Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rabbi Jeff Halper says it "Warehousing"

Dear Friend of Palestinians and Israelis

Here is an excerpt from a scathing analysis by Rabbi Jeff Halper, recently of the Liberty ships to Gaza.

The first part (which I do not include, for time and space reasons), rehearses the history of Israeli occupation and gobbling up of Arab land (see the B't Salim news today).

But his real input is to show how Annapolis is part of the four decade-old window dressing so that Israel can continue to create "Facts on the ground" to make the Palestinians disappear, wall them off, make it so impossible for them that their "terrorism" will allow Israel to finally destroy them (instead of dealing with their grievances)

And since they are "terrorists" (and not aggrieved persons to be respected), the USA (and others) allows the carnage to continue, since we imprison or kill terrorists too as non-human beings, etc., etc.) Jeff Halper's words come via our PCUSA liaison in the Middle East, Doug Dicks. JRK

Israel knows that neither the Palestinians nor the international civil society will accept apartheid. Its function is what all the other “political processes” of the past four decades were intended to do: put off any solution that would require Israel to make meaningful concessions while giving it the political cover and time to create irreversible facts on the ground.

Israel’s “Occupation” has moved beyond apartheid, a term that has become outmoded almost as soon as it began gaining acceptance amidst great protest and clamor. What has evolved before our eyes, something we should have seen but lacked a reference for, is a system of warehousing, a static situation emptied of all political content. “What Israel has constructed,” argues Naomi Klein in her powerful new book, The Shock Doctrine,

is a system,…a network of open holding pens for millions of people who have been categorized as surplus humanity….Palestinians are not the only people in the world who have been so categorized….This discarding of 25 to 60 percent of the population has been the hallmark of the Chicago School [of Economics] crusade….In South Africa, Russia and New Orleans the rich build walls around themselves. Israel has taken this disposal process a step further: it has built walls around the dangerous poor (p. 442).

Israel’s facts on the ground are merely the physical expression of a policy that seeks to de-politicize and thereby normalize its control. The Israel/Palestinian conflict is not presented as a conflict with “sides” and a political dynamic. Instead it is cast as a “war on terrorism,” a fight with a phenomenon that eliminates –or presents as irrelevant – any reference to occupation, which Israel officially denies having. Since “terrorism” and the “clash of civilizations” which underlies it is portrayed as a self-evident and permanent “given,” it assumes the form of a non-issue, a status quo (Israel’s official term for its policy towards the Palestinians) immune to any solution and or process of negotiation.

If the terrorists and their ilk – jailed prisoners, illegal immigrants, slum dwellers and the poor, the discontented victims of “counter-insurgency,” adherents to “evil” religions, ideologies or cultures, to name just a few – are permanent fixtures to be dealt with rather than people whose grievances, needs and rights should be addressed, then prisons, including prisons-writ-large such as Gaza, the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a whole and entire populations and continents, are the penultimate solution.

Warehousing, then, is the best, if bleakest, term for what Israel is constructing for the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. It is in many ways worse than the Bantustans of apartheid-era South Africa. The ten non-viable “homelands” established by South Africa for the black African majority on only 11% of the country’s land were, to be sure, a type of warehouse. They were intended to supply South Africa with cheap labor while relieving it of its black population, thus making possible a European dominated “democracy.” This is precisely what Israel is intending – its Palestinian Bantustan encompassing around 15% of historic Palestine – but with a crucial caveat: Palestinian workers will not be allowed into Israel. Having discovered a cheaper source of labor, some 300,000 foreign workers imported from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Rumania and West Africa, augmented by its own Arab, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Russian and Eastern European citizens, Israel can afford to lock them out even while withholding from them a viable economy of their own with unfettered ties to the surrounding Arab countries. From every point of view, historically, culturally, politically and economically, the Palestinians have been defined as “surplus humanity;” nothing remains to do with them except warehousing, which the concerned international community appears willing to allow Israel to do.

Since warehousing is a global phenomenon and Israel is pioneering a model for it, what is happening to the Palestinians should be of concern to everyone. It may constitute an entirely new crime against humanity, and as such should be subject to the universal jurisdiction of the world’s courts just as are other egregious violations of human rights. In this sense Israel’s “Occupation” has implications far beyond a localized conflict between two peoples. If Israel can package and export its layered Matrix of Control, a system of permanent repression that combines Kafkaesque administration, law and planning with overtly coercive forms of control over a defined population hemmed in by hostile gated communities (settlements in this case), walls and obstacles of various kinds to movement, then, as Klein writes starkly, every country will look like Israel/Palestine: “One part looks like Israel; the other part looks like Gaza.” In other words, a Global Palestine.

This goes a long way towards explaining why Israel is unconcerned about entering into genuine peace processes or resolving its conflict with the Palestinians. By warehousing them it has the best of both worlds: complete freedom to expand its settlements and control without ever having to compromise, as a political solution would require. By the same token, it explains why the international community lets Israel “get away with it.” Instead of presenting the international community with thorny issues that must be resolved – violations of human rights, international law and repeated UN resolutions, let alone the implications of the conflict itself on international politics and economy – it is instead seen as providing a valued service: developing a model by which “surplus populations” everywhere can be controlled, managed and contained.
Israel, then is in complete sync with both the economic and military logics of global capitalism, for which it is being rewarded generously. Our mistake, encouraged by such terms as “conflict,” “occupation” and “apartheid,” is to view Israel’s control of the Palestinians as a political issue which must be resolved. Instead, it will be “resolved” when the Palestinians are “disappeared,” just as people were “disappeared” in Latin American under its military regimes. Dov Weisglass, the architect of the Sharon government’s “disengagement” from Gaza, said as much in a revealing interview (“The Big Freeze,” Ha’aretz Magazine, Oct. 8, 2004):

The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula [that Israel can retain its settlement “blocs,” including a Greater Jerusalem] so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.
Is what you are saying, then, is that you exchanged the strategy of a long-term interim agreement for a strategy of long-term interim situation?

The American term is to park conveniently. The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians. There is a decision here to do the minimum possible in order to maintain our political situation. The decision is proving itself. It is making it possible for the Americans to go to the seething and simmering international community and say to them, “What do you want.” It also transfers the initiative to our hands. It compels the world to deal with our idea, with the scenario we wrote….

Warehousing is the starkest of political concepts because it represents the de-politicization of repression, the transformation of a political issue of the first degree into a non-issue, a regrettable but unavoidable situation best dealt with through relief, charity and humanitarian programs. It is a dead-end, a “given,” for which no remedy is available. This, of course, is not the case, and we cannot let it be presented as such. Warehousing is a policy arising out of particular interests of the most powerful. Our use of the term “warehousing,” then, should be to “name the thing” in order to give us a grasp of it, all the better to combat and defeat it. Again Israel provides an instructive (and heartening) example. Despite the almost unlimited and unchecked power Israel has over every element of Palestinian life, including the active support of the US, Europe and much of the international community, including some Arab and Muslim regimes, it has failed to nail down either apartheid or warehousing. Palestinian resistance continues, supported by the Arab and wider Muslim peoples, significant sectors of the international civil society and the critical Israeli peace camp. The conflict’s destabilizing effect on the international system grows steadily, so that it may eventually force the international community to intervene. Neither the Israelis nor the Americans (with European complicity) are able, despite their overwhelming power, to force on the Palestinians the outcome they seek.

The term “warehousing,” then, though referring to a real phenomenon, is also meant as a warning. We must continue our efforts to end the Israeli Occupation, even if this is means, ultimately, the creation of a genuine Palestine/Israel or a wider regional confederation, rather than apartheid-cum-two-state solution or warehousing. Looking at Palestine as a microcosm of a broader global reality of warehousing enables us to more effectively identify those elements appearing elsewhere and grasp the model which Israel is developing, all the better to counter it. Regardless, our language and the analysis it generates must not only be honest and unsparing, it must keep pace with political intentions and ever more rapidly developing “facts on the ground.”

(Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at

Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Israeli Jew to and from GAZA

Here is an important interpretive piece from Jeff Halper, who was on one of the boats that broke the Israeli sea blockaid of Gaza.

Now, a few days after my release from jail in the wake of my trip to Gaza, I'm posting a few notes to sum things up.

First, the mission of the Free Gaza Movement to break the Israeli siege proved a success beyond all expectations. Our reaching Gaza and leaving has created a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world. It has done so because it has forced the Israeli government to make a clear policy declaration: that it is not occupying Gaza and therefore will not prevent the free movement of Palestinians in and out (at least by sea). (Israel's security concerns can easily be accommodated by instituting a technical system of checks similar to those of other ports.)

Any attempt on the part of Israel to backtrack on this – by preventing ships in the future from entering or leaving Gaza with goods and passengers, including Palestinians – may be immediately interpreted as an assertion of control, and therefore of Occupation, opening Israel to accountability for war crimes before international law, something Israel tries to avoid at all costs. Gone is the obfuscation that has allowed Israel to maintain its control of the Occupied Territories without assuming any responsibility: from now on, Israel is either an Occupying Power accountable for its actions and policies, or Palestinians have every right to enjoy their human right of travelling freely in and out of their country. Israel can no longer have it both ways. Not only did our two little boats force the Israel military and government to give way, then, they also changed fundamentally the status of Israel's control of Gaza.

When we finally arrived in Gaza after a day and a half sail, the welcome we received from 40,000 joyous Gazans was overwhelming and moving. People sought me out in particular, eager it seemed to speak Hebrew with an Israeli after years of closure. The message I received by people of all factions during my three days there was the same: How do we ("we" in the sense of all of us living in their country, not just Palestinians or Israelis) get out of this mess? Where are WE going? The discourse was not even political: what is the solution; one-state, two-state, etc etc. It was just common sense and straightforward, based on the assumption that we will all continue living in the same country and this stupid conflict, with its walls and siege and violence, is bad for everybody. Don't Israelis see that? people would ask me.

(The answer, unfortunately, is "no." To be honest, we Israeli Jews are the problem. The Palestinian years ago accepted our existence in the country as a people and are willing to accept ANY solution -- two states, one state, no state, whatever. It is us who want exclusivity over the "Land of Israel" who cannot conceive of a single country, who cannot accept the national presence of Palestinians (we talk about "Arabs" in our country), and who have eliminated by our settlements even the possibility of the two-state solution in which we take 80% of the land. So it's sad, truly sad, that our "enemies" want peace and co-existence (and tell me that in HEBREW) and we don't. Yeah, we Israeli Jews want "peace," but in the meantime what we have -- almost no attacks, a feeling of security, a "disappeared" Palestinian people, a booming economy, tourism and ever-improving international status -- seems just fine. If "peace" means giving up settlements, land and control, why do it? What's wrong with the status quo? If its not broken, don't fix it.)

I also received Palestinian citizenship when I was in Gaza, including a passport.

When I was in Gaza everyone in Israel -- including the media who interviewed me – warned me to be careful, to watch out for my life. Aren't you scared? they asked. Well, the only time I felt genuine and palpable fear during the entire journey was when I got back to Israel. I went from Gaza through the Erez checkpoint because I wanted to make the point that the siege is not only by sea.

On the Israeli side I was immediately arrested, charged with violating a military order prohibiting Israelis from being in Gaza and jailed at the Shikma prison in Ashkelon. In my cell that night, someone recognized [me] from the news. All night I was physically threatened by right-wing Israelis -- and I was sure I wouldn't make it till the morning. Ironically, there were three Palestinians in my cell who kind of protected me, so the danger was from Israelis, not Palestinians, in Gaza as well as in Israel. (One Palestinian from Hebron was in jail for being illegally in Israel; I was in jail for being illegally in Palestine.)

As it stands, I'm out on bail. The state will probably press charges in the next few weeks, and I could be jailed for two or so months. I now am a Palestinian in every sense of the word: On Monday I received my Palestinian citizenship, on Tuesday I was already in an Israeli jail.
Though the operation was a complete success, the siege will only be genuinely broken if we keep up the movement in and out of Gaza. The boats are scheduled to return in 2-4 weeks and I am now working on getting a boat-load of Israelis.

My only frustration with what was undoubtedly a successful operation was with the fact that Israelis just don't get it – and don't want to get it. The implications of our being the strong party and the fact that the Palestinians are the ones truly seeking peace are too threatening to their hegemony and self-perceived innocence. What I encountered in perhaps a dozen interviews – and what I read about myself and our trip written by "journalists" who never even attempted to speak to me or the others – was a collective image of Gaza, the Palestinians and our interminable conflict which could only be described as fantasy.

Rather than enquire about my experiences, motives or views, my interviewers, especially on the mainstream radio, spent their time forcing upon me their slogans and uniformed prejudices, as if giving me a space to explain myself deal a death blow to their tightly-held conceptions.

Ben Dror Yemini of the popular Ma'ariv newspaper called us a "satanic cult." Another suggested that a prominent contributor to the Free Gaza Movement was a Palestinian-American who had been questioned by the FBI, as if that had to do with anything (the innuendo being we were supported, perhaps even manipulated or worse, by "terrorists"). Others were more explicit: Wasn't it true that we were giving Hamas a PR victory? Why was I siding with Palestinian fishermen-gun smugglers against my own country which sought only to protect its citizens? Some simply yelled at me, like an interviewer on Arutz 99. And when all else failed, my interlocutors could always fall back on good old cynicism: Peace is impossible. Jews and Arabs are different species. You can't trust "them." Or bald assertions: They just want to destroy us. Then there's the paternalism: Well, I guess it's good to have a few idealists like you around…..

Nowhere in the many interviews was there a genuine curiosity about what I was doing or what life was like in Gaza. No one interested in a different perspective, especially if it challenged their cherished slogans. No one [was] going beyond the old, tired slogans. Plenty of reference, though, to terrorism, Qassam missiles and Palestinian snubbing our valiant efforts to make peace; none whatsoever to occupation, house demolitions, siege, land expropriation or settlement expansion, not to mention the killing, imprisoning and impoverishment of their civilian population.

As if we had nothing to do with the conflict, as if we were just living our normal, innocent lives and bad people decided to throw Qassam rockets. Above all, no sense of our responsibility, or any willingness to accept responsibility for the ongoing violence and conflict. Instead just a thoughtless, automatic appeal to an image of Gaza and "Arabs" (we don't generally use the term "Palestinians") that is diametrically opposed to what I've seen and experienced, a slavish repeating of mindless (and wrong) slogans which serve only to eliminate any possibility of truly grasping the situation. In short, a fantasy Gaza as perceived from within a bubble carefully constructed so as to deflect any uncomfortable reality.

The greatest insight this trip has given me is understanding why Israelis don't "get it:" a media comprised by people who should know better but who possess little critical ability and feel more comfortable inside a box created by self-serving politicians than in trying to do something far more creative: understanding what in the hell is going on here.

Still, I formulated clearly my messages to my fellow Israelis, and that constitutes the main content of my interviews and talks:
(1) Despite what our political leaders say, there is a political solution to the conflict, there are partners for peace;

(2) The Palestinians are not our enemies. In fact, I urge my fellow Israeli Jews to disassociate from the dead-end politics of our failed political leaders by declaring, in concert with Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers: We refuse to be enemies. And

(3) As the infinitely stronger party in the conflict and the only Occupying Power, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies. Only we can end the conflict.

Let me end by expressing my appreciation to the organizers of this initiative – Paul Larudee, Greta Berlin and Bella – the wonderful group of participants on the boats and the great communication team that stayed ashore. Special appreciation goes to ICAHD's own Angela Godfrey-Goldstein who played a crucial role in Cyprus and Jerusalem in getting the word out. Not to forget our hosts in Gaza (whose names are on the Free Gaza website. [See. JRK] ) and the thousands of Gazans who welcomed us and shared their lives with us.

May our peoples finally find the peace and justice they deserve in our common country.