Frank Barat caught up with Jeff Halper, long-time Israeli peace activist, author and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), while he was on a European speaking tour which will take him from the UK to Poland. Here is what he had to say about the situation in Israel and Palestine…
Could you give us an update on the demolition of Palestinian homes and of what people now often refer to as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Jerusalem.
I think what’s coming down the pipeline is that Israel today has basically finished this. We’ve gone beyond the occupation. The Palestinians have been pacified and from Israel’s point of view the whole situation has been normalized. Netanyahu went to Washington to meet with Obama last month. When he came back his adviser was asked what was new about this meeting and said ‘this is the first time in memory that an Israeli Prime Minister met with a US president and that the Palestinian issue was not even mentioned, it never came out.’
So, in this situation where the USA is really paralysed because Netanyahu has [influence over] both parties in congress and Obama does not want to do anything, Netanyahu is going to make the last move in nailing this whole thing down. Israel could well annex area C, which is 60 per cent of the West Bank. Now, a couple of months ago the European Council diplomats in Jerusalem and Ramallah sent a report to the EU saying that Israel has forcibly expelled the Palestinians from area C. Forcible expulsion is hard language for European diplomats to use.
So area C contains less than 5 per cent of the Palestinian population. In 1967 the Jordan valley contained about 250,000 people. Today it’s less than 50,000. So the Palestinians have either been driven out of the country, especially the middle class, or they have been driven to areas A and B. That’s where 96 or 97 per cent of them are. The Palestinian population has been brought down low enough, there is probably somewhere around 12,5000 Palestinians in area C, so Israel could annex area C and give them full citizenship.
Basically, Israel can absorb 125,000 Palestinians without upsetting the demographic balance. And then, what is the world going to say? It’s not apartheid, Israel has given them full citizenship. So I think Israel feels it could get away with that. No one cares about what’s happening in areas A and B. If they want to declare a state, they can, Israel has no interest in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.
In other words, we’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians have been confined in areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it.
So when people talk about a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of historical Palestine, it’s not even that, right? The number is much smaller.
Yes, what [Salam] Fayyad (Palestinian National Authority prime minister) is saying is our state does not have to be on any particular amount of territory, our state is an economic state and we can work around you annexing this and that because we can make our cities. The idea is that Israel will give them a bit of area C, to put the enclaves a little bit more together. So the north, the south and Gaza will still be cantonized, but what Fayyad is saying is we can make a go of that. Both Netanyahu and Fayyad have moved from a territorial conception of two states to an economic conception of two states, which is a whole different thing. The problem that the bosses have is how to sell that to the Palestinian people. But it seems to me that this is what is coming down the pipeline.
Israel feels that the Palestinians have been defeated. It’s over. Resistance is impossible because of the Israeli army, the Palestinian proxy army, the wall, I mean, you can’t mount a Third Intifada. Israel policy since the Iron Wall of 1923, has been despair. I wrote an article about this once ‘The mounting despair in Palestine‘.
The Zionists have always, always said that once the Arabs despair – [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky once put it interestingly ‘despair of the land of Israel ever becoming Palestine’ – that was the end, victory for them. Israel feels that’s what we have got now. If you go today to the West Bank, Gaza might be different, you’ll hear the people say that they don’t care anymore, let me have a job, let me live my life and I’ll be happy. In a sense, Fayyad feels he can respond to that.
Some pogroms took place recently when a group of Beitar soccer fans attacked Palestinian workers in a shopping mall. Were those people a few bad apples, or do these types of events indeed say something about Israeli society?
They are more than bad apples. They are not completely Israeli society either. This football team in Jerusalem is connected to the Likud. In Israel many football clubs are associated with political parties. There is a very close relation between the ideology of Likud and Begin and the Beitar football team. They see the Arabs as the enemy. So it reflects about a third of the Israeli public that is very committed to expansion, settlements, that see the Arabs as enemies. In Beitar, their chants, it’s not just the pogroms, they chant every time their team scores a goal, ‘death to the Arabs’. That’s what 20,000 people chant. Beitar for example has never had an Arab player.
The Arabs are beginning to be more prominent in Israeli football teams. Not in Beitar Jerusalem. This pogrom is kind of an extension of this. It’s all in the context of kids, for the most part its kids that have seen Israel changed into a neoliberal economy, become more and more Thatcherite, and you have tremendous income disparity in Israel. Israel is now in the OECD, but it has one of the highest income disparities.
Kids have got no real future, that’s part of the context too. Those kids come from the housing projects, very much like those who follow the National Front in France or the EDL in England, people that only have this racist emotional outlet for their frustrations, and football is great for that. It channels anger away from the government. That’s why they sponsor football teams!
How important are the words we use, in your opinion, when it comes to Palestine/Israel. Ilan Pappe recently told me that we should rethink our vocabulary. Can we objectively still talk about ‘peace/occupation’? Shouldn’t we talk about ‘right to resist’ and ‘apartheid’ instead?
For sure. We deal a lot with words in our analysis. There are two words, because I think occupation is an old word. We are way beyond occupation. I think we are also way beyond apartheid. There are two words that capture the political reality but don’t have any legal substance today. One of them is Judaization. The entire country is being Judaized. It’s a word that the government uses, to Judaize Jerusalem, the Galilee, so the Judaization process is really at the heart of what’s going on. But it has no legal reference. So one of our projects we’re working on with Michael Sfard and some other lawyers is to try to introduce those terms into the discourse with the idea of trying to give them some legal frame. We have to try to match the political process, the political reality, because it is unprecedented in the world.
Another term is ‘warehousing’ because I think that captures what’s going on better than apartheid. Warehousing is permanent. Apartheid recognizes that there is another side. With warehousing it’s like prison. There is no other side. There is us, and then there are these people that we control, they have no rights, they have no identity, they’re inmates. It’s not political, it’s permanent, static. Apartheid you can resist. The whole brilliance of warehousing is that you can’t resist because you’re a prisoner.
Prisoners can rise up in the prison yards but prison guards have all the rights in the world to put them down. That’s what Israel has come to. They are terrorists and we have the right to put them down. In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially, in taking out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons. It’s another concept that does not have any legal reference today but we’d like to put that in because warehousing is not only in Israel. Warehousing exists all over the capitalist world. Two-thirds of the people have been warehoused. That’s why I’m writing about Global Palestine. I’m saying that Palestine is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world.
Frank Barat is a human rights activist based in London. He is the coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books, Gaza in Crisis, with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, and Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation with Asa Winstanley. He has also contributed to Is there a court for Gaza? with Daniel Machover. He can be found on Twitter @frankbarat22.