Repression in Israel
Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions, sees the brutal practice
of destroying Palestinian homes and similar tactics
as part of an experiment in social repression that
can have broader implications as income inequality
spreads across the globe, as he told Dennis J
By Dennis J Bernstein
February 29, 2016 "Information
author and human rights activist Jeff Halper who has
challenged the Israeli practice of destroying
Palestinian homes (usually for simply building after
being denied a permit) attempts to answer the
question why the world continues to accept such
repeated brutalities perpetrated by the Israelis
against a million-plus locked-down, very poor
a quid pro quo, a violent marriage of convenience in
which “Israel offers its expertise in helping
governments pursue their various wars against the
people and, in return, they permit it to expand its
settlements and control throughout the Palestinian
latest book, War Against the People: Israel, the
Palestinians and Global Pacification, focuses
on a “global Palestine,” and “how Israel exports its
Occupation – its weaponry, its models and tactics of
control and its security and surveillance systems,
all developed and perfected on the Palestinians – to
countries around the world engaged in asymmetrical
warfare, or domestic securitization, both forms of
‘war against the people.’”
contextualizes Israel’s globalization of Palestine
“within the capitalist world system. Inherently
unequal, exploitative, violent and increasingly
unsustainable, Capitalism must pursue innumerable
wars against the people if it is to enforce its
global hegemony. These are precisely the types of
wars – counterinsurgency, asymmetrical warfare,
counter-terrorism, urban warfare and the overall
securitization of societies, including those of the
Global North – in which Israel specializes.”
whose activism also includes work for over a decade
as a community organizer in the working-class
Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jewish neighborhoods of
Jerusalem, is a coordinator of the Wars Against the
People project of The People Yes! Network; he has
served as the Chairman of the Israeli Committee for
Ethiopian Jews; he was an active participant in the
first attempt of the Free Gaza Movement to break
Israel’s crippling economic siege on the Gaza Strip
by sailing into Gaza in 2008; he’s an active member
of the international support committee of the
Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine; and he was
nominated by the American Friends Service Committee
for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, together with the
Palestinian intellectual and activist Ghassan
spoke recently with Dennis J Bernstein.
talk a little bit about house demolitions, before we
get into this book and what you’re talking about in
terms of the way in which Israel perfects and then
exports oppression. Talk a little bit about your
work with the houses.
I’m an Israeli activist. I grew up in the States,
actually, in Minnesota, but I’ve lived in Israel now
for more than 40 years. I’ve been involved all those
years with the Israeli peace movement. And for the
last 20 years I’ve been the head of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions, as you
mentioned. We call ourselves ICAHD.
a political organization that’s trying to fight the
Israeli occupation, and achieve a just peace between
Israelis and Palestinians. But [we also operate] in
order to give people an idea of what occupation
means, which is kind of an abstract term sometimes,
and how it works, and what Israel’s intentions are.
Now, as an
anthropologist, I tried to read political intentions
from what the powers are doing on the ground, not
from what they’re saying. We took the issue of house
demolitions as our focal point. Israel has
demolished 47,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied
territories since 1967, since the occupation began.
[T]hat’s on the background of about 60,000 homes
that were demolished in 1948, in what the
Palestinians call the Nakba. Thousands and more are
demolished inside Israel all the time, of Israeli
citizens, all of whom are Arabs. For example, there
is one Bedouin community in the Negev that’s been
demolished now 90 times, and rebuilt.
same community. And we’ve all gone out and rebuilt
with them, and it’s been re-demolished. Because they
want to build a military settlement on top. And this
is inside Israel. And a lot of these Bedouin men
serve in the Israeli army. So one of the points of
house demolitions is that we can’t really separate
the occupation from Israel itself.
the two state solution is gone, it’s over. And
basically Israel has created already one state which
is an apartheid state. I mean, there’s only one
government, one army, one water system, one currency
between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, in
the entire country. We don’t even call the occupied
territories, “occupied,” we call them Judea and
Samaria. Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, the Palestinian
side has been annexed.
So there is
one country today. And what the house demolition
issue shows is that, yes, in fact Israel is still
demolishing homes, still ethnically cleansing the
Palestinian population, after 70 years. And so what
we do is we … first of all, we resist demolitions. I
get in front of bulldozers, we resist. We also
rebuild homes. We built 189 homes, which takes quite
a bit of resources, activists coming from all over
So if you
think of it in political terms, 189 political acts
of resistance, of Israelis and Palestinians, and
Internationals together. I think that is meaningful.
And then we take what we learn on the ground, our
analysis is genuinely grounded, and we go abroad,
like I am now here in the Bay Area, to try to work
with the activists. First of all, to update them on
what’s happening and to give them focus.
general, as you are saying, to raise this issue
that’s so difficult to raise in the mainstream
American media, or even in universities. You can get
fired for raising this issue.
DB: And you
people have been, that’s right. So we’re trying to
go from the micro to the macro. From actually
resisting demolitions on the ground, but really from
there with our pictures and our maps and our
analyses, to say “Why is Israel demolishing these
homes? Where is it going with this whole thing?” And
then bringing that analysis forward to try to
mobilize the international community to finally end
we jump into the bigger picture, I want you to paint
a little bit more of a picture of the nature of
house demolition. So, what happens? Somebody shows
up at your house? How’s that work?
there are three kinds of demolitions, actually. Just
briefly, you know if you think of demolition, you
think well, these must be homes of terrorists.
That’s what Israel leads you to think, but it’s not
true. Of the 47,000 homes in the occupied
territories that have been demolished, about 1
percent were demolished for security reasons. It has
nothing to do with security or terrorism or anything
like that. Those are what we call punitive
demolitions. In fact, Israel demolishes most homes …
in military incursions.
example, last summer, the summer of 2014, in the
assault on Gaza, 18,000 homes were demolished, and
not targeted. It’s kind of collateral damage … that
have not been rebuilt. And you think, “It’s the
Middle East,” but it can be pretty freezing in Gaza
in the winter. And these homes have not been
rebuilt. The third way of demolishing, that we work
most on, is that Israel simply has zoned … it uses
very dry-grade, Kafkaesque mechanisms to control
So it zoned
the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as
agricultural land. So, although most of it is
desert, the Aegean Desert, … when a Palestinian who
owns land comes to the Israeli authorities and says,
“I want to build a home,” their answer is, “Sorry,
but this is agricultural land.” Of course, if you
want to build an Israeli settlement … I mean there
are 600,000 Israelis. They live on that same land in
the occupied territory. But, of course, Israelis sit
on the planning councils.
So if you
want to rezone from agriculture to residential, it
takes you a second. So it’s really the manipulation
of law and planning. And so that’s the point.
Palestinians since 1967, we’re talking about 50
years now, have not been allowed to build new homes.
You have children, and your children have children,
and you have nowhere to live. And if you build a
home, you are building illegally, right, because …
you don’t have a building permit. And so immediately
you get a demolition order from the Israeli army and
they can come any time. They can come tomorrow
morning, they can come next week, they can come in
five years, maybe you’ll win the lottery [and]
they’ll never come. Who knows? So even if you’re
living in your home, year after year, you are not
living as securely, relaxed. … Your home is not your
there always could be that knock on the door.
talked to many Palestinian women that say to me,
“The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning
is I look out the window, to see if there are
bulldozers, the army, police. And if the coast is
clear, I get dressed and wake up the kids and start
making breakfast.” That’s the psychological state
that Palestinians are living in.
talk about this book. Let’s talk about how you say
Israel uses the occupied territories as a training
ground, a weapons and control of people training
ground, which is then exported. It’s sort of
Israel’s front line, forward trade. This concept,
and these weapons, and this technology, and these
techniques, are then sold to the rest of the world.
Set that up for us.
all the years of my activism, it was kind of a
question that was in the back of my mind, nagging me
all the time. And that was, “How does Israel get
away with this?” After all, we’re in the
Twenty-first Century, we’re well after the period of
colonialism. Human rights [and] international law
have entered into the public consciousness. I mean,
they kind of matter to people.
have a brutal occupation, on T.V. all the time. I
mean, this isn’t happening in the Congo or Vietnam.
This is in the glare of television cameras, in the
Holy Land, no less! How does Israel get away with
it? And the usual explanations … you know, AIPAC
[American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and
Christian fundamentalists and the Israeli lobby, and
guilt over the Holocaust … it just doesn’t work.
That doesn’t explain why China supports Israel the
way it does, and Nigeria, India.
some big elephant in the room that we weren’t
talking about, that I wasn’t seeing myself, to
explain that. And as I sort of looked up at Israel’s
place in the world, I suddenly discovered, in a way,
that actually, the quid quo pro is that Israel
delivers to elites all over the world. Whether you
are here in the global north, (the United States or
Europe), in the middle, (Brazil, India, China,
Turkey, Mexico), or a poor country in the global
south, you all have elites, that are struggling for
And I put
this within the context of the capitalist world
system. You have a neoliberal world system. OXFAM
came out with a report two weeks ago. Now, 1 percent
of the population controls half the resources: most
of humanity has been excluded as surplus humanity.
You have more and more repression, especially as
resources are being extracted from poor people. And
they’re excluded. So there’s more and more
resistance. … You had the Occupy Movement and you’ve
got Black Lives Matter. There’s more and more
resistance, so that the capitalist world system,
itself, and all the different elites that are
dependent upon it, somehow have to start looking
more and more towards repression.
words, capitalism always tried to have a happy face:
Ronald McDonald, and Hollywood and Walt Disney. But
the more people are starting to see through it, and
are starting to see those inequalities …, the velvet
glove over the iron fist has to come [off]. And so
the elites are getting more and more insecure. But
the kinds of wars they’re fighting are not the wars
we think of. You know, Rambo and F16s and tanks …
they’re not those kinds of wars. They are what
generals actually are calling, “Wars Amongst the
People.” … I took that to say what that really is,
which is, “War Against the People.” In other words,
urban warfare, counter-insurgency,
counter-terrorism. It’s also called asymmetrical
wars. There are a million terms.
the elites in every country, and then if you take it
within the world system, the capitalist elites
certainly, the capitalist part of the corporation,
and so on, are looking for, “How do we keep the
people under control?” Now, where’s a better place
to go for a model than Israel? The United States
doesn’t have that experience. Europe hasn’t had
colonial wars for 50 years now. So Israel is in the
middle of an ongoing century-long war of
counterinsurgency against the Palestinian people.
years, it has the tactics, it has the methods, it
has the weaponry. It has the systems of security,
systems of surveillance, all in place to export. And
so that’s, I think, how you can explain how Israel
gets away with it. It delivers for the elites.
“We’ll deliver you the means of repressing your own
populations, and in return you let us keep the
DB: I’m not
sure how to ask this question, but is there evidence
of the training ground part of this, in which, say,
for instance, weapons are introduced for the first
time on the battlefield, or drones, in Palestine?
How does this theory [work], in terms of testing the
weapons first and then exporting war?
first of all I document it and write about it in my
book. There are a thousand footnotes, in the book.
DB: We love
what’s interesting is the Israeli arms dealers,
security companies are proud of this. I mean we’re
talking now … this could be seen in two ways. This
could be seen as being critical of Israel, and the
capitalist world. … I think people understand that
that’s where we’re coming from in this program. But
I could be saying the same thing, and I could sound
like the Israeli Chamber of Commerce. “Wow, that’s
great, I mean Israel developing these effective
systems, they’re helping keep the bad people and the
terrorists under control, they’re securing us. Wow,
that’s great.” And so [on].
they are training police departments in the U.S.
right, exactly. Especially, not especially, but also
in California. So, in other words, the arms
companies, and the security companies, (there’s
about 500 of them in Israel, alone, which is an old
country), think this is a great thing. In other
words, they’re not embarrassed by it, …, and so the
best source of information is just their web sites.
Because what’s the point of developing a cutting
edge surveillance system on Palestinians. …? You
know there are 600 checkpoints in the West Bank.
You’ve got millions of Palestinians that you can use
as guinea pigs: literally in a laboratory. No wonder
Israel is leading in airport security, and runs
airports all over the United States.
no point in developing these systems if you’re not
marketing them, if you’re not selling them, if
you’re not making a name for yourself. So, in fact,
all these 500 companies in Israel that sell this
stuff, all have web sites. And they’re all blaring
their product. So it’s not hidden. On the contrary,
like I’m saying, if you put it within a certain
context, this is actually seen as a positive
contribution to the world. If you look at the world,
from, you know, the way the media that you
mentioned, present it, it’s good that Israel is
helping us defend ourselves against terrorists.
it in a critical way within the world system, we
show that, in fact, security is not a neutral term.
There really isn’t security. The security is really
defined by the interests of the ruling classes. …
Writing the book, I’m aware of the fact that that’s
language that kind of sounds old fashioned. But it
really isn’t. It really is … even more today, it’s
truer than it was before.
classes are much more organized, they have much more
fire power, are much more coordinated with each
other, and so on. And actually, with scarcer and
scarcer resources, they have a much more focused
agenda, in terms of extraction and control. So
actually, the term “ruling class” should be more in
use today. … The ruling classes have their interests
and they package it under the word “security”
because who doesn’t want to be secure? And what I’m
saying in the book, and that’s why the subtitle
talks about global pacification, is I’m saying,
“We’re actually being pacified.”
words, we’re being repressed to a point where we
can’t resist. So you wanna be secure? Fine. Do you
want to be pacified? And once you start using words
like “pacification,” that raises questions that the
word security doesn’t raise. Who’s pacifying me? How
are they pacifying me? Why are they pacifying me?
And so my book, I hope, it gives you sort of a
window into the way the large world system works. I
call it Globalized Palestine. In a sense, Israel
over Palestine is a microcosm of the Global North
over everybody else. And so I think it is a very
useful book for beginning to understand global
realities that we live in.
know, it’s interesting, if you read back some of the
literature of the capitalists of the early 50’s, the
visionaries among them understood about the problems
that would be faced in terms of the shrinking
resources. And they talked extensively about the
kinds of, sort of, defense and weapon systems, and
the way in which our way of life would have to be
protected. This is just part of that curve.
right. And to her credit, the only one that really
is using the word capitalism, that word up front in
her analysis, is Naomi Klein. With The Shock
Doctrine and now her new book on climate change
and capitalism [This Changes Everything].
But it’s like that joke: One fish asks another fish,
“How’s the water?” and the other fish says, “What
water?” You know, you are living in this system. And
it is so encompassing, and it affects everything
that we do. Who our enemies are. How we dress. What
our values are. How we talk. What language …
everything. What we eat. And it’s an unsustainable
system. But it’s a system that we’ve kind of
internalized. We don’t even think about it anymore.
that’s, I think, the value of critical analysis, and
bringing back that language, including language like
pacification, is that really shows us that we’re in
fact living in a very political water. And not just
some normal, everyday reality that is inevitable.
DB: And how
would you describe the security relationship, the
security sharing relationship, between the United
States and Israel?
United States is the primary global capitalist
power. You know, it has a tremendous global reach.
American corporations, more than any others, are
dependent on the smooth flow of capital coming from
what’s called the Third World, or the global south.
And of course, you’ve got, with the neoliberalism in
the last 50 years, you’ve got again, within the
United States the 99 percent/one percent split. Even
here there’s a lot of agitation, and people are
starting to get it, and so on. And so the United
States has a tremendous stake in this. But the
United States is locked into the old concept of war.
example, the Pentagon just spent, I don’t know, a
trillion dollars on a new F-35: cutting edge stealth
bomber. You know, a great toy. But it has no
military use whatsoever. Even the generals say, “We
don’t need [it].” [Robert] Gates, when he was
Secretary of Defense, tried to cancel it. But you
know how Congress works; you have every
congressional district putting together pieces of
it. So it’s jobs. But you’re locked into these huge,
expensive weapon systems. … So that’s where Israel
course, the United States is a tremendous,
tremendous supporter of Israel. And I don’t think
it’s just because of shared values. I think it’s
because Israel really delivers for the United
States. It provides very sophisticated, high-tech
components, for weapon systems. For example, this
F-35, Israel couldn’t produce that. But a lot of the
cockpit, and the electronics and avionics, and the
targeting systems are Israeli. And Israel becomes a
kind of a surrogate for the United States,
especially in countries where it’s hard for America
to work. You know, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, the parts
of Africa that are rough.
American business people are constrained because
there are laws against bribes and giving bribes, and
working with the mafias. These countries, a lot of
them, are mafia-type countries. Israel doesn’t have
any of those constraints.
instance, if you went through Central America in the
1980’s and you saw the new Salvadoran death squad
army or the Guatemalan death squad, if you didn’t
look at the main insignia you would think they were
wearing Israeli uniforms. They were certainly
trained by Israelis.
they had their Uzis.
they had their Uzis.
they were armed. And don’t forget Israel was a key
part of the Contra-Iran scandal around the
Nicaraguan conflict. Israel is really more than an
agent of the United States. I think Israel is really
providing that key strategic support in “Wars
Amongst the People” in a way that the United States
really isn’t geared to doing. It’s too big, the
Pentagon is too big, the systems are too fancy. And
Israel is supplying that middle- to lower-level type
technology that’s the most effective.
DB: What do
you think of when you hear, “Is there a chance for
peace?” Or the Israeli Prime Minister saying he’s
searching desperately for a partner for peace? What
goes through your mind? How do you respond to that?
Here in the U.S. press, in the New York Times, they
simply quote it like stenographers.
right. I think people are getting it. I don’t want
to say, “even Americans,” but it’s not easy for you
guys, with your media. It’s not too easy for you.
real hard. You have to really look up something.
for example, two days ago signed into law a bill
giving Israel $40 billion in new American arms over
a ten-year period, 2018-2028, and basically
outlawing BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
movement that people are using like we did with
South Africa, to put pressures on Israel, to end the
occupation. Now it’s American law, or it’s going
through, at least, to be American law, that the
United States won’t deal with companies or countries
in Europe or other places that support BDS. So it’s
very actively supporting Israel. It isn’t just some
generalized thing. And as long as that happens,
especially Congress, as long as Congress is in
Israel’s pocket, uncritically, we have to say here
from Bernie Sanders to Trump. ….
talking across the board Israel has nothing to worry
about. And so it can pursue these interests of
itself, in terms of keeping the occupation. That is
why Israel doesn’t … there’s no pressure on Israel
to end the occupation. Because if it has the
American Congress on its side, on the one hand, and
Germany on its side in Europe, that keeps Europe in
line. Nobody can touch us. We’re home free. And they
can insult Obama, and they can say terrible things
about Kerry. … I mean, Netanyahu is a conservative
Republican, and he says it.
he can go to Congress, here he gets Republicans to
invite him to the American Congress, both sessions
of Congress, including the Democrats come. … And in
his 20-minute talk, this is a number of months ago,
his 20-minute talk against making the agreement with
he’s going against the President and American
government policy, a foreign head of state, invited
by the American Congress including the President’s
own party, to speak out against an American
government policy. And in his 20-minute talk he was
given a standing ovation 42 times! The Israeli press
was laughing. The Israeli press said it’s like the
North Korean parliament.
hard, it’s almost hard to explain the degree to
which Israel has penetrated into American politics.
It’s almost like a domestic American issue, like
apple pie, and that’s what makes it very difficult.
But I think that Americans aren’t aware of how
isolated they’re becoming, in the world, because of
this uncritical support for Israel. Because it isn’t
only supporting Israel against Palestinians.
Palestinians have a special emblematic status among
oppressed peoples in the world. Here’s a little
people that’s standing up to Israel, the Israeli
army, the American neo-colonialism, Europe, and it’s
resisting. It hasn’t been defeated. So that gives
hope to oppressed peoples.
that, when you are in the U.N. in repeated votes and
it’s the United States, Israel and Micronesia,
against everybody else, including your European
allies, you know, it sends a message to the world
that the United States is completely out of sync,
and it’s hostile to human rights. And that I think
isolates the United States in a way that the
American people don’t really appreciate.
Well, that is all a mouthful Dr. Jeff Halper. We
just have 30 seconds left, but let me just ask you
this. You must have been arrested. People don’t love
what you’re doing in Israel. Are you afraid to do
what you do? Why do you do what you do?
JH: I mean,
I always say jokingly, but it’s true, “Israel is a
vibrant democracy if you are Jewish.” If you’re
Jewish you have that privilege. You have that space
to do it. Nobody bothers me.
DB: By the
way, that’s what Jeane Kirkpatrick said about …
South Africa, she said it’s a partial democracy, the
whites have a chance to vote.
Exactly. And that’s the situation. But if you’re not
Jewish it’s a pretty repressive place to live,
pretty violent. And now, of course, there’s
legislation going through the parliament to
marginalize us as well. If we go to parliament the
left groups, just the left groups, are going to have
to wear a tag. As if we’re foreign lobbies.
DB: Maybe a
playing with what that tag is going to look like.
But really it’s true. They’re not even aware of the
background, the implications. You know, Israel is
becoming so fascistic, really. I mean I’m not just
using that as a slogan, that it’s replicating very
dark times of other countries. It’s an irony that
here Israel would do something like that.
DB: So are
JH: No, I’m
not afraid. I mean, certainly things could happen.
And it’s getting harder and harder to protest in
Israel. But I’m not afraid. You know, I just keep
plugging on, what can I tell you?
Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the
Pacifica radio network and the author of Special
Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.
You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.