Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jeff Halper and House Demolitions

Jeff Halper is a Jewish Israeli anthropologist and the director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD). I’ve heard Jeff before and I suspect (and hope) he is a burr under the saddle of the Israeli government. He talked to us of the continuing Nakba.

Jeff recently sailed into Gaza with the Free Gaza initiative and has sailed out from that port with Palestinian fishermen. He points out that with the Oslo accords the Palestinians were allowed to fish up to 20 miles off the coast. That has since been restricted to 3-6 miles, an area pretty well “fished out”. Internationals testing those limits with local fishermen were arrested by the Israeli navy earlier this week. On one of its incursions into Gaza, Israel destroyed its sewage treatment system. The European Union offered to rebuild the system if Israel would promise not to destroy it again. Thus far, Israel has not promised. While I have been here, rockets from Gaza into Israel have resumed and an Israeli blockade has been reinstated. In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post (11/19) Israeli generals admitted the blockade is not working, but it continues nonetheless. The population of Gaza (particularly children) and the Israeli towns within range of militant rockets continue to suffer while these warring parties persist in battling each other.

Jeff’s analysis of the situation asks whether this is a ’48 problem or a ’67 problem. As the demographic threat is so keenly felt by Israel, Jeff describes it as more the former than the latter. With the intent to “redeem” all the land from the sea to the Jordan (and for some, beyond), Israel is stuck with all these Arabs. The problem is one of exclusivity, what Jeff labels an ethnocracy. Israel contradicts itself by insisting on being a Jewish state and being called a democracy. Given centuries of persecution, I have some sympathy for Israel’s insistence on a Jewish state, and clearly the issue is deeply felt by even the most progressive Jews. The claim rests, however, on perpetuating the definition of Jews as victims, a claim that may not wash in decades to come. Regardless, it perpetuates an historic injustice to Arabs who remain second or third class citizens of Israel, occupies the land of millions more, and makes the return of refugees non-negotiable.

On Tuesday, I visited the site of an Arab home demolished on the Mount of Olives. As in this case, the claim is most often that a building has been constructed without a permit, but Arabs may wait years for a building permit and frequently never get it at all. The Israeli government claims permits are given out on an equitable basis, but that appears patently false. In another incident last week, bulldozers demolished a tent set up by an elderly Arab couple on land in East Jerusalem. The Al-Kurd family had previously been evicted from their home on the basis of a court finding that a Jewish family was the rightful owner of the land on which their house was built. The article in the Jerusalem Post noted “the dispute was the latest Israeli move against Arab squatters in east Jerusalem” (what Halper calls a creative reframing). Block by block, demolition by demolition and neighborhood by neighborhood, Israel creates “facts on the ground” which make a Palestinian East Jerusalem more and more improbable.

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