Jeff Halper, an Israeli oleh for most of his life, sat across a table, his thick white beard belying the tempered rage beneath at the injustice of living in a state that privileges him simply for being a Jew.
“It’s assymmetrical warfare,” he says, describing the difference between dispatching a kid to blow up a bus versus blitzing it with an Apache. For him, zero difference.
JH: Obama, too, is falling into this [language trap]. Wait a minute: how can it be warfare if one side doesn’t have an army? I mean, doesn’t warfare assume two armies? So it’s trying to justify a state attacking a civilian population under occupation and siege.… If it’s warfare now you’ve got the principle of distinction which we don’t like because we can’t shoot who we want to shoot.… The thing gets very dicey.
AC: The human rights issue obviously has to go both ways. You have human rights, we do too—
JH: But human rights doesn’t ignore the issue of power. What happens in a situation where you have a state that’s oppressing another people?
“We reject the ‘both sides’ discourse,” he declared. “It creates a false symmetry. There’s no symmetry here.” “The Palestinians aren’t occupying Tel Aviv,” he added.
A piece of conventional wisdom, according to the information to which I have always been accustomed as well as fed, is that the purpose of the wall/fence, which now snakes around big chunks of the West Bank, is to prevent terror. “No,” says Jeff.
JH: It [the idea for a barrier] was suggested by Ehud Barak, Haim Ramon and Shlomo Ben-Ami in 1999.… Barak said to Arafat [during the Camp David talks], If you’re not more forthcoming with us, we’re going to do things unilaterally. The official name of the wall, do you know the official name? Separation barrier. Security was a way they tried to sell it to the Israeli public.
My next question addressed the claim that it kept out waves of bombers from Israel. Jeff was emphatic. “There’s no way to isolate—today, only about 60 percent of the wall was built,” he said. “It was decided to not even finish the wall.
“The whole point of the wall,” he continued, “was to demarcate a border. To create these cantons. You have enough of that done,” motioning over pages of maps, “you don’t have to build anymore. There’s big parts of this you and I could walk through freely—the wall doesn’t seal anything.”
As for the factors that stopped the piguim (to use the Hebrew parlance), Jeff adduced a number of them unrelated to the concrete slabs and watchtowers: “There haven’t been attacks for years, because of a wall? Is that because the Palestinian Authority now has a militia, an American-trained militia that’s keeping law and order? Is it because the Israeli Army is active? Is it because you have a de facto ceasefire with Fatah all these years?”
“You’d have the same situation today if there was no wall,” he declaimed. “The wall is what’s generating a lot of the hatred.” He drew attention to one map in which were depicted “the fingers,” sections that were built with the express purpose of annexing settlement blocs. The barrier closely hews to the Green Line (’67 border) in the north, until you get to Umm al-Fahm, incidentally the most populated Arab city in Israel. There’s a suspicion, Jeff said, that in the final border settlement Israel would adjust the border so places like that would become part of Palestine.
AC: It would make sense if you support the boycott movement.
JH: We’re one of the leaders of the boycott movement. We were the first Israeli organization to come out with a statement… we started with a selective boycott. The idea was to boycott companies that were profitting from the occupation.… [Israel] doesn’t label settlement products as settlement products, it labels them as “Made in Israel,” which is illegal. For example, it will take Ahava [skin] cream from the West Bank and it’ll package it inside Israel.
…Why separate occupation from Israel? In other words, if you’re going to boycott Sudan, there’s an international boycott of Sudan. You don’t boycott companies doing business in Darfur. You boycott Sudan, [they are] responsible for what’s going on in Darfur.
AC: …Hasn’t the Sudanese government done far worse things? They massacred 400,000 people.
JH: It’s hard to compare oppressions. … We deal with our country, and other people deal with theirs.