Jeff Halper, Director of ICAHD, received the Kant World Citizen Prize 2009, together with Brazilian Bishop Dom Luiz Cappio. It was awarded to the two prominent human rights activists by the Kant Foundation of Freiburg, Germany.
The main purpose of the foundation is the promotion of courageous and independent, critically enlightening publicity work and education to protect peace, democracy and the environment and the promotion of keeping to democratic-constitutional principles in national and international politics. It honored the prize winners of 2009 for their “courageous commitment to human rights and the human dignity of politically and socially marginalized population groups.”
The Foundation honours Jeff Halper’s work “to liberate both the Palestinian and the Israeli people from the yoke of structural violence.” Bishop Dom Cappio has become a national hero in Brazil for his stand against the planned transposition of the Sao Francisco river in Brazil, threatening the environment and the livelihoods of the people living along its banks. His activism included a 23-day hunger strike and a year-long pilgrimage with three other activists along the 2,700 Km Rio Sao Francisco.
In his remarks, Halper addressed the irresponsibility of states in dealing with issues of peace, justice and human rights.
In my experience as a civil society activist for almost a half century, states, although they possess the responsibility and authority in the modern world system, will not do the right thing if left to their own devices. Even in clear-cult cases where world peace is threatened or injustice affects millions of people, governments will find pretexts for pursuing some political agenda – a concoction of domestic and international political interests – that have nothing to do with the well-being of either its own citizens (though state policy is invariably framed in that way) or of the global community. The fact that Israel ignores – and is allowed by its fellow states to ignore – human rights, international law, dozens of UN resolutions and an International Court of Justice ruling against the construction of its Wall during its 43 year-old Occupation, speaks volumes about the failure of governments (in this case, Germany and the US at the head) to carry out their obligations. If, last August, I had to risk my life to take an old fishing boat from Cyprus to Gaza, defying the Israeli navy in order to break the cruel, illegal two-year siege imposed on an already impoverished and traumatized civilian population, it was only because governments, whose job it is to uphold international law and ensure a peaceful world order, abrogated their responsibility.
He then addressed Germany’s responsibility to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on both its standing as a major world power and in light of the Holocaust.
Germany seems to be a country still teetering between guilt for the Holocaust and the political interests of a reemerging major world power. Missing for me is how atonement for the Holocaust, which is ongoing and pronounced in Germany, is connected to the emergence of a Germany in which the lessons learned – and in particular the absolute primacy of human rights and international law as fundamental protections for persons and peoples – are translated into foreign policy. This is a crucial matter, not only because Germany has emerged as a major European and world power, but because it will either play a constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or, by confusing support for Israel’s occupation policies with atonement, it will be an obstacle.
Germany has indeed moved very far in what I call a process of national redemption into which all former colonial and oppressive states must enter. It has acknowledged the terrible injustice it wrought on the Jewish people and others and has accepted responsi
bility. Nazi Germany has been held accountable by the international community, and in a form of restorative justice the new Germany has reconstituted itself as republic playing, overall, a responsible part in world affairs; it has also extended important assistance to Israel since that country’s inception (though it has at times been too “helpful,” as in supplying Israel with nuclear-capable submarines). At some point in the process of redemption countries must reach a point of where they are able to move on, where the need to repent for past actions is supplanted by assuming a role in international affairs in which the lessons learned and the responsibility accepted are translated into advocacy for a just world order based upon human rights.
Choosing to help Israel extricate itself from a deteriorating conflict which increasingly jeopardizes its security, would, I suggest, constitute the most genuine and significant act of atonement and reparation.
Israel, Halper suggested, has as yet to begin the process of redemption, of taking responsibility for its own terrible destruction of Palestinian society and its ongoing Occupation in which it has destroyed 24,000 homes of innocent people (houses are not demolished for security reasons). On the contrary, it is still in a voelkisch mode of trying to impose an exclusively Jewish state over the entire Land of Israel – Palestine – ongoing crimes of ethnic cleansing, occupation, warfare and oppression for which we will also have to seek redemption. So this would be the German “reframing” that I, an Israeli Jew striving for a just peace between my people and the Palestinians, would suggest: If Germany truly has a “special relationship” with Israel – based not only on the Holocaust but on having had a failed experience with a voelkisch model which Israel is attempting to impose on Palestine – and if Germany has genuinely supplanted that violent tribal model by a multicultural democracy committed to human rights, then it is uniquely placed to help wean Israel from its own voelkisch ideology and the Occupation it has begot to one more in keeping with the values of a post-Holocaust world of human rights.
Israel, too, must make a closure on the Holocaust. In the hands of cynical politicians using it to justifying Israel’s own oppressive policies and stifling all criticism, especially that of Europe, the heritage Holocaust itself is in danger of being minimized, desecrated and distorted. How terrible it would be if young people, in Israel, German and elsewhere, came to regard the Holocaust as little more than a convenient pretext for preventing criticism of Israel, emptied of all its significance and potential for leading them in new directions. As Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli parliament and head of the Jewish Agency, asserts in the title of his recent book: The Holocaust’s Over: We Must Rise from Its Ashes. And Marc Ellis, a Jewish liberation theologian, contends that modern Jewry is defined by what happened to us Jews in the Holocaust and what we are doing to the Palestinians.