Dr. Jeff Halper is the Co-founder and Director of ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He was born in 1946 in Minnesota and emigrated to Israel in 1973. Since then he has been a tireless advocate for justice and civil rights for all Israelis and Palestinians. He spent ten years as a community worker in Jerusalem aiding low-income Mizrahi families. He co-founded ICAHD in 1997 to help resist Israel’s strategy of house demolitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He is the author of three books.
Am Johal interviewed him in the kitchen of the Oak Ridge United Church on February, 12th, 2015.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Middle East. At that time Sharon and Arafat were still alive in 2003-04. I’m wondering if you can give some background thoughts on the continued shift further toward the right, in many respects, almost structurally, in the Israeli political atmosphere over the past 15 years? There is a continued shift to the right as we head into the upcoming Israeli elections. What’s your sense of what’s happening today?
I don’t really know if it’s a move to the right. I mean, obviously they’re voting more to the right. But it’s partly because the Left has completely abrogated its position. There is no Left.
The Likud and the right wing parties call themselves the nationalist camp. OK. Then, the Labor Party got together with Tzipi Livni – all right, they want to be the alternative camp. What would you call yourself — the Israeli camp, the progressive camp? No, they call themselves the Zionist camp. The Labor party has rebranded itself as the Zionist camp. Who are you going to vote for – the Nationalist camp or the Zionist camp?
A deal has been struck, between the political parties and the Israeli Jewish public – they are saying they want personal security. If you can give me that, I’ll vote for you. In effect, they are saying “I don’t care about the land of Israel, I don’t care about Arabs. I want to get on a bus, go to work and go home. If you can deliver that, I’ll vote for you. If not, I’ll go somewhere else.”
In the 1990s, they voted Barak over Netanyahu. Barak had a mandate to carry out the two-state solution because that would bring us security. And he blew it. The next year, they overwhelmingly voted for Sharon. What happened, did they turn right wing overnight? The intifada was starting. People weren’t feeling secure. Sharon said he’d do it for them.
Basically, the Israeli public says to these parties, we don’t care how you do it. If you think establishing a Palestinian state on all the territory – getting us out of there, will bring us security, do it. We give you that mandate. If you think loading the Arabs and sending them to Jordan on buses will bring security, do it. We don’t care. Just do it. And if you do it, we’ll vote for you. Sharon did it. In 2002, with Operation Defensive Shield, he broke the back of the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank. Since then, it’s been very quiet. They vote Likud. What they’ve heard from Labor and Likud for the past 100 years is that the Arabs are our permanent enemies. It’s true in a sense — it’s not really true, but it’s true in one sense of course that the Arabs are the enemies. As long as you have occupation, displacement, an exclusive claim to the land on the part of Zionism, of course the Arabs are presented as your enemies. You’re not giving the Palestinians any breathing space. It’s sort of like blaming the victims for being your enemies. But that’s the idea. There can never be peace. They’ll never accept us. Therefore, the Israeli public would say, “even I who believe in peace, why would I vote for Meretz?” Why would I vote for a peace party, when peace isn’t even possible? I’ll vote for a tough, right wing guy like Sharon that will bring me security because that’s all I expect. 85% of Israeli Jews supported the Oslo Peace Process in its day. 95% of Israeli Jews supported the assault on Gaza this last summer. You can’t just interpret this as a political opinion, but it has to do with the security issue.
You’ve said the two-state solution is dead and one-state solution is what is called for today. Can you describe this? For a lot of people in North America, there’s a lack of understanding on what one-state actually means. The detail and complexity of this is not given a context. This is largely viewed as a problem, far away, something over there.
Part of the problem is we haven’t fleshed out what that means. I think it’s the only place to go. We – by that I mean progressive Israelis and Palestinians — have to decide what’s just, what’s workable, what we should do. Like the ANC, in its day, had the Freedom Charter. The Afrikaaners could go along with the transition because the ANC said ‘our vision of a future South Africa is multi-racial.’
I think Israeli Jews, they’re not motivated by the Greater Land of Israel and territory. The real settlers — the ideological religious ones — are the minority. They’re 1% of the Israeli population – that’s it. Israelis are concerned with their security – individual and collective. If we can come up with a plan about what a one state solution would be we could assure Israelis that it would be inclusive. Our term for multi-racial would be bi-national. I think you could convince them – not now. First of all, it’s not fair that the oppressed have to convince the oppressor that they will be safe in the transition, but what are you going to do? The oppressors aren’t going to let go willingly. If we can present a good model: Canada could be a model. You have the Anglophone, Francophone, Aboriginal. There are other models out there in the world. We’re not talking to each other. Our Palestinian partners, at this crucial stage, when we should be talking to each other, we’re not talking to each other. When we should be strategizing and talking to each other, we’re not. Part of this has to do with that anti-normalization stuff. This is a space that we have right now. I think the situation is going to collapse. The Palestinian Authority is going to collapse. Maybe re-occupation, maybe annexation – all kinds of things could happen, then new possibilities open up that don’t exist today.
If we’re not ready, if our agency is not prepared, there are other bad things that will happen in the vacuum. This could happen in two weeks, it could take several months – it could be a few years. The collapse of the Palestinian Authority is fairly imminent. We should be ready and we’re not talking to each other.
What is the situation of Palestinian Arab minority within Israel, and in Jerusalem where they are not citizens but residents – can you describe the specificity of their situation today?
The Palestinians are permanent residents of East Jerusalem, but not citizens. In the rest of Israel, Palestinians are citizens but are third and fourth class citizens. Arabs are preoccupied with maintaining their own civil rights, they don’t have the political space to deal with the West Bank and the wider Palestinian issue. They are not that involved. Even with Haneen Zawabi, the Labor Party, the Zionist camp, not just Likud, wants her removed from the Knesset. The Unified Arab list, most are for the two-state solution. The Palestinian citizens of Israel are really hanging on by their fingertips to their civil rights in the country. That is what is preoccupying them. The United Arab list in the Knesset, they tend to be in favour of the two-state solution. They tend to work on the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel but they have been neutralized.
The problem is you have the concept of a Jewish majority. There are 120 seats in the Knesset. To have a government, you need at least 61. But not Arabs. If these parties unite, let’s say the Arab parties get 15 seats, it means the Parliament has been reduced to 105 seats. Because they are taken out of the equation. If Labor, wants to have a majority, they couldn’t include those 15 seats in their majority. You have to have a Jewish majority. In all kinds of subtle way, the whole racist part of it is in operation.
What if the one-state solution become plausible, does it create a scenario in a context where political power doesn’t entirely shift from the powers that be – is a one state solution going to be palatable, or simply a continuation of a politics by other means, towards an unequal status?
Depends on how you structure it. It doesn’t have to be that way. In other words, the Palestinians would be the majority in the country. They would have that political strength.
If that’s the case, why would the Israel government willingly entertain a one-state solution if it’s going to be viewed as undermining its own authority?
The model is a bi-national state. Canada could be a model. You can have a good amount of self-determination without a state of your own, that falls short of independence. The Catalonians, the Scots, the cantons in Switzerland, your cultural integrity is protected. You have your language, cultural identity, a parliament of your own. You can structure it in a way that your community is protected. You can structure it in such a way. The Israelis could then be supportive. Just like in South Africa. They wouldn’t have gone with the transition, if the ANC wouldn’t have said that they were going to be multi-racial – If we present this idea as a bi-national state, I think that would calm those fears. I think there’s something that people would be figuring – would the Palestinians be an underclass like South Africa? The Palestianian diaspora is well educated. World-wide, there are more Palestinian university students than Israeli students. Even if there would be one state, and everything would be fine obviously the Israelis are stronger economically. There is high tech, tourism, what people don’t take in to account is the Palestinian diaspora. This is not a situation of oppressed impoverished third world people that has to compete with a very well developed white global north society. They can achieve parity because they have their own infrastructure.
The Palestinian diaspora would kick in. Actually, in terms of their economic structures, their economies complement each other. High tech, tourism, agriculture. They would work together. It’s not as if the Jews are high tech and the Palestinians are farmers. It’s much more sophisticated than that. There’s a real synergy. I think you could make it a going concern.
Since you developed the term ‘matrix of control’ related to the Israeli occupation – how has it shifted over time as an idea, how have those policies shifted, in terms of the current situation today?
By the time I conceived of it – I guess, in the late 1990s, I wrote about it – by that time it was already very developed. You know, the settlement infrastructure was there, the highway infrastructure was there. In 1995, you already have Areas A, B, C. In many ways, I think it was there. Oslo created it, Israel created that infrastructure. I saw it emerging and since then it has simply gotten stronger.
The first article I wrote was for Middle East Report: to get a two state solution that was still possible, you have to dismantle the matrix of control – that was my point — otherwise you won’t really have a two-state. In those days, it was there, but at a point where you could dismantle it. Today, the difference is it’s massive and permanent. There are now 600,000 Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. When I wrote the article it was 200,000 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and four years from now, it will be one million Israelis. The highway infrastructure of the settlements incorporates the West Bank. The whole country has been reconfigured. That’s the point – there’s no more detachable territory. 95% of Palestinians have been shoved in to Areas A, B and Gaza. So they’re living in little tiny enclaves of territory. There’s no coherent territory. The settlements have gone beyond the critical mass.
Is this not the same kind of the worry for the one-state solution, that the matrix of control simply continues and becomes a distorted, expanded version of itself?
What I’m saying is you can’t dismantle the matrix of control. That’s why you can’t have a two-state solution. To say we’re going to take a little piece of Israel and do territorial swaps with the Palestinians is ridiculous because the whole thing is gone.
No, what I say is that Israel has created one-state today. There is one-state. It’s not a matter of, should there be – it is. Now, that one-state today is an apartheid regime. You’ve got to take the whole apartheid regime and dismantle the entire regime. When South Africa went from apartheid, it wasn’t a sub-technical thing like blacks have the vote. The whole country was reinvented. There was a new constitution. That’s what you have to do. You have to have a new parliament. There needs to be a constitution that Israel doesn’t have. It has to be defined as bi-national and democratic. It has to have new parliamentary institutions that support that. People should have the right to live where they want in the country. You’re not dismantling the matrix of control, you’re neutralizing it. One of the attractions for Israelis is that you could say to the settlers, they don’t have to move out. Stay there. The Palestinian’s don’t care that the Israelis live there, it’s the control of the settlements and the occupation that’s the problem. Now let’s have Palestinians move in to the settlements – we begin to integrate the country. Then you neutralize the matrix of control. You eliminate it, by the very fact, in that it has no more controlling pieces to it.