Jeff Halper (10 May 2019)
I am the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and after more than 20 years fighting Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes, I am witnessing one of the largest campaigns of demolitions since we started our work. In East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, throughout the West Bank (where not only homes are demolished: schools, agricultural structures, terracing and irrigation systems are targeted as well. The entire farm of my friend and comrade Atta Jaber was destroyed by the Israeli authorities recently, and Israel is drying up the fertile Baqa Valley by denying water to Palestinian farmers). Gaza, home to almost two million people, is regularly razed by Israel. And demolitions, destruction and ethnic cleansing are not confined solely to the Occupied Territory. Within the Green Line Israeli authorities systematically demolish entire Negev Bedouin communities to clear the land for Jewish settlements, and in the Galilee and the Triangle in the north homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel are being regularly attacked.
The scale of demolition makes effective protest and resistance impossible. Over more than two decades, ICAHD has led the resistance. We have stood in front of army bulldozers sent to demolish Palestinian homes, and, with the families, their neighbors and hundreds of Israeli and international activists, we have rebuilt almost 200 homes demolished by Israel. We have published reports and whole books on demolitions, participated in UN meetings on the issue, made films and toured throughout the world with families, enabling them to tell their stories. But all our work is dwarfed by the resurgence of demolitions taking place today, and I must admit to a feeling of helplessness. By our count and that of the UN, Israel has demolished some 55,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territory since 1967. Add to that the 60,000 homes destroyed in the Nakba in 1948 and in its wake, plus thousands more inside Israel until today, and the picture that emerges is one of ethnic cleansing, nothing less.
I don’t know how to react anymore. Because demolitions have gone on for so long and are so many, it is no longer an issue. We cannot get activists out to resist (who can keep up with the pace and scale?), and after all these years we cannot get the media to cover demolitions either – it is already not “news.” Demolitions is not an issue highlighted by Palestinian support groups abroad (the US Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the others), nor is it covered much by the radical media, Democracy Now, the Real News and other alternative outlets.
ICAHD has not been able to keep up. Our activists have drifted away to other, more immediate things that pop up constantly: Khan al-Ahmar, Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah, Bili’in and its decade-long war against the Wall that steals its land, the uprooting of olive orchards by settlers, outbreaks of settler violence – all important actions on their own, but ultimately reactive. We no longer have funding since donors do not invest in political organizations when there is nothing happening politically (another success Israel has had in shutting down all meaningful political support for the Palestinian cause). ICAHD has closed its office and our staff works on a voluntary basis. And our message is growing thin: indeed, how many times can you come back to an audience or write an article about the same thing?
Our response is to pull back from activism on the ground. ICAHD still rebuilds, we still visit families, we still resist whenever we can and we still speak out, but we have concluded that protest is pointless unless it is attached to a political program. We don’t want to abandon these families and the thousands more who homes will be demolished by Israel, but we have come to understand one fundamental fact: unless we join with others to formulate and effectively campaign for a political program to end Israeli rule and oppression (and I don’t mean some vague “rights-based approach” but a real political program — the establishment of a single democratic state between the River and the Sea), then our activism, outrage and protest is meaningless. Not pursuing a political program – that is truly abandoning these families to their fate.
And yet, for all the anger, frustration and even a certain feeling of helplessness in the face of the surge on home demolitions that I have communicated, I do not want to convey any sense of resignation or defeat. On the contrary. I firmly believe – and I’ve said this a thousand times – that if we stakeholders, Palestinians and their progressive Israeli allies, get behind a political program to end not only the occupation but Israeli settler colonialism over the entire country, we can prevail
I’m certain of this. Israel seems strong because there is no counterweight, military or political, to its occupation policies and it has widespread support among governments (for the good reason that it contributes measurably to their repressive military and security forces, the War Against the People). But that support is shallow. Public opinion the world over has shifted dramatically towards the Palestinian cause. Literally hundreds if not thousands of organizations, religious denominations, trade unions, activists and groups advocating for political and human rights, including Jewish organizations and young people are mobilized on this issue. (The American organization Jewish Voice for Peace, to give one example, recently issued an anti-Zionist position paper). We are not starting from scratch. A massive infrastructure of support exists already. What it is missing, however, is an endgame. What do we want? What are we BDS-ing for? As I say, “ending the occupation” is a partial goal, a slogan; it is not a political plan.
I truly believe that the core group of Palestinians and Israeli Jews who came together and formulated the political program of the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC – look up and like our Facebook page), an initiative strongly supported by ICAHD, has laid the foundations of a significant political breakthrough. The plan still needs widespread discussion and fleshing out, of course, but it does point to a political endgame, one that is a win-win for Palestinians and Israelis alike, but which leads to thorough decolonization. What we need now is a massive buy-in, from Palestinians the world over who want to go beyond protest and resistance to actual decolonization, and from Israelis who support them. If anything depresses me, it is not the difficulties of the struggle itself. We can win that. It is our inability to organize in a manner that genuinely empowers us to win. We need to focus on the endgame. We must continue doing what we’re doing – BDS, protests, lobbying, campaigning, informing, resisting, coming to Palestine in solidarity – but with one caveat: that we do is connected to a political endgame, a plan, a program, a vision, a demand. Without that we’re just spinning our wheels; with that – and I suggest we begin with the ODSC Program – I believe we can prevail.
In the meantime, we at ICAHD continue as best we can to call attention to, and resist, this tragic, cruel Israeli policy (backed by the courts) of home demolitions.