The Markaz Review
By Lauren Marcus
Jeff Halper, author of War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, is widely considered an icon in progressive circles. Once head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, he has been a voice against the Occupation for years. Halper grew up in Minnesota and has been living in Israel since 1973.
The Israeli-American anthropologist spoke June 4th at the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeiter Ring, a Jewish Socialist center in Los Angeles, to a left-leaning crowd eager to hear his ideas for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a guest of LA Jews for Peace and The Markaz.
But rather than rehashing the tired two-state solution, Halper spoke of realities on the ground. “In between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan today," he said, "there is only one state [Israel]. One effective government, one army, one set of borders, one currency, and one infrastructure.”
Halper said that Zionism depends on a Jewish majority state, and a state that granting citizenship and rights to the Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank would most likely be an Arab-majority state. Plus, he added, the return of Palestinian refugees would push the demographic balance further to favor Palestinians.
Converting the current state and sub-state into one would mean “the end of Zionism,” he said.
Because of these demographic concerns, left-leaning American Zionist organization J-Street and the Israeli leftist political party Meretz are “beating a dead horse…still insisting on the two-state solution.” Due to settlements in the West Bank, a land exchange with a two-state result has been rendered impossible. Therefore, continuing to pursue the two-state solution is “an excuse to keep the process open-ended…enabling the Occupation to continue indefinitely.”
Halper derided the Palestinian Authority as “collaborationist” and unable to secure any progress in the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty.
“The two-state solution is gone,” he said. “What now?”
The only solution for the conflict, according to Halper, is a “secular, vibrant, multi-cultural democracy” where citizens could maintain their “national identity.” He imagined a state with several important aspects: independent spheres where Israelis and Palestinians could live in their own respective religious or ethnic communities, and a shared sphere in which Israelis and Palestinians could interact as peers. This state would have a Constitution with rights for all peoples enshrined in law.
Halper then moved from imaginings of a future Israeli-Palestinian state to discussing “How Israel Gets Away With It.”
How, he asked, can a country which has engaged in an Occupation with “tremendous human rights abuses… 50,000 homes demolished…” be accepted into an organization like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a fraternity of the world’s 25 most advanced economies?
He attributes this to Israel’s “sophisticated framing language,” which has been its most powerful tool in shifting the conversation away from its crimes and towards its technological advances and robust economy. By referring to all non-state actors resisting oppression as “terrorists” and using “security” as justification for suppressing dissent, Israel “delegitimizes the Palestinian resistance.” Because Israel’s actions are explained away as defensive security measures, human-rights abuses aren’t readily recognized by the global community.
Halper reminded the audience to look at the Occupation “as a resource for the Israelis, rather than some existential burden or threat.” He went on to explain that the Occupation has served as a “laboratory” where Israelis have tested methods of “population control, counter-insurgency tactics” and “honed surveillance and weapons…” which have been exported, for profit, to the rest of the world.
One attendee who did not give his name wondered why Halper did not talk about the role of the U.S. government in sustaining the Occupation and its transformation into apartheid, the decline in popular (but not elite) support for the Israeli Occupation in the U.S., or the failure of Israeli security bells and whistles to make the slightest difference for the U.S. in its many foreign wars and counter-insurgency efforts. For that matter, all those bells and whistles have not allowed Israel to defeat Hezbollah in its attacks on Lebanon or Hamas in its attacks on Gaza. Furthermore, Israel’s political position has not allowed it to come to the direct support of the U.S. military in its many ongoing Middle Eastern wars: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen.
Still, the talk ended on a positive note. Looking a bit like Santa Claus with his gray beard and chunky figure, Halper said, “Believe it or not, I go to the gym three times a week.” Laughing while stroking his belly, he went on: “The guy who owns the gym is Russian. The Palestinians really like him, so there are a lot of Palestinian guys working out there. The rest of the people working out are Russian, Magav [Border Patrol] guys. There’s no problem between any of us…In fact,” continued Halper, “one of those Russian guys ended up arresting me [at a demonstration] recently. And I see him in the gym all the time still. We wave to each other.”
No hard feelings.
Lauren Marcus is a writer in Los Angeles.