Aletho News


Jeff Halper vs Criticising Israel

By Barbara McKenzie | July 6, 2016

Jeff Halper is an Israeli, based in Israel, and an activist for Palestinian rights, being head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. On 29 June he posted an article on Facebook, without title, on some issues facing the pro-Palestine movement. The connection between the issues is tenuous: it’s hard to see how Mahmoud Abbas can influence anti-Zionist groups in the US, but this is afterall Facebook, and in its way the article is groundbreaking.

The Problem of Mahmoud Abbas

Halper rightly sees Mahmoud Abbas as a hurdle in terms of obtaining a just solution for Palestine. ‘Say what you will about Israel, justice for Palestinians will be achieved only after the ineffectual, downright collaborationist regime of Abbas falls, once and for all…. But we who actively support the Palestinian cause … desperately need direction from our Palestinian partners.’

I have sympathy with anyone who criticises Mahmoud Abbas, and I view with trepidation the idea of Abbas negotiating a settlement for Palestine at Camp David with Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton. However Halper appears to be overlooking the fact that Abbas is supported by the American and Israeli government: he represents those parties, not Palestine. He has to be viewed as one of many problems imposed on Palestinians, not as a symptom of Palestinian ‘failure’. As one William James Martin replied to Halper’s post, ‘It is easy to take out one’s frustrations on Abbas. But the problem is Israel and the US, not the Palestinians’.

It is perhaps worth noting that Halper finishes his article by suggesting, ‘For all the success of BDS, unless we begin advocating a vision and program of our own, we will lose’. Which invites the question, who is ‘we’?

Conspiracy theories and antisemitism

Throughout the Palestine movement there pervades a belief that a special concern of Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists should be the fight against antisemitism. Jeff Halper clearly subscribes to this belief, and indeed the bulk of this article is devoted to just this issue. Halper is concerned that without strong leadership ‘the Palestinian issue will deteriorate into crazy and, yes, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’. Bizarrely, he points to Gilad Atzmon as guilty in this regard. As Atzmon replied to Halper’s post, ‘I argue that there are NO Jewish conspiracies. You people do it all in the open whether it is Goldman Sachs wiping out Greece or Jeff Halper attempting to kosherise the discourse of the oppressed’. And in truth, Atzmon has never concerned himself with the theories that traditionally cause the ire of protectors of Jewish sensibilities, relating to the JFK assassination for example, or 9/11. Nor has he written about the type of ‘conspiracy theories’ that Halper is concerned with here, and which are discussed below.

Atzmon’s sins lie elsewhere. The traditional position of Jewish and Israeli organisations promoting Palestinian rights and ‘the left’ in general is that criticising Israel is not antisemitic, while criticising Jewish elites, or Jewish communities for their support of Israel, or analysing why they do, is exactly that. This is the primary reason for labelling Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli Jew who writes about Jewish power, as an antisemite.

Investigating conspiracy theories which implicate Israel in criminal activities abroad, such as 9/11, is also deemed to be antisemitic, even though this contradicts the professed view that ‘criticising Israel is not antisemitic’. One extrapolates from this that, in the view of the gatekeeping faux left, one may criticise Israel, but only in respect of its treatment of Palestinians, not for its wider activities.

In his article Halper extends the traditional notion of what constitutes an antisemitic conspiracy theory. He cites a recent claim that a settler rabbi endorsed poisoning the wells of West Bank Palestinians. The veracity of the claim is under question, and Richard Silverstein, for one, has written in Tikun Olam that he believes it to be a hoax. Halper is inspired by this story to suggest that it constitutes an ‘antisemitic conspiracy theory’. He goes on to address the problem of the increasing number of ‘conspiracy-peddling hate groups’. Halper is not talking about hate against Jews, but hate against Israel, and his example is an organisation with the self-explanatory and fairly precise title ‘Americans Against Genocide in Gaza’.

Now, there is substantial evidence that supports the perception that the Israeli government and sections of Israeli society are intent on eliminating Palestinians from their homeland, and if that involves physically exterminating them so be it. The actions of the government in bombing Gaza in 2014, the ongoing blockade of goods that would allow, for example, repair of the sewage system, and therefore safe drinking water, and the large number of extrajudicial shootings of young people all show a breathtaking indifference to Palestinian life. Whether or not this is technically genocide, to refer to it as such is hardly some off the wall antisemitic conspiracy theory.

In the case of the discredited story of the genocidal rabbi mentioned above, Silverstein explains that ‘there is ample past evidence of settlers poisoning Palestinian wells by throwing dead animals and soiled diapers into them’. That one claim may be false does not prove bad faith in those who react, or overreact, to such a story – as Silverstein comments ‘If true, this would be yet another outrageous, racist, even genocidal statement in a long line from such settler rabbis.’ A search on Google will show that such views are commonly expressed by senior Israeli rabbis, and not just on the West Bank. Given that Palestinian concerns are valid in principle, Halper’s approach has to be seen as an attempt to stifle criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Another convention popular with the liberal left is that although to refer to ‘Jews’, or even to ‘the Jewish lobby’ may be considered racist, it is acceptable to speak of Zionists or Zionist Jews – ‘anti-Zionism is not antisemitism’ (the mission statement of Jewish Voices for Peace stresses that being Jewish is not synonymous with Zionism). This is another assumption that Halper throws out the window. Halper takes exception to a video entitled What Do Famous People Think of Zionist Jews? I had as much interest in watching this as I had in watching the equivalent produced for the NO side of the Scottish independence referendum, but I trawled through it nonetheless. It turned out to be a fairly substantial production, not without interest – I was particularly moved by Louis Farrakhan’s spirited defense of Kanye West (1:21:07). While most statements were focused on the crimes of Israel, there were indeed one or two which struck me as racist, ie they could be read as implying that all Jews are innately bad. A number of segments would fit the standard faux left definition of antisemitism, in that the speaker talked about Jewish power, such as the influence Jews have in Hollywood, or questioned the facts of the holocaust.

It appears, however, that Halper himself had watched little or nothing of the video – it is difficult to understand otherwise why he sneers at the description of the participants, who include people like Nelson Mandela, Norman Finkelstein, Mel Gibson, Jeremy Corbyn and Malcom X, as ‘famous’. The inescapable deduction therefore is that Halper is not so much concerned with antisemitism as usually defined by the left, but by the very idea of campaigning so specifically against Zionism, and feels no need to inquire further. The view that it is acceptable to criticise Zionists and Zionism is no longer valid. Anti-Zionism is now antisemitic.

Halper exemplifies the ‘soft’ or ‘anti-Zionist’ Zionist, in that he is involved in the Palestinian cause but puts a limit on criticism of Israel and/or the Jewish lobby, and to that end openly declares eradicating antisemitism as a top priority. The effect of this is to suppress criticism of external supporters of Israel. Halper’s outlook is shared by certain non-Jewish organisations and individuals in the Palestine movement, who are unkindly referred to by Gilad Atzmon as sabbos goyim (a sabbas goy being someone who does the work of a Jew on the Jewish Sabbath).

Not content with prioritising the suppression of antisemitism themselves, anti-Zionist Zionists and sabbas goys use their position in the Palestine movement to ensure that Palestine activists and Palestinians do so as well, ignoring the outrage expressed by some Palestinians. Palestinians, despite themselves, find themselves complicit in the campaign to prioritise Jewish sensibilities and to prevent criticism of the external forces dedicated to supporting and furthering the Zionist occupation of their land.

What is more, Halper is taking his gatekeeping to a new level. Forget the mantra, so beloved of anti-Zionist Zionists and the faux left, that ‘criticising Israel is not antisemitic’. Not only is it forbidden to question the activities of Israel and its intelligence services outside of Israel, but it is now apparently unacceptable to use the word Zionist negatively, and even to question the actions of Israel against Palestinians, within Palestine itself, is antisemitic. Halper has closed further the narrow gap between the relative positions of hardline Zionists and the ‘soft’ Zionists of the Palestine movement – criticising Israel is antisemitic.

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 3 Comments

Talking Palestine to Power

By Sonja Karkar |  Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies – Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2012

[revised from an earlier version in 2009]

Today, there is no excuse for not knowing the truth about Palestine.  Even taking the disinformation spread in mainstream media, there are enough glimpses one gets of an oppressed people in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem that should compel us to ask questions. This has been considerably aided by the internet.  Where once Israel could manipulate the media narrative, now millions can see videos and read witness accounts of Israel’s occupation in all its terrifying ugliness. Global initiatives, like the daring Free Gaza flotillas, force the mainstream media to report this news, however fleetingly.  Consequently, people want to see for themselves what is happening in Palestine and come back with stories that have shaken them to the very core of their being.

Stories of endless queues of people at checkpoints waiting for permission from armed soldiers who decide if they should pass; devastated families making sense of the rubble that was once their homes as Israeli bulldozers move on to the next calculated demolition; heartbroken farmers grieving over their centuries-old uprooted olive trees and scorched earth orchards; already traumatised children wondering if the next missile or bomb will this time wipe out their families or friends; terrified citizens waiting for the sound of army squads coming to arrest who knows who in the early hours of the morning; and the shadow of that rapacious Wall darkening the landscape even as it closes off the world to the Palestinians it imprisons.

And these are only the obvious signs of Israel’s apartheid plans as it moves to cement an exclusively Jewish state in a land that is home to almost an equal number of Palestinians and millions more in exile waiting to return home.

The alarm bells should be ringing when this information filters through, and yet there is a wall of silence while our political leaders declare undying fealty to Israel or cavalierly wear it as a badge of honour or indulge in junkets to Israel.  And those bells should be all the more alarming, when documented reports of Israel’s war crimes by human rights groups and official enquiries are virulently attacked and then ignored.

But the world lacks courage.  People are terrified of being labelled anti-Semitic.  Even Palestinians, who are themselves Semites, are often afraid of being further shunned and disadvantaged in countries that give them refuge.  Not only do people fear repercussions, but speaking the truth or even just hearing it has a way of taking people out of their comfort zones. They fear their troubled consciences may require them to act and so they bury their heads deeper into the sand where they hope even the sounds of silence might be extinguished.

This then is the challenge for advocates the world over.  How does one talk Palestine to power if one cannot even talk Palestine to the people who are in fear of the powerful?

In the face of Zionist saturation media and the new “Brand Israel” campaigns, many people wanting to advocate for Palestine might feel defeated, but time and again we see that the individual talking truth to power can be enormously effective.

The now deceased scholar and public intellectual Edward Said, showed more than anyone else that individuals can make a difference in the public defence of Palestine. He particularly saw the intellectual’s voice as having “resonance”.    In fact, it is so powerful that intellectuals have been subjected to all kinds of vicious campaigns against their persons and positions for speaking up for Palestine, just as Said was himself.

Of course, one does not need to be an intellectual.  Said’s words can just as aptly apply to any one of us. He said avoidance was “reprehensible” and described it as,

“that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take.  You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming too controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is . . . to remain within the responsible mainstream . . .”[1]

As an intellectual, Said had his academic record, his professional standing, his research and his publications to give weight to his pronouncements, but it took no less courage than it would for anyone else to challenge the accepted paradigm.  The challenge arises out of knowing the truth; the courage arises out of a commitment to principle in the face of collective condemnation.  This is just as true against the Zionist barrage of lies as it is against convenient explanations mounted by those who accommodate the powers that be for their own ends.

In 1993 when almost everyone else thought the handshakes on the White House steps would seal the negotiated Oslo Accords and at long last give the Palestinians their freedom and bring peace to the region, Edward Said saw that these accords would merely provide the cover for Israel to pursue its colonial expansionism and consolidate its occupation of Palestine.  However, he knew to criticise Oslo meant in effect taking a position against ‘hope’ and ‘peace’. His decision to do so also flew in the face of the Palestinian revolutionary leadership that had bartered for statehood.

Although Said was denounced for his views, he was not prepared to buy into the deception that he knew would leave the Palestinians with neither hope nor peace. And just as he predicted, each fruitless year of peacemaking finally exposed the horrible reality of Oslo as Palestinians found themselves the victims of Israel’s matrix of control, a term used to describe the situation by the Israeli activist Dr Jeff Halper in 1999.[2] And this domination of one people over another without any intention of addressing the injustices of the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, has undeniably reduced Israel to an Apartheid state.

The Palestinians have nothing left worth calling a state and they are facing an existential threat on all fronts.  Yet, intellectuals are still talking about a two state solution in lock step with the politicians, a mantra that is repeated uncritically, even mendaciously, in the mainstream media. Media pundits argue that it is Israel facing an existential threat, but it is becoming evident every day, that against Israel, which is armed to the teeth with nuclear and conventional weaponry, the Palestinians do not stand a chance.  They have never had an army and have no acceptable means to fight off their own ongoing dispossession and occupation of their homeland.  It is no wonder the two state solution became the panacea to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

This pandering to an idea for twenty long years has been undermined by the furious sounds of drills and hammers reverberating in illegal settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the catastrophic societal ruptures engineered in Gaza.  Now those sounds are muffled by the rhetoric of “economic peace”, “institution-building”, “democracy”, “internal security” and “statehood”. These words must be challenged at every opportunity, for they are not only words, but dangerous concepts when isolated from truth on the ground.

It is no use talking about “economic peace” if you fail to understand that industrial estates built for Palestinian workers are intended to provide Israel with slave labour and cheap goods. It is useless to support “institution-building” when Israel continues to undermine and obstruct those programs already struggling to service Palestinian society. It is a lie to speak of “democracy” when fair elections in 2006 had Israel and the world denying Hamas the right to govern.  It is a charade to accept “internal security” when arming and training Palestinians to police their own people covers for Israel’s and America’s divide and conquer scheme. It is hollow to speak of “statehood” when Israel keeps stealing land and building illegal settlements that deprive the Palestinians of their homes and livelihoods while herding them into isolated and walled-in ghettoes.

Regrettably, Edward Said was proved right.

Now, it is our turn to speak the truth and act fearlessly, regardless of the censure we are likely to encounter. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is believed to have said that truth passes through three stages: “first, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”  Today, we are at the third stage:  the 11 million Palestinians, whether living under occupation, as second-class citizens in Israel, as stateless refugees or others in the Diaspora, are the living truth. That is Israel’s Achilles’ heel and Israel knows it.

The Palestinians are no longer the humble shepherds and farmers that Zionist forces terrorised into fleeing to make way for the Jewish state of Israel. A new generation wants justice and it is demanding it eloquently, non-violently and strategically.  Their message:  no normal relations with Israel while it oppresses Palestinians, denies their rights and violates international law.  And boycotts, divestment and sanctions are the legitimate tools for challenging a state that claims exceptionalism and which perpetrates extreme and criminal actions to ensure that status.

People, of course, are always tempted to opt for the path of least resistance, especially when they simply cannot empathise with those who have been so successfully misrepresented and demonised by the Western media.  However, the world is changing, and slowly people are realising that they too are vulnerable as Western societies begin to crumble under the weight of government power, which is burgeoning out of control without any checks or balances. Universal human rights and principles of international humanitarian law that once were the mainstay of our democracies have been cast aside in the stampede to fight the “war on terror” and few have been brave enough to challenge the current system.

It is indeed possible for all of us to “squeeze out of reality some of its potentialities”[3], the stuff that University of Melbourne Professor Ghassan Hage says is found in those utopic moments that come from challenging our own thoughts, fears and biases.  In that space lies the untapped power we seek to speak the truth without fear or favour.  In that space lies the potential for political change.  In that space, there will always be those who resist and speak Palestine to power.


[1] Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual. London: Vintage, 1994, p74

[2] Jeff Halper, “The 94 Percent Solution: The Matrix of Control”, Fall 2000, Middle East Report 216

[3] Ghassan Hage, “The Real, the Potential and the Political”, an essay presented at the 2004 Res Artis Conference, Sydney, 10-16 August 2004

July 19, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Talking Palestine to Power

Time for a change!

By Mazin Qumsiyeh | Popular Resistance | May 5, 2012

Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israeli jails are on hunger strike and some are near death. The population of strikers includes 200 child prisoners, 27 Palestinian legislative council members, and 456 prisoners from Gaza who have not been allowed family visits since 2007 [1]. Meanwhile, colonization continued at a relentless pace. Ramzy Baroud and Jeff Halper argue that Israel is “fixing” the outcome and is an “end-game” scenario to take over most of the West Bank and leave us in small cantons [2]. Yet, judging from my research into the carefully planned Zionist project, such plans are not end games but mileposts to give the Zionists time to consolidate gains in preparation for the next round of expansion in precisely the way Ben Gurion described it to his son in 1937. Ben Gurion explained lucidly how the new state of Israel when established on part of the coveted land would be a base of steady expansion and growth in the future with or without agreement from “Arabs” [3]. I pondered how little has changed in the intervening 75 years.  Colonial Israel continues to push the envelope and expand with or without agreement from compliant “Arabs”. Compliant Arabs existed in 1937 (headed by Ragheb Al-Nashashibi) and existed in 1967 and in 2012. There also existed intellectual and honest Arabs throughout our history.

Zionist colonization is not driven by emotion or haphazard action.  It is done as instructed by the founding father of Political Zionism Theodore Herzl in 1897: “we must investigate and take possession of the new Jewish country by means of every modern expedient.” Modern expedients advocated by Herzl include planned methodical structure to remove the native people (with or without agreement of some Arabs) and create a large Jewish state. Herzl was not specific on size of the “required estate” but Ben Gurion and people of his era thought it possible to go as far as between the Nile and the Euphrates.

The plans of colonizers are remarkably similar and known from the diaries of Herzl in 1897, from the letter from Ben Gurion to his son in 1937, the Allon plan of 1967, and from the Hebron accords of 1997. It is a plan of expansion without some Arabs consenting or occasionally with agreement from some Arabs. These agreements, like the treaties that some Native Americans signed with the government of the United States in its expansionary phase, were and are violated because they are merely consolidation tools [4]. I think that like these Native American chiefs, some Palestinians thought that they are doing the best they could under difficult circumstances. Most of the Native American “leaders” had no concept or understanding of the true nature of the notions and emotions driving the Westward expansion of the white colonialists in the USA.  They did not delve deeply into notions of manifest destiny, choseness, and racism that characterize their oppressors. One could say the ideology of Native Americans exhibited the exact opposite of their colonizers and thus they presumed that whites are ultimately human and could be dealt with as equals.

Peace for natives is to get their freedom, to live in dignity, and most of all to get the boot of colonization off our necks. Peace for the colonizers is to have the victim stop wiggling under their boots. Towards this they devised ingenious plans including a Palestinian Preventive Security force. Any rational human being can see this dictation and imbalance of power in daily news. Thus the people are left out of decisions whether on “negotiations”,  on “national reconciliation”, on going and not going to the UN, or on how they may eventually be liberated. Despairing and riding a ship without compass or rudder, the people grumble and boil underneath and later erupt in revolt.

Needs and desires of the colonizers and the colonized are not the same.  Occupiers and colonizers want more opportunities to progress via consolidation and strengthening of the status quo and allowing them to expand further.   We, the occupied and colonized people, want to halt and eventually reverse the process of injustice.  Palestinians want to return to our homes and lands and live peacefully as we did for millennia.   We insist on return and self-determination.  We insist that the country must remain multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural.  This is not a border dispute nor is it a quibble over the Israeli illegal control of the religious sites.  Like in the struggle in South Africa under apartheid, it is a struggle that pits two very different visions of the area: one of racism and apartheid and the other of justice and equality.

Sporadic acts of heroic popular resistance are not enough to reach peace with justice.  Coordination and joint action must take place.  What hinders it is a system developed by the occupiers and agreed to by some of the occupied people. Personal economic benefit maintains the status quo. What is done with support from a Palestinian authority is nothing short of making this occupation the most profitable in history (several billion dollars flow annually to Israeli coffers as a result of this occupation).  Already Israeli and Palestinian business deals are being executed for example in area C.  This is the “economic peace plan” of Netanyahu and others. Those who may think of disrupting the status quo are investigated and punished.  Most Palestinians are excellent diagnosticians and have figured this out. But I think many have not started to articulate solutions or ideas to get out of this mud hole that the Oslo Process (actually started with the 10 point program in 1974) put us into. It is not going to be easy and it does require sacrifice. But those delusional individuals who think that they have a salary or a position and they do not want to risk rocking the boat should think again. They should think of how their children or grandchildren would live under a system of racism and oppression.  This is as true of Israelis as it is true of Palestinians.

Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) give us hope.  Shimon Peres, the architect of Israel’s arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction and a war criminal once explained:

“In order to export you need good products, but you also need good relations… [If] Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts. There is already an artistic boycott against us and signs of an undeclared financial boycott are beginning to emerge.”

International figures who worked against apartheid in South Africa argued convincingly of why this can help here in Apartheid Israel [5]. But BDS is only a tool and certainly not sufficient to effect the needed change. There has to be a structured program from the people which includes an articulation of a vision with concrete goals for the future.  In my book “Sharing the Land of Canaan” in 2004 I argued for precisely such a program to move from apartheid to a state of all its citizens. These notions have gained widespread acceptance among intellectuals and activists of various religious and political backgrounds. To arrive to this vision, we need organization.

Organization requires visionary leadership arising organically from a maturing rising population. We should not be reluctant to push our existing leaders and if they are not willing to move then to create alternative leadership. ALL Factions have aging and non-innovative leadership and ALL factions have younger energetic and dedicated (but marginalized) individuals. Clearly the status quo is devastating for us and cannot last. We know from history that people will rise-up and DEMAND change.

Is it time for varied voices to coalesce into a thunderous uproar that cannot be ignored? May we organize meetings and discuss publicly the path forward? While many for example discussed the failure of the “two state solution” and some articulated future visions, we need more than that. Can we as a people in 1948 areas, in the West Bank and Gaza and in exile create mechanisms and structures that take us to where we decide to go?  Can we convince the world and even Israelis that we are serious about working for a future of peace with justice and prosperity for everyone? Voices of negativism must not dominate this critical stage. This conversation must be open to people of goodwill from all factions and from independents. While it must start among Palestinians, we must later involve our trusted supporters from around the world. We do have the resources: financial, intellectual, emotional, and physical. Let those who have skills in organizing organize and those who have skills in media work do media work. Let those who have skills in social networking do that. Those who have skills in music write songs for the revolution. Imagine if we can get even 5% or even 1% of the Palestinians around the world as participants in an organized effort. The change that could happen can be monumental.

The world today only respects those who respect themselves and struggle for their own rights. We have nothing to be ashamed of as Palestinians even though 7 million of us are refugees or displaced people.  We have a lot to be proud of from our history [6]. We cannot give up now that the crisis of Palestine weighs on the world conscience and when the Arab spring could change the whole geopolitical reality of the Middle East.  Even if we fail at our goal this time, the positive spirit that results would enrich all our lives. It would unleash the creativity and the energy that we know is in us.   Change can and must happen because it ours is an existential struggle for 11.5 million Palestinians in the world and for our children and grandchildren born and unborn. Each of us has a role to play and has skills and other resources to contribute. Even if we start slow and among a few individuals, it will grow because we have no other choice. Let us get on with it.


[2] Ramzy Baroud- Israel plots an end-game, Jeff Halper but see also Susan Abulhawa’s reply to Jeff Halper

[3] Ben Gurion letter to his son, sent October 5, 1937

[4] The Oslo accords were an excellent tool by Israel to consolidate its hold and in violations of the Geneva conventions allowed Israel “civil control” in >60% of the West Bank called area C.  In further negotiations it was leaked how much people like Saeb Erekat were willing to keep going in handing over these areas to Israel

[5] Desmond Tutu on the need for Divestment from Israeli apartheid

[6] “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment”

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Time for a change!

Solidarity and Realpolitik: My Response to Jeff Halper

By Susan Abulhawa | Palestine Chronicle | May 4, 2012

Some years ago, I was on a panel with three men, Jeff Halper among them, at a Sabeel conference in Pennsylvania. Each panelist was asked to give their vision for a solution to the ‘Palestine/Israel conflict’.  Because I was sitting at the end of the table, I was the last to speak.  I listened to each one of my fellow participants lay out different versions of a two-state solution, each more depressing than the other, each with irrelevant nuances (all previously articulated by Israel, by the way) on how to make the refugee problem just go away.  They spoke the tired talk of land swaps, compromise, several surreal highways that bypass humanity for miles on end, and more creative solutions designed to circumvent the application of human rights where Palestinians are concerned.

When my turn came, I spoke of Palestinians being accorded the same basic rights that apply to the rest of humanity, including the right to return to one’s home after fleeing a conflict.  I spoke of equality under the law regardless of religion.  I spoke of a construct that would prevent one group from systematically oppressing another.  I spoke of human dignity and the universal right to it.  I spoke of equal access to resources, including water, regardless of religion.

I will never forget Jeff Halper’s response, which he was eager to voice even before I had finished speaking.  He began with a smile, the way an adult might smile at the naive remarks of a small child.  He needed to give me a lesson in reality, and proceeded to tell me, in the patronizing way of someone who knows best, that my vision lacked “how shall I say it… Realpolitik”.

I did not waiver then, nor have I since, on my position that Palestinians are not a lesser species who should be required to aspire to compromised human dignity in order to accommodate someone else’s racist notions of divine entitlement.

That said, I do not consider Jeff Halper racist and I acknowledge the mostly positive impact he has had in bringing attention to one of Israel’s enduring cruelties, namely the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes as a tool to effectuate ethnic cleansing of the native non-Jewish population.  But in my view, that does not entitle him to speak of what Palestinians should or shouldn’t do.  I also don’t think it qualifies him as an anti-zionist when he clearly accepts the privilege accorded to Jews only.  After all, Jeff Halper is an American from Minnesota who made aliyah (Israel’s entitlement program that allows Jews from all over the world to take up residence in my homeland, ultimately in place of the expelled natives). Perhaps is it my lack of Realpolitik, but I cannot reconcile embracing the very foundation of zionism on one hand, and calling oneself an anti-zionist on the other.

In a recent interview on Al Jazeera’s website with Frank Barat, he did just that.  He also laid out a dismal scenario for the future of Palestinians, based on what Israel is very likely plotting, namely the annexation of Area C and the pacifying of the Palestinian Authority (also likely) with economic incentives and mini Bantustans they can call a state.  But he missed the mark, repeatedly, when it came to Palestinians themselves, as if he sized us all up with a glance and decided he was not impressed. Despite the burgeoning nonviolent resistance taking place all over Palestine, in various forms ranging from demonstrations, significant solidarity campaigns, hunger strikes, and more, he says that “[Palestinian] resistance is impossible” now.  At best, he trivializes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is the first coordinated nonviolent movement of Palestinians inside and outside of Palestine that has also managed to inspire and capture imaginations of individuals and organizations all over the world to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom.  Again, my lack of Realpolitik here, but to me, creating a situation where it is possible to force the implementation of human rights and restore dignity to Palestinian society is in itself an end.  Jeff Halper seems unable to consider anything other than a negotiated agreement to be an end.

He enumerates all that is wrong with internal Palestinian issues.  Of course there are problems. We know our leadership is doing little more than pick up the trash and keep people in line while Israel steals more and more of our land.  We are not happy about it either.  But he seems to suggest that he, along with other Israelis I presume, have been carrying the burden of resolving this conflict.  In one instance he says:

“We’ve (I assume Israeli leftists?) brought this to governments, we’ve raised public awareness, we’ve had campaigns, we’ve done this for decades, we’ve made this collectively, one of two or three really global issues. But without Palestinians we can only take it so far.”

Then he adds:

“I am trying to challenge a little bit my Palestinian counterparts.  Where are you guys?”

If I read this correctly (and I will grant the benefit of the doubt that it was not meant as it reads), then he clearly sees himself at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle where his Palestinian counterparts are disorganized, haphazard, or not present.  He even suggests that at this crucial time, “Palestinians have to take over,” further supporting the suggestion that Palestinians are not at the helm of the resistance.

He also asserts that importing Jews from all over the world to live in colonies built on land confiscated from private Palestinian owners is “not settler colonialism”.  What is it then?

But back to his strange assertion that Palestinians “should take over” (from whom?), he describes an instance where he refused to participate in the global march to Jerusalem because the Palestinian organizers (who took over?) did not want to include the world “Israel,” the name of the country that denies our very existence and seeks in every way to eradicate us.  Is it that Jeff Halper wants “Palestinians to take over” as long as Palestinians do so in a way that does not offend the sensitivities of the very people deriving privilege at their expense?  That is not how solidarity works.

I don’t presume to tell Israelis what they should or should not do but I would like to see Israelis concentrate on their own failures rather than ours.  I would sure like to hear those who have made aliyah acknowledge that it was not their right to do so; that making aliyah is a crime against the native people who have been and continue to be forcibly expelled to make way for those making aliyah. I would like to hear an apology. The trauma that Palestinians feel is very much part of the Realpolitik and it is not unlike the trauma in the Jewish psyche.  It comes from the same humiliation and anguish of not being considered fully human. Of being treated like vermin by those with the guns. If Halper truly understood that, perhaps dropping the word “Israel” – a word that hovers over the rubble of our destroyed homes and suffuses the pain at our collective core – would have been a no brainer expression of solidarity.

– Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010) and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine (

May 5, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 2 Comments