|English: Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip) showing Israel's 1948 and 1967 borders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|English: The postage stamp of United Nations, Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (1981): ( Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Jeff Halper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
In Montreal we have had a visit from Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, who gave two remarkable lectures on succeeding nights. He said on the second night that he did not speak the language of hope, but of struggle, and the material he produced for a Montreal audience --- probably 80 per cent made up of “the choir” of those who agreed with him, as he said ---- did not make any concessions to those who might be looking for a quick fix to the Israeli-Palestine imbroglio.
Although I acknowledge the courage, persistence and goodwill of those in Israel who oppose the present suicidal course of their government, nevertheless I had a feeling in the back of my mind that Halper might be expected to produce a slightly anodyne version of the facts. I should have known better. He gave it to us, straight, in a manner that the media which is constantly dealing with this issue never does.
For Halper, the two-state solution around which all international attitudes towards the issue are built, is long-since dead and buried. In fact, it has never been a possibility for the simple reason that, from the outset, Israel has refused to acknowledge it as a possibility and has done everything it could to pre-empt and kill it. Ironically, Halper sees the two-state solution as “super pro-Israeli”, because it envisaged that Israel, with a minority of the population of the whole area of Palestine, should get 78 per cent of the land. Nevertheless, Israel has never, from the beginning, accepted or recognized the Palestinians as a people --- even the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are referred to as “Arabs”, to indicate that they have no original homeland they might hanker after. Even the Oslo accords could look forward to the Palestinians having effective control over only 38 per cent of that 22 per cent of the land allocated to them after 1948. And the current state of that eight per cent of the land on which Palestinians now live is that it has been hopelessly fragmented and controlled by 600 Israeli checkpoints that restrict the movement of the people who live there to such an extent that he cited the case of a 21-year-old born in Bethlehem, within walking distance of Jerusalem, who had never in his life been to Jerusalem, a young man who could see the Mediterranean but had never visited it. Halper gave a figure that tells the other part of this story, the success of Israel in getting rid of the Palestinians over the decades: in 1962, 250,000 Palestinians were living in the Jordan valley, part of the so-called West Bank; now there are only 50,000 left.
Halper argued that the language used about the issue is out of date. In fact, there already exists one state, controlled by Israel from the sea to the Jordan river. There is one government, he said, one state, one system of water, one electrical system, one hydro system, and so on. “We should not be talking about Occupation of the West Bank,” he said. “What it is today is one state, an apartheid state, with the two major elements, that one people is set up over the other, and that they have established a regime of permanent institutional domination.” Accepting that this is so, he says, “we now have to make it into a democratic state.” He acknowledges that is not going to be easy. After all, 95 per cent of Israelis favoured the brutal onslaught lasr year on Gaza. When this is the mind-set of the dominant people, it is going to take a cataclysm to change their minds.
Halper believes that the collapse of the apartheid state must happen eventually, and he is concerned that “we, on the left” have nothing to suggest to replace it. He bases his ideas about a possible solution on a proposal for a binational state, established by a regional Middle Eastern agreement, followed by a confederal government that would be carefully established through six stages, each of which must be accepted by both sides if the whole thing is to work. First, a balance must be struck between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy). This would be a tough one for the Palestinians to swallow, he acknowledges, because it suggests some limit on sovereignty. Second, the agreement must conform to human rights and international law. Third, the right of return of the refugees must be recognized (a tough one for the Israelis to swallow). Fourth the state must be economically viable. Fifth, it must address the security concerns of Palestine, Israel and the whole region. Sixth, ultimately this agreement must be regional in scope, and he defined the region as comprising at least Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. He suggested such a state should have two houses of Parliament, one elected on communal lines, the other by direct election of the people, and there should be a revolving three member executive head of state, comprising Palestinians, Israelis and the electorate in general.
He produced a cunning alternative understanding of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction, the global anti-Israel campaign that he supports) but which could also stand, he said, for Binational Democratic State.
This was the second of his two lectures: the first, dealing with Israel’s immense role in “Global Pacification”, was altogether more alarming. Halper is in the process of writing a book about the Israeli military, a subject he says he is not expert in, but which evidently fills his head at this time. He presented Israel as an almost totally militarized state, whose universities operate as high-tech research and resource centres for military aggrandizement, but one of its major functions is to “export the Occupation.” Israel is armed veritably to the teeth, he says. It has 10 of its own spy satellites, which explains the high level of its intelligence about Palestinian movements, and it has invented all sorts of nasty little vehicles and machines to maximize control over populations. In fact, Israel’s influence over policing methods used in many other countries --- Halper suggests it is exporting military equipment to 185 countries --- is so great that he says we should not refer to “the militarization” of North American police forces, but rather to their “Israelization.” Just this week has come over my e-mail a piece detailing how Israel is supplying all sorts of oppressive weapons to arm the Mexican border with the US, for example.
I did not keep detailed notes of this address, so I do not want to imply that he said actual words that he might not have said. However, I did come away with an overall impression that was extremely alarming. Given Israel’s behaviour in ruthlessly opposing any rights for Palestinians ever since foundation of its state, and right through the so-called Peace Process in its many rebirths, during which it has paid lip-service to wanting peace while resolutely refusing every attempt to make peace, and putting this together with its insane level of military preparedness, which it has shown every disposition to use, it would seem to be clear that if ever the day should arrive when the Israel’s existence is threatened, they would be quite ready to bring the whole Middle East down in flames. And would be, without any doubt, perfectly capable of doing it.
In this perspective, it would seem that the decision to implant this European-type state in land already occupied by another people could be seen as possibly the most disastrous single policy decision ever made by the international community, a mistake second only to the actions of the United
States and other powerful supporters in thereafter building up Israel’s military capacity to such a degree.
Against this nightmarish idea, Halper seems to pose the suggestion that the world should recognize his new apartheid state for what it is, and get together to ensure that its future should be more democratic than its present has turned out to be.
He recognises that Israel has pulled off an amazing stunt, that is, of persuading the world that it is the victim in a situation in which they are, in fact, the dominant and oppressing power, a triumph of what he calls the “framing” of the issue.
I will end with this paragraph from a book written by Halper called Obstacles to Peace: Re-framing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict which deals with this vital issue of how the conflict is framed, and brilliantly suns up what seems like the irreducible problem posed by this issue:
“How have officials of successive Israeli governments and their spokespeople succeeded in ‘selling’ their country’s heavy-handed control over millions of people deprived of their lands and rights as somehow justifiable? How do they convince not only its own people but also otherwise liberal people abroad --- political leaders, journalists, academics and much of the Diaspora Jewish community, not to mention the ‘man on the street’ --- to support policies which are manifestly unjust, which plainly violate international law and fundamental human rights and which serve to destabilize relations between the West and the entire Muslim world? How do they succeed in casting Palestinian resistance as base ‘terrorism’ while casting Israel, one of the world’s strongest military powers and one of its longest standing Occupying Powers, as a mere victim?”