An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel Paperback – September 5, 2010 by Jeff Halper (Author)



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Israeli anthropologist and activist Jeff Halper throws a harsh light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the point of view of a critical insider. While the Zionist founders of Israel created a vibrant society, culture and economy, they did so at a high price: Israel could not maintain its exclusive Jewish character without imposing on the country’s Palestinian population policies of ethnic cleansing, occupation and discrimination, expressed most graphically in its ongoing demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes, both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.An Israeli in Palestine records Halper’s journey ‘beyond the membrane’ that shields his people from the harsh realities of Palestinian life to his ‘discovery’ that he was actually living in another country: Palestine. Without dismissing the legitimacy of his own country, he realises that Israel is defined by its oppressive relationship to the Palestinians.This second edition is includes an epilogue gauging the chances for peace after the failed Annapolis process. Read more

About the Author Jeff Halper is the head of ICAHD, the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. An Israeli in PalestineResisting Dispossession, Redeeming IsraelBy Jeff HalperPluto PressCopyright © 2010 Jeff HalperAll rights reserved.ISBN: 978-0-7453-3071-6ContentsIllustrations and Maps, Introduction: Getting It and Going There, PART I: COMPREHENDING OPPRESSION, 1. The Making of a Critical Israeli, 2. The Message of the Bulldozers, PART II: THE SOURCES OF OPPRESSION, 3. The Impossible Dream: Constructing a Jewish Ethnocracy in Palestine, 4. Dispossession (Nishul): Ethnocracy’s Handmaiden, 5. The Narrative of Exodus, PART III: THE STRUCTURE OF OPPRESSION, 6. Expanding Dispossession: The Occupation and the Matrix of Control, 7. Concluding Dispossession: Oslo and Unilateral Separation, PART IV: OVERCOMING OPPRESSION, 8. Redeeming Israel, 9. What About Terrorism?, 10. Apartheid, Warehousing Or…., 11. Where Do We Go From Here?, Appendices, Appendix 1: House Demolitions in the Occupied Territories Since 1967, Appendix 2: The Road Map and Israel’s 14 Reservations, Appendix 3: Letter from US President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Appendix 4: ICAHD’s Call for BDS, Bibliography, Further Resources, Index, CHAPTER 1The Making of a Critical IsraeliThe Jews made a religion of Justice.— Leon Blum, Prime Minister of France, quoted in Joel Cotton, Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1987:7)I first became aware of being an “Israeli in Palestine” on July 9, 1998, the day my friend Salim Shawamreh calls “the black day in my life and in the life of my family.” On that day the bulldozers of Israel’s Civil Administration, its military government in the West Bank, demolished his home for the first time. It was an act so unjust, so brutal, so at odds with the ethos of the benign, democratic, Jewish Israel fighting for its survival I had absorbed on “my side” of the Green Line that it was inexplicable in any terms I could fathom. It had nothing to do with terrorism or security. It was not an act of defense or even keeping Palestinians away from Israeli settlements or roads. It was purely unjust and brutal. As the bulldozer pushed through the walls of Salim’s home, it pushed me through all the ideological rationalizations, the pretexts, the lies and the bullshit that my country had erected to prevent us from seeing the truth: that oppression must accompany an attempt to deny the existence and claims of another people in order to establish an ethnically pure state for yourself.The very fact that I found myself resisting my government’s demolition of Palestinian homes did not necessarily remove me from the liberal Zionist Israeli peace camp. Over the past 40 years of the Occupation, dozens of peace-minded organizations have arisen. Perhaps the best known is Peace Now, founded in 1978 by reserve army officers who feared that the Begin government would fail to seize the chance for peace extended by Anwar Sadat on his recent visit to Israel. In a letter addressed to Menachem Begin, 348 officers wrote of the “deep anxiety [that the] government … prefers the existence of the State of Israel within the borders of ‘Greater Israel’ to its existence in peace with good neighborliness,” a policy “that will cause a continuation of control over millions of Arabs and will hurt the Jewish-democratic character of the state” ().Peace Now defines itself as a “Zionist” organization in that it supports the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state — or a “Jewish democracy,” a fine-sounding but problematic concept to say the least. In order to support both the Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, Peace Now can accept only one solution to the conflict: a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state emerges in the territories conquered by Israel in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and a shared Jerusalem. It also opposes the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Many other peace groups have also arisen within this Zionist framework. “Courage to Refuse” was launched with a letter to Sharon’s government in 2002 signed by more than 635 reservist soldiers (another 1,000 have signed on since) declaring their refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories. It begins with this self-presentation: “We, reserve combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, who were raised upon the principles of Zionism, sacrifice and giving to the people of Israel and to the State of Israel, who have always served in the front lines, and who were the first to carry out any mission, light or heavy, in order to protect the State of Israel and strengthen it.” It then goes on to state:We, combat officers and soldiers who have served the State of Israel for long weeks every year, in spite of the dear cost to our personal lives, have been on reserve duty all over the Occupied Territories, and were issued commands and directives that had nothing to do with the security of our country, and that had the sole purpose of perpetuating our control over the Palestinian people. … The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose [of Israel’s defense] — and we shall take no part in them.Bat Shalom, the Israeli women’s peace organization, Uri Avneri’s Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Peres Center for Peace, the Council for Peace and Security, an “association of national security experts in Israel,” Yesh Gvul, an organization of reservists who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories — these are only a few of the peace groups that exist within a Zionist framework. Add to that prominent human rights organizations such as B’tselem and ACRI, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, plus political parties like Meretz and even parts of the Labor Party, and there are many other Israeli Jews who, like me, could have been in the West Bank protesting our government’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes — 18,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967.They wouldn’t have been found, however, sitting on the ground blocking an Israeli army bulldozer. It is the fine line between protest and resistance that creates the divide, the chasm, between mainstream Zionist and what I call critical Israeli peace groups. I didn’t always realize that. For many years I was active in organizations that could have been described as “Zionist,” from Siakh, the Israeli New Left in the early 1970s through “The 21st Year” to various ad hoc coalitions, although they always pushed the “left” side of The Box. (I was an active member, for example, of the Committee for the Support of Beir Zeit University, a Palestinian university that had been placed under severe constraints, including prolonged closures, censorship of books and mass arrests of students and teachers, an activist group far beyond the Israeli mainstream.) Even the founding of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) in 1997, in which I took a leading role, did not signal the crossing of any particular ideological line. It was merely another activist group protesting another particular element of the Occupation and included members of Peace Now, Meretz and Rabbis for Human Rights.What pushed me beyond Zionism into a much more critical but contested and prickly political space was the demolition of Salim’s house. If, as the popular saying has it, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, then a post-Zionist is a Zionist who has witnessed a house demolition. The conversion experience was unplanned. ICAHD had been in existence a full year but we had not yet actually seen a demolition. Demolitions are normally done early in the morning, just after the men have left for work, and with no prior warning. It was only through an unusual constellation of elements that day that I happened to be on the scene. The Civil Administration officials, who had already demolished five homes in the Anata area, thought they could squeeze in one more. They did not begin on Salim’s house, then, until late morning. Salim’s resistance — he had rushed home when he heard of the demolitions taking place — delayed things even longer. At noon he heard the dreaded knock on his door. Opening it, he saw his house surrounded by dozens of soldiers and Border Police. Micha Yakhin, a heavily armed inspector of the Civil Administration, stood menacingly before him. “Is this your house?” Yakhin asked brusquely. “Yes, it’s my house,” Salim replied. “No it isn’t,” said Yakhin, “it is our house now. You have fifteen minutes to remove all your belongings, we are going to destroy it.”As Micha and the soldiers pushed their way into the home, Salim argued and pleaded with them. When, however, he touched Micha as the latter advanced on him in a threatening way, Salim’s protestations turned instantly into “resistance,” triggering a full military response. Salim was beaten, handcuffed and thrown out of the house. In the pandemonium, Arabiya, Salim’s wife, managed to quickly slam the door shut and lock it with her and her six children inside. She then began calling frantically for help; one of the numbers she called was ours. By chance I happened to be close by preparing for a demonstration against Israel’s demolition policy in front of the Civil Administration offices in the nearby settlement of Beit El. As I rushed to the site, I crossed the membrane few Israeli Jews ever cross, running right through the lines of Israeli troops that surrounded the house. It was so unheard of that any outsider would show up on the scene, let alone an Israeli, that I took them by surprise and ended up at Salim and Arabiya’s door before they could stop me.I arrived just after the soldiers had thrown canisters of tear gas through the windows of the house to flush Arabiya and the children out and had broken down the door. I saw Arabiya being carried out unconscious, her young children running and screaming in all directions. (I later found several of the tear gas canisters. They were made in the Federal Laboratories in Philadelphia and were clearly marked with the warning: “For outdoor use only.”) Micha then ordered the owner of the commercial wrecking company sub-contracted by the Civil Administration to demolish Palestinian homes to send his workers — foreign guest workers from Romania — into the home to remove the furniture. Given only a few minutes to do so, the workers tore out the bedroom and living room sets, ripped out the kitchen appliances and, in a kind of a chain, jettisoned all the sundry “disposable” items: pictures that had hung on the wall, the children’s toys, kitchen cutlery, tables and chairs, the TV, books and schoolbooks. The family’s papers, photos and the kid’s homework littered the landscape, trampled underfoot by soldiers and neighbors alike.In the very midst of the tumult, Micha noticed me standing nearby, not knowing what to do. He asked who I was and I told him I was an ICAHD activist. In an almost surrealistic scene, he pulled maps out his bag and began explaining to me why Palestinian homes had to be destroyed. Just then he got word that the house had been cleared. He ordered the bulldozer, which had been waiting down the hill, to come up and finish the job. As it passed by me, I did almost instinctively what I have done many times since: I threw myself in front of it to stop the demolition. This was the first time anyone had ever done anything like that. No one knew what to do. It was clear, however, that I was an Israeli Jew, so no one was ready to shoot me. After trying to coax me to get out of the way, the soldiers brusquely (but not too roughly) pushed me down the hill, where I found myself lying in the dirt and dust next to Salim.As we lay together on the ground, guarded by soldiers whose guns pointed at us menacingly, watching helplessly as the bulldozer proceeded to systematically demolish his home, I watched Salim’s face contort in pain and disbelief. “But I didn’t do anything wrong,” he kept saying. “I’m not a criminal. I’m not a terrorist. I tried to get a permit for the house. Why are they doing this to me?” Occasionally I heard him gasp and sob, as when the antenna and water tanks on the roof collapsed, these poignant moments bringing home to him the reality of what was happening. At one point, when the bulldozer emerged from the ruins of his home through his children’s bedroom, I saw him raise his arms high as if beseeching someone to intervene. Wiping the perspiration from his pained face, trying to find words of awkward consolation, I promised him that the world would hear his story.On that day, lying on the ground at gunpoint with a Palestinian innocent of any wrongdoing witnessing one of the most wrenching experiences that can ever happen to a person, I found myself in another country I thought no longer existed, Palestine, amongst people who were supposed to be my enemies yet who shared their suffering with me at the hands of what could only be called Israeli state terrorism. Nothing could reconcile what I was witnessing and experiencing with the Zionist narrative I had learned. No, something else was going on here, something of fundamental importance that I had to understand and grapple with. I could not go home as if nothing had happened except yet another atrocity of the Occupation. Only by understanding what had transpired that day would I truly grasp the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, perhaps, how to get out of it.FROM ETHNIC JEW TO JEWISH NATIONAL TO ISRAELIUntil that July day in Anata I suppose you could have called me a “Zionist.” I was a Jew who had emigrated to Israel from the United States 25 years earlier, and I generally subscribed to what may be described as Zionist principles, if not to the full-blown ideology. I accepted the idea, fundamental to Zionism, that the Jews constitute a nation in the political sense of the term, based upon their national existence in biblical times, on a kind of religio-nationality maintained throughout the centuries of Exile/Diaspora, and on a revived national existence emerging with other national movements in nineteenth-century Europe. As a nation the Jews possess the right of self-determination in their historic homeland, just as any other nation does, and it seemed to me self-evident that that homeland was the Land of Israel. As a liberal-left Zionist I, of course, accepted the Palestinians’ right to self-determination as well, but only in a state alongside the State of Israel. When pressed, even by own doubts, I would invariably fall back upon a conviction that, for me, trumped all the problematics of Zionist claims and excesses: the Jews were truly a persecuted people who needed, as well as had a right to, a state of their own. I took umbrage in Mazzini’s famous dictum: “Without a Country you are the bastards of Humanity.” That alone seemed enough to justify the existence of Israel as a Jewish state while subordinating Palestinian claims to the historical necessity of the Jews to control their own destiny. The Palestinians had to fit into the nooks and crannies of my national existence in “my” country. I did not press the issue any further. I believe that this position, flexible, short of an actual ideology and capable of accommodating a variety of political solutions, typifies the stance of most Israeli Jews.Why did this speak to me? What led me, a normal secular middle-class Jewish-American from a small town in the Midwest, to adopt a radically different identity, that of a Jew in the primary, national sense — the first step towards becoming an Israeli — instead of the ethnic Judaism characteristic of the Jews among whom I lived? (Only 1 percent of American Jews ever emigrated to Israel, and most of those did so out of religious rather than national reasons.)In fact, I came to my Israeliness easily, almost naturally, without any need of a Zionist ideology or even close contact to a Jewish community. A third-generation American, I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota — Hibbing — where the immigration experience was still strong. Hibbing was still populated by immigrants from Scandinavia, Croatia, Serbia, Poland and Italy and their children, my friends. The immigrants’ languages were still fresh, their foods and traditions still permeated local life rather than being packaged into ethnic “fairs.” Hibbing had been founded by companies seeking to mine the rich strata of ore that underlie the Mesabi iron range, but the bosses, the mining company executives, stayed far away from this seemingly barren stretch of the subzero Northern Woods. Hibbing therefore lacked a dominant “host” population of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. As a result, immigrant Hibbingites and their offspring were free of pressures to “Americanize”; they felt no need to hide their ethnicity in the privacy of their homes or churches.This was true of the small Jewish community as well. Composed of about 15 families, it had a small wooden synagogue but no rabbi. My parents, despite their thoroughly secular Americanism, very much wanted their children to “remain Jewish” or at least to preserve a modicum of “Jewish identity.” Yet the Judaism we observed was casual and unobtrusive, as perhaps it had to be in a small town. Although my father served as president of the synagogue, nothing Jewish ever interfered with our “normal” American life, except the High Holidays. As if cramming an entire year of worship into an excruciating three days, we were forced to spend the entire two days of Rosh Hashana from morning to night and the entire day of Yom Kippur, on which we fasted diligently, in synagogue. A rabbi was imported and the mind-numbing tediousness of those three grueling days of standing and sitting to recite in unison meaningless prayers in English and Hebrew was made tolerable only by the constant undertone, like low background noise, of the menfolk sharing their fishing news to the consternation of the rabbi and the women. (Continues…)Excerpted from An Israeli in Palestine by Jeff Halper. Copyright © 2010 Jeff Halper. Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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