In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King wrote that he had "almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the … Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice …"
Jeff Halper’s new book is, in part, the story of the evolution of a "white moderate" peace campaigner from Hibbing, Minnesota, to a radical Israeli campaigner for justice for the Palestinians. En route, he maps his development from "ethnic Jew to Jewish national to Israeli," disregarding his grandmother’s warning that "
If to an ingenuous Gentile this might seem like a meagre itinerary, a quick look at the Kahanists’ indispensable "S.H.I.T. List" reveals, on the contrary, that Halper is seen by red-blooded ultra-Zionists as a "sick self-hating Kike" whose primary concern, and that of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) which he helped found, "is the demolition of Israel."
Halper also has his less vehement detractors within the disparate community of pro-Palestinian activists, some of whom deem him flawed by excessive ego. In truth I have yet to meet an efficient activist who didn’t to some degree share this trait. Given the odds stacked against the defenders of Palestinian rights and the degree of defamation to which they are routinely exposed, a fragile ego would constitute a dangerous Achilles’ heel.
Admittedly Halper, who defines himself alarmingly as "a full-time peace-maker," has an occasional weakness for near-rhodomontade such as "the task I have set before me is to hasten a just peace," or "Israel’s aggressive marketing of military systems … has forced me to join up with forces outside Israel in this decisive struggle." Indeed the subtitle of this book, with its reference to "Redeeming Israel," might seem to confirm the prejudices of those who believe that the majority of Israeli activists are more interested in their own beautiful souls than in the devastation wreaked by Zionism upon Palestinian society.
However, for Halper the "redemption" of
As Halper tells it, there was nothing strategic about the decision to found ICAHD. "We backed into it without fully appreciating how powerful a vehicle of resistance the issue of house demolition would turn out to be. Only gradually did we discover that … house demolitions constituted the very essence of the conflict: Zionism’s program of dispossessing the Palestinians altogether." If the book starts in autobiographical mode, it soon changes gear as Halper recounts the history of Palestinian nishul (Hebrew for dispossession) and parses the oppressive system devised to bring it about. At this point in so many books on "the conflict" I grit my teeth and prepare to fast-read for the umpteenth time the litany of atrocities that is the history of
Much of the latter part of the book is taken up with a detailed exposition of Halper’s pet project both for liberating Palestinians and redeeming Israelis: a Middle-East Confederation, or indeed "a full-blown Middle-East Union" modeled in many respects on the EU. This, Halper believes, would constitute a "win-win" solution transcending the one-state or two-state paradigms and guaranteeing self-determination for both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. "The key element of this approach is the ability of all members of the confederation to live and work anywhere within (its) boundaries … It also addresses the core of the refugee issue, which is individual choice. Palestinians … could choose to return ‘home’ to what is today Israel, but they would do so as Palestinian citizens or citizens of another member state … just as Israelis living in Palestine (… former ‘settlers’) would retain Israeli citizenship."
For all its neat and attractive logicality, there are huge problems with this vision. Is it possible for two peoples to have equal self-determination within one territory? Is "the core of the refugee issue" truly reducible to "individual choice?" Don’t the quotation marks around "home" not indicate that in fact no genuine right of return is here being affirmed? And what about Palestinians who are not "citizens of another member state" but of a non-member state? While the "former settlers" in
In a sense, Halper is in a no-win situation here. Two-staters will condemn him because he doesn’t advocate two states, and one-staters will excoriate him for not advocating a single state. He himself admits that his proposal is "a pipe dream," to be considered at some future date when the "one-state/two-state paradigm … recedes." Meanwhile, however, it is at least "in the pot" and deserves to be widely discussed.
And meanwhile, Halper and the ICAHD continue to rebuild demolished Palestinian houses, take legal actions on behalf of Palestinians whose houses have been demolished or are threatened with demolition, and engage in "an international strategy of advocacy." "If we lose," he writes, and the pronoun includes all of us — Palestinian and otherwise — who struggle for the Palestinian cause, "the progressive forces of the world … will be set back to square one … If the Occupation prevails … not only will the Palestinians have lost but every person throughout the world aspiring to a better future will lose as well." Congratulations to Pluto Press for adding yet another excellent book to their indispensable Israel/Palestine list.
Raymond Deane is a composer, and a founding-member of the