Monday, October 22, 2007

Jeff Halper: End House Demolitions, End the Occupation


Last night I attended the presentation of Jeff Halper at the City Hall in Gloucester sponsored by the Cape Ann Forum. I had been in Jeff’s company once before for an open discussion. In addition, I had read much and written often about the courageous and effective work of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions. 
Masterful!! That was the response of the person sitting next to me when Jeff had finished. I could not have agreed more. Jeff spoke for 90 minutes and gave the best presentation I have ever heard about the situation in the occupied territories. He not only gave a history of the conflict (including his path from growing up in Minnesota to the field of anthropology to teaching at Haifa University) but also explained how and why he got involved in the issue of the demolitions by the Government of Israel of the houses belonging to Palestinians and co-founded ICAHD in 1997.

He gave a comprehensive perspective on the significant role of house demolitions play in the Government of Israel's long term plan to “finish 1948, to redeem the Land of Israel”. His maps provided a detailed picture of what he refers to as the “Matrix of Control” by the Government of Israel over the occupied territories: the closing off of Palestinians into what will eventually be four “islands”; the setting aside of much land as agricultural; the building and growth of the Jewish settlements; the construction of highways which can only be used by Israelis; and the building of The Wall.

The most powerful piece of the presentation were the pictures of the demolition a few years ago by the Government of Israel of the house belonging to Salim, a Palestinian, his wife Arabiya and their children. Salim needed a home for his family and wanted to build it on his land. Salim applied four times (at a cost of $5000 for each application) and a permit was denied each time. He was told by the “civil” administration that it was agricultural land (and apparently the zoning could only be changed if Jewish individuals wanted to build a settlement). Nevertheless, Salim built a house. The pictures show the “authorities” arriving with their weapons, dragging Salim out, and carrying out Arabiya on a stretcher (on her way to a two month stay in a hospital in Jordan). Next were pictures of Jeff chained in the house followed by all the family’s belongings strewn on the ground followed by the house being demolished by a bulldozer driven by a Palestinian friend of Salim. Finally there is a picture of a neighbor of Salim’s who is seen looking at the ruins of the house. Ironically in the picture you can see the neighbor’s house which was demolished a few months ago.

This analysis explains why, even though the PLO in 1988 agreed to the two-state solution and the Saudi Plan in 2002 added a range of incentives, the Government of Israel has rejected any solution which would result in the Palestinians having a viable contiguous state.

Jeff concluded that there were only three options. The first is the two-state solution which he sees as no longer feasible in light of the Matrix of Control. The second is the one-state solution which is absolutely unacceptable to the Government of Israel. The only option left is Apartheid – the Palestinians living in four Bantulands. (But worse than in South Africa where those living in these “islands” were allowed out to earn income as laborers since the Government of Israel has no need for their labor having recruited laborers from around the world). The Jewish people would then become the Africaaners of the 21st Century.

His primary message is that the solution is to End the Occupation.

It takes unbelievable courage to do what Jeff does.

It even takes courage to do what the Cape Ann Forum does, bringing in individuals who speak critically of the actions of the Government of Israel.

Why? Because every presentation of overwhelming facts about the brutality of the occupation will usually be met by angry denunciations such as anti-semite, giving aid and comfort to anti-semites, anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, self-hating Jew.

Why? Because the raising of the issue of the human rights of Palestinians in the presence of many Jewish people will incur an emotional verbal retaliation or the end of a friendship as happened to me last year.

Why? Because for the last 40 years there has been a “code of silence” among those in the Jewish community – an agreement not to present to the community any information that might be critical of the Government of Israel. It has almost become a mantra – to be Jewish one must never criticize Israel.

Hence, the Jewish community has adopted what Jeff calls the Israel “framing of the conflict”; i.e., the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, Israel’s policies are based on security, the Palestinians are our enemies and are out to destroy Israel, Israel has the right to use all military means at its disposal.

Any comment that suggests sympathy for the Palestinians must be countered and one effective technique is a personal attack on the speaker.

For years I have observed one group after another (often religious organizations) respond critically to actions of the Government of Israel in Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and recommend that the Government of Israel do something and, sometimes, even include suggestions for sanctions against Israel.

For years I have observed a powerful well orchestrated media attack by what are usually referred to as “leaders” of the Jewish Community labeling the group as anti-semitic or, more recently, aiding those who are anti-semitic. These attacks will rarely address the facts of the situation. And the result often has been a meeting between the leadership of the organization and an “apology” …. for what? for speaking the truth and offending the Jewish community????

With the publication of The Israel Lobby, the extent of the efforts on the part of a very extended group of those in the Jewish community to prevent the public from learning about, and having open discussions about, the extent of the violations of the Government of Israel of international law, human rights, UN Resolutions and Jewish core values is now widely known.

With the airing of this in a New York Times bestseller, the charge of anti-semitism and anti-Israel, hopefully, will wear thin and to be treated as much of a cliché as the Joe McCarthy “Communist” smear.

A charge to be responded to not with anger but with a laugh!!!

I have quoted often the words of one long time peace activist who spoke after hearing a presentation by a Refusenik (a member of the Israeli army who refused to serve in the occupied territories). She asked us to recognize the courage of this officer whose penalty for his action might be jail and urged us to have the simple courage to speak out about what we think about the treatment of the Palestinians by the Government of Israel since the reactions perhaps of others would be so much less severe than being sent to prison.

This is what I hope will happen:

The public (including the leaders of all faith and peace groups) will listen to Jeff and others with first hand knowledge of what is happening in the occupied territories and continue to follow the news about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The public (including the leaders of all faith and peace groups) will conclude that the Occupation by the Government of Israel of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is brutal, cruel, illegal and immoral in that it violates human rights, international law, UN Resolutions and the core values of Judaism (and many other faiths).

The public will have the courage at all times, in all places and in all company to say to one and all:

“End the Occupation.”
The leaders of all faith and peace groups will come together, agree on one strong message and publicize this message widely to the media. The message will conclude:

End the Occupation.”

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