The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is currently in a process of collapse.
So says Jeff Halper, an American-born anthropologist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Speaking in 12 Canadian cities from January 17 to February 13 as part of his fundraising tour, Halper explained the conflict in Israel- Palestine and where it’s headed.
For decades, Halper has been advocating for the human rights of Palestinians and resisting Israel’s policies of dispossession in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through ICAHD. An activist, writer and commentator, he’s known for coining the concepts of “matrix of control” and “people warehousing” as practiced by Israel on Palestinians in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza.
Halper sat down with Canadian Dimension magazine and spoke about ICAHD’s future, the dangers he has faced as an activist, the current state of collapse and what Europe’s recognition of the state of Palestine really means.
Marisha Gadzo: ICAHD will be reaching a major milestone soon: in two years it will be ICAHD’s 20th anniversary. What have been ICAHD’s greatest achievements since its inception?
Jeff Halper: We’ve raised the issue of house demolitions onto the map. Before then, no one knew anything about house demolitions.
When I’m speaking before a group, I walk them through the demolition. There’s one family in particular, their house has been demolished six times, and I show them the demolitions, how it was done, why it was done. The house demolition issue can be a vehicle, a window to let people in to see how the occupation works.
Israel has demolished 48,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories since 1967, so obviously that’s not a two-state solution. It shows how the occupation works, what Israel’s intentions are — which is to take control of the whole country — and the human cost, especially the Palestinians.
The second thing is what I call “Global Palestine.” I have a concept that’s called the “matrix of control,” how Israel has developed a matrix of control, to control Palestinians in the occupied territory. In fact, Israel is exporting that matrix. Canada for example, is importing all kinds of Israeli security devices, weapons, tactics into its own police forces and prisons. In a way, Israel is packaging the occupation and selling it with all its policies to countries like Canada. To point out the globalization of the occupation is another thing we’ve done.
MG: You said ICAHD would be celebrating its 20th anniversary in two years if it manages to get there. Is it possible that ICAHD will cease to exist in the near future?
JH: First of all, financially, it’s always hard to fundraise. If you’re a political organization critical of Israel, that’s trying to end the occupation, who’s going to support you? So I have to go literally hat in hand.
But in addition to that, the real problem is the political. The Palestinians have to be the ones that formulate and determine what the solution is. I’m not a Palestinian, I can’t tell them what to do. The Palestinians are in a very difficult situation; they’re very fragmented, most of the leadership is either dead or in prison. The two-state solution is gone; they don’t know where exactly to go.
Our organization is dedicated to ending the occupation, but if there is no political movement, and if we don’t have Palestinian partners to work with and if there’s no end game to this … just going around and telling about the occupation isn’t what we want to do; we want to end it.
If there’s no political process, then I don’t know if there’s a point to continue to exist. We’re in a process of re-evaluating what is our role. Do we still have a role? Or do we have to wait a while until the Palestinians come around and say ‘okay, this is our end game, our solution”?
MG: During your lecture you stated that we’re currently in a process of collapse. What do you mean by that?
JH: I think our mistake is that we’re looking at this conflict in a linear way. The linear way is the way most people look at things. If there’s a problem, if you do 1, 2, 3, 4, you get to the solution. But in fact, in a linear process you can also get to a dead end; you can get stuck. And that’s where we are.
It’s been years, decades of negotiations of this plan, that plan, and its clear that Israel is simply not going to allow a Palestinian state to emerge, period. It’s not going to happen and this has Canadian and American support.
Israel doesn’t have to compromise with the Palestinians because it has support for anything it does. It can attack Gaza and the Canadian government will support it. In that scenario then, we’re stuck. There is nowhere else to go.
I think there’s a degree of repression of Palestinians that’s going to lead inevitably to an uprising. In general, the Palestinian issue is very disruptive of the international system. Even John Kerry said a while ago, that you’re not going to resolve these issues of ISIS, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and all the instability and conflict of the Middle East until you resolve the Israel-Palestine issue. It doesn’t cause the rest of the conflicts, but it’s this aggravating factor. So I think there’s a real stake that the world has in ending this.
It seems to me that it’s unsustainable. That’s where I think sooner rather than later there’s going to be a collapse. By a collapse I mean mainly the Palestinian authority will leave the scene; it will either collapse, or it will resign or it will be killed. Israel and the United States are threatening to withdraw all the income, all the money to the Palestinian Authority; hundreds of millions of dollars, which would make it collapse.
That’s the game changer — if the PLO leaves the scene, that would be a good thing. Then I think Israel would have to re-occupy the Palestinian areas, but it would create such an intolerable situation that the world will start looking for a solution in a very urgent way.
[Once] the two-state solution is gone, I think the world would begin to move to a one-state solution. How can Israelis and Palestinians share the same state as a solution? That I think is the way we should go. That’s the good thing about collapse; it opens up possibilities that don’t even exist today. I think the one-state solution is a solution that’s just, that’s doable that doesn’t exist today until you get this collapse.
MG: You’ve been living in Jerusalem since 1973. How have you seen Israel change over the 40 years since you’ve been living there?
JH: It’s gotten worse and worse. When I arrived, the occupation was only five, six years old. There really weren’t settlements yet; you still had a labour government. It was still kind of liberal; you didn’t have Begin and Sharon and Netanyahu. The country was even socialist to a certain degree, and nobody thought the occupation was going to last.
What’s happened over the years is that it’s not an occupation anymore. Israel has…the word we use is to Judaize, to make Jewish the entire country. There is no more occupied territory; it’s all Israel. Israel has created one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It’s all one government, one currency, one army.
There’s now one country in which half the population is Palestinian, but that still privileges the Jews so that it’s become an apartheid state. I never really expected Israel to become the new South Africa, but it has really made its occupation of the Palestinian territory permanent. So it’s a permanent regime of domination because it can’t give Palestinians citizenship and it can’t give them equal rights.
MG: We’re always hearing how Israel is violating international laws with its policies, such as the 4th Geneva Convention. But how powerful is international law in delivering justice? It’s constantly being cited, but how much power does it really have?
JH: The problem is the implementation. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is the highest court in the world supposedly, ruled in 2004 that the wall that Israel’s building is illegal and has to be dismantled. That decision was adopted by the entire general assembly of the UN, by everybody in the world, except the United States and Israel; even Canada in those days supported it. Everybody agreed that the wall was illegal…and had to be dismantled, but who’s going to do that? Is the UN going to send troops into Israel to do that? That’s the missing part.
Let’s say you have the International Criminal Court — that the Palestinians are all turning to — say, “Netanyahu is a war criminal for what he did in Gaza and he should be arrested.” Who’s going to put Netanyahu in jail? You can do that with certain African dictators, you can do that with Charles Taylor, maybe you can do that with Milosevic from Serbia.You can’t do that with white heads of global north countries; they’re sort of immune to this.
In fact, Israel is calling for the dismantlement of the ICC because they want to bring Israelis before it. The United States and Israel have never signed on to the ICC because they don’t recognize human rights and international law as being over them, and so there’s no implementation.
Not that it’s irrelevant. In other words, Israel is afraid of the criminal court, mainly because of the PR damage it could do. Israel is trying to represent itself as a global north country, the only democracy in the Middle East. If the international court rules that Israel is a major violator of human rights and issues warrants for arrests for Israelis, that puts a dent in your PR, in your image.
MG: You spend a lot of time speaking, holding lectures in the West. What would you say is the biggest misconception that Westerners have of the conflict?
JH: They bought into this thing that Palestinians are terrorists. “Terrorists” is the most powerful word that Israel uses. They’ve co-opted that word. It rolls off your tongue: Palestinian Terrorists. That demonization. It’s hard to fight that.
The first question is, “What about Hamas?” Israel’s managed to deflect from what they’re doing and their responsibility…I think that’s the biggest not just misapprehension, but using a word to frame the discussion in a way that serves Israel.
That’s the main kind of thing we have to fight, this idea that Israel is fighting terrorists…it creates a closed system of thought you have to break through.
MG: Recently, the European perception has been shifting. Many European countries have been officially recognizing the state of Palestine one after the other. How significant is this for Palestinians and for Jewish Israelis?
JH: On the one hand it’s a good thing. It shows that people are starting to understand the Palestinian cause, people are being critical of Israel, certainly recognizing Palestinian national rights, all of that is good.
The problem is it’s five years too late; the train has left the station. The two-state solution is gone, so now recognizing the Palestinian state is meaningless because there is no place.
They’re simply symbolically recognizing Palestine…it’s not so good because it locks us into a two-state solution. It stops well short of actually resolving the conflict. Now if you want to go to a one-state solution, the Europeans will say, “Hey, we just voted in our parliament for two states to recognize Palestine. What, you want us to change now?”
It had a good intention, and it shows the degree to which people are starting to understand the conflict, but it also shows that Europe isn’t ready to move to a one-state solution. It’s really stuck on the two-state because the Europeans will say, “Look, we want to be critical of Israel, we want the occupation to end, but Israel itself is an ally, a friend of ours, we don’t want to hurt Israel.” So they would never go the route of a one-state solution, a state for everybody.
Mersiha Gadzo is a journalist and online producer for Al Jazeera English. Prior to joining Al Jazeera she worked as a freelancer in Bosnia & Herzegovina and the occupied Palestinian territories.
This article appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Canadian Dimension (The Surveillance State).