This Thursday was the official launch of Jeff Halper’s new book, “An Israeli in Palestine”, at a public event in Hampstead. Extra chairs had to be put out for the numbers of people who came to listen to Jeff in conversation with Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English Literature at Queen Mary College, University of London.
Jacqueline began by expressing her admiration for the book, mentioning in particular the scene where Jeff witnesses the demolition of the house of Salim Sharamweh, describing powerfully how the tearing down of the house tore through all the lies and distortions of Zionism and turned him from a left-wing Zionist into “a critical Israeli.” And she commented on Jeff’s heroism in instinctively lying down in front of the bulldozer – the first protestor to do so.
The conversation between Jeff and Jacqueline focused on the psychological reasons for the cruelty of Israeli Jews towards Palestinians. Jeff began by saying _I donat want to get into pop psychology_, but suggested that this cruelty was contrary to the universalist morality of the Biblical Prophets and to the history of Jews in the Diaspora, though he did think it had roots in some “genocidal” passages of the Bible. Though he felt Jews in the Diaspora had achieved “closure” over the long history of persecution in Europe leading up to the Holocaust, with reconciliation between Jews and Germany and the Christian world, he thought that among Jews in Israel there was an unresolved unconscious need for vengeance for all the persecutions suffered over thousands of years, and this was being taken out on the Palestinians – a weak, helpless people who nonetheless represent to many Israeli Jews the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders, Cossacks and Nazis all rolled into one – enemies over whom they now have power, so they can do to them what was done to themselves.
Jacqueline queried Jeff’s use of the word “genocide”; Jeff said it fitted into the definition of the term under international law, in which there is an implication of destruction of a culture, rather than necessarily mass killings of large numbers of a people group, but said he did not often use it. He said he actually preferred it to “ethnic cleansing”, which doesn’t portray sufficiently strongly the eradication of the Palestinians as a people. Jacqueline said she hoped Jeff’s Hebrew term “nishul” – dispossession – would take off as the word to describe Israel’s cruelty to the Palestinians.
There were many questions from the audience. One questioner suggested the words “sociocide” or “politicide” instead of “genocide”, emphasising the importance of not alienating some sympathisers with language they might misconstrue. Another criticised Jeff’s continually-changing solutions to the conflict, in reference to the idea of a regional federation of Israel and its Arab neighbours which Halper proposes in the book, and said that instead he should focus on his real strength, working on the ground. Jeff replied that his solutions changed because circumstances changed and he never puts them forward in a dogmatic way, but believes that ultimately the Palestinians will have to decide on the best way to resolve the conflict.
A questioner asked if he supported the “gun-toting militancy” of Hamas, and Jeff replied that he does not support Hamas’s Islamic fundamentalist ideology but did not think Hamas should be required to recognise the legitimacy of Israel; Hamas has acknowledged the fact that Israel exists and is prepared to negotiate with Israel as a de facto entity _ he mentioned that Hamas had repeatedly proposed a _hudna_ (a long-term ceasefire), but Israel had repeatedly refused to engage with such offers [see Jeff’s article “The Problem with Israel”, detailing the history of peace offers by Palestinians and Arab states, as researched by Avi Shlaim]. Jeff quoted a Palestinian as saying in desperation to him that “Israel won’t even let us surrender!”
Another questioner asked about the role of Tony Blair, and Jeff said his role is to “finesse the apartheid” to make the bantustan solution look a little better, so Mahmoud Abbas is eventually resigned to acceptance. Asked about the rising global power of China and India and the declining power of the United States, Jeff responded that he is working on a new book about Israel’s global arms trade, which is finely tuned to exploiting world changes in power. He suggested that it would be Israel that abandoned America, not vice-versa, because of their multi-billion dollar interests in selling their military hardware and knowledge to India and China.
(Report by D Maccoby & R Thorburn)