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‘Israel’s gone way beyond apartheid’


Frank Barat caught up with Jeff Halper, long-time Israeli peace activist, author and director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), while he was on a European speaking tour which will take him from the UK to Poland. Here is what he had to say about the situation in Israel and Palestine…

Sumaya Hisham
Jeff Halper Sumaya Hisham

Could you give us an update on the demolition of Palestinian homes and of what people now often refer to as the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Jerusalem.

I think what’s coming down the pipeline is that Israel today has basically finished this. We’ve gone beyond the occupation. The Palestinians have been pacified and from Israel’s point of view the whole situation has been normalized. Netanyahu went to Washington to meet with Obama last month. When he came back his adviser was asked what was new about this meeting and said ‘this is the first time in memory that an Israeli Prime Minister met with a US president and that the Palestinian issue was not even mentioned, it never came out.’

So, in this situation where the USA is really paralysed because Netanyahu has [influence over] both parties in congress and Obama does not want to do anything, Netanyahu is going to make the last move in nailing this whole thing down. Israel could well annex area C, which is 60 per cent of the West Bank. Now, a couple of months ago the European Council diplomats in Jerusalem and Ramallah sent a report to the EU saying that Israel has forcibly expelled the Palestinians from area C. Forcible expulsion is hard language for European diplomats to use.

‘We’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians are confined in areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it’

So area C contains less than 5 per cent of the Palestinian population. In 1967 the Jordan valley contained about 250,000 people. Today it’s less than 50,000. So the Palestinians have either been driven out of the country, especially the middle class, or they have been driven to areas A and B. That’s where 96 or 97 per cent of them are. The Palestinian population has been brought down low enough, there is probably somewhere around 125,000 Palestinians in area C, so Israel could annex area C and give them full citizenship.

Basically, Israel can absorb 125,000 Palestinians without upsetting the demographic balance. And then, what is the world going to say? It’s not apartheid, Israel has given them full citizenship. So I think Israel feels it could get away with that. No one cares about what’s happening in areas A and B. If they want to declare a state, they can, Israel has no interest in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron.

In other words, we’re finished. Israel is now from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, the Palestinians have been confined in areas A and B or in small enclaves in East Jerusalem, and that’s it.

So when people talk about a Palestinian state on 22 per cent of historical Palestine, it’s not even that, right? The number is much smaller.

Yes, what [Salam] Fayyad (Palestinian National Authority prime minister) is saying is our state does not have to be on any particular amount of territory, our state is an economic state and we can work around you annexing this and that because we can make our cities. The idea is that Israel will give them a bit of area C, to put the enclaves a little bit more together. So the north, the south and Gaza will still be cantonized, but what Fayyad is saying is we can make a go of that. Both Netanyahu and Fayyad have moved from a territorial conception of two states to an economic conception of two states, which is a whole different thing. The problem that the bosses have is how to sell that to the Palestinian people. But it seems to me that this is what is coming down the pipeline.

‘The Zionists have always said that once the Arabs despair that was the end, victory for them. Israel feels that’s what we have got now. If you go today to the West Bank you’ll hear the people say that they don’t care anymore’

Israel feels that the Palestinians have been defeated. It’s over. Resistance is impossible because of the Israeli army, the Palestinian proxy army, the wall, I mean, you can’t mount a Third Intifada. Israel policy since the Iron Wall of 1923, has been despair. I wrote an article about this once ‘The mounting despair in Palestine‘.

The Zionists have always, always said that once the Arabs despair – [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky once put it interestingly ‘despair of the land of Israel ever becoming Palestine’ – that was the end, victory for them. Israel feels that’s what we have got now. If you go today to the West Bank, Gaza might be different, you’ll hear the people say that they don’t care anymore, let me have a job, let me live my life and I’ll be happy. In a sense, Fayyad feels he can respond to that.

Some pogroms took place recently when a group of Beitar soccer fans attacked Palestinian workers in a shopping mall. Were those people a few bad apples, or do these types of events indeed say something about Israeli society?

They are more than bad apples. They are not completely Israeli society either. This football team in Jerusalem is connected to the Likud. In Israel many football clubs are associated with political parties. There is a very close relation between the ideology of Likud and Begin and the Beitar football team. They see the Arabs as the enemy. So it reflects about a third of the Israeli public that is very committed to expansion, settlements, that see the Arabs as enemies. In Beitar, their chants, it’s not just the pogroms, they chant every time their team scores a goal, ‘death to the Arabs’. That’s what 20,000 people chant. Beitar for example has never had an Arab player.

The Arabs are beginning to be more prominent in Israeli football teams. Not in Beitar Jerusalem. This pogrom is kind of an extension of this. It’s all in the context of kids, for the most part its kids that have seen Israel changed into a neoliberal economy, become more and more Thatcherite, and you have tremendous income disparity in Israel. Israel is now in the OECD, but it has one of the highest income disparities.

‘I think occupation is an old word. We are way beyond occupation. I think we are also way beyond apartheid’

Kids have got no real future, that’s part of the context too. Those kids come from the housing projects, very much like those who follow the National Front in France or the EDL in England, people that only have this racist emotional outlet for their frustrations, and football is great for that. It channels anger away from the government. That’s why they sponsor football teams!

How important are the words we use, in your opinion, when it comes to Palestine/Israel. Ilan Pappe recently told me that we should rethink our vocabulary. Can we objectively still talk about ‘peace/occupation’? Shouldn’t we talk about ‘right to resist’ and ‘apartheid’ instead?

For sure. We deal a lot with words in our analysis. There are two words, because I think occupation is an old word. We are way beyond occupation. I think we are also way beyond apartheid. There are two words that capture the political reality but don’t have any legal substance today. One of them is Judaization. The entire country is being Judaized. It’s a word that the government uses, to Judaize Jerusalem, the Galilee, so the Judaization process is really at the heart of what’s going on. But it has no legal reference. So one of our projects we’re working on with Michael Sfard and some other lawyers is to try to introduce those terms into the discourse with the idea of trying to give them some legal frame. We have to try to match the political process, the political reality, because it is unprecedented in the world.

‘In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially, in taking out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons’

Another term is ‘warehousing’ because I think that captures what’s going on better than apartheid. Warehousing is permanent. Apartheid recognizes that there is another side. With warehousing it’s like prison. There is no other side. There is us, and then there are these people that we control, they have no rights, they have no identity, they’re inmates. It’s not political, it’s permanent, static. Apartheid you can resist. The whole brilliance of warehousing is that you can’t resist because you’re a prisoner.

Prisoners can rise up in the prison yards but prison guards have all the rights in the world to put them down. That’s what Israel has come to. They are terrorists and we have the right to put them down. In a sense Israel has succeeded with the international community, and the US especially, in taking out of this situation the political. It’s now solely an issue of security, just like in prisons. It’s another concept that does not have any legal reference today but we’d like to put that in because warehousing is not only in Israel. Warehousing exists all over the capitalist world. Two-thirds of the people have been warehoused. That’s why I’m writing about Global Palestine. I’m saying that Palestine is a microcosm of what’s happening around the world.

Frank Barat is a human rights activist based in London. He is the coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books, Gaza in Crisis, with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, and Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation with Asa Winstanley. He has also contributed to Is there a court for Gaza? with Daniel Machover. He can be found on Twitter @frankbarat22.

Zionism and Racism

It would be a mistake to assume that Zionism is encompassed fully by the teachings of the likes of Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky or Benjamin Netanyahu. I have discovered, over the years, a number of Zionist thinkers that proclaim a type of Zionism that I find far more reasonable than the Zionism that is evident in Israel today. The version of Zionism put forth by Brit Shalom, a political movement created in Palestine in 1925, sought a peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews, to be achieved by renunciation of the Zionist aim of creating a Jewish state. This alternative vision of Zionism was to create a centre for Jewish cultural life in Palestine placing great emphasis on the ethical and cultural traditions of Judaism while remaining secular in outlook as a whole. Brit Shalom, literally meaning “covenant of peace”, advocated the concept of a Jewish Homeland rather than a Zionist State, the latter explicitly requiring a Jewish majority in Israel. Martin Buber was an advocate of the ideology of Brit Shalom and Albert Einstein was known to be highly sympathetic to those same values.

Unfortunately the voices of Brit Shalom advocates were few in number and became drowned out by the cries for Israeli nationalism. Professor Yakov Rabkin tells us that:

“Among the many tendencies within Zionism, the one that has triumphed set out to reach four principle objectives: 1) to transform the transnational Jewish identity centred on the Torah into a national identity, like the ones then common in Europe; 2) to develop a new national vernacular based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew; 3) to transfer the Jews from their counties of origin to Palestine; and 4) to establish political and economic control over the “new old land” if need be by force” (Rabkin, 2006, p. 5).

Uriel Zimmer, an Orthodox Jew and former United Nations reporter for several newspapers, states the ultimate goal of Zionism:

“The real aim of Zionism is the one stated innumerable times by the various Zionist thinkers and ideologists from its earliest conception until this day. From the essays of Achad Haam to the speeches of Ben Gurion, we can hear definitions of one goal, in various versions and phrases but with never-changing content:

Zimmer’s words echo the criticisms of Orthodox Jews against Zionism that are articulated by anti-Zionist religious Jews like those found at Neturei Karta. Jewish Orthodox intellectual, Yesayahu Leibowitz, has this to say about the historical concept of Jewish identity.

“The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a race, nor as a people of this country or that, or of this political system or that, nor as a people that speaks the same language, but as a people of Torah Judaism and of its commandments, as the people of a specific way of life, both on the spiritual and the practical plane, a way of life that expresses the acceptance of the yoke of the Torah and of its commandments. This consciousness exercised its effect from within the people. It formed its national essence; it maintained itself down through the generations and was able to preserve its identity irrespective of times or circumstances. The words spoken by Saadia Gaon more than 1,000 years ago, “Our nation exists only in the Torah” had not only a normative but an empirical meaning. They testified to an historical fact whose power could be felt up until the nineteenth century. It was then that the fracture, which has not ceased to widen with time, first occurred: the break between Jewishness and Judaism. The human group recognised today as the Jewish people is no longer defined, from the factual viewpoint, as the people of historical Judaism, whether in the consciousness of the majority off its members, or in that of the non-Jews. There indeed exists within this people a substantial number of persons who strive, individually or collectively, to live the Judaic way of life. But the majority of Jews – while sincerely conscious of their Jewishness – not only does not accept Judaism, but abhors it” (cited in Rabkin, 2006, p.35).

Zionism’s attempt to change Jewish identity struck fear in the hearts of the Orthodox for many reasons. Its seeming agreement with ideas about Jewish identity held to by anti-Semites was a major one. Rabkin says:

“Zionists and the anti-Semites saw eye to eye on three key issues: 1) the Jews were not a religious group but a distinct nation; 2) the Jews could never integrate in to the country in which they lived; and 3) the sole solution to the Jewish problem was for them to leave” (2006, p. 82).

The concept of a Jewish race is not taught in scripture and has not been the reality for Jews over the last 2,000 years. Being Jewish was fundamentally a religious, not racial, identity. Zionism sought to change that. Jews are now not defined so much by their acceptance of the Torah, but far more by their adherence to Zionism and Israeli nationalism. Being Jewish is not primarily about one’s religion, but about one’s support for secular nationalism in Israel.

Zionism is, in a sense, a capitulation to anti-Semitism. It recognises the ultimate separateness of Jews and non-Jews, just as the Nazis had believed.
For Zionists, anti-Semitism is an evil, but an evil that is absolute in its reality and can never be eradicated from the mentality of gentiles. As such, Jews must find a place to live that is separate and safe from the inevitable tide of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has no ultimate cure according to the ideology of Zionism: integration or assimilation are impossible. Hence many have claimed that Zionism itself is deeply racist.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975 by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution is often referenced in debates of Zionism and racism. Resolution 46/86 revoked the resolution on December 16, 1991. In the history of the UN, this is the only resolution that has ever been revoked. It was revoked as part of a deal to coax the Israelis back to the peace negotiations table.

Judaism as a faith embraces all peoples. The racist tag that Jewish people have had to wear over the past 60 years finds its origins far more in the ideology of Zionism than in the faith of Judaism which clearly reveals the Almighty’s concern for all peoples of the earth.

Rabkin, Y. (2006). A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition
to Zionism. Fernwood Publishing: Canada, Zed Books: London.
Zimmer, U. (1961). Torah-Judaism and the State of Israel. Jewish Post
Publications, London, England.

Craig Nielsen

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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May 2023