PNN interviews Jeff Halper – Part 1 July 12, 2010

This interview was conducted by Matthew Walleser   -  Palestine News Network -  8 July 2010

Jeff Halper is Co-Founder and Coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).  He was commissioned as a resource person for the Presbyterian Church’s Middle East Study Committee during its 219th General Assembly.  We spoke at two different times over the course of the week on topics related to the conflict in Israel / Palestine.

PNN:  Could you speak to why this General Assembly is so important? Why the Presbyterians have it?

Jeff Halper: The United States is different from Europe.  The churches here really have a voice.  Now, it’s true that these are mainstream churches. It might be more important to do these in an evangelical church in the States, but nevertheless, there’s Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the United Church for Christ, the Episcopalians.  The Catholics we haven’t managed to break through with. But the mainstream Presbyterian, Protestant denominations are still very, very important.

I bet you twenty percent or so of congress is probably Presbyterian if not a quarter.  And they have a moral voice beyond their numbers.  When the Presbyterian Church makes a resolution, that really is listened to.  So from that point of view I think it’s a strategic decision to devote a lot of time to the different churches here.

I might not do that in Europe. In Europe I go more for human rights organizations and political groups and unions.  For example unions are very strong. Unions in the States are very weak and they tend to be more if not rightwing than certainly mainstream.  The Unions here aren’t going to go for this like they would in Europe.  On the other hand the churches here are plugged into this much more than churches in Europe.  Although the churches in Europe are good. We work with Pax Christi, which is a Catholic group, in Germany and Holland.  We work with the Catholics in France, we work with the Anglicans in Britain. They’re very strong.  We do work with churches, but they have less clout in Europe than they have here.

PNN:  Have you seen any of the responses to this General Assembly from groups criticizing it, such as B’nai B’rith?  Note: B’nai B’rith, along with some other Jewish advocacy groups have issued statements that have criticized the Presbyterian General Assembly report.

JH:  I’m sure.  This guy Abe Foxman (National Director of the Anti-Defamation League), one of their main guys. That’s what I was talking about before, about the organized Jewish community.  They’re the organized voice, and they have the organization and they have the money and they have the access to the media and political leaders.  But they’re not elected.  They’re not known by the mainstream Jewish community. I don’t think they necessarily represent Jews in this country.  So their voice is disproportionate to their actual representation of Jews here (in the U.S.) So, what do I care what they say[laughs]. They’re not really representing anybody but themselves.

PNN: You had a chance to see Avraham Burg speak last night. He said something about the occupation essentially being very easy to undo. As if you could flip a switch and that Israel would be gone from the West Bank. Do you see that as being the case? Note: Avraham Burg is an Israeli and former member of the Knesset.  He is also the Author of the book: “The Holocaust is over, we must rise from its Ashes”

JH: No, that’s ridiculous.  I don’t know where it’s coming from.  There’s a problem, a guy like Burg. He’s a thinker. He really moved (ideologically) especially from where he was brought up.  He’s written some books that are interesting.  He’s a bright guy. Within Israel.   Within Israel, he’s free; he’ll be critical of that discussion.  When you go outside…there’s this concept in Israel of not showing your dirty laundry in public. There is a real fear of delegitimizing Israel.  And there’s a defensiveness, because you know that Israel is doing bad things. You know Israel’s culpable.  But you don’t want to go out and say it to a bunch of Christians in Minneapolis.  So, you end up pulling your punches. You come because you want to somehow progress peace.  But you don’t really say what you think.

I don’t think Burg really believes most of it.  Mitri Raheb (Pastor of the Christmas Church in Bethlehem, and who also spoke at the event with Avraham Burg) said something right.  He said, “you don’t like Boycotts? Give me something.  Give me another tool.  We tried negotiations. So what do you want me to do if I can’t boycott?” Because Burg came out against Boycott.  So Burg says, well if we got 500,000 Israelis and 500,000 Palestinians to march on the wall, it would fall.  You are not going to get 500,000. It’s ridiculous.  And he knows it’s ridiculous.

PNN: It wouldn’t be allowed.

JH: First of all the Palestinians would get shot. And second of all you wouldn’t get (that number), even if Israelis could do it somewhere.  Look you could get, if this became a campaign, and Burg was there, and Yossi Beilin and some of these people came out, you might get on a nice sunny day, you might get a crowd, you could get 50,000, which would be a pretty big thing.  But it’s ten percent of what he’s talking about. You’re not going to get a half-million. It’s ridiculous.

So why did he say it?  He knows that. He said it because you’ve got to say something. And he assumes that Christians, Presbyterians in Minneapolis don’t know it.  Sounds good, so I’ll say it.  But it’s cynical in a sense.  That’s a liberal thing.  It has always been.  Since the sixties, but way before the 60’s, there’s always been a huge chasm between what are called radicals, or, I prefer to use the word critical.  (Between) Critical thinking people and liberals.  And liberals talk the talk but they can’t walk the walk.  Because they just can’t go there.   And that’s where he’s trapped (Burg). He knows better, but he just can’t go there.
PNN: I see that a lot with some Israelis, in the peace movement, on the left.

JH: The Zionist left

PNN: Yes, Peace Now.

JH; And he’s Zionist, so that’s a whole undercurrent that we didn’t get into much but that’s also what’s holding him back.

PNN: There seems, like you said this sort of apprehension, that many Israelis can’t get over the hump.

JH: I’ll tell you what the hump is.  Israel is a Jewish state.  They want 78% of Palestine to be a Jewish state of Israel.  And that’s what they share with all other Jewish Israelis.  That’s why they are so fanatical about the two state solution. They can’t go anywhere else. You have to have a Jewish state.  It can’t be one state.  And they don’t always say it.   They almost assume that everybody agrees on that.  Burg started yesterday by saying we all know the solution:  the two state solution. So If you’re locked into that paradigm, there has to be a Jewish state.  They don’t say in 78% of the country but in the green line.  And the problem is that as that recedes, as Israel’s creating a bi-national reality, and as the Palestinians even inside Israel are saying, no wait a minute, lets talk about one state.  Also that the occupation didn’t start in ‘67 and all that, then they start getting defensive, and now they’re supporting something that they themselves know isn’t going to work maybe, it isn’t really acceptable, it’s a little bit old fashioned, its out of step with things. But they can’t go anywhere else. So you end up, again, you put as good a face on it as you can but in the end you’re defensive.  In the questions when he got up, somebody said to me today it was like Jekyll and Hyde. And he’s this nice, cute guy telling quips and anecdotes in the first part, and turns into a mean, strident, patronizing guy with Mitri (Raheb) in the second part. Because Mitri is basically saying it’s not going to work, two states is not going to work. All this stuff isn’t going to work, Zionism isn’t going to work, and pushes Burg to a place where he doesn’t want to go. And he gets defensive. And when you get defensive you get mean.   Because offense is the best defense.

PNN: Talking about that, the idea of the two state solution, yet the view that Israel is in a sense digging its own grave, progressing deeper into the West Bank.  And it’s government sponsored like you say, but at the same time the (Israeli) government says we want negotiations.  Aren’t you are hamstringing the Palestinians? There leaves no room for maneuverability.

JH: Yeah, you set conditions that are unacceptable. You have to recognize that Israel is a Jewish state, that’s another thing now (that Israel lists as a negotiating demand). Well, Israelis who aren’t Jewish, what does that mean for them? In a sense that’s the strategy. You create preconditions that are unacceptable and then when the other side doesn’t meet them then they’re the rejectionists.

PNN: I see at the event today that there are people talking about Hamas.  I believe it was a few delegates that said we can’t bring them in (to the process). The PLO was considered a terrorist entity.  In 1993, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist. So I mean it seems like this cycle is replaying again, what happened twenty years ago.

JH: Yes.  But everything is designed to make the occupation permanent. So, you negotiate one day, but you are not really negotiating in good faith. You’re doing a war the next day. There is a British concept called “muddling through.” Which means that basically, you know where you’re going. You know that you want to keep the whole country. You can’t approach it too rationally and linearly, because you don’t know, a million things happen, the war, the flotilla, the Soviet Union falls, I don’t know, a million things happen. So if you get locked in to some scenario, it doesn’t work.  So muddling through is very good, because it means that you know where you are going but you meet each challenge day by day. So, today I’m going to open 12 new industrial parks for Palestinians and give them a little bit of money. The next day I’m going to close them and the next day I’m going to reopen them, and the next day I’ll take off 20 checkpoints. And you try to keep an equilibrium. We have a name for our (Israel) policy. It’s called the status quo. So how to you maintain the status quo in a dynamic way? Muddling through lets you do that.  It looks unorganized, and if you look behind you, you really see that this is a very flexible way of keeping that equilibrium.  And Israel says we’ve done it for forty-three years.  And we’ve had times before, we’ve had James Baker before, we had George Shultz call Yitzhak Shamir on to the carpet in Washington.  Prime ministers have been called onto the carpet in the White House before; Eisenhower almost cut diplomatic ties over Sinai. There’s ups and downs, (the idea being) we can weather it all, we’ve managed for forty-three years, sixty three years. We’ll manage for another forty-three.  In a way in Israel there is also the idea that we have to get over the next five years.  After that, who knows, it’s a new game.  So don’t ask me where I’m going to be in twenty years, I have no idea, but we’re going in this way and that is the way Israel approaches it.  It’s very hard to grab hold of Israel in that sense.  Go with the flow, that’s the point.  Obama wants negotiations? No problem. You want a two state (solution)? Where do I sign? Roadmap? Great.  And then you construct it in a way that you are defeating it, but you never say no to the powerful. You always say yes and then you do all of your little things (to not make it happen)And you try not to get into a fight with the Americans.  And it’s worked.

PNN: Have you heard of Rabbi Menachem Froman from Tekoa? Note: Rabbi Menachem Froman is a Jewish Rabbi who lives in the Tekoa, part of the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank.

JH: Nutty guy

PNN: I have read that he was a friend of Arafat.

JH: I don’t know about friends.  He just met with the Prime Minister of Turkey.  He’s a settler. He wants reconciliation with the Palestinians and that we should all live together.  Kind of this almost “new-agey” weird guy.

PNN: And that is very much a minority.

JH:  Yeah, he has no power.  He’s not political, he’s not left, he’s not right.  The religious don’t like him.  The settlers don’t like him.  There’s nothing to it.  One of the problems with the Palestinians is that they’ve glommed on to these marginal, weird guys.  Like Moshe Hirsh from Neturei Karta (at one time Arafat’s advisor on Jewish affairs).  It’s stupid.  Neturei Karta is like supporting Hamas.

PNN: It’s fringe.

JH:  It’s not only fringe, but it’s anti-women, it’s anti-everything. It’s ultra-orthodox, anti human rights.  And they’re not pro-Palestinian particularly.  They don’t believe in Zionism, because God should bring the Jews back.  (Their view is) The Jews should come back, but when God decides to do that.  It doesn’t help the Palestinian cause to get associated with these people who are really right wing, anti-human rights, anti-women type groups.  They think just because they’re pro-Palestinian…

PNN: because they’re Jews.

JH:  Because they’re Jews. It’s stupid.  And Froman’s the same thing.  It’s unusual to have a religious Rabbi settler who likes Palestinians.  That’s newsworthy.  Man bites dog.  But it’s not significant.

PNN: What are some flaws you see in Palestinian leadership?

JH: Flaws?

PNN: In the government, corruption, the police forces?

JH: It’s not just corruption.  I don’t understand how they think they are in the political game. They’re not.  I don’t get it.  Afif Safieh was the Palestinian representative in Washington. In July 2008 he moved to Moscow.  The Palestinian Authority didn’t appoint another representative in Washington until July 2009, a year later.  During that year you had the invasion of Gaza and the whole Obama administration comes into office. In that whole period there is no Palestinian voice in Washington, whereas Israel is just all over the place.  I don’t even know what that means. And then their diplomats are terrible. I can name one or two that are excellent.  Afif was pretty good. Leila Shahid, who is the Palestinian representative in the European Union, is great.  But for the most part all over the world they are weak, they’re inarticulate, they’re ineffective.  They are very narrow because they are PLO, Fatah basically.  I’ll tell you one thing that came out, I knew about it. Richard Falk. He’s one of the most famous human rights figures in the world. And he’s the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine. Israel won’t let him in because he is critical. So Richard Falk, who is one of the greatest assets to the Palestinians, comes out in favor of the Goldstone report.  He says the Goldstone report shows that Israel committed war crimes, and they have to be tried(in court). He’s been pushing that.

The Goldstone report also criticized Hamas.  So the Palestinian Authority is trying to get Richard Falk fired because he supports the Goldstone report.  Why? You would think that they support the Goldstone report.  No, because Hamas was criticized by Goldstone on the basis that they were the governing entity in Gaza. Well, if Falk accepts the fact that Hamas is the governing entity, then it’s anti-Fatah.  In other words they are willing to fire one of their greatest advocates. They are so obsessed with Hamas that they are losing the whole picture. So that’s my problem, I think they are shortsighted, I don’t know what in the hell their strategy is. And it’s very frustrating.

Stay tuned for a second installment of this interview, where we will continue our discussion with topics related to Mr. Halper’s background and more about the conflict in Israel / Palestine.

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