[URBANTH-L] NEWS: An Israeli in Gaza - Interview with Anthropologist Jeff Halper

Angela Jancius jancius3022 at comcast.net
Tue Dec 30 01:09:18 EST 2008

Interview with Anthropologist Jeff Halper

"An Israeli in Gaza" Interview with Jeff Halper from ICAHD (Israeli 
Committee Against House Demolitions)
Frank Barat, peace activist, interviews Jeff Halper on Palestine, Free Gaza, 
the upcoming Israeli elections and more...

Agoravox Network - The Citizen's Media

by Frank Barat   Friday 19 December 2008

1-Hi Jeff. You recently took part in the Free Gaza movement (1) and 
successfully reached Gaza by boat with others activists, journalists and 
human rights workers from around the globe. How did you get involved in such 
an initiative and why was it important for you to take part?

As an Israeli and the head of an Israeli peace organization (ICAHD - The 
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), I was asked by the Free Gaza 
Movement organizers to take part in their action to Break the Siege of Gaza 
by sailing two boats from Cyprus to Gaza City port. I agreed because this 
was a non-violent political action; breaking the siege and by implication 
highlighting Israel's responsibility for it (which it tries to shrug) fit 
into ICAHD's mission, to end the Israeli Occupation completely. Had this 
been defined as a humanitarian mission I would not have participated, since 
the so-called "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza is not the result of some 
natural calamity, but of a deliberate policy of Israel - plus the US, Europe 
and Japan, it must be said, and aided by Egypt - to break the will of the 
Palestinians to resist and to replace the democratically elected government 
of Hamas by a collaborationist regime more amenable to Israeli control.

2-What was the goal of this initiative and has it been reached?

The goal of this initiative, as I mentioned, was to break the Israeli and 
international siege on Gaza - although we were careful not to disconnect 
Gaza from the wider Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 
of which it is a part. In an important sense we succeeded. One successful 
action gives tremendous hope and encouragement to the people the world over 
that civil society initiatives can shame governments to relent and even 
change policy, as well as express solidarity with oppressed people. But in 
order to genuinely break the siege, regular boat traffic must be 
established. In that we have partially succeeded. So far five FGM boats have 
reached Gaza (the last one on December 9th, as I write this), although a 
Libyan ship was turned away and a boat of Palestinian-Israeli parliament 
members was prevented from sailing. I am in the midst of a campaign, with 
European supporters, to organize maritime trade unions in ports around the 
Mediterranean to express solidarity with Gaza, which hadn't seen a foreign 
vessel in 40 years before ours arrived. One of our goals is that on 
appointed day in the spring or summer one or more boats will depart to Gaza 
from every port on the Mediterranean. Imagine what a scene, what a gesture 
of solidarity and resistance that would be!

3-As an Israeli Jew, what type of welcome did you get from the Gazans? Did 
you meet anyone from Hamas?

We all received a tremendous welcome from the Palestinian Gazans - 40,000 
came out to greet us as we entered the port! As, unfortunately, the only 
Israeli Jew (two more have since sailed to Gaza), I was sought out by Gazans 
who wanted to communicate with me - in Hebrew - how much they yearned for a 
just peace in which all the inhabitants of the country could live together 
in peace. I was struck by how non-political their discourse was. No 
accusations, no political programs, just a deep desire to get beyond this 
superfluous conflict to a life good for everyone. This, it seems to me, is a 
solid foundation upon which a just peace can be built.

I was invited for dinner with Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister 
from the Hamas party, together with the rest of our group. I decided not to 
attend so as not to deflect the public discussion, especially in Israel, 
from our action's main focus, breaking the siege, to side issues such as the 
connection of the Israeli peace camp to Hamas. This is just what the Israeli 
authorities would have wanted: a discussion over my attending a Hamas dinner 
instead of over its own responsibility for Palestinian suffering and 
oppression. I refused to play into their hands. Nonetheless, I am proud to 
note that I received Palestinian citizenship, including a passport, from the 
Palestinian government.

4-Why did get you arrested by the Israeli forces at the Erez crossing on 
your way back to Israel?

I decided, after three days in Gaza visiting friends and participating in 
solidarity visits to Palestinian communities and organizations, to return to 
Israel by way of the Erez crossing rather than by boat. I wanted to make the 
point that the siege existed on the other three sides of Gaza, not only by 
sea. I knew I would be arrested, but I saw that as part of the action, of 
our civil disobedience. And in fact, when I went through the Erez 
"checkpoint" - actually a huge, intimidating metal terminal that reminded me 
of a cross between the Emerald City of Oz that suddenly appeared before 
Dorothy (in this case out of a barren landscape of demolished homes, 
uprooted fruit trees, scorched earth and the ever-present Wall) and an 
Orwellian scene from some totalitarian nightmare - I was arrested. The 
charge: violating a military order forbidding Israelis from being in Gaza 
(or the Palestinian cities of the West Bank). After a difficult night in 
prison, where I was physically threatened by right-wing Jews but protected 
by Palestinian prisoners, I was released on bail. I am still waiting to hear 
if the state will press charges.

5-You founded the Israeli Committee Against House demolitions (ICAHD)(2) in 
1997. What was the goal of this organization at the time? What is it now and 
what is ICAHD going to focus on in the next few months?

I was one of the founders of ICAHD in 1997, in the wake of Benjamin 
Netanyahu's election and the final collapse of the Oslo peace process. After 
several years of dormancy, ICAHD's formation was part of the re-engagement 
of the Israeli peace camp in resisting the Occupation, which emerged from 
the Oslo process much more entrenched than it has been at the start.

ICAHD is an Israeli political organization dedicated to resisting the 
Israeli Occupation until its total end, and to a seeking of just peace with 
the Palestinians, in one state, two states, a regional confederation or 
whatever political arrangement best serves our two peoples. Since 
"occupation" is such an abstract concept to most people, we decided to take 
the issue of Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes - almost 
20,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967 - as the focus of our 
activities. ICAHD activists and members of other Israeli peace groups, 
together with Palestinians and international activists, resist demolitions 
and rebuild homes demolished by the Israeli authorities - 162 in the past 
decade. Since we rebuild as political acts of resistance and not as 
humanitarian gestures, 162 such acts of Israeli and Palestinians against the 
Occupation (so far) is significant.

Acts of resistance alone will not end the Occupation, however. Activism has 
to be balanced with strategic advocacy. The grassroots has to be mobilized 
and effective lobbying done among political decision-makers. The Israeli 
public, for many reasons I will not go into here, has taken itself out of 
the political equation: it is apathetic vis-a-vis the Palestinians and 
refuses to take responsibility (indeed, Netanyahu will likely come back as 
Prime Minister in February). The focus of ICAHD's advocacy, then, is 
international, towards peace and human rights groups, trade unions, 
universities, churches, Jewish peace groups and other grassroots 
constituencies, as well as towards government officials and parliamentarians 
(Americans being the most influential and the most difficult to reach).

In the next few months ICAHD will concentrate on developing working 
relations with the Obama Administration. We are also involved in launching 
an anti-apartheid campaign. With Jimmy Johnson, a long-time ICAHD activist, 
I am also writing a book on Israel's involvement in the world's arms 
industry. Though we must continue to look "down" at Israel's actions in the 
Occupied Territories, we must also start to look "up" at Israel's role in 
what we call the Pacification Industry to understand why it receives the 
support from the US and other governments that it does.

6-How being a peace activist fighting for Palestinian rights in Israel feels 
like? Also, could you give us an overview of the Israeli peace movement 

Although ICAHD cooperates with other critical Israeli peace and human rights 
organizations, I stand somewhat apart from many activists for several 
reasons. Unlike most of my comrades, I do not think that activism by itself 
can achieve political results. The Israeli peace movement in general seems 
to think it cannot influence policy or events, and if it is limited merely 
to protest and symbolic solidarity acts, then there is no need to even try 
and participate in the political process. ICAHD considers itself an actor, a 
political player. We believe we can influence events, and so we seek to work 
with international partners, governments and civil society alike. I do not 
think it is worthwhile to try and reach the Israeli public. Unlike most 
Israeli peace activists, again, I again prefer to dedicate ICAHD's limited 
energy and resources to international advocacy. Finally, I define myself 
politically as an Israeli; an ideology like Zionism cannot determine the 
life of a country. Thus we at ICAHD belong to a small coterie of Israeli 
peace groups - together with the Alternative Information Center, the 
anarchists and '48 Palestinians - who can envision Israeli national 
expression within a single political entity shared with the Palestinians.

The Zionist peace movement is largely paralyzed today. Peace Now, the 
largest and best known of this camp, is non-functional except in its 
important monitoring of settlement activity. The Zionist left party, Meretz, 
has only five seats in the parliament out of 120. The critical (or 
 "radical," if you like) left of the Israeli peace movement to which ICAHD 
belongs is, it is true, even smaller in numbers and unable to elect a single 
member to the parliament. Nevertheless, we do unflinching actions and 
analysis from the ground and make our voices heard in many international 

7-What do you make of the recent Jerusalem attacks by Palestinians living in 
East Jerusalem? (3, 4, 5)

In fact, Palestinian violence against Israelis ("terrorism" in our parlance; 
Israeli violence against Palestinians is "legitimate military operations") 
has been virtually eliminated - except limited rocket attacks coming 
periodically out of Gaza. Israelis are feeling great personal security, 
which removes much of the motivation for peace, which for Israelis means 
only concessions and becoming vulnerable to our permanent enemies. The Wall 
might have something to do with this, but incessant Israeli military 
activity throughout the Occupied Territories - today bolstered by 
military/police operations of the Palestinian Authority against Hamas and 
those "wanted" by Israel

provides a better answer. The only actual attack in recent years was that 
carried out against the yeshiva in Jerusalem, and it stands out as an 
exception to the rule.

8-On the 17th of September 2008, Tzipi Livni was elected leader of the 
Kadima party. What could bar her from being the next Israeli prime minister? 
In what way could she been different than Ehud Olmert?

Israel's four major parties - Likud of Netanyahu, Kadima of Olmert and 
Livni, Labor of Barak and Shas of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Eli Yishai - are 
all right-wing and have members (especially generals and former security 
agents) who frequently cross over from one to the other. Tzipi Livni is 
merely another right-wing politician, and it is a mistake to consider Kadima 
a "centrist" party (it was, in fact, Sharon's personal political vehicle). 
Still, Livni is the most popular candidate for Prime Minister, but she 
cannot win because in Israel we do not have representative democracy. Voters 
vote only for parties, not for candidates, and citizens have no 
representation by district. The only way to get Livni, then, is to vote 
Kadima, but it is not a popular party and people would rather vote Likud, 
meaning they will get Netanyahu even though few want him, even in his own 
party. See what I mean by a disempowered Israeli electorate?

9-Gideon Levy said that as long as the Israeli public will have no problem 
with the occupation, it will not stop. He also said that in most polls 
Israelis showed strong support for peace (up to 70%), but then voted for 
people like Benjamin Netanyahu (who will win the next Israeli election in 2 
months according to Levy). Would you like to comment on this?

Three things disempower Israelis and neutralize them as a positive, 
pro-active political force: (1) the fact that although most Israelis are 
willing to support a two-state solution, they have been convinced by their 
political and military leaders that there is no political solution, there is 
no "partner for peace," and therefore they have no choice but to let the 
government do whatever it wishes (which is to strengthen the Occupation); 
(2) as I've mentioned, they have no political representation and no ability 
to influence government decision, and so do not even try; and (3) as long as 
life is good - which it is inside the Israeli bubble - then who thinks of 
Arabs? So the issue of peace is way down the list of electoral priorities, 
and since candidates are dictated by parties, Israelis end up voting for the 
least evil choice. Thus Netanyahu.

10-In the last few years, unemployment rates in the West Bank and Gaza have 
reached new heights. In Nablus for example, which used to be a commercial 
centre for Palestine, more than 50% of its inhabitants are now without a 
job. The Palestinian Authority, in close collaboration with the World Bank 
and the British Department for International Development, has drawn up a new 
plan to be implemented in the West Bank called the Palestinian Reform and 
Development Plan (6).In your opinion is this the right plan?

I don't believe - together with the World Bank and DIFID, in my opinion - 
that development is possible under occupation. In fact, it ends up enabling 
occupation, since Israel can destroy Palestinian infrastructure at will and 
besiege Palestinians to the point of starvation knowing full well that the 
"development" and relief agencies will pick up the clack and keep the 
Palestinians' heads just above water. This in Operation "Defensive Shield" 
in 2002 Israel destroyed $350 million of urban infrastructure, airports and 
ports, exactly the amount the international community had invested during 
the previous year. To paraphrase Clinton: "It's the Occupation, Stupid!"

11-Barack Obama's election as President has been celebrated all over the 
world as a proof that America had changed and was ready to stop the 
warmongering Bush years and start anew. Any chance that this will apply to 

I wrote an article entitled "A Bone in America's Throat" which was published 
on Nov. 10, 2008, in Counterpunch . In it I argue that Obama is entering 
into a wholly different international reality than Bush did, in which 
America is militarily over-stretched and economically weakened and the world 
is more multi-polar. Rather than a "War on Terror," the US will have to 
rejoin, rather than browbeat, the community of nations. To do that - and to 
leave Iraq and Afghanistan while stabilizing relations with Iran and 
Pakistan, plus trying to prevent the fall of Egypt, Jordan and other 
American "allies" to Islamic fundamentalists - it will have to find an 
accommodation, if not reconciliation, with the Muslim world. And it will not 
get to first base without addressing the Palestinian issue, which for the 
world's Muslims is emblematic, a conflict more symbolically significant than 
Iraq. The Palestinians' clout is that they are the gatekeepers. Until they 
signal to the Arab/Muslim world that the conflict with Israel is over, that 
they have reached a political solution acceptable to them and that now is 
time to normalize relations with Israel and its US patron, the conflict is 
not over, and the US cannot move ahead. My hope is not in Obama per se but 
in that he will recognize that it is in America's interest to end the 
Israeli occupation, and will then move forcefully to do so. So I'm 
optimistic. I don't believe Israeli control of Palestine is sustainable.

12-Noam Chomsky told me that "What current advocates of a one-state 
(binational) settlement don't seem to fully appreciate is that the choices 
are nottwo-states versus one-state with an internal civil rights 
(anti-apartheid) struggle, but rathertwo-states versus continuation of 
current US-Israeli programs, which take no responsibility for Palestinians 
outside of the areas Israel expects to incorporate, so that they can rot or 
leave". He also said that "I presume that's why binationalistproposals that 
were anathema when they were feasible (roughly '67-'73)are treated much more 
gently today, even approved in the mainstream, now that they can be 
exploited by the right to undermine a two-state first stage in the process." 
What is your position on this issue and what is your vision for the future 
of Palestine/Israel?

I think mathematically there are only three solutions: one state, either 
bi-national (most likely) or a unitary state like South Africa; two states, 
which is still preferred by the vast majority of Palestinians in Palestine, 
who seek national self-determination (although they expect the eventual 
evolution of a single state); or apartheid - a "two-state solution" 
envisioned by Israel in which the Palestinians are shoved into a Bantustan 
on a truncated 15% of historic Palestine and Israel controls the rest, 
including borders, movement, water, Jerusalem and even the airspace. I 
believe that Israel has eliminated the two-state solution by its settlement 
project, and only an assertive US Administration can force Israel to 
withdraw to a meaningful degree, which is possible if US interests are at 
stake but unlikely. Since apartheid is not an option, we are left with a 
one-state solution, which I think is difficult - the history of bi-national 
states is not a happy one - but do-able if both peoples go into that project 
in good faith (very unlikely on the part of Israel). The one-state solution 
also enjoys no support today either in Israel or in the international 
community. It appears, then, that we have a conflict with no apparent 
solution at the moment.

I have advanced what I call a "two state-plus" solution based on the idea of 
a loose regional economic confederation involving Israel, Palestine, Jordan, 
Syria and Lebanon. Key to that is the freedom of all the residents of the 
confederation to live and work anywhere among its member states, as in 
Europe. This would eliminate the issue of how big the Palestinian is, 
neutralize the Occupation (since the settlements and Israel proper would be 
fully integrated), resolve the refugee issue and shift the burden of 
economic viability from a tiny Palestinian state to the entire region. But 
that's a big vision whose time has not yet come.
Jeff Halper's new book "An Israeli in Palestine" is out now.

Frank Barat is a peace activist living in London. His book of interviews 
between Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, "Le champ du possible" is out now. He 
can be reached through is blog "Life under occupation".

Also read Adam Hanieh article: 

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