Jeff Halper, der Anthropologe, Autor und Friedensaktivist ist zu Gast beim Themengottesdienst zur Reihe Palästina

Protestant service with Jeff Halper
peace activist, anthropologist, author
November, 19th 2017

Interviewed by our predicant Alida Pisu

JUST  PEACE  INSTEAD  OF  HOUSE DEMOLITION

Alida Pisu

Jeff, you were born in Minnesota in the USA , you have Jewisch roots and you live in Israel since 1973. There you were a professor of anthropology and became a political activist. That lead to the foundation of the „Israeli Committee Against House Demolition“, that supports the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Why did you found that committee? And what was your personal motivation?

Jeff Halper
Well, first of all thank you for having me here in the church. I'm kind of a museum's piece, I'm the 1960ies in America. I did everything you were supposed to do in the Sixties when you grew up in the United States. I grew up with Bob Dylan in the same little town. I was very active in the Anti-Vietnam-War-Movement, I was in jail in Mississippi in the Civil Rights Movement, I was at Woodstock, I didn't know it was Woodstock at the time, but it was Woodstock. In 1968, I was with the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the only thing I didn't do, was to be a Hippie in San Francisco. So in a sense I had the privilege as some of you here as well, of growing up at a time in which change, revolution, love, all those sorts of values were really part of the atmosphere you grew up in. But when the Sixties collapsed in the United States, life in America seemed empty and pointless to me. Now, young people today have a concept of global, everything is global. In our days we didn't have that concept. The world is a much bigger place. And I think our word at the time was the word „revolution“. Revolution was anything you wanted it to be. Political, could be music, love, crystals, drugs, rock'n roll, everything was part of the revolution. Mine was political. So I decided to go to Israel in order to go to another front of the revolution. I'm Jewish, not religious, and I have to confess that part of the Sixties was going back to roots. Remember Alex Hailey's TV-series „Roots“ about the Afro-Americans going back to their tradition. And my going to Israel had to do with an identity. It was a meaningful place for me to be. But from the very start, I knew there was an occupation and I'm involved in the Israeli peace movement for 40 years now, and for the last 20 years I'm the head of the 2Israeli Committee Against House Demolition“. In a sense my story isn't about a Zionist who saw the light and found his way into the left (political movement). I'm someone who became critical, and I would say I'm a not-Zionist. My work against house demolition is a continuation of the work I've been doing for many years.

Alida Pisu
There also has been the movement „Peace Now“ with hundred thousands of people in the streets in the 1980ies. Why did so little happen since then in a positive way?

Jeff Halper
Aha. That's an easy question. On the one hand we are all thinking people, on the other hand we are all caught in the logic of the political and economic systems we live in. Zionism began in Eastern Europe, in Poland and Russia, and also in Germany and Central Europe at that time. That will sound a little academic, but I promise it's relevant. In the 19th century, there were two major streams of nationalism. In the West, in England, France, the United States it was a civil nationalism. It was a concept of a state that belonged to its citizens. You could become a citizen. In central and Eastern Europe it was what we call a kind of tribal nationalism. You know this well from Germany before the end of WWII. And there the idea was and is, in Eastern Europe, that a country belongs to one particular people. You have that on the Right here in Germany, you see it very strongly in Hungary and Poland, and this was the kind of nationalism that Zionism adopted. Israel presents itsself as a democracy – the only democracy in the Middle East – but in fact Israel is an ethnocracy. An ethnocracy is when a country belongs to one particular group. You can just look at the Israeli flag and you can see that concept. That's the trap that we are caught in in Israel whether you're on the right or on the left. You have an ethnocracy that is called Israel that controls the lives of 6 millions Palestinians. In other words less than half the people living in this country of Palestine/Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, less than half of them have citizenship in the country. The other half live as civilrightless people. Not to forget another 5 million Palestinian refugees that have a right to return. So to get to the questions itsself: It isn't enough to say we want peace and we want to end the occupation. Unless you dismantle the entire concept of ethnocracy you can't get to a binational society. When Apartheid ended in South Africa, the new South Africa wasn't simply a technical thing of: Now the black South Africans can vote. South Africa had to reinvent itsself with an entirely new constitution. It had to become a democracy. And that's the process that Germany went through, that's the process South Africa went through, and this is a process that Israel will have to go through before it can really find peace and justice. In Israel you can want peace but unless you dismantle the Zionist Israeli ethnocracy, it's impossible to get to equality with the Palestineans. That can only happen in a democracy.

Alida Pisu
You said that the Palestinians have relatively few rights.

Jeff Halper
Not relatively, absolutely none.

Alida Pisu
There are three reasons, why the Israeli military destroys Palestinian houses. The houses of assassins, the ones without building permission and the ones that have been built too close to Israeli settlements, streets or military bases. In the Westjordanland 274 homes and 372 other building were destroyed in 2016 alone. Why is that happening?

Jeff Halper
First of all let me say: You can't really separate Israel from the occupied territories. The policy of house demolitions began in 1947/48 not in 1967, and in fact house demolitions really have nothing to do with terrorism. You see that's the Israeli framing. Israel wants you to believe that everything it does is for defence against terrorism. Since 1967 Israel has demolished 50,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. In only 1 % of those cases did it have to do with security. Now if we go back to the war in 1948, to the „Nakba“, Israel systematically demolished 530 Palestinian cities, homes and villages, AFTER the inhabitants had left. Actually they haven't left, they have been driven out. If we take it altogether from 1948 until today Israel has demolished something like 140,000 Palestinian homes. And the reason is not security. The reason is to displace the Palaestinians and take their land. And if we can't get them out of the country, then we confine them to tiny little „islands“. Houses are really demolished for two major reasons: One is in military invasions. In 2014 when Israel attacked Gaza, in those three weeks, in July/August 2014, Israel demolished 18,000 Palestinian homes. They weren't targetted, they were simply „collateral damage“. In addition, since 1967, in 50 years, Israel has not allowed Palestinians to build new homes. It refuses to give Palestinians building permits, so if you try to build a home for your family – on your own land – it will be demolished. Again, it's the same thing I've been saying before:You can't end the policy of house demolition until you end the entire concept that this country belongs exclusively to us.

Alida Pisu
According to your view, the purpose of Israel is to spoil the occupied territory by developement, to drive the Palestinians out, and increase the number of Israeli settlements at the same time. At the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, there were 200,000 Israeli settlers in the occupied territory, by the end of it in 2000 the number had increased to 400,000. Today it's 600,000. Even the UN said, that the settlements are illegal. What does that mean for the peace process and the two-state solution?

Jeff Halper
I wish there was a peace process. Again we're locked into a dynamic of one people claiming an exclusive claim to the entire country. Until today, and this was true in the brightest days of Oslo, Israel has never ever recognized the existence of the Palestinian people. It has never recognized their national rights, not in Oslo and not in another time did Israel ever indicate that it would agree to a two-states solution. On the contrary, the Israeli position is: there is no occupation. Israel says, this whole country belongs to us. It's the land of Israel. And how can you occupy your own country? Unfortunately, this argument that there is no occupation was the argument of the Labour Party, of the socalled Left even before Likud . So every government, Labour, Likud, Kadima, every government has pursued the occupation or pursued actually the displacement of the Palestinians with equal zeal. As you mentioned, at the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993 there were 200,000 settlers in the occupied territories, by the end of the Oslo peace process in 2000 there were 400,000 settlers. Today there are 800,000 settlers. It's clear that Israel has become – it's hard to say this – that Israel has become an Apartheid state. And the only way to end Apartheid is to end the ethnocracy and to institute one democratic state for everyone that lives in that country. If Israel wanted to be a Jewish state, it could have had that, if it had accepted the two-state solution. Then there would have been a state of Israel next to a state of Palestine. But Israel deliberately and systematically incorporated the whole country into its rule permanently. You can't incorporate another 5 million people, don't give them citizenship, and still want to be a Jewish state. So we are working towards one democratic binational state.

Alida Pisu
That would be a binational state where Palestinians and Israelis live together with equal rights. But how realistic is that? With equal rights for everybody the Palestinians would have voting rights. Do you think that Israel would ever agree to that, and wouldn't that be the end of the state of Israel?

Jeff Halper
It will be the end of the Israeli state as we know it today. It has to end because you cannot sustain an ethnocracy in the 21. century. But I'm really talking about something very positive. In my view it's the only way to achieve peace and justice. And that is, you have one country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river. You can call it Israel/Palestine or Palestine/Israel, it will have equal rights for everyone, one citizenship, one parlament, one democratic country. Everybody can live whereever they want to. So the settlers can stay in Hebron if they want to, the refugees return home. Israel/Palestine is not the only country in the world that is multinational. You have the UK that has 4 nations within it, you have Spain with its issues, you have Canada, Belgium, Switzerland New Zealand, South Africa, many countries. And every country finds a system that best addresses its history. In Israel/Palestine, I think, it would be binational. In a new constitution we would recognize that there are two groups in the country, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. And each have a right to their identity, their heritage, they can have their language, their institutions, but within one democratic state. And it is exciting, part of this vision is that we would have a new civil society, because it would be a democracy and not an ethnocracy. You would have civil marriage, schools and universities could be integrated, you would have common holidays. A new civil identity would emerge. People who would want to remain Israeli or Palestinian can do so in that kind of a state. But young people, maybe more secular people, who don't want to be locked in those identities, might want to integrate into a new society. That is a positive vision.

Alida Pisu
That is a wonderful vision. But I think that Israelis and Palestinians alike, have very long experience with violence, and lived in hostility rather than in friendship. Would the two-state solution not be the easier one.

Jeff Halper
No. We in the Peace Movement accepted the two-state solution. The Palestinians accepted the two-state solution 30 years ago. And I don't want to be more catholic than the Pope. If our government would accept the two-state solution, would I say no? That's not the problem. In fact, the two-state solution is a very pro-Israeli solution. Israel remains on 78 % of the country, and the Palestinian state would only be on 22 %. We have no problem with that. Except that Israel said no. It didn't only say no but it's built all these settlements and is basically eliminating the two-state solution. We simply see that there are 800,000 settlers, and the lack of any international will to force Israel back to the 1967 borders. The two-state solution is just gone. And this is the problem we have with the German government, and all the governments of the world. They insist on a two-state solution, but they know it's gone. So they are basically giving Israel permission to continue as long as there is this illusion of negotiation and a peace process, and that a two-state solution can be maintained, as long Israel can do what they want. So Germany becomes complicit in the occupation which is certainly an issue churches should address.

Alida Pisu
Yes, that's politics. We've come to last question, Jeff. What must be done to make the vision of a binational state come true?

Jeff Halper
In fact, that's really our job as Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians are in a very difficult place. They know the two-state solution is gone, but they don't believe that a one-state solution is possible. They are very disempowered and are facing permanent oppression. We will sing „We shall overcome“ later on, but the Palestinians have very little prospect of actually overcoming the occupation. I'm part of a small group of Israelis and Palestinians that's trying to formulate a vision of a just one-state peace. We'll have a meeting in February, we are going to work to get Israelis and Palestinians to begin to support this idea. I think that actually Israelis would consider this option. But if this voice emerges, this voice of hope, we have to have you to support us. - We live under a misunderstanding. Our governments claim to lead us, they have the exclusive right to run our foreign affairs, to negotiate, to sign a treaty, to wage war in our name. But governments only manage conflict, they do not resolve them. Only if the people begin to organize and put pressure on their governments from below, will there ever be any change in policy. So we'll do our work at home, Israelis and Palestinians, but we have to have your support here. In Germany, in Europe, internationally, in order to put pressures on Israel to give up the occupation and move towards a just peace.

Alida Pisu
Thank you, Jeff. I think that all people you have come today are just as impressed by you as I am. Thanks a lot. It is important that people do not only care about themselves and their own comfort zone. You work for a bigger picture. That is still too rare. You helped me to understand the conflict and the Problems in Israel much better. Thanks again.

Jeff Halper, der Anthropologe, Autor und Friedensaktivist ist zu Gast beim Themengottesdienst zur Reihe Palästina

Jeff Halper and our predicant Alida Pisu

Jeff Halper, der Anthropologe, Autor und Friedensaktivist ist zu Gast beim Themengottesdienst zur Reihe Palästina

Jeff Halper believes that a binational democracy in Israel is possible