An Israeli In Palestine – Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel

Jeff Halper, Pluto Press (2008)

The author is a well-known peace activist in Israel who leads ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions).

Founded in 1997, ICAHD is a non-violent, direct-action organization dedicated to ending the Israeli Occupation and establishing a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in whatever form that might take. The focus of our work, and the vehicle through which we expose and resist the working of the Occupation, is Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian houses – about 27,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967.

Author Jeff Halper

Author Jeff Halper

I met the author in person during one of his U.S. speaking tours many years ago before my first trip to the Middle East. He was sitting on the couch across the living room in my friend’s home and must have noticed me staring at him.  During a lull in the conversation, he beckoned me to join him on the couch.  I shook my head “no” — too shy to sit next to him and engage him in a discussion on a topic that I knew very little about. He shrugged his shoulders, got up and walked off. I felt like a fool.

Fifteen years later, I don’t feel so shy or foolish. I’ve read alot and learned alot. My confidence level about what I know about the Holy Land has risen considerably.  Anyone with an open heart and mind who is just starting on this path of discovery will benefit from Halper’s book.

Halper was raised a good Jew  in Hibbing, Minnesota in the 1950s-1960s not far from my hometown of Rochester, MN. As an undergraduate student at Macalster College in St. Paul in 1966, he received a scholarship to study the Jews of Ethiopia. En route, he stopped in Tel Aviv and spent a few days in the Old City in Jerusalem. He returned to Israel in the summer of 1973 as a PhD student in anthropology and eventually made his home there.

His understanding of Palestinians and the Occupation came slowly as he was acculturated into Israeli life. However, his peace activism didn’t rev up until he watched a Palestinian friend’s house demolished by the bulldozers of Israel’s Civil Administration in July 1998. That was the moment the injustices of the Occupation, and the power imbalance between the Israelis (as occupiers) and Palestinians (as the people occupied) hit him.

Halper standing in front of a Palestinian home threatened with demolition.

Halper standing in front of a Palestinian home threatened with demolition.

As the bulldozer pushed through the walls of Salim’s home, it pushed me through all the ideological rationalizations, the pretexts, the lies and the bullshit that my country had erected to prevent us from seeing the truth: that oppression must accompany an attempt to deny the existence and claims of another people in order to establish an ethnically pure state for yourself.

Halper’s journey from “Minnesota Nice” to a critical “post-Zionist” Israeli should help many Americans who are questioning the spin they hear on the Nightly News or read in The New York Times.

As an Israeli, [Halper writes] my task is to bring Israel’s Occupation to as quick an end as possible. …  Since Israel, in my view, carries the lion’s share of the responsibility for the conflict as the strong party in the region and an Occupying Power, my modest approach to peace-making begins at home: trying to understand where Israel is coming from as a country and a people dedicated to an expansionist national ideology, and therefore where it is going — indeed, where it can and cannot go given the massive “facts on the ground” it has established both in the Occupied Territories and at home.

An Israeli in Palestine comes from the perspective of an informed Israeli who wants a “win-win” solution and is open-minded about what that future might look like in the Holy Land.

The author spells out the facts — all documented with an extensive bibliography. Americans who prefer the New York Times “spin” about the conflict in the Middle East or the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) will not want to pick up Halper’s book. I suspect there are also many clueless Israelis who prefer the platitudes about the “only democracy in the Middle East” rather than the cold, hard reality of the Occupation. They might avoid this book too.

Jeff Halper organized the history and metholodogy of Israel’s Occupation of Palestine in terms that I (as a rather uninformed American) could digest and comprehend. He opened my eyes to the Zionist paradigm of Jewish exclusivity and privilege, and why the disconnect between the Zionist narrative which frames the conflict as personal security, and the reality of control and an ethnocracy based on an Eastern European tribal nationalism is so potent. He believes the conflict cannot be limited to the territories occupied in 1967, that its roots go back to 1948 and beyond.

Israel’s security framing has been characterized as “civilian militarism.” Conflict and war has become “a self-evident and routine part of everyday life,” according to Baruch Kimmerling, an Israeli sociologist. (p.83)  Here’s how the security framing works:

1) Israel is fighting for its existence, the victim of implacable hatred on the part of the Arabs who don’t want peace. Since they (and the Palestinians in particular) are our permanent enemies, the conflict is a win-lose proposition: either we “win” or “they” do.

2) The core of the conflict problem is Palestinian terrorism. As a peace-loving democracy and the victim of aggression Israel bears no responsibility for creating or perpetuating the conflict. Because the threat to Israel is existential and Israel’s policies are based solely on concerns for security, it is exempt from accountability for its actions under conventions of human rights, internationbal law or UN resolutions.

3) There is no Occupation.

4) Since no political solution is possible, any future arrangement must leave Israel in control of the entire country, including control over the Palestinians. Still, in order to remain a Jewish state, Israel must establish a Palestinian state to “relieve” itself demographically of that population. That state, however, must for security purposes be truncated, encircled by Israel, non-viable and only semi-sovereign. The army, for all intense and purposes, is the nation-builder.

The three parts of the Israeli framing — the paradigm of tribal nationalism, ethnocracy and security — form a complete, self-contained, compelling and rational worldview and political structure.

Jeff Halper

Jeff Halper in handcuffs and on his cell phone

The structure of the book is set out in four parts – each compelling and, taken together, provides a critical education for anyone (Jew and non-Jew alike) who cares about the future of the Holy Land and the peoples who live there.

Part I: Comprehending Oppression

1. The Making of a Critical Israeli

2. The Message of the Bulldozers

Part II: The Sources of Oppression

3. The Impossible Dream: Constructing a Jewish Ethnocracy in Palestine

4. Dispossession (Nishul): Ethnocracy’s Handmaiden

5. The Narrative of Exodus

Part III: The Structure of Oppression

6. Expanding Dispossession: The Occupation and the Matrix of Control

7. Concluding Dispossession: Oslo and Unilateral Separation

Part IV: Overcoming Oppression

8. Redeeming Israel

9. What About Terrorism?

10. Where Do We Go From Here?

Halper is a frequent contributor to Mondoweiss and his writing can be found online here.

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