. Home demotions continue, and Israel's "nishul" displacement policy advances it overall. Halper refers to "the Message of the Bulldozers: Get out. You do not belong here." We uprooted you in 1948, and we'll do it again throughout the "Land of Israel." Palestinians have no right to claim a home in "our" country.
War or peace. Conflict or resolution. What do Israelis think? Halper believes most "want to get on with their lives. 'Peace and quiet' best describes (their) aspirations." But things are never that simple in the "Holy Land." Most Jews think ending the conflict is unattainable and accept Ehud Barak's notion that we have "no partner for peace." What then? Confrontation is inevitable, "hunker down, get on with our lives," and let the army and government keep us safe. Everything comes down to personal security, so let the devil take the hindmost.
Barak's contention and the second Intifada's (September 2000) onset highlight the issue. Israelis also "live in a bubble," much like Americans. Their perceptions and opinions are formed. They don't grasp political realities, and affairs of state aren't their thing. Nor do they care. They have their own lives to get on with, but Halper asks why can't they "break out of the Box?" Three elements explain it:
Understanding Zionism is important; its reliance on suppression, violence and dispossession; its belief in exclusivity and privilege; and how politics derives from ideology. It purports to be democracy but won't countenance it for non-Jews. It demands an ethnically pure state where half of its inhabitants aren't Jewish and have few rights afforded Jews and virtually none that matter most.
Zionism justifies it, and its roots explain. The Jewish Diaspora "maintained an ethno-nationalism within a (religious) framework." Especially for 1000 years in Europe, mostly Eastern and Central. Jews were poor and lived apart from Christians in segregated communities. They embraced nationalism that was "organic, tribal as opposed to (western) civil nationalism." From this crucible, Zionism emerged and the notion that Jews deserve a homeland. Palestine was chosen to be returned to its rightful owner. Arabs have no claim to a land exclusively for Jews. It explains the "Israeli bubble," an ideological myopia, and an inability to admit any shortcomings when it comes to relations with Arabs.
Israel is an ethnocracy. It's the antithesis of democracy. Israelis won't admit it, but its leaders refer to a "Jewish democracy." A notion right out of Orwell. Structural inequalities highlight it. Israeli Arabs may vote, sit in Parliament, but government decisions aren't "legitimate" without a "Jewish majority." The Law of Return affords it to Jews alone. Then there's land, housing, education and many other examples of Jewish favoritism compared to discrimination and denial to Arabs. On virtually everything, even small things. What holidays are celebrated, having Jewish (not civil) law regulate marriages, citizenship, death, inheritance, and so forth. It's forbidden to bury non-Jews (even soldiers) in Jewish cemeteries.
The Ciitizenship and Entry into Israel Law prohibits Israeli Arab spouses from the West Bank, Gaza or any Arab country from entering Israel, getting residency rights or citizenship. It's to counter the "demographic problem" or the threat that a faster-growing Palestinian population will one day outnumber Jews in the land of Israel and change its Jewish character.
Policy stems from this and the notion of a two-state solution, one unacceptable to Palestinians, because it's based on an unworkable idea - keeping Arabs out of "our land" and having all of greater Israel's best parts for Jews. Palestinians get what's left, what's least valued, with settlement blocs kept untouchable, and expanding them as well. So some kind of Palestinian state will be finessed that by definition will amount to separated cantons in an "artificially supported prison-state." It can't work and assures no end to conflict.
It's so untenable, yet Israelis buy it. How so? Because security framing sells it. Jews are isolated and endangered, Arabs hostile, conflict inevitable, and everything comes down to "either we 'win' or 'they' do" - a clash of civilizations with no political solution and "civilian militarism" essential in daily life. This justifies "tribal nationalism and ethnocracy," and Halper lists its main elements:
These notions are untenable. They foreclose any chance for peace, reconciliation, real security, and a fair and equitable solution to the region's longest and most intractable conflict. Yet Israel continues it for its own purposes, blames the victims for its own transgressions, and gets away with it because of western backing, mostly by America, and Palestinians have to fend for themselves.
Repeatedly through the years, Israel spurned compromise, avoided peace, and opted for conflict and repression. Halper cites examples. There are many, but few in the West know them:
Israel chooses conflict over peace. It continues its settlement program. Palestinians are shut out, and something has to give. Without rethinking Zionism and reframing an obsession with security, nothing will. Things will keep worsening, resolution will get harder, and global fallout greater. There's a bad ending out there unless decisive measures counteract it far greater than a momentary letup in fighting.
Security alone can't explain decades of Israeli policy. "Something else was going on," according to Halper - Nishul, dispossession, transfer, "de-Arabization," "Judaization" ethnocracy's "natural extension." Its logic is simple. A Jewish state can't be viable with a sizable Arab population. Worse still is a majority one even more able to demand equality. Preventing it and empowering Jews is thus policy. It defines Zionism's agenda, its roots go back over 100 years, and nishul is at its core. In seven stages according to Halper:
It refers to Leon Uris' novel about a "heroic little Israel standing bravely against hoards of bad Arabs....(a) familiar colonial narrative (portraying) an idealized image of Israel" that boils down to bad fiction. Arabs are villainous while Jews come off as "righteous victims" after centuries of persecution. They were "attacked by five Arab armies" bent on their destruction, and have fought to survive ever since. Powerful stuff and in hardcover sold over 550,000 copies in more than 40 printings. In paperback it topped seven millions sales by the late 1980s, still sells, and became a hit film in 1960.
Poor little Israel. It's the world's fourth most powerful military power, has a formidable nuclear arsenal, yet it still casts itself as victim. Against what must be asked as no regional country threatens it nor do the Palestinians with light arms and crude homemade rockets for protection.
Halper says he's often asked: "How can Jews (treat Arabs so harshly) after what they have been through? It does not come from Jewish culture." Biblical times perhaps but not thereafter. But some believe a "latent manifestation of power, violence, exclusivity and cruelty," surfaced as an ethnocracy after 2000 years of latency. Palestinian rights are denied, and showing compassion is seen as "weakness." Israel's existence as an ethnically-defined state requires it to be hard line against adversaries, external enemies and internal ones. Otherwise, its whole colonial enterprise is jeopardized. Unless victims come off as unworthy, Israel can't justify its actions. Maintaining the Exodus spirit allows them. It filters out reality with a reverse narrative of truth.
Part II will continue the story. Watch for it on this site.
Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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