LEFT: HALPER being arrested as he resists the demolition of a Palestinian family’s house. RIGHT: Dr. Halper is the founder and co-director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. He is on a cross Canada tour talking about his work and about the prospects for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine issue. He will be visiting 12 cities. On the eve of his departure for Canada, I asked him a few personal questions. Photos: ICAHD – UK
Halper’s Canadian schedule
Waterloo – Jan. 18-19, London – Jan. 20, Toronto – Jan. 21-22, Hamilton – Jan 23, Montreal – Jan. 24-26, Ottawa – Jan 28th, Halifax – Jan. 31-Feb.2, St. John’s – Feb. 3-4, Edmonton – Feb. -7, Winnipeg – Feb. 8-9, Vancouver – Feb 10-12, Courtney, B.C. Feb. 11
Q1. Dr. Halper, you came to Israel from the USA in the early ‘70’s . Why?
I grew up in northern Minnesota. Being a ’60s activist from a very progressive part of the US, I was looking for somewhere to go to be politically active. I had few Jewish roots in Minnesota, (I wasn’t religious in any way) and on my way to do research on the Jews of Ethiopia, I stopped off in Israel. I realized there was an Occupation and displacement, which I’ve dedicated my life to addressing. Nevertheless the identity shift from “American Jew” to “Israeli” took place over time. I became, as the title of my last book says, “an Israeli in Palestine,” and I work to reconcile those two realities.
Q2. What inspired you to create ICAHD?
The Israeli left placed a lot of hope in the Oslo process. But Rabin’s assassination in November 1995 and the continued construction of settlements signaled us that the Oslo “peace process” was in a state of collapse.
In mid-1997 eight of us from different peace groups met. We decided to take house demolitions as the focus of our work. When we began, Israel had demolished 9000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territory in the 30 years since the Occupation began. In the 17 years since then the number of demolitions has risen to about 48,000. We obviously have not suceeded in ending demolitions, but we have raised the issue, together with ending the Occupation altogether, onto the political agenda.
Q3. What do you think has been ICAHD’s greatest accomplishment? Rebuilding the houses, or educating North Americans?
Our work at ICAHD integrates the resistance to demolitions, including rebuilding homes that have been demolished (187 so far, as joint Israeli/Palestinian/international acts of resistance), with international advocacy intended to mobilize public opinion to end the Occupation and achieve a just peace. We resist demolitions with our bodies together with the families affected We rebuild if we have the resources (each home costs between $10,000-30,000, depending on the size of the family and their needs).
But then we take our pictures and informational materials we develop, and set out for advocacy campaigns around the world. We believe that as in the case of apartheid South Africa, a just peace will come to Israel/Palestine only from international pressures, coupled with grassroots organization and strategizing of Israelis and Palestinian together. We are having difficulties moving from a defunct two-state solution to a just and inclusive alternative.
Want to know what it’s like to resist a house demolition? Watch this video here. It starts with a few stills and then moves to video.
Q4. You are coming to Canada for a whole month. Why? What is your objective in coming to Canada?
My objective in Canada is two-fold.
First, to raise political awareness of the conflict and to convince Canadians, that this conflict has to be settled, and urgently. I’m taking a month (in winter!) because I see myself as a resource person. I will spend 2 – 3 days in a particular place, which gives me the opportunity to speak formally and informally to many interested parties: civil society groups, activists, local universities, local media, the Jewish community and, in Ottawa particularly, to decision-makers and politicians. I want to leave behind me a strengthened infrastructure of motivated people and groups that have a sharper idea of where they are going in helping to resolve this conflict.
And, second, of course, is fund-raising. Rather than merely applying for grants, I prefer to go hat-in-hand to our grassroots supporters for financial as well as political support. As I said, I am a resource person and a political activist who is imparting information and giving direction in return for financial support. I prefer to integrate politics and fund-raising, even though it is labor-intensive. ICAHD is struggling, and so I’m coming to Canada to contribute what I can politically in the hopes that Canadians will also contribute to our work.
Q5. Are you optimistic about a resolution to this difficult and painful conflict?
If I wasn’t optimistic about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — with the positive effects for the entire region and thus globally — I wouldn’t be devoting myself to this work.
What makes the struggle difficult is that we have no clear end-game today. You cannot be in the midst of a political struggle without an end-game. But we have to wait on the Palestinians for that to a large degree. It’s their call — one state, two states, a regional confederation, whatever. I am trying to flesh out what I believe a just solution to be: a single bi-national democratic state. In my view, BDS needs a political objective. My formulation is: BDS=BDS. Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions = a Bi-national, Democratic State. But I have to stop short of actually advocating that in deference to the Palestinians. I’m optimistic that can be done and translated into an effective political campaign, but so far its not happening, and that discourages me.
Q6. Will you remain in Israel no matter what?
I’m committed to staying here and seeing it through. If the “good people” leave (and I like to think we are the “good people”), then the bad take over. If we lose this battle, if the Occupation actually prevails, an entire Palestinian people is permanently imprisoned, human rights and international law trampled and rendered irrelevant and, the Jewish people become the new Afrikaaners. So here I’ll stand my ground.