An interview with Jeff Halper

FlashPoints.net
July 19, 2004

Introduction

The situation in Palestine continues to unravel at an accelerated rate. Ariel Sharon's methodical attacks on the Palestinian Authority, combined with Arafat's addiction to corruption and cronyism have led to a major power vacuum in a battle for control among the Palestinian factions in Gaza. Meanwhile the Israelis are taking advantage of the bloody chaos in Gaza, and actually speeding up the expanding occupation in the West Bank. In Jayyous for example there now exists a ominous new collaboration between Israeli occupation forces and settlers. In essence, the settlers dress up as Palestinian farmers and are filmed by the military acting violently as a way to creating an excuse for enhanced land stealing and continued illegal settlement building.

Joining us to talk about the situation in the West Bank and Gaza strip is Jeff Halper, the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), and professor of anthropology at Ben Gurion University.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: First off, let us talk about the ongoing attacks in Gaza. Just today two more Palestinians were killed in Rafah […] Can you help us dissect the situation in Gaza for us?

Jeff Halper: To tell you the truth, when I think of the Israeli activities in Gaza and in the West Bank, where every night… it is hard to say, but the best way to put it is “hunting Palestinians”. The Israeli army is out to hunt Palestinians. Hunting a sometimes wanted people. Although, it is never clear because it is an extrajudicial execution – which is illegal under international law – it is never known what you are wanted for, of course, there is no trial, there is no due process. You are simply put on a list of being wanted, and then it is permissible for the army to go out and hunt you. At the same time, anyone who gets in the way, e.g., four year old kids, kids playing football, people on their way to the market, shepherds…, anybody in the way is simply a fair target. Everyday you have got three, four or five Palestinians being killed, of which two are said to be armed, or wanted, or whatever that means… And the other ones… well, you mentioned their names, it is very seldom to hear their names of the people that are killed.

I would say that when night comes in villages of the occupied territories, you have got teams of Israeli undercover units, sometimes units with special night vision lenses, snipers… There was a whole big issue of one of the major Israeli papers, Yediot Ahronot, where they interviewed a sniper, and “how the adrenaline goes” and “how it is exciting to go out and hunt.” And they use the words “hunting Palestinians”. So this goes way beyond politics, it goes way beyond simply a fight against terrorism, or whatever, this has to do with terrorizing – there is no other word for it – terrorizing and, it is true, murdering; an entire population is really vulnerable with this kind of activity. It is hard to convey in words the terror that Palestinians go through.

NBF: You mentioned that Palestinians are being murdered on a daily basis in Gaza, and that there is a humanitarian crisis, particularly after the recent siege in Rafah and now Beit Hanoun (now in its third week of an intensified attack). Can you talk about medical, economic, and social ramifications of the Sharon policy has on Gaza?

JH: You know that the Palestinian population is essentially being kept alive by international relief agencies. In other words, Israel is using a policy of “controlled starvation” in order to make the Palestinians submit; to break resistance and essentially to make Palestinians submit to an Israeli dictated Bantustan solution to the conflict. So, what Israel does is essentially starves the population; some people haven't worked for years, something like 70% of the Palestinians live on under-$2 a day, malnutrition… something like 30% of the kids in the West Bank under the age of five are malnourished (according to a study of John Hopkins University), but they are prevented from starving by the international relief organizations. In other words, their heads are kept just above water. In some ways it is a very calculated policy on the part of Israel to exploit the fact that the international community will not allow the Palestinians to starve, and it will do everything it wants to make them submit; to impoverish them, to destroy their farms, to destroy their infrastructure, to terrorize them, and knowing that the international community will keep them from drowning – in a sense. And Israel is able to keep on the pressure, ironically, because the international community gives just that minimal amount of support needed to keep the Palestinians alive. There is even within the relief community… there is a lot of self-criticism where the UN people, Red Cross, CARE, WorldVision and other relief agencies are saying: “What are we really doing here? We are basically subsidizing the occupation.” We are letting Israel with impunity destroy infrastructure, house, because they know the international relief agencies and the international community will pick up the tab. So, in a sense, we have a humanitarian crisis, but of course, it is an induced humanitarian crisis. A humanitarian crisis created purposefully by Israel in order to force the Palestinians to submit. It really brings up a question about what is the responsibility of the international community. Is the responsibility just to hold the Palestinians' head just above water, or is to really in a sense, to effectively protest and resist the fundamental violations of human rights that Israel's policy of impoverishment and starvation is creating.

NBF(7:55): And how is the Sharon government taking advantage of the breaking apart of what is left of the Palestinian Authority (PA) right now?

JH: Well, the Sharon government has the absolute backing of the American Congress. That has to be said at first; that is its trump card. From this flows that Europe, the UN, at the International Court of Justice, it can even summon those like Colin Powell, and the president if it wanted to, because it has Congress in its pocket. Congress voted a few weeks ago to recognize the occupation as a permanent political fact by a vote of 407 to 9. So, you are talking of absolute bipartisan support, so that Sharon can do anything he wants to. And part of his strategy is to isolate the PA; that is part of the strategy of making the Palestinians submit. To isolate them politically, internationally to a point where they simply have nowhere else to turn; they cannot to the Arab countries, can't turn to the international community, because the United States prevents that. That is idea, in a very cynical kind of a way, is to install — in a way that is not too obvious — a quisling collaboration type of leader. In other words, they went through Arafat who didn't play the role of a collaborator; they went through Abu Masen, now through Abu Ala. They'll go down the list until eventually they find the collaborator they want, because in order to establish a Bantustan you have to get a local leader willing to sign on.

Israel is happy to see the PA in disarray; it doesn't want the PA to collapse. Because that would through the whole occupation back in Israel's lap, and that is the last thing it wants. It is the same policy of keeping the PA barely alive until such a time that it will throw up a collaborationist leader that then Israel can then use to sign off on a Bantustan.

NBF (10:26): Jeff, lets shift our focus now to the ongoing land theft in the West Bank. As I mentioned in the introduction, the occupation forces have set up some sort of training camp in Jayyous – they are being very secretive about it. They have brought in a contingent of militant settlers, and videotaping themselves trying to break apart the gates of the apartheid wall; throwing stones at Israeli forces… Can you talk about this type of propaganda and what the settler there want?

JH: There is a lot of different actions on the ground that the settlers participate in, and it is hard to know exactly what they are doing. Settler violence has always been a tremendous problem because the settlers are able to act with impunity towards Palestinians. They know that they won't be punished, or they won't be even apprehended, or even questioned; they have a free hand. It has always been known that the settlers have been agents provocateur in the Occupied Territories; sometimes acting as Palestinians, so that is really nothing new.

One of the interesting developments about the settlements… we talk about settlers because we are used to people coming in from the outside and settling on Palestinian territory. But one thing we have to remember is that we are now talking about the second generation of settlers. The kids that have grown up in these settlements are now in their 20s, these are kids who have grown up in a culture of violence and hatred, and they are the ones who are really doing this more than the adults. The kids are extremely violent. It is very weird to see them because they look like freaky kids of Berkeley; they have long hear, they listen to all the music, they have sometimes rings in their noses. They have the same kind of look as kids do today, but with a very-very strong undercurrent of violence towards Arabs, and a hatred…, and really in a sense, absolutely no break, no constraint on their behavior. And those are the people, those are the kids, really. In a sense they are at the forefront – they are actually going much further, they are much more violent than even the adult settlers who even see the young kids acting with excess. You can imagine what the behavior is like. The problem is that you have an entire Palestinian population of millions of people, and especially people in vulnerable areas near settlements, and now the wall is coming near the settlements, that are completely exposed to this kind of random violence. It is really Clockwork Orange. It is the same kind of cold, calculated unfeeling type of violence towards people that you see in the movie Clockwork Orange. And that is the younger generation of settler kids that has been brought up there — it is very scary. Imagine Clockwork Orange kids and Israeli army units hunting you at night? It is a very horrifying scenario.

NBF (14:08): Lets talk a little bit more about the settlers and the settlement blocks that are popping up all over the West Bank – of course illegally. What type of protection do these illegal settlements enjoy, and where does the money come from to build these gigantic settlements?

JH: First of all, it is true that they are illegal under international law, but they are recognized, officially now, by the United States government. That is that Congressional vote of 407 to 9 that called the settlements blocks – it euphemistically calls them — “Israel's major population centers”. And then the resolution says it is unreasonable to expect Israel to withdraw of its major population centers in... it doesn't say the West Bank, it says in Israel. So that in a sense, Congress has officially recognized the West Bank as being a part of Israel, and says that Israel will not have to withdraw to the 1967 line. As long as Israel has that bipartisan [support] — and we have to emphasize here that the Democrats are absolutely as bad, if not worse than, the Republicans on this issue; you only have to listen to Kerry, Hilary Clinton to hear that, or your Senator from California. [inaudible words…] The whole issue if they are legal or illegal under international law, or whatever, is absolutely irrelevant. For example, Israel two weeks ago announced the establishment of a new city. Now, this is at a time that when the US has for months and months as a part of the road map has tried to dismantle a few outposts without success. The US has no success in getting Israel even to remove uninhabited outposts. And now in the midst of all that, Israel feels secure enough that it announced officially the building of a new city just between Jerusalem and the North of Bethlehem called Gevatia El, which is going to be 55,000 people in the first stage. A brand new city that is being built in the West Bank. So Israel's settlement blocks are expanding, they are getting stronger; the intent of course is to prevent forever the establishment of a viable Palestinian state; and it is simply happening unhampered. It is not only happening that Israel is defying the international community. On the contrary, Israel is enjoying the absolute and explicit backing of the American, and now the British government. And that makes the Americans, from my point of view, complicit. There is no difference, in a sense, between the Sharon and the Bush government.

NBF (17:22): And where does all the money come from to build these settlements? Is it from private donors or is it from the Israeli government itself.

JH: Well, it comes from all kinds of sources. First of all, you have got building for commercial purposes; you have building contractors. Settlements that are close to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv are more popular; they become like dormitory suburbs of the larger cities. They are actually the most important settlements, because they are the ones that control most of the West Bank. And there it is not hard to get commercial building; the government builds there as well, the government subsidizes building, and so on. In the smaller settlements which are more ideological, much more violent, you have government building; but they are much smaller.

From the Israeli point of view in terms of the real estate market funding, the housing market and so on, Israel doesn't make any distinction between the settlements in Israel proper, except that if you move to a settlement you get all kinds of tax breaks, loans and mortgages. So, that is an inducement for people to move to the settlements.

We should also mention, by the way, that the Christian fundamentalists in the US invest millions and millions in the settlements. For example, in the settlement of Ariel there is a huge hotel and conference center that is run by Christian fundamentalists from California. Patty Hearst's sister is connected with that. The Christian fundamentalists also play a role in investing in a key way in settlements and settlement industries.

NBF (19:14): Jeff, can you describe what you call a “matrix of control” and how is it being enhanced in its current context?

JH: The matrix of control is a term that I coined a number of years ago. You know, Israel first of all, denies that it has an occupation; it says, this is our country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, and you can't occupy your own country. So we don't have an occupation first of all. And Israel wants to forever incorporate the West Bank into Israel proper; it doesn't see this as a temporary situation. In order to do that it wants to routinize, to make the situation normal in the West Bank; in other words, to make the West Bank a normal part of Israel without any idea of military occupation, or any other difference whatsoever. So, what it is trying to do with this matrix of control is to extend its administrative system, its legal system, its planning system in particular, through the settlements, through courts, and what is called a civil administration. And it is no coincidence that the American civil administration in Iraq is named after the Israeli civil administration, because the US took the Israeli model for how to run an occupation.

What the matrix of control does — which is all these rules, laws and permits that prevent the Palestinians moving, to prevent them from building homes; they essentially control every aspect of Palestinian life – it controls the Palestinians without using the military. It controls them through a Kafkaesque legal system, by planning, by bringing people to court, by preventing them from building or moving, and so on. So, the idea is that one hand the Palestinians and the world will accept Israel's administration. Rather “occupied territories”, Israel talks about “our administered territories”. The idea is that this is a step towards normalizing, and normalization is a step towards annexation and recognition. At the same time, it weaves a whole web of controls around Palestinians so that Israel ideally doesn't have to use the army or overt brutal means to control the Palestinians. It can control them by bringing them to court, by intimidating them, by preventing them from doing things. The matrix of control is a very subtle and sophisticated system by which Israel both attempts to sanitize and normalize its control of the occupied territories forever, and at the same time to control Palestinians in a way that it isn't obvious; that you can't take pictures of it, and that it doesn't allow opposition from abroad. It is a very insidious, and probably the most sophisticated form of control that probably has ever been developed.

NBF (22:29): And now to talk about solutions. At this point, are we still talking about the viability of a two-state solution? Personally, I think that a one-state solution should be at the forefront of all discussions now. But how do you see this discussion continuing?

JH: I will just give you my view. My view is that the two-state solution is dead. There is no way in which you are going to get Israel back to the 1967 border, not only because of the presence of settlement blocks, and because Israel's presence on the ground has reached a critical mass, but again, because the occupation has become legitimized and recognized, not as an occupation, but as a legitimate Israeli expansion by the American Congress, and I don't see that changing.

So, the two-state solution is over, although we always still have to continue to advocate for the complete end of the occupation. We can't stop that even if we believe in the end that some other solution has to be found. Now one solution is the one-state solution that you mentioned. And that is very attractive; I like very much the one-state solution. I think that the Israelis and Palestinians living together would be great; it would be good for the country; it would be good for the region. It would be a real challenge; I don't see it as a threat. The problem with it, or one of the problems, is that it means dismantling Israel as a Jewish state. Because if it is one state, it is not going to be a Jewish state. Half the population right now is Palestinians before the refugees come back. In a way, it is a non-starter in a realistic sense because Israel is not going to accept it, and it is hard to see the international community — the United State, Germany, Holland for example — accepting the one state idea.

What I like is something like that, but it is a confederation. I like the European Union model — where you say that there is a state of Israel, a state of Palestine, and other states in the region, and where you say, lets join into a confederation where everyone has the right to live and work anywhere in the region they want, like in Europe – where if you are from France you can live in Germany, etc., as a European citizen. So, that way the Palestinians could break out of that little Bantustan state, and they could live in Israel, or wherever they want to. The Israelis settlers could also stay in Palestine; they could stay in Hebron as Israeli citizens living in Palestine. It seems to me that this is a win-win solution, where you respect the integrity of the different states, but at the same time everybody can live and work throughout the region.

As you can tell it is more complicated than a one-state or two-states solution, so it is not so easy to sell. At any rate, we have to start thinking out of the box, and maybe even to start to advocate some different solutions. The problem is of course that we are not Palestinians, and only the Palestinians in the end that really can advocate a solution because it is their country and their struggle. As long as the PA is not taking the initiative, it means the rest of us are a little bit stuck — actually.

NBF (26:09): Speaking about the international community… You recently went to the UK to set up the Israeli committee against home demolitions in the British parliament. Can you talk about your efforts to mobilize the international community, especially allies of the United States, like the UK?

JH: We believe very much in what is called the international civil society. That is the NGOs, political organizations, church groups, Jewish groups, Moslem groups, and trade unions that comprise civil society. I think that the ruling of the ICJ about the wall was really a victory for civil society; because this is a court that the governments didn't want to establish in the first place, this is a case about the wall going before of the court, and it is a case that most of the governments in Europe and the United States were opposed to bringing before the court, and in any way it went before the court, and in any way it ruled in the great way that it did. Which shows that there is some clout to us, the international civil society; we have our globalization movement, we have the Social Forum, in other words, there we starting to have a force that is outside the governments that is very powerful that we are appealing to, that is, all the organizations that exist in the civil society. That is why we set up a branch of our committee in the US, and that is why we have a branch of the committee in Europe, and a lot of our activities is devoted towards international work. Now, this also comes out of the idea that it is hard to work with Israeli society. We tried to talk to Israelis, we have tours, we have lectures, we have films, we do things for the Israeli public, but the Israeli public doesn't want to listen our message. It has been convinced by its leaders that there is no solution, that the problem is just terrorism, that all the Arabs are just terrorists, and it doesn't want to go beyond that. So, even though we want to work with Israelis, we really don't put much stalk in changing the situation from inside. There is also no opposition to Sharon. The Labor Party instead of being in opposition is dying to get into the government. So, for that reason we put a lot of stress on working with international groups, and especially in what we believe is developing as this international civil society.

NBF (29:07): I know you alluded to this before, but what influence doest it have on Israeli policies that you not only have the Republicans, but also someone like Kerry supporting Sharon head over heals. How does this empower the Israeli policy, what is the real impact here?

JH: This goes back to what we were saying, that is why Israel can do what it does, because it has especially American support. That was in some ways, until recently, the only show in town. Unfortunately, Europe which is much more critical of Israel, and is actually a much larger trading partner with Israel than the United States, takes very submissive role. It absolutely won't cross the States on this. And that is, in a sense, where we are all stuck; it is this blind American support for Israel. Maybe the only hope is if the conflict becomes so disruptive that the US cannot get on with business as usual in the world — because this is a conflict that is emblematic in the Moslem world, in the Arab world, this is the expression of neocolonialism, and how the US relates to Islam. From that point of view it could become so disruptive – maybe especially to Europe – that they will start to get forces opposed to Americans. The US is already is already getting kind of isolated, and maybe that will happen.

Major sources of support in the US that explain why the US supports Israel so uncritically. One is, of course, the Christian fundamentalists community which is 50 to 70 million people, that support to a large degree the Republican Party. Forty percent of the voters are Christian Zionists. The other source of support, of course, is the Jewish community which has a tremendous influence in the Democratic Party, and not only in the Democratic Party, but very much so in this party; that is a tremendous source of support for Israel. The third source of support that isn't usually mentioned is fact that Israel has positioned itself squarely in the center of the American military industry. In other words, Israel is active in developing weapons systems with the US; Israel is very involved in Star Wars, theater defense, and it is the major subcontractor for American arms throughout the world. Israel itself produces ten percent of the world's arms, which is a tremendous thing for a little country. So, that is really where Israel has its strength in the US, because most members of Congress, and AIPAC (Israel's lobbying arm) will go to a member of Congress and tell him/her exactly how many jobs in his/her district are dependent on the defense industry and how many jobs come from a support for Israel. So, Israel has very cleverly and very strategically located itself in the center of the American political system in a way that it enjoys bipartisan support that is hard to envisage that this support will be shaken. As long as this support is not shaken it is hard to envisage a solution to this conflict in the Middle East.

NBF (32:58): And finally, Jeff Halper can you talk about some of the work that the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) have organized, and how important it is that people engage in direct action now to help the situation in the occupied territories. How can people get involved?

JH: Well, we are direct action, non-violent, civil disobedience group. We have taken the issue of house demolitions as our focal point. We use house demolitions to oppose the entire occupation, but the house demolition issue, where 11,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the occupied territories since 1967, and what is important to note is that thousands of Palestinian homes inside Israel — of Palestinian citizens of Israel — are also now being threatened with demolition. So, this is an issue that gets down to the process of displacement; of one people displacing another people from the country. It is the essence of the country between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians.

Our activists sit in front of bulldozers when they come to demolish a home, and try to resist. At the same time when houses are demolished, if the families are willing, we bring Israeli and international volunteers to rebuild houses as political acts of resistance to the occupation. As we do that we mobilize our networks abroad; we send out profiles of the families, we have films, we have people to write to the members of Congress or parliament; we do all kinds of activities to get public abroad to express support for these families. For the public abroad it is not just opposing a vague and abstract occupation, but something very concrete and very human in supporting a particular family in its struggle to have a home.

The thing I also want to stress is that house demolitions has nothing to do with terrorism or any security issue. Ninety five percent of the houses are simply of people who wanted to build a house on their own land, with their own money, and Israel refuses to give them permits because Israel wants their land. House demolitions is also a very powerful counterweight to the Israeli presentation of the conflict as being one of terrorism, security and self-defense. Where the building of settlements and the demolition of houses has nothing whatsoever to do with security, it exposes the fact that the occupation is a proactive land grab. Israel is simply trying to take the entire country, and in this sense displace and drive out the Palestinians.

People are welcome to be in touch with us. We have a website www.icahd.org. We are even running a work camp in August if people want to come to build some Palestinian homes. These are activities, either to come here or to be there in support, that I think are very meaningful in getting involved to oppose the occupation.