Jeff Halper: We’re one of the leading — I would say, modestly — peace and human rights organizations in Israel. We started about thirteen years ago. I’ve been involved for forty years in the Israeli peace movement. During the Oslo peace process, during the 90s, the Israeli peace movement also, like other Israelis, invested a lot of hopes: you know, the sides are meeting, there are negotiations, maybe something will happen. In 1996 when Netanyahu was elected for the first time — Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel — on an explicitly anti-peace process program, it was clear that the Oslo process was over: Israel was not gonna give up its occupation. In fact, during the seven years of negotiations with the Palestinians between 1993 and 2000, Israel doubled its settler population to 400,000. So, it was clear that Israel was not gonna give up the occupation, especially with a right-wing government like Netanyahu’s. So, a number of us met and said, “Look, we have to start to reengage in resisting the occupation. We’ve got to come out of our torpor, our false hopes unfortunately, and really reengage. The progressive movement has to come back into action.” So, we cast around actually: “What do we do? What’s the focus of our work? How do we engage with the Palestinians?” We went out and talked with a lot of Palestinian activists we know, and the issue of house demolitions came up all the time. It was an issue we were vaguely familiar with but didn’t really know very much about, and that is that Israel has a policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in order to confine them to little islands in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and at that time Gaza in order to leave most of the lands free for Israeli annexation. So, we decided that we’re gonna set up the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions — ICAHD it’s called for short, I-C-A-H-D — which is the organization I head now. I’ve headed it for the last thirteen years.
We focus on the issue of house demolitions because occupation is a very abstract, big term for people. This helps people get a handle on it. There’s a house demolition, there’s a story, there’s a family. You can photograph the bulldozers coming. Here are soldiers coming to demolish this family’s house. They are not terrorists. That’s one of the important parts of it because Israel presents everything it does as self defense, defense against terrorism, you know all this. No, these people are normal people, they simply want a place to live, and Israel says, “No, you can’t have a home,” the idea being either to confine them to these islands or to drive them out of the country completely. So, that’s an important way to get into the occupation. At the same time, it’s an important source of solidarity. We come as Israelis into the occupied territories, we work with Palestinian families, communities, to rebuild homes. We raise money — that’s one of the reasons I’m here in the states on a fund-raising tour. We raise money for people. We resist demolitions of homes — we get in front of bulldozers, we chain ourselves to homes that are going to be demolished, we do that — but we also rebuild homes that have been demolished as political acts of resistance, not humanitarian. We are not “good liberal Israelis” coming to help “poor Palestinians,” but we are working in a political partnership against the occupation. So we do it confrontationally with the Israeli army and government, we do it during the day, we get arrested — we get arrested all the time. And we rebuild homes. We’ve rebuilt about 165 homes in the last ten years. So, that’s 165 political acts of resistance. It doesn’t mean much if it is humanitarian because Israel has demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories since 1967, since the occupation began. So, if this is humanitarian, what’s 165 out of 24,000? If you think of it as 165 joint acts of resistance of Israelis and Palestinians together, then it’s really a meaningful thing.
Then, from there, because we learned the lay of the land, we learned what Israel’s intentions are, why it is demolishing homes, where Israel is going with this whole occupation. We have a very literally grounded analysis that we then bring abroad because we believe that . . . the occupation is not gonna end internally. The Israeli public can live with the occupation, it has lived with it for 43 years now, and it is only with international pressures on Israel that we are in the end gonna bring about a meaningful peace. So, we are trying to work in Europe, we work in other parts of the world, I was just in China recently . . . and of course in the United States because Israel sees the United States as the only player in town. So, that is very important. But the United States government, whether it’s Obama or Bush or Clinton or anybody else, isn’t really going to be assertive on Israel. I mean, we can talk about that later, but what we have to do is to build a grassroots movement that demands change in American policy towards the Middle East, and what’s important to bring out here is that the Israel-Palestine conflict isn’t only a localized conflict between two tribes in the far-off Middle East — it impacts directly on American interests, Western interests, the whole global system. What’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran; what’s happening with Al Qaeda; the whole alienation of the West from the Muslim world in general — all that comes directly out of the Israel-Palestine conflict. That’s the symbolic epicenter. That’s actually what James Baker called it: the epicenter of instabilities in that entire part of the world. So, it’s in the American interest, and in the interest of the grassroots as well, not to make peace only for the sake of the oppressed Palestinians although that’s a good reason too, but because this is one of the conflicts that are really impacting negatively on everything, in terms of militarism, conflicts, economy, energy. Therefore we are trying to work with the American people. That’s why I’m here in Seattle to inform them and to really build a base in which you tell your political representatives that “look, we want, we demand, change in your policy toward Israel-Palestine” and in that way to try to create those pressures that end the conflict.
Talking Stick TV: You were speaking over the last couple of days at the Friends of Sabeel — North America conference that happened on Friday and Saturday. One of the issues you brought up, one of the ideas, is the “global pacification industry.” I’m hoping you can talk about that. Tell us: what is that?
Jeff Halper: You know, like I said, the Israel-Palestine conflict is a global conflict, and it impacts on the whole world system. But it’s global in another sense as well, that is, if you look at the economic and political system of the world from what is called the “world systems” perspective. This is an approach that Immanuel Wallerstein developed. It’s a very good way of looking at the way the world works. It’s based on the idea that we’ve been living for the last 450 years or so in the capitalist system — which shouldn’t be news to anyone — in which you have core countries. The core these days — because countries change — is the United States — the core is a leading economic, political, and military power because those things all work together — and of course Europe and to some degree Japan. And now you are having changes because China is rising, India is rising, Iran maybe, and Brazil. So, it’s a very dynamic system. But, right now at least, at this moment in history, you’ve got the United States and Europe especially at the core, and the rest of the world is the periphery. These are the people that are the “Third World,” we call them sometimes “developing countries,” and the vast majority of humanity live in this so-called periphery, in which they are expected to do three things: they are expected to provide cheap labor, for Nike in Indonesia when we wanna make expensive sneakers; they are expected to be places where we can dump our excess commodities, because they are kind of captive markets; and they are expected to be places where we can extract resources and they are supposed to give us their oil, give us their timber, give us their minerals, give us their water, so that you have a one-way capital flow in this world system. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and uses more than 30% of the world’s resources. And the only thing the United States gives back to the world is the military. You’ve got bases in 174 countries out of about 195. Because you need the military in order to enforce the system. People don’t get exploited voluntarily.
In a sense this whole core-periphery dynamic relationship, which is one of oppression, inequality, and exploitation, is exactly what you have in microcosm in Israel-Palestine. Here you’ve got a core country, Israel, that is on a European level. Israel is a little country that is always playing on the fact that we’re just a little country, and it is a little country, but the Israeli economy is three times larger than Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon put together. So, it’s a major “little United States” in that part of the world. For 43 years now, it’s been holding more than four million Palestinians captive in an occupation in which we are taking water, we are taking other resources, they become cheap labor, we want their land for all kinds of reasons. This is a population that refuses to submit, so you’ve had two intifadas, or uprisings, you have resistance, so what Israel has to do is not only to put down resistance, which is a military function, but to pacify the population. In other words the idea is we’re gonna control this area permanently. There’s no negotiation, there’s no peace process, from Israel’s point of view; this is a permanent claim to that entire country, and the Palestinians are going to be pacified, so they can’t resist. That’s a microcosm, like I say, of the dynamic of the entire global system. So, when the United States and Europe are looking around for military technologies, for technologies of security and policing, they look to Israel. No country has more experience in controlling masses of restive poor people than Israel does. So, you have to look at the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as a laboratory because here is where Israel is developing weaponry and tactics of what are called — we’re not really aware of, I think, the implications of these terms — of “counterinsurgency.” The powers that be have captured the language, which is one way in which they pacify us. In other words, if you go out in the street here in Seattle, and you ask people, “Who are the insurgents?” they’ll tell you, “They are the bad guys.” “Insurgents” are the “bad guys,” you know? Insurgents are Al Qaeda, insurgents are whoever are in Iraq, and so on. But, wait a minute — wasn’t Paul Revere an insurgent? In other words, somehow we have taken the people — insurgents are the people — resisting oppression, exploitation, and we’ve made them the bad guys; and the states — states that have always been oppressive, representing small classes of capital, and so on — they become the good guys. It was a clash of civilizations: the rich capitalists are on the civilized side, and the peoples of the world, the vast majority of people in the world, are the insurgents, the bad guys. . . .
There’s what’s called the “Israeli pacification industry.” The Israeli economy is based on exporting the occupation. We’re exporting weapons. Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. Little Israel exports more arms than Britain or China. It’s the third largest arms exporter in the world. The United States is No. 1 — you guys have won hands down — and then there’s Russia, and France and Israel are tied for No. 3. So, it’s exporting arms, making a lot of money from arms, exporting these approaches to counterinsurgency, working with local police forces all over the world. In a sense we really have to be aware of the fact that this exporting of the Israeli occupation outward has not only a global effect — from the point of view of the United States taking these tactics and weapons and using them in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and so on — but also they are being used internally. For example, Israel has basically taken over the security of many American airports. LAX: you had the mayor of Los Angeles and half the city council come to Israel last year to sign Israeli firms onto taking control over LAX. And Israel works intimately with local police forces. I challenge you listeners, whether here in Seattle or in other places, to go to your local police force and ask them: What relations do you have with the Israeli military? Is Israel bringing you to Israel in order to learn in the occupied territories how to deal with dissidents? (A lot of the people listening to this program probably fall into that category.) Is Israeli technology coming into your police force here at home? I’m telling you: there’s a direct relationship between Israel’s occupation and what’s happening in your own local community. Then, all of a sudden, people understand that this faraway conflict really isn’t so far away. It takes a day for what happened to the people in Gaza to be imported into Seattle.
Talking Stick TV: Jimmy Johnson, who is also with your organization, has a recent article on this. He specifically mentions that Seattle was one of the cities that received training from Israel. Also he pointed out that it was never reviewed by, let’s say, the City Council that the Seattle Police Department was going into this liaison with Israel. The other thing that you had brought up actually on Friday was that Canada had an agreement with the Israeli security forces. Can you talk briefly about that?
Jeff Halper: This is important because this is a kind of politics that is called “security politics.” It’s always been there, but it’s really developed since 9/11, and Israel is very much part of that. That is, in normal politics, you are talking about politics that are to some degree transparent. You have congressional hearings, you have committees. If a government wants to sign a treaty with a foreign government, you can see the text, it does so upfront, you have oversight. If your city council decides to sign a contract with a foreign firm in terms of running prisons, or dealing with traffic even, or whatever policing functions, it goes through the city council. Not everybody cares — if it’s not transparent, it’s more because people don’t really dig enough to find out — but it’s there. That’s normal politics. Security politics: you know, the whole nature of security is secret and “should be secret” — this is part of the reframing — because we’re dealing with bad guys, we can’t show our hand. So, the police forces and security firms and the army and so on are doing all these secret covert things that they should and they have to do it that way and we shouldn’t have to know and we have to trust them. . . . So, that’s the problem with security politics: all these important elements that have to do with civil liberties go out of the public gaze. So, for example, Israel signed, about a year and half ago, what’s called the Canadian-Israel Public Safety . . . there’s no word for it. It wasn’t an “agreement,” it wasn’t a “treaty,” because then it would have to go through the normal channels and have parliamentary oversight in Canada. So, first of all it was public safety. “Public safety” means domestic. “Public safety” is prisons, police, borders, immigration — it’s those kinds of things. Countries are always very reluctant and even resistant to having foreign countries coming into their intimate domestic sphere. . . . All of a sudden, with the security thing, countries like Israel are able to penetrate. They are invited in. So, the Canada-Israel Public Safety thing was simply an agreement signed by the internal security minister of Canada with the internal security minister of Israel, it went through no parliamentary committee, nobody knows what it is exactly, but it brings Israel into, for example, running Canadian prisons. And, again, who’s better at running a prison than Israel? Gaza is the largest prison in the world. Using Israeli kinds of tactics of control, weapons of control, Israel is getting involved with border controls in Canada, with immigration issues, with crime issues. In other words, Israel is bringing what it learned in Gaza and the West Bank right into the life of Canadian citizens, with no oversight, and working with local police forces. The same thing is happening here.
Jeff Halper is Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and author of Obstacles to Peace: A Re-framing of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and An Israeli In Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel. This video was released on YouTube by Talking Stick TV on 26 February 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview. For more information about Talking Stick TV, go to <www.talkingsticktv.org>.