Below is a piece by Susan Abulhawa about Jeff Halper. Susan is a Palestinian currently exiled in the USA and a member of the Deir Yassin Remembered Board of Advisers. Susan’s piece struck a particular resonance with me because once upon a time Jeff Halper too was on the DYR Board of Advisers. But one night in 2005 Jeff resigned and, I’m sure not at all by accident, he took most (not all!) of the Jewish members with him.
It was a major blow and a terrible night.
I picked up the publicly emailed resignation letter at about 1.30 in the morning (London time); skimmed it and then tried to sleep but I couldn’t. Resignations were flying all over the place and the time gap between London, the U.S.and Israel/|Palestine making it all the more gruelling.
Sleepless and distressed I began to think of the trip Dan McGowan and I made to Israel/Palestine in April 2004 and particularly of the times we spent with Jeff Halper.
I thought of the solidarity visit he organized to Beit Arabiya – the ‘Peace House’ – ‘once’ Salim Sharamwa’s house in the village of Anata. The original house was built by Salim, demolished by the occupation forces and then rebuilt by Halper and ICAHD. Three times they bulldozed the house and three times Halper rebuilt it. Marvelous work. But I also recall at the solidarity visit, being served Palestinian food by Salim’s silent and nameless wife.
But not a single Palestinian was in that room. Everyone – all us activists doing all that fine work – from Israel, the US and the UK– colonizers, all of us. From the young woman, once an American called Deborah now an Israeli called Dvorah, to the former North London Jew once called Ruth but now called Ruti – all the way to Dan and myself (also in our own ways colonizers), and finally to Halper himself. .
Salim’s house is no longer Salim’s house as surely as the land that Jeff Halper shows to solidarity visitors is no longer Salim’s land. As the IDF with its bulldozers has turned it into Israeli land so Jeff Halper, by his good works, has turned it into Jewish land.
At the end of his resignation letter, Jeff Halper urged us at DYR to search our souls and that in leaving the organization he would “find other ways to pursue the lessons of Deir Yassin.” It may be that, in the short term, Palestinians may be better off for Halper’s solidarity work but of one thing I am sure: It is not we at Deir Yassin Remembered who needed to search our souls for the true meaning of Deir Yassin, – it is Jeff Halper.
Now, over to Susan
Solidarity and Realpolitik: My Response to Jeff HalperBy Susan Abulhawa
I will never forget Jeff Halper’s response, which he was eager to voice even before I had finished speaking. He began with a smile, the way an adult might smile at the naive remarks of a small child. He needed to give me a lesson in reality, and proceed to tell me, in the patronizing way of someone who knows best, that my vision lacked “how shall I say it…Realpolitik”.
I did not waiver then, nor have I since, on my position that Palestinians are not a lesser species who should be required to aspire to compromised human dignity in order to accommodate someone else’s racist notions of divine entitlement.
In a recent interview on Al Jazeera’s website with Frank Barat, he did just that. He also laid out a dismal scenario for the future of Palestinians, based on what Israel is very likely plotting, namely the annexation of Area C and the pacifying of the Palestinian Authority (also likely) with economic incentives and mini Bantustans they can call a state. But he missed the mark, repeatedly, when it came to Palestinians themselves, as if he sized us all up with a glance and decided he was not impressed. Despite the burgeoning nonviolent resistance taking place all over Palestine, in various forms ranging from demonstrations, significant solidarity campaigns, hunger strikes, and more, he says that “[Palestinian] resistance is impossible” now. At best, he trivializes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is the first coordinated nonviolent movement of Palestinians inside and outside of Palestine that has also managed to inspire and capture imaginations of individuals and organizations all over the world to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Again, my lack of Realpolitik here, but to me, creating a situation where it is possible to force the implementation of human rights and restore dignity to Palestinian society is in itself an end. Jeff Halper seems unable to consider anything other than a negotiated agreement to be an end.
Then he adds:“I am trying to challenge a little bit my Palestinian counterparts. Where are you guys?”If I read this correctly (and I will grant the benefit of the doubt that it was not meant as it reads), then he clearly sees himself at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle where his Palestinians counterparts are disorganized, haphazard, or not present. He even suggests that at this crucial time, “Palestinians have to take over,” further supporting the suggestion that Palestinians are not at the helm of the resistance.
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He also asserts that importing Jews from all over the world to live in colonies built on land confiscated from private Palestinian owners is “not settler colonialism”. What is it then?But back to his strange assertion that Palestinians “should take over” (from whom?), he describes an instance where he refused to participate in the global march to Jerusalem because the Palestinian organizers (who took over?) did not want to include the world “Israel,” the name of the country that denies our very existence and seeks in every way to eradicate us. Is it that Jeff Halper wants “Palestinians to take over” as long as Palestinians do so in a way that does not offend the sensitivities of the very people deriving privilege at their expense? That is not how solidarity works.
I don’t presume to tell Israelis what they should or should not do but I would like to see Israelis concentrate on their own failures rather than ours. I would sure like to hear those who have made aliyah acknowledge that it was not their right to do so; that making aliyah is a crime against the native people who have been and continue to be forcibly expelled to make way for those making aliyah. I would like to hear an apology. The trauma that Palestinians feel is very much part of the Realpolitik and it is not unlike the trauma in the Jewish psyche. It comes from the same humiliation and anguish of not being considered fully human. Of being treated like vermin by those with the guns. If Halper truly understood that, perhaps dropping the word “Israel” – a word that hovers over the rubble of our destroyed homes and suffuses the pain at our collective core – would have been a no brainer expression of solidarity.