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PA Interviews Jeff Halper

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    Israel s Policy of Displacement: PA Interviews Jeff Halper Political Affairs 5-14-06 http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/3428/1/32/ Editor s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 4, 2006
      Israel's Policy of Displacement:
      PA Interviews Jeff Halper
      Political Affairs

      Editor's note: Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee
      Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

      Political Affairs: Your organization, the Israeli Committee Against
      House Demolitions, works to stop home demolitions in the Occupied
      Territories. Can you describe the reason Palestinian homes are being
      destroyed there?

      Jeff Halper: Displacement, dispossession is the essence of the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Zionist movement asserted exclusive
      claims to Palestine/the Land of Israel in the name of the Jewish
      people. The term "transfer" was first used by the World Zionist
      Organization in 1911, and in 1948 it was largely carried out – some
      750,000 Palestinians were made refugees, about 75 percent of the
      Palestinian population. The occupation of the West Bank, "east"
      Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967 completed the conquest of the country.
      Since then Israeli has attempted to induce the emigration of as many
      Palestinians as possible and confine the rest to a collection of
      impoverished enclaves on BOTH sides of the "Green Line," its own Arab
      citizens as well as the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories.
      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "convergence plan," for which he is
      seeking American support, will impose once and for all a permanent,
      institutionalized domination of Israel over a tiny, non-viable and
      only semi-sovereign Palestinian Bantustan.

      Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes is part of this plan
      of displacement. Between 1948 (after the fighting subsided) and the
      mid-1960s, Israel systematically demolished more than 400 entire
      Palestinian villages – two-thirds of the villages in Palestine. This
      was done both to "transfer" the Palestinians out of the country and to
      prevent the return of the refugees. Even today some 150,000
      Palestinian citizens of Israel remain trapped in more than 100
      "unrecognized villages," living since 1948 in sub-human conditions,
      bereft of all social services (including water, electricity and
      schools), their shacks threatened with demolition.

      Since 1967 Israel has demolished a further 12,000 Palestinian homes in
      the Occupied Territories. Contrary to common assumptions, in 95
      percent of the cases these demolitions had nothing to do with
      security. Thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished in the
      course of military invasions of civilian population centers as a form
      of collective punishment. Listen to the testimony of Moshe Nissim, the
      indomitable driver of a massive D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer, an army
      reservist who labored for three days and nights without getting down
      from his cab to demolish Palestinian homes in the Jenin refugee camp
      during the March 2002 "Operation Defensive Shield."

      For three days I just erased and erased. The entire area. I took down
      any house from which there was shooting. To take it down, I would take
      down several more. The soldiers warned with a speaker, that the
      tenants must leave before I come in, but I did not give anyone a
      chance. I did not wait. I didn't give one blow, and wait for them to
      come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down
      as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To get as
      many as possible. Others may have restrained themselves, or so they
      say. Who are they kidding? Anyone who was there, and saw our soldiers
      in the houses, would understand they were in a death trap. I thought
      about saving them. I didn't give a damn about the Palestinians, but I
      didn't just ruin with no reason. It was all under orders.

      Many people where inside houses we set out to demolish. They would
      come out of the houses we where working on. I didn't see, with my own
      eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. and I didn't see house
      falling down on live people. But if there were any, I wouldn't care at
      all. I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult
      to see, there was lots of dust everywhere, and we worked a lot at
      night. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew
      they didn't mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked
      down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am
      sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down.

      I didn't stop for a moment. Even when we had a two-hour break, I
      insisted on going on….I had plenty of satisfaction. I really enjoyed
      it. I remember pulling down a wall of a four-story building. It came
      crashing down on my D-9. My partner screamed at me to reverse, but I
      let the wall come down on us. We would go for the sides of the
      buildings, and then ram them. If the job was to hard, we would ask for
      a tank shell. I couldn't stop. I wanted to work and work. There was
      this officer who gave us orders by radio – I drove him mad. I kept
      begging for more and more missions. On Sunday, after the fighting was
      over, we got orders to pull our D-9's out of the area, and stop
      working on our `football stadium', because the army didn't want the
      cameras and press to see us working. I was really upset, because I had
      plans to knock down the big sign at the entrance of Jenin – three
      poles with a picture of Arafat. But on Sunday, they pulled us away
      before I had time to do it.

      I had lots of satisfaction in Jenin, lots of satisfaction. I kept
      thinking of our soldiers. I didn't feel sorry for all those
      Palestinians who were left homeless. I just felt sorry for their
      children, who were not guilty….(quoted in "7 Days," Yedioth Ahronoth
      Supplement, May 31, 2002)

      Amnesty International, in its report Under the Rubble: House
      Demolition and Destruction of Land and Property (May 2004) comments
      that "The largest single wave of destruction carried out by the
      Israeli army was in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002. The army
      completely destroyed the al-Hawashin quarter and partially destroyed
      two additional quarters of the refugee camp, leaving more than 800
      families, totaling some 4000 people, homeless. Aerial photographs and
      other evidence show that much of the house destruction was carried out
      after clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen had
      ended and Palestinian gunmen had been arrested or had surrendered."
      Moshe Nissim, like the other once-lowly bulldozer drivers, became the
      heroes of the invasion, earning medals of valor from the army command.

      A second major reason for the demolition of Palestinian homes is the
      lack of building permits. Although Palestinians seek to build homes on
      their own private property, the Israeli authorities refuse to grant
      them permits. Thus, in addition to thousands of homes that have been
      demolished in the Occupied Territories, we must also take into account
      the tens of thousands of homes that should have been built to provide
      minimal adequate housing to the Palestinian population but were not
      because of the lack of permits. In Jerusalem, for example, 10,000
      "illegal" houses exist in the Palestinian sector, almost all with
      demolition orders, but another 25,000 housing units are lacking. This
      is an entirely artificial and induced housing shortage, since
      Palestinians own sufficient lands in the city and have the resources
      to build. But it is part of the policy of "quiet transfer" that uses
      administrative, planning and legal mechanisms to force Palestinians
      out of the city, thereby ensuring a large Jewish majority.

      The house demolition policy represents a policy of displacement, of
      one people dispossessing another, taking both their lands and their
      right to self-determination. Since people cannot survive or function
      without a house, the Message of the Bulldozers is clear: "Get out. You
      do not belong here. We uprooted you from your homes in 1948 and
      prevented your return, and now we will uproot you from all of the Land
      of Israel."

      The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) resists
      demolitions of all kinds. As Israelis we block bulldozers coming to
      demolish, we chain ourselves in the houses, we conduct campaigns to
      mobilize opposition to the policy in Israel and abroad, we turn to the
      courts and, when demolitions finally occur, we rebuild demolished
      homes with the Palestinians as political acts of solidarity and
      resistance. We have come to see house demolitions as the very essence
      of the conflict between our two peoples: Israel's exclusive claim to
      the entire country in the name of the Jewish people at the expense of
      another people living in the country, a people being dispossessed by
      our own country. This is what gives the policy of house demolitions
      its special significance. When, as Israelis, we resist home
      demolitions and rebuild demolished homes as acts of civil
      disobedience, we are acknowledging the rights of both people to share
      the country. We are affirming our recognition that Palestinian claims
      carry equal authority to our own. And we are proclaiming loudly: We
      refuse to be enemies!

      PA: Prior to his incapacitation, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
      adopted a policy of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. This policy met
      with praise from his supporters and was strongly criticized by others.
      Can you explain your view?

      JH: Israeli withdrawal or "disengagement" from Palestinian territories
      is a subterfuge, sand in the eyes. Following the immense success of
      Sharon's "disengagement" from Gaza (which has left the population
      literally imprisoned and starving), Ehud Olmert has announced his
      intention to determine the permanent borders of Israel during the
      remainder of Bush's term in office (i.e. until January 2009). This
      means annexing the massive settlement blocs, "Greater" Jerusalem and
      the Jordan Valley to an Israel that expand from the present 78 percent
      of the country to around 85 percent, confining the Palestinians to
      five isolated, impoverished and non-viable "cantons" (Sharon's term) –
      the majority of the country's population reduced to a truncated 15
      percent of its land. The international community, led by the US, will
      put pressure on the Palestinians to accept this Bantustan as their

      Of course, Olmert's plan is presented with a positive spin
      characterized by terminology to do Orwell proud. Hitkansut or
      `withdrawing into oneself' in Hebrew is the operational phase of
      `separation' from the Palestinians, and seems exactly what the public
      wanted (a full 85 percent of Israeli Jews support the construction of
      the Wall, or "Separation Barrier"). Perhaps that is the reason it
      generated no public discussion, no dissent and ended up a non-issue.
      It does not mean, however, withdrawal of Israel back to its pre-1967
      territory, but rather a "convergence" of Israeli settlers scattered
      throughout the West Bank into Israel's major settlement blocs. Though
      the idea of leaving territories densely populated by Palestinians
      sounds good to Israeli Jews, it really means apartheid. And it will be
      imposed unilaterally because Israel has nothing to offer the
      Palestinians. True, they get 70-85 percent of the Occupied
      Territories, but only in truncated enclaves. Israel retains control of
      all the borders, Palestinian movement among the cantons, all the water
      and the richest agricultural land, the large settlement blocs
      including "greater" Jerusalem (which accounts for 40 percent of the
      Palestinian economy), the Palestinians' airspace and even their
      communications. Indeed, Israel retains all the developmental potential
      of the country, leaving the Palestinians with only barren and
      disconnected enclaves. Israel expands onto 85 percent of the entire
      country, leaving the Palestinians – the majority population or soon to
      be – with only about 15 percent, and that truncated, non-viable and
      only semi-sovereign. A Bantustan a la apartheid South Africa.

      PA: What is the status of the Israeli Wall and its role in the
      continuing conflict?

      JH: The Wall (or the "Separation Barrier" as Israel calls it) will be
      95 percent complete by the end of 2007. It is composed of massive
      concrete slabs eight meters (26 feet) high around Palestinian
      population centers, an electrified fence fortified with cameras,
      watchtowers, trenches and electronic gates in the more rural areas.
      Altogether the Barrier is twice as high as the Berlin Wall and five
      times longer (more than 500 miles). And it is not linear as the Berlin
      Wall was. It includes secondary walls, fences, trenches, roadblocks
      and checkpoints that lock Palestinians into a maze of enclaves. In
      Jerusalem alone 55,000 Palestinians will be trapped in their
      neighborhoods, completely surrounded by towering walls. Thousands of
      Palestinians will be trapped between the border and the Barrier, as
      well as their richest agricultural land, much of which will be

      An entire people is literally being imprisoned in concrete cells – and
      the Wall, a $2 billion project, will be permanent. Although it is sold
      as a "security" barrier, in fact it is a border defining the
      Palestinian Bantustan. Built so that Israelis don't see it, much of
      the Barrier divides Palestinian communities rather than separating
      between Jews and Arabs.

      PA: Some observers of the elections in Israel are optimistic about the
      new ruling coalition's view of the peace process. Do you share this
      optimism? If so, why? If not, why not?

      JH: For all the reasons discussed above I cannot say I am optimistic
      about the near future here. Israel feels that it is "winning," and it
      might be right. The US (and especially Congress) supports the
      Convergence Plan to the hilt, Europe is passive, the Arab and Muslim
      governments (though not the peoples) have abandoned the Palestinians
      in favor of relations with Israel (and through it, with the US), the
      Palestinians are isolated, imprisoned and incapable of mounting a new
      Intifada, Israel is poised to impose unilaterally a regime of
      apartheid with international approval.

      Still, I am optimistic in the long run. Injustice, in the end, is
      unsustainable. It contains the seeds of its own destruction. By its
      very nature injustice is oppressive, exploitative, violent and
      immoral. It cannot be normalized and pushes oppressive regimes into
      extreme actions of repression that finally cannot be accepted by the
      international community. This is the case of the Israeli Occupation, I
      believe. I cannot say exactly how or when it will collapse, but like
      the South African apartheid regime it will collapse. I only hope the
      Palestinians will not be decimated by then.

      PA: How has the political landscape in the Israel-Palestine struggle
      changed as a result of Bush policies in the Middle East (e.g. the Iraq
      war, the nuclear crisis with Iran, its stance toward other countries
      in the region and support for Israel)?

      JH: One of the reasons Israel feels empowered is its success in
      prodding the US to attack and weaken other Middle Eastern regimes.
      Egypt and Jordan have been neutralized by massive American aid; Turkey
      is one of Israel's closest military partners; Iraq (which Israel and
      its neo-con allies in the Bush administration pushed the US to attack)
      has been fragmentized, and Iran is on the way. So we are seeing the
      establishment of a Pax Americana/Israeliana over the Middle East. This
      is scary given the Pentagon's recently published plan, entitled "The
      Long War," projecting a 20-year war against "radical Islam." Just as
      Israel was at the center of neo-con plans for American Empire, just as
      it has acted as America's hired gun throughout the world, so we can
      expect a highly armed Israel to act at the beck and call of its
      American masters in the Long War (see my article in Counterpunch,
      "Israel as an Extension of American Empire"). Given its usefulness to
      the US, allowing Israel its Occupation is a small price for the US to

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