Dr. Jeff Halper speaks at the University of Manitoba on Feb. 9. (photo by Rebeca Kuropatwa)
Dr. Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthropologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, spoke on four different occasions in Winnipeg over two days, Feb. 8 and 9, as part of a cross-Canada speaking tour, which also brought him to Vancouver Feb. 10-12. He is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an organization self-described as “dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation and [that] advocates for a just peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.”
The first of Halper’s Winnipeg talks was An Israeli in Palestine, and it was held at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. He then spoke at the University of Manitoba on Academic Freedom and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, reprised An Israeli in Palestine at the University of Winnipeg and, finally, did an interview with Jewish Post & News editor Bernie Bellan at the Free Press News Café (which can be found at icahd.org/node/568).
The U of M lecture on Feb. 9 was sponsored by the department of history, the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, and the Global Political Economy program. Halper began this talk by saying that “the side” most people are aware of is the one that “only demolishes houses of terrorists and that is trying really hard to make a fair peace with the Palestinians.” But, he said, people are not very aware of the side that is “building settlements in the West Bank and refusing to issue building permits to Palestinians in the West Bank.”
According to Halper, Israel has been working for years to physically eliminate the proposition of a two-state solution by creating in the West Bank a Palestinian territory that is so fragmented with Israeli settlements that such an option is no longer viable. “A solution that the Israeli peace camp, including myself, supported for many years … the solution accepted by the international community … U.S., Canada, the UN, the Palestinians and every Arab country, is gone,” he said.
Halper believes that the two-state solution is “tremendously pro-Israeli.” He said, “If Israel in fact wants peace and security, it could have had that 27 years ago. And, it could have kept 78 percent of the country. This two-state solution was adopted unanimously by the Arab League. Every Arab country said that if Israel relinquishes the occupation, we will not only make peace with Israel, we’ll integrate Israel into the region. There was even talk of Israel joining the Arab League.”
In Halper’s view, “Israel has always said no and never seriously considered a two-state solution…. In 1993, there were 200,000 settlers. By the year 2000, after seven years of negotiation, there were 400,000 settlers. Today, there are 600,000 settlers. In four years from now, there will be a million Israelis living in the occupied territory.
“What Israel has done to ensure its permanent control, to ensure that the Palestinians are imprisoned in areas, is not a bi-national state … heaven forbid, because it has to be a Jewish state…. There’s no chance Israel will be forced out of the occupied territory. Israel has laid over the West Bank what I call ‘a matrix of control.’”
Halper argued, “There is no more West Bank: it’s gone. There are today more Israelis living in east Jerusalem than there are Palestinians. And whether it’s east Jerusalem or the West Bank, Palestinian territory is completely fragmented.
“Also, out of the 600 checkpoints in the West Bank, only 17 are actually between the West Bank and Israel. All the others are inside the West Bank, preventing Palestinian movement, confining them to these islands.
“How will a Palestinian state emerge from this?” he asked. “The whole idea of the two-state solution was based on a north/south axis, here’s Israel and, alongside, it’s a Palestinian state.”
Halper sees Israel as “working to force Palestinians out of homes located in the ‘wrong’ place, largely through house demolition. None of those homes had anything to do with security.”
As an example, Halper used the house of ICAHD member Salim Shawamreh. To date, said Halper, that home has been demolished and rebuilt by the ICAHD six times. “They bought a small plot of land in the town of Anata, which is right next to Jerusalem,” said Halper. “The land is registered. When they went to apply for a building permit, the answer was ‘no.’ Israel has zoned the entire West Bank as agricultural land so, when a Palestinian comes to build a home on land he owns, the answer is ‘Sorry, but this is agricultural land.’ It applies to Jews and Arabs.”
Beside Anata is the Israeli town of Ma’ale Adumim, which, Halper said, is built on the same agricultural land with a permit. “You have 50,000 Israelis living in government-built cities on the same land,” said Halper. “If you want to rezone from agricultural to residential, it takes a second.”
Many families build without a permit, said Halper, and Shawamreh “decided to build his house without a permit and the Israeli authority sent a demolition order with a dozen solders. They aren’t coming to arrest him. They’re coming to demolish his home…. Salim resisted and was taken out by force. His wife, Arabiya, managed to lock the door and stayed inside with the children. So, the soldiers broke the windows and threw in tear gas to flush the family out. Arabiya was taken out unconscious, the kids running and screaming in every direction. We get into the act if we can. She managed to call us … [and] we resist the demolition of homes.
“We rebuild homes as political acts of resistance,” he continued. “We’ve rebuilt 587 homes over the last 14 years or so … 587 joint acts of resistance. We refuse to be enemies. That’s one of our slogans.”
Halper’s tour, organized by United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine/Israel and Independent Jewish Voices-Canada, as well as various local groups, fundraised for ICAHD’s building of a house for a Palestinian family whose home was demolished. Admission to events was free, though donations were welcomed.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.