“As I did when I was involved in the civil rights and anti—war movements in the USA in the 1960s, I today stand with the oppressed, the Palestinians…a struggle for freedom, justice and human rights that is truly global.”
When Jeff Halper spoke recently on a cross—Canada tour, he concentrated on Israeli government policies and their devastating effect on Palestine. He told us about the resistance campaigns of the organization he directs [Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a group of Israeli & international volunteers who rebuild homes of Palestinians that are destroyed by Israeli authorities.]
He spoke little about himself; now in this memoir Halper recounts his journey from a small mining town in northern USA to anthropology and academia from the USA to Israel.
He writes that this book like his life and activism is an unfinished work but he hopes that readers involved in grassroots activism for Palestine or anywhere or any issue will find it of value. And his anthropological ability to be part of a struggle and to be able to also look at it with some informed detachment makes it a very valuable document, even if is unpolished in his opinion. He writes, “There are no sabbaticals for peace—makers, certainly not for me who feels a responsibility to ´be there´ and who must run an office. [ICAHD] The occupation takes no summer breaks.”
Halper charts his intellectual development from “becoming an Israeli yet one with a critical approach to the Israeli—Palestine conflict… Israel is a real place and its people are not cardboard figures.” He lives in Jerusalem and like many Israelis he knew few Palestinians and lived on the other side of a divisive ´membrane´.
“I first became aware of being an “Israeli in Palestine” on July 9, 1998,” he writes, when he was called to the home of Salim &, Arabiya and their six children as their home was being demolished. For Jeff it was an inexplicable act of brutality and inexplicable in its injustice. It forced Halper to go beyond the political and intellectual rationalizations of the oppression that denied the existence and rights of another people — the Palestinians. When he joined them as Salim was being beaten, Arabiya and her children tear gassed in the home; Jeff put his body in front of the bulldozer, the first known instance of that action, and was hauled away & beaten for his efforts. He crossed the line from protest to resistance; he left the liberal peace groups on the other side of the membrane. Salim & Arabiya´ home was rebuilt by many volunteers, destroyed and rebuilt; we heard Salim´s story when he came to Canada with Jeff in 2000. For them every home destroyed is a microcosm of the destruction of Palestine, destruction that thousands live with today.
“On that day, lying on the ground at gunpoint with a Palestinian innocent of any wrongdoing, witnessing one of the most wrenching experiences that can ever happen to a person, I found myself in another country I thought no longer existed. Palestine…”
It is important to go beyond Zionism, Jeff writes, Israel exists. “Israel, like all colonial regimes who managed to redeem themselves from their oppressive pasts, must transverse a long and painful trail from de—colonization through reconciliation to a new form of political life that is just and inclusive of all the country´s inhabitants before it can expect security and normalization.”
“It was that “black day” in Salim´s life, when I finally realized that I was not only an Israeli, but an Israeli in Palestine, a condition I would have to address if I was to reconcile my values and commitments with my personal life….with a single question: Why in the hell did they demolish this family´s home?”
That day´s realization leads him to examine the history, policies and explanations of Israel´s government while he documents the continuing injustice. Nearly half a million Israelis have subsidized, protected and serviced homes in illegal settlements in Palestine, even as Palestinian homes are regularly destroyed. He writes about the subordination of non—Jewish citizens within Israel. He provides detailed references, appendices of Israeli laws, lists of websites and further reading as well as copies of important correspondence between Israeli and American Leaders.
The book proposes a number of possible solutions including a one state, multi—ethnic democracy and a regional confederation; he considers that the settlements and shrinking of Palestine territory (see maps in book — they say it all) have rendered the 2—state solution untenable and unsustainable. Appendix 4 makes an excellent case for boycott, divestment and sanctions.
He writes, “Once it builds momentum, there is probably no more effective means for civil society to effectively pursue justice than a campaign of sanctions. Its power derives less from its economic impact — although with time that too can be decisive — than from the moral outrage that impels it.” This movement is growing in Canada (see: www.bbcf.ca for boycott action here) and worldwide, thanks in part to the campaigns of ICCAHD and this reasoned and impassioned call for action by Jeff Halper.
And awareness of the oppression of Palestine is growing, maybe in part due to the recent bombardment and continuing blockade of Gaza. Like all dedicated activists committed to a serious cause, Jeff knows he is “in for the long haul” and success may be years away. So he continues working in solidarity, travelling, speaking and writing and last year he was one of the passengers on the peace boats that sailed into Gaza. Making waves and setting a true course for justice.