Frank Barat caught up with Jeff Halper, long-time Israeli peace activist, author and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), while he was on a European speaking tour which will take him from the UK to Poland. Here is what he had to say about the situation in Israel and Palestine…
Frank Barat: I’d like to start by talking about what’s happening in Jerusalem. When I came in 2007, you took us to Silwan, explaining the huge house demolition plan the Israeli government had in mind, telling us that thanks to the efforts of many and including an intervention by the US, the demolitions didn’t happen. Today, nonetheless, it looks like the demolitions will take place. Could you give us an update on this, and also give us a broader view of what people now often refer to as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Jerusalem?
Jeff Halper: Well let me give you a broader picture about the whole thing and then we can go back and put it into context. I think what’s coming down the pipeline is that Israel today has basically finished this. We’ve gone beyond the occupation. The Palestinians have been pacified and from Israel’s point of view the whole conflict, the whole situation has been normalised.
Netanyahu went last month to Washington to meet with Obama. When he came back his adviser was asked what was new about this meeting. And his adviser said, “This is the first time in memory that an Israeli Prime Minister met with a US president and that the Palestinian issue was not even mentioned, it never came out.” So, in that situation where the US is really paralysed because Netanyahu has both parties in congress and Obama does not want to do anything – Netanyahu is going to make the last move in nailing this whole thing down.
Israel could well annex Area C. Area C is 60 per cent of the West Bank. Now, the European council general in Jerusalem and Ramallah, a couple of months ago sent a report to the EU, saying that Israel has forcibly expelled the Palestinians from Area C. Forcible expulsion is hard language for European diplomats to use.
So Area C has less than 5 per cent of the Palestinian population. In 1967 the Jordan Valley had about 250,000 people. Today, it’s less than 50,000. So the Palestinians have either been driven out of the country, especially the middle class, or they have been driven to Area A and Area B. That’s where 96 or 97 per cent of them are.
The Palestinian population has been brought down low enough, there is probably somewhere around 125,000 Palestinians in Area C, so Israel could annex Area C and give them full citizenship. In other words Israel can absorb 125,000 Palestinians without upsetting the demographic balance, you see. And then, what is the world going to say? It’s not apartheid; Israel has given them full citizenship. So I think that Israel feels it could get away with that. No one cares about what’s happening in Area A and Area B. If they want to declare a state, they can declare a state. Israel has no interest in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.
The US, by the way, has already agreed that the settlement blocks are part of Israel. Annexing Area C does not go so much beyond the settlement blocks. It’s just pushing the envelope a little bit more. Then you come to Jerusalem. I think what Israel is going to do is that it will give the Palestinians in the north and the south, in Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Tubat… it will allow them to have Palestinian citizenship. Israel, in a sense, gets rid of 100,000 Palestinians. What the government has already indicated it was going to do is that the wall around Jerusalem will be the border. So what’s happening today is that because of the house demolitions and the policy of freezing the constructions Israel is allowing – it’s still illegal of course – but Shuaffat and Anata, have now been cut out by a huge wall a huge terminal.
The tremendous building behind the wall is still in Jerusalem, so Palestinians are moving from inside the wall into that area. And the same thing is true in the north. So you are getting maybe another 100,000 or so Palestinians to move into those areas. Then, once they are there, Israel cuts them off. Israel now says the wall is the border, we give up Anata, Shuafat – and so in a sense, what you’ve done is join those areas into Area C. So now Israel has the whole country, its isolated the 97 per cent of the Palestinians into area A and B. Jerusalem is now 80 to 85 per cent Jewish because these big Palestinian populations you either got them out completely like Shuafat and Anata or inside the wall you’ve given them Palestinian citizenship so you don’t have to deal with them. So Israel retains kind of that centre.
And it’s over.
In other words, we’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians have been confined in Areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it. Now the wrinkle is that I think they will do this with the agreement of the Palestinian Authority because Fayyad is a neoliberal.
Fayyad is saying to Israel, we don’t need territory. If you give us economic space, to do business, and our business class can do okay and we can trickle down to our working classes, it’s good enough. So we don’t need Area C. As a matter of a fact what the European Counsel General said in its report is that the Palestinian Authority has given up Area C. Completely. When government or agencies come to the Palestinian Authority for investments, the PA tell them invest only in Area A and Area B. Do not invest in Area C. They’ve given up C.
The idea is that Israel allows trade, to move freely between these Palestinian enclaves. I call it “viable apartheid”. I think Fayyad has developed a viable apartheid, saying that in the neoliberal world we need economic space, not territorial space. You let us move our goods freely into the Arab world, you give us an access to the Israeli market, and it’s fine. In other words, all the developments, like this new city Rawabi for upper-class Palestinians, are in the contours of Area A and B. They are now building a highway from Ramallah to Jericho; the Japanese are building it with the PA. Then either the Japanese or USAID will build from Ramallah to Bethlehem so greater Jerusalem, with E1, will be incorporated into Israel.
I think you can get into a deal where Israel annexes Area C, it’s taken Jerusalem, they’ll give the Palestinians something symbolic like control of Haram Al Sharif/The Temple Mount, you can put up a capital in Abu Dis again. Basically, what I am saying is not only that they are they going to nail this down but they will do it with the agreement of the Palestinian Authority. If you give Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians in Area C and the PA agrees, that’s economic peace that Netanyahu and Fayyad talk about. So that’s the big picture.
FB: So when people talk about a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of historical Palestine, it’s not even that, right? The number is much smaller.
JH: Yes, what Fayyad is saying is our state does not have to be on any particular amount of territory; our state is an economic state and we can work around you annexing this and that because we can make our cities. The idea is that Israel we’ll give them a bit of Area C, to put the enclaves a little bit more together. So you still have the cantons, of the north, the south and Gaza. So they will still be cantonised but what Fayyad is saying is we can make a go of that. Both Netanyahu and Fayyad have moved from a territorial conception of two states to an economic conception of two states, which is a whole different kind of thing.
The problem that the bosses have is how to sell that to the Palestinian people. But it seems to me that this is what is coming down the pipeline.
What Israel is relying on, maybe the PA as well, I don’t know how to put this exactly. Israel feels that the Palestinians have been defeated. It’s over. Resistance is impossible because of the Israeli army, the Palestinian proxy army, the wall, I mean, you can’t mount a third intifada. Israel policy since the Iron Wall of 1923 has been despair.
I wrote an article about this once “Despair as a policy”. The Zionists have always always said that once the Arabs despair, and Jabotinsky put it interestingly “despair of the land of Israel ever becoming Palestine” – that was the end, victory for them. Israel feels that it’s what we have got now. If you go today to the West Bank, Gaza might be different, you’ll hear the people say that they don’t care anymore, let me have a job, let me live my life and I’ll be happy. In a sense, Fayyad feels he can respond to that.
FB: Some pogroms took place recently when a group of Beitar soccer fans attacked Palestinian workers in a shopping mall. Were those people a few bad apples, or are these type of events do indeed say something about Israeli society?
JH: They are more than bad apples. They are not completely Israeli society either. This football team in Jerusalem is connected to the Likud. In Israel many football clubs are associated with political parties. There is a very close relation between the ideology of Likud and Begin and the Beitar football team. They see the Arabs as the enemy. So it reflects about a third of the Israeli public, that is very committed to expansion, settlements, see the Arabs as the enemies. It reflects that.
You know, in Beitar, their chants, it’s not just the pogroms. They chant everytime their team scores a goal, “Death to the Arabs”. That’s what 20,000 people chant. Beitar for example has never ever had an Arab player. The Arabs are beginning to be more prominent in Israeli football teams. Not in Beitar Jerusalem. This pogrom is kind of an extension of this. It’s all in the context of kids, for the most part its kids that have seen Israel moved into a neoliberal economy, more and more Thatcherite, and you have tremendous income disparity in Israel. Israel is now in the OECD, it has one of the highest income disparity I think, maybe the US excluded.
Kids have got no real future, that’s part of the context too. Those kids come from the housing projects, very much like National Front in France or EDL in England, people that only have this racist emotional outlet for their frustrations, and football is great for that. It channels anger away from the government. That’s why they sponsor football teams!
FB: How important are the words we use, in your opinion when it comes to Palestine/Israel? Ilan Pappe recently told me that we should rethink our dictionary/vocabulary. Can we objectively still talk about peace/occupation? Shouldn’t we talk about the right to resist and apartheid instead?
JH: For sure. We deal a lot with words in our analysis. There are two words, because I think occupation is an old word. We are way beyond occupation. I think we are also way beyond apartheid. There are two words that capture the political reality but don’t have any legal substance today. One of them is Judaisation. It’s a word that the government uses, to Judaise Jerusalem, the Galilee, so that’s a Judaisation process that really is the heart of what’s going on. But it has no legal reference. So one of our project, we’re working with Michael Sfard and some other lawyers, is to try to introduce those terms into the discourse with the idea of trying to give them some legal frame.
We have to try to match the political process, the political reality, because it is unprecedented in the world. Another term is “warehousing” because I think that captures what’s going on better than apartheid. Warehousing is permanent. Apartheid recognises that there is another side. With warehousing it’s like prisons. There is no other side. There is us, and then there are these people that we control, they have no rights, they have no identity, they’re inmates. It’s not political, it’s permanent, static. Apartheid you can resist. The whole brilliance of warehousing is that you can’t resist because you’re a prisoner. It’s like prisons. Prisoners can rise in the prison yards but prison guards have all the rights in the world to put them down. That’s what Israel has come to.
They are terrorists and we have the right to put them down. In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially to take out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons. It’s another concept that does not have any legal reference today but we’d like to put that in because warehousing is not only in Israel. Warehousing exists all over the capitalist world. That’s why I am writing about Global Palestine. I’m saying that Palestine is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world.
FB: You recently wrote: “Unlike most of my comrades, I do not think that activism by itself can achieve political results…until a reinvigorated Palestine National Council (PNC) or other representative agency can be constituted, a daunting but truly urgent task, Palestinian civil society might coalesce enough to create a kind of interim leadership bureau”. Is this being done in your opinion and what could we, solidarity activists, do better?
JH: No, and that’s the problem. Because even if there is a collapse of this political situation we are talking about and new possibilities emerge, like a one state, bi-national or regional confederation, all kinds of possibilities that don’t exist today. And let’s say BDS and resistance have an effect. I really believe this conflict is unsustainable. I don’t think Israel can win. So if Israel’s project collapses, then what? Because today, there is no Palestinian agency.
The only Palestinian agency is the PA – and it has no legitimacy. And then, in a way, to tell you the truth, I was a little bit upset with the Palestinian Left when Abu Mazen (President Mahmoud Abbas) went to the UN to ask for recognition of Palestine and they undercut him. Not because they were wrong; I could agree with them. I agree that it does not help, but don’t do that two weeks before he goes. This whole thing was gelling for a year. So you say, a year, nine months before, no. We don’t accept this. You don’t undercut the person who for most people represents Palestine two weeks before he goes. Where were you before?
The other question I have for people who say that Abbas has not legitimacy, that he should not have gone… so what? I mean, we have to liberate Palestine, right? And Abu Mazen is not the one to do it, so what? I kept asking all those people, so what do you suggest? You’re against him going, fine. So what are you suggesting? The only thing they came back with, weakly, was BDS. BDS is a tool, not a strategy, it’s not going to liberate Palestine. It’s a tool. OK, let’s say BDS succeeds, Israel is brought down to its knees by this tactic. So what? Who is going to pick up the pieces? There is no agency. Who is going to decide if it is a two-state solution, a one state, who is going to negotiate? That’s the real problem.
The only agency that has that mandate, legitimacy, and is really representative is the Palestine National Council (PNC). I have no idea where that initiative is going. I understand in a way why they are not talking about it because it’s very delicate and they are doing it quietly. I mention this but I am not writing about it, because it’s not my issue, it’s a Palestinian issue. But the point is that without Palestinian leadership and without an agency, we’re stuck. I feel that we’ve gone as far as we can go.
We’ve brought this to governments, we’ve raised public awareness, we’ve had campaigns, we’ve done this for decades, we’ve made this collectively, one of two or three really global issues. But without Palestinians we can only take it so far. This is their moment. If there is no PNC and the PA is either going to collapse or be collaborationist, then what? I am trying to challenge a little bit my Palestinian counterparts. Where are you guys?
To tell me “BDS” is not the answer, that’s a tool. In some ways, the Palestinians that we work with owe us a certain strategy. Even if they don’t want to get into the details of this PNC thing, they should say something is cooking. Because what’s going to happen is that people will get fed up, depressed, and move on to other issues. There are many issues around the world.
One word embodies that: colonialism. For the Palestinians it is definitely settler colonialism. There is no question, it’s obvious. People coming in from Russia, saying it’s my country. Okay. For the Jewish point of view it is no settler colonialism. There is a genuine feeling that there is a tie to this country, they speak Hebrew – in other words, the Jews are not strangers.
You can agree to disagree or whatever but the problem is that as the colonial discourse gets stronger and stronger in the Palestinian left, there really is going to be a deligimitisation of anything Israeli. It’s important because our conception with the left in Israel has always been that whatever the solution was, it had to be inclusive, like in South Africa. Now, there is a retreat from that. In other words, the alternative to the South African model is the Algerian one.
Once you liberate Palestine you guys go back to to where you came from – you’re out of here. That is why I don’t think it is settler colonialism. There is no mother country. It isn’t like France where you could go back to France. Where are the Israelis going to go back to, especially now with all those new generations? It’s not being articulated, nobody is saying it. It’s being articulated under the rubric of normalisations.
The Palestinian Left is pulling back from working with groups like ours, even the anti-Zionists like ourselves. You see it, for example, in the global march to Jerusalem. It’s always phrased as “this is a Palestinian and international struggle”. Where are we? Even non-Zionist? Where are we? The answer that I got from a few people was “we put you with internationals”. Which is wow, that means something.
My problem is that I cannot obviously be part of a struggle which is not inclusive. It deserves to be addressed in-house, in the movement, not in public. I was forced to bring it up in the global march to Jerusalem. I was pressed to endorse the march publicly but they said not as the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions because we can’t use the word Israeli. You have to endorse the march as the head of the committee against house demolitions. I said no and that set up a whole discussion. An organiser of the march wrote that this whole issue of inclusivity was a western preoccupation.
We are at a very crucial stage here where first of all the Palestinians have to take over and second of all, there has to be an end goal. If in fact the left is starting to say “it’s colonialism” and we are not working with you guys anymore, this has tremendous implications.
Frank Barat is a Human Rights activist based in London. He is the coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books; Gaza in Crisis with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, and Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation with Asa Winstanley. He has also participated in the book Is There a Court for Gaza? with Daniel Machover.