The following is the second part of my interview with Jeff Halper (part one is back here), co-chair of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). The third will follow soon.
AC: Wouldn’t a two-state settlement mean that one side would be homogenously Jewish and one side would be homogenously Arab?
JH: No, because the Palestinian citizens of Israel, twenty percent of the population, wouldn’t leave. You have 20 percent that are Arab inside Israel, plus you’ve got here at least another five percent of the population that’s Russian that isn’t Jewish—
AC: According to the Rabbinate, about 300,000 of them or so.
JH: They’re not Jewish. So you’ve got 25, maybe up to 30 percent, of the population of Israel that isn’t Jewish.
AC: Including the territories?
JH: No, without the territories. With the territories you’ve got 50 percent.… If you take the 20 percent who are Arab citizens of Israel, add another five percent who are Russians and… about 30,000 Ethiopians who aren’t really Jewish.
AC: They’re a lost tribe.…
JH: A lot of them are going back to the churches now. Plus the children of these foreign workers. And what isn’t figured is emigration… between 800,000 and a million Israelis have left permanently.
AC: At least 700,000.
JH: So, that’s not figured in… let’s say that, conservatively, 25 percent of Israelis are not Jewish. So what does that mean, a Jewish state? You have a flag [with] the Star of David, so you exclude a quarter of the population? The African-Americans are only 20 percent of the population. So it’s like saying, America is a county for White people; now you Black people can stay and have citizenship—
AC: …It’s a nation for the White people.… I would agree but white people haven’t faced centuries of persecution and hatred.
JH: Yeah, but most Jews never became Zionists. Zionism represented a tiny fraction of the Jewish public.
AC: Until World War II.
JH: No, even after World War II. Even today, 70 to 75 percent of Jews don’t live in Israel.
AC: Seventy percent?
JH: …Five and a half million Jews in Israel.
AC: And worldwide it’s about 13 million… could be sixty percent. I don’t know if it’s as high as seventy-five.
Laughing, I said, “I don’t want to quibble over a few percentages.” “But the majority don’t live here,” Jeff said, adding, “they could!” My reply was, “Isn’t that because of the security situation?”
JH: What’s your commitment to the country if you’re not here when it’s dangerous…? My parents, and my brother and sister, are Americans. One percent of American Jews came to Israel [to live permanently]. There are 60,000 American Jews here, the vast majority of whom are Haredim.
AC: Who, by the way, are historically very anti-Zionist.
JH: Who are anti-Zionist. So let’s say the majority of that one percent are anti-Zionist! Meaning that, let’s say ninety-nine point five percent of normal American Jews never came here. They never came here.
AC: Well I’m not a fan of what are called ‘armchair Zionists,’ you know, Alan Dershowitz.
JH: He’s not a Zionist at all. What makes him ‘Zionist’?
AC: They claim to be, that’s it.
After some rambling here was allowed to go on, this reporter tried to get to the point. “Is there any justice to—not in the sense of an exclusivist kind of state, where you exclude anyone who isn’t Jewish—but some sort of homeland where the Jewish people have a country of their own?” He smelled racism in this, and pointed to a republican example. Take France, he said.
JH: The French people have a right to self-determination but to be French you could be an immigrant, you could be Jamiacan, from Martinique, all over the world. In other words, French self-determination could mean white people who’ve lived in France all these years… whoever has an Israeli passport, this is one of the few countries where your passport doesn’t match your—
AC: There’s no Israeli nationality, you’re Jewish.
JH: You’re Jewish or you’re not Jewish.… Yes, there is a place here for Jews. I mean, I came here. And it’s meaningful. But the only sustainable form of nationalism for Jews here is what’s been called cultural Zionism. Cultural Zionism has a very long history—
AC: Ahad Ha’am—
JH: Ben-Yehuda, Henrietta Zol, Buber.… That’s the idea, that you can speak Hebrew, I mean even if this becomes a binational state, or a state of all its inhabitants or its citizens which is has to be… it doesn’t mean that we stop speaking Hebrew. It doesn’t mean that you close the Hebrew University. It’s not an either-or—when South Africa went to Black-majority rule, Afrikaners stayed.
AC: They didn’t get wiped out.
JH: There’s Afrikaner universities, Afrikaner newspapers.
AC: There is a fear among Israelis [that] if it becomes ‘binational’ or whatever that They—the evil Arabs—are going to destroy us. Is that an irrational fear?
JH: Of course. It’s the same thing in South Africa. They said, ‘There’s going to be bloodshed, the Blacks will never accept’ [and] part of it is because of what we’ve done to them. For Israeli Jews, they know what we’ve done to the Palestinians. Their idea that we can massacre them, that we can expel them, occupy them and somehow they’ll live with us?
AC: I can’t help but notice that you’re excluding suicide bombing, things they did to us.
JH: Yeah, but I see that as resistance. See, what’s missing in the Israeli framing of this is occupation. The word is never used, it’s like these people are mugging us. You’re walking down the street, and Boom! there’s a suicide bombing, well wait a minute. Why are there suicide bombers? The Palestinians aren’t famous in history for being assassins and terrorists. Why are there suicide bombers? Well, you go back to occupation. And part of it is that we refuse to take responsibility, we try to blame them all the time.
AC: So, I’m trying to understand what—
JH: If you end the occupation, you end the sources of suffering.
AC: I want to understand what you’re saying. Thankfully this hasn’t happened in a while, but when a bomber would get on a bus and blow innocent civilians to smithereens, that’s a legitimate form of resisting occupation—
JH: No, I don’t say it’s legitimate. It’s attacking civilians, which is not legitimate. But it’s resistance. There’s a reason, there’s a rationale for it. There’s a logic to it, there’s a political context to it that you can’t ignore. Why is that important? Because if Arabs are just killers, and that’s the way they are, which is the way Israelis look at it, they’ll continue to kill us. If you say, Wait a minute, no, suicide bombing is coming out of political oppression, then once you end that political oppression, you’ll end suicide bombing. That’s a whole different scenario.
… You can’t say to people, You can’t resist occupation, oppression. People have a right to oppose, even violently, oppression.
AC: So if they kept to the tactics of the first Intifada, where they were throwing stones at tanks and things like that.
JH: Or shooting a soldier. See, we still call that terrorism. What happened to Gilad Schalit… was a legitimate act of capturing a soldier.
AC: It’s called a kidnapping.
JH: And we call it kidnapping. We use criminal language because it decontextualizes.
AC: I thought the reason was because the military and civilian life is so intertwined here.
JH: There’s a guy named Asa Kasher… he’s writing very dangerous stuff. He’s the ethicist for the Israeli Army. He’s trying to say, There isn’t any such thing as a soldier, [because] a soldier is just a civilian in uniform. In that way then, that’s the way of avoiding the military, and then he goes one step further: they, our enemies, aren’t soldiers.… Israel is trying to eliminate in international law the principle of distinction.
“A fundamental principle of warfare,” Jeff continued, “is that you distinguish between civilians and combatants.”
JH: Israel is trying to eliminate that [distinction]. First of all, our combatants are really civilians and what you call your civilians are really combatants. That’s where ‘terrorism’ is a slippery slope.
AC: …One anticipated counter-argument is that Israelis wouldn’t detonate themselves and that’s the difference—
“We don’t have to,” he quipped, chuckling. “We have an army.”