|Israel Resource Review
||13th April, 1999
the Israel Resource
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Recorded Interview with Jeff Halper, Head of the
Israel Committee for House Demolitions (ICHD)
by Allan Polak
Media analyst Allan Polak conducts recorded interview with Jeff Halper on
March 24, 1999.
(Halper, an anthropologist, is the head of the ISRAEL COMMITTEE FOR HOUSE
and a candidate to be the new director of the TOURGEMAN MUSEUM in Jerusalem)
Question: The name of the organization you head . . . it is the Israel Committee Against
Answer: The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. And there is a reason
that. If you want a deconstruction of our name. First of all, the focus of
our activities is house demolition; we're obviously against house
demolitions. But house demolitions are like a focal point in a wider
we have against the Occupation in general. But you know, the other aspects of
the Occupation like settlements, bypass roads, land expropriation,
olive trees and things like that . . . closure, they're all very abstract. House
demolitions is really a very powerful focus because it brings in stories of
people . . . you know, through its film, television, demonstrations, bringing
out to build houses, emails and so on . . . you can really help people understand
the issue by linking them directly with people that they can really see, and
they can understand and get to know. There's a whole story . . . they can follow
what happens. So house demolitions is in a way an important issue in of
itself. But it also captures both the human and wider political dimension.
We're a committee because we don't want to be just another organization.
to be lean and mean, in that we're just a few people. We're able to mobilize
hundreds of people. Something like five hundred people came for those two
that we did not last weekend, but the weekend before. And what we try to do
also is to coordinate and to network with all the other peace organizations.
Not to be in competition with anybody but to try to . . . So this campaign we had,
there were fourteen, fifteen organizations that joined in. And we're Israeli
because, first of all we're Israelis that oppose the Occupation. But
all, you know, it gives a lot of, a certain credibility to other people that
are always afraid to criticize Israel because they might be accused of being
anti-Semitic, or anti-Israel, or anti-Jewish . . . whatever. So this is a way of
letting them join the bandwagon. They can all turn around and say look, we're
just following the lead of all these Israelis. So it helps in terms of their
being able to feel free. So those are the different pieces of the name.
Question: How long has the committee existed?
Answer: The committee has been in existence now, for about two years. Ever since
Netanyahu's government started the whole process of demolishing houses
Question: What was the status of house demolitions under the governments of Rabin
Answer: Well, it was going down. In the last year that Peres was Prime Minister
there were 96 demolitions, which is still a lot. But a year later it was
it was about 233. The pressure was on again. One of things that happened was
that . . . you know, house demolitions is simply a very effective tool for creating
facts on the ground, confining Palestinians to bantistans, to little
enclaves. And so it has been used by all the Israeli governments. But when
Oslo was signed and the peace process was happening, Israel loosened up, and
towards the end of his term Peres even said there wouldn't be any more house
demolitions. And in that whole euphoria after Oslo, a lot of Palestinians
began to buy land, began to build houses, because they hadn't been able to
build all those years. Most of them understood that the land was going to be
given back to the Palestinians. The Civil Administration, it's like the
government that runs the West Bank, never really said anything, but it led
to understand also, that it was going to be okay; it's all part of the whole
peace process. And even hundreds of people began to come back from Jordan . . . a
lot of Palestinians. So that's why you had a tremendous surge in building.
There was a whole kind euphoria, a kind of optimism, an expectation that
were going to work out. So a lot of people began to feel even though the
wasn't there, they could begin to live normal lives and build houses. So what
happened is that thousands of people began to build in that context. And then
all the sudden Netanyahu got elected. And all the sudden the rules of the
changed. Now you have thousands of people that in a sense, took a chance on
peace, and they got screwed. That's one of the reasons why the issue of house
demolitions is so important. Because on the one hand it's used as a very
effective way to create a whole structure of control. On the other hand, it's
really directed against poor people, who are the people that are building
mainly. At least in the areas in Area C which Israel has control over. And
it's also in a sense a whole betrayal for them of the peace process. So for
all those reasons I think it's a very good issue.
Question: Were you involved in the formation of the committee?
Answer: I was one of the founders of it. There were a couple of other people on
the committee. I've been involved with other people for many years in the
peace movement. And in fact, to be honest, we were all coming from different
peace groups partly because we were all dissatisfied with what our own groups
were doing. A feeling that the left, the peace movement, had become very
moribund and wasn't really active in terms of what Netanyahu was doing.
got into the house demolitions because that was one of the burning issues. We
didn't really realize at that time what it was going to mean to us. It's a
whole different issue, it's a whole different thing than other peace work.
the other peace work all the groups had done these years, has been were
Israelis set the agenda. In other words, Peace Now, or any of the groups will
say, "Okay we're going to demonstrate against a settlement expansion; alright
we're going to go in two weeks. We're going to go and meet at 10:00. We'll
call some Palestinians to be there." They all get their people together, they
get their signs, they go, they demonstrate for an hour or two, they go home.
And that's it. There's no expectation on the part of the Palestinians that
they're going to do anything, that they're going to be effective, that they
deliver. There are no promises made, there's no real involvement. And at the
same time the Israelis set the time table. Now, when we got into the house
demolition thing, all the sudden it was a whole different dynamic; now you're
dealing with real people. You go to a family who's got a house demolition
order . . . you can't just say, "We're here in solidarity" and go home. The people
are saying "Why are you in my living room? What are you going to do for me?"
Even if it's not said, sometimes it is said, there is expectation. And
course the army starts to harass them. So they say, "Can you help us, can you
get us a lawyer? What can you do?" And then if the bulldozers show up in the
morning and you get a call you can't say "Well I'm busy. I have a lecture
today." You've got be there. You have to deliver. And that brought us
whole different way of working in relationship with the Palestinians than any
of the other groups have had. And at the same time what it also made us do of
course, was to work very close with the Palestinians. Because most other
Israeli groups just come in as Israeli, and again, they set the agenda. We
work with several Palestinian groups like LAW, which is a Palestinian human
rights group, and Al-Hok which is another group in Ramallah. But the main
group that we work with is called the Palestinian Land Defense Committee . . .
which is . . . there are Land Defense Committees all through the West Bank and in
East Jerusalem as well. And actually, they are really from the communist
party. The communist party has now changed its name, its now the people's
party. The communist party among the Palestinians has always been, since the
1920s at least, very strong on the ground. They're the ones that are most in
touch with the people. They're the group that really has the most, I think,
credibility among the Palestinian people. So that's the group that we work
with. So in other words, in terms of a working relationship, a
equality, being there, having to deliver, and so on, our group has had a
completely different history to it than any of the other groups.
Question: There are fourteen other organizations affiliated with ICAHD?
Answer: Yeah, that we can mobilize. There's others that we can get out as well.
Those are all peace groups, some of which are on paper , some of which are a
little more alive. A lot of them don't really have an agenda or don't know
what to do. We're like the avant guard, we're the force that gets them out
there and so on. There's other groups that also support us, like B'tselem,
which is the Israeli human rights organization, or the Association for Civil
Rights in Israel which is a legal human rights organization. They support us
but because they are human rights organizations, they are not political, they
don't come in. There are religious organizations which support us. For
example, different Jewish religious groups support us. Or let's say the CPT,
the Christian Peacemaker Teams. But you know, there's a lot of groups that
support us that can't come out and join the list because they are not Israeli
Question: Do B'tselem and the Association for Civil Rights come to house demolition
Answer: They come to demolitions; they help us prepare law suits against the
government or the Civil Administration. They help us with press conferences,
we share information with each other. There's a lot of ways that we work
Question: You mentioned groups which support ICAHD but "haven't signed on". Could
you name these groups?
Answer: Any group basically that supports us in different ways, but it doesn't
to be identified as a political group. For example the Association for Civil
Rights in Israel. It's also Amnesty is like that. In other words, you've got
to work with the government. You've got to work with the courts. You don't
want to be so identified with any particular group that you lose your
effectiveness. And so they say, "Look, were for human rights, or civil
and were very much with you." And they do, for example, speak out and file
suits. It's not that they're hiding who they are. But they don't want to be
put in the category of "Okay, that's the political organization and that's
where they are," because they have other issues. They deal with issues of
foreign workers, issues of women . . . they deal with all kinds of different
things. So they don't want to be just identified with one particular issue.
Question: Could you name one of these groups?
Answer: Besides B'tselem, you have.. there's a group called Hamoked, which is also
a legal based civil rights organization. Then you've got political parties . . .
Meretz party, their lawyers are at our disposal, they finance things, we use
their office. But as a political party . . . and you know, it's mutual as well, we
don't want to be identified with them and they don't want to be just with us
because they also have a wider constituency. And we try to lobby very much
with Knesset members for example, of all the parties. Because you can deal
with the issue of house demolitions like I do mainly in a very political way . . .
But there is also a human dimension to it. So that in some ways there is no
reason why a Knesset member on the right or a very religious Knesset member
shouldn't be opposed to house demolitions, just on a human level. What we
is that the Israeli public just isn't very aware of it. Our success has been
that we have succeeded in the last year or so in really turning house
demolitions into an issue where it wasn't an issue before. It was on the news
once in awhile but nobody cared, nobody cared, nobody paid attention. It
have been a famine in Uganda, Rwanda . . . it could have been something that
happened in Thailand. But now people are paying attention. For example, we
were on a talk show, a popular political talk show. You see, what we managed
to do with this program, this talk show, was that we managed to break out of
the news. We've gotten good press coverage in terms of what we do newsy. But
this was all of the sudden . . . you get into a popular entertainment thing. There
you're with settlers, you're having an argument, people are watching. It's
Ricky Lake exactly, but it's a Larry King type of thing. So there . . . now what's
happening I think, is that we're managing to get the issue out into the public
domain where people are talking about it. Not just another news story that
flashes by. That's, I think, a significant thing, if we can push that. We
were on, not myself, from one of the organizations, was on the early morning
talk show. I was just interviewed on Los Angeles radio show the other day.
Question: What, do you believe, is the Israeli justification of house demolitions?
Answer: The justification is that houses are illegal because there is a planning
process. The Civil Administration has a department of planning with
and urban planners, and so on. And they've got new laws and regulations and
there's zoning. And they would say "Look, in every country you have laws of
zoning, you can't build wherever you want to build and we do to. And
when Palestinians build illegally," and there are thousands building
"then we have a right and responsibility to uphold the laws." But that
hold water if you look at where the basis of the law is. In other countries
you have the law . . . first of all, in Western countries at least, you have laws
that are made by parliament or congress, people make the laws. It's not a
military government. If you have an occupation you don't have no say in
the laws. They're not represented the Palestinians, they don't vote, there
no planning committees. In 1976 there was a term the Israeli government liked
to used, `enlightened occupation". So in 1976, they allowed the Palestinians
to hold municipal elections on the West Bank. And they voted PLO . . . so the next
year Israel came in and nullified the elections and fired all the mayors, and
since then there are no mayors of cities. And in '77 the mayors are
dismissed. So in other words, since 1977 there is no legal mechanism in which
Palestinians can influence planning or anything in law. So what happened, is
that law, is used in a very cynical way. There are three parts of the law.
One is the law itself. But the law doesn't stand by itself because anyone can
make a law; the Nazis made laws, the South Africans made laws. There are a
lot of unjust laws. There are two other components that are essential. One,
that the law has to be connected to justice; it's not a law that is made
arbitrarily to serve one community and has no justice. An unjust law is a law
that should be opposed. And that's what civil disobedience is about. And the
other part of it is democracy, that laws reflect the will of the people. So,
if you have a situation in which one population is cut out of the democratic
process and has no part in making the laws, then the law is like a stool
missing two of the legs; justice is missing and democracy is missing. All
you're left with is a law made by a military government . . . really a dictatorship
on the West Bank whose purpose is occupation . . . is not to give any rights. The
problem is that people don't dig into that very much. The minute they hear
illegal "alright its illegal" and that's it, that stops the discussion. What
we're trying to do is get the people to understand what legality means.
fact, if you go one step further, Israel is in violation of international
rights covenant. And starting with the fourth Geneva convention human rights
covenant, that it has actually signed on, that guarantee a basic human
a right to shelter. Every occupying power has a responsibility to ensure the
welfare of the civilian population. The way Israel gets around that, and that
it doesn't see those human rights covenants applying to it, is that it says
it's not an occupying power, to be an occupying power you have to occupy
another country, and there never was another country on the West Bank, is what
they would say. Before that there was Jordan, before that it was British
Mandate, and before that it was Ottoman Empire. So it's a technicality. No
country in the world accepts their legal line, but that's the legal basis on
which Israel justifies its . . . that it's not an occupying power, that it's simply
administrating. For example, it's never called occupied, it's called
administrated . . . Israel saying we're administrating it, which we should do. We
respect the Jordanian law that was there, even though there's more than a
thousand military laws and therefore, we're being responsible not oppressive.
Question: What do you feel is more important, going to the courts or to the streets?
Answer: They're both important. We go to the courts all the time. There's never
been a case though, in which a Palestinian has won in terms of house
demolition, even at the supreme court. Do you know Kafka? The writer? I
don't know if you've ever read the "Trial". In the trial a man wakes up one
morning and he's arrested and goes through the whole trial. In other words,
what Israel has set up . . . because legal is very important for Israel . . . it has to
give some pretext. It can't come out and say "We're oppressing the
Palestinians". Its got to give a legal kind of a thing. That was very
important for South Africa too by the way. And it was very important for the
Nazis, that everything went through a parliament and so on. So that what you
have is a whole system . . . in a real system that has good faith, where the
procedures and laws and zoning are all coming from real considerations and
coming from the people, coming from democracy, you've got a thing where you go
to the city hall. There's an office that says its for housing permits, and
that you go in good faith, and you say ok there's rules and regulations and
zoning, and I can't do whatever I want to do. I have to understand. They
me I've got to do this, and I do this. But eventually this system is built
that you get a housing permit. You might not be able to build the ten stories
you thought of building, or bright orange, or whatever, there are certain
zoning laws. But there's a rationale. There's a justice, there's a system
that makes sense and the laws were made by the people basically, so you say,
"Ok, I accept that framework and I'm willing to work within it." And then
the system says is, "Ok," and in the end you get a building permit. Here you
got a whole different situation where you have the same window, it says
building permits, and you've got a clerk and you've got forms and you've got
procedures and you've got allocation fees and there's a whole thing. But the
whole system is built to frustrate, to not to give you a building permit . . . you
see, that's the whole point of it. But you have to do it because if you don't
play the game then your house is illegal and they'll come for sure. Now, what
they do, is they let a certain number of people through, because if nobody
gets a building permit than people just say, "Fuck it, I'm not going to play
this game." But you give some, so that you never know if you're going to be
the one that gets the permit or not. So that sucks you into the system. But
the entire system is structured in a way . . . its not the good faith thing, it
doesn't give you the permit. Because its not a real thing, its really an
occupation. The clerk that is taking your form is wearing a uniform. So what
happens is that you have the fa?ade of a legal system. Now, what we do of
course, is we also play with that because it has a power. So we go to the
courts. Once in awhile you get a judge, you get a case where you get a delay
or you get an injunction or something happens. We do that. We always say the
law is very important, but we just don't have a real legal system on the West
Bank. But at the same time you can't stop at that because the real name of
game is occupation. What's really behind this legal fa?ade is politics.
you just stop at the legal system assuming, like you would assume in another
country, that the court system and laws are there to serve you as a citizen . . .
well the people on the West Bank aren't citizens. It's not their legal system,
they don't haven't anything you see. And the whole basis of it is again
occupation. So you can't just stop at the laws because that's not what's
really happening, so you've got to be out on the streets. And one of our
and this is where house demolitions is so powerful, is to expose this
dishonesty. To expose the fraud of what's being presented as a legal system
and really isn't a legal system, and people see it. And that's the power of
what we do . . . because I don't have to convince you. I just say, "Here's a
Anota, here's Salim Shawarmre, you follow him, I'm not going to say a word,
here he is, you follow what happens to him. He's going to go and apply and
watch what happens to him." So that it's very strong because you see that
unjust. This guy just wants a house and they're coming in and bulldozing for
no reason. He applies for permits and they give him a thousand different
answers. The last thing we heard, about six months ago, it was in the
newspaper, was that he was missing two signatures. So we've been trying to
trying for six months now to get the two signatures and now they lost the
file. You see, in other words, the system can't function the way it should,
and if you can just show people that its not functioning then the emperor all
the sudden is naked.
Question: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems that you believe
civil disobedience is a means of both helping the person and bringing
to an issue.
Answer: Yes, that's right. And it's true everywhere. It's also true in
democratic countries. That sometimes the majority can be very oppressive.
Civil disobedience is always an option. Civil disobedience doesn't say we
don't respect the law, or that we're against the law, or that we have our own
laws or whatever. Civil disobedience means that we accept there's a legal
framework. We accept the laws, now we're choosing to disobey the laws because
we feel they're unjust. But we pay the price if the police come; we
we may be arrested. The point isn't to break the law, to get away with it.
It's not like I'm robbing crabapples off the neighbors tree and I sneak away.
The whole point is that you break the law in the open and you have the system
arrest you for doing . . . And the whole point is that in that way you're
confronting the system. And you're not undermining the laws but you're
challenging unjust laws. It happens in the States for example, with
environmental things for example. Where a law is made in a state because you
have very powerful lobbies, you've got some coal lobby or some lumber lobby
that wants to cut down all the redwood trees. And you say it's unjust because
this is one group that has managed to have legislation that is good for it,
it screws everyone else. And so in civil disobedience you don't allow them to
cut the trees down. You're not saying we don't recognize those laws, what
you're saying is we want those laws changed because they're unjust. Here it's
more up in your face, the whole thing, but in every country you have
in which civil disobedience is called for.
Question: Do you expect an escalation in the amount of civil disobedience which is
Answer: Maybe. First of all, we're non-violent. We're a non-violent group.
not taking up arms or anything. We're non-violent. But we've been in battles
with the army. It doesn't happen often but we're certainly in favor of
confrontation. We stand in front of bulldozers, we push their guns away if we
can. We lob hand-grenades back at them when they throw hand-grenades at us . . .
percussion grenades. We confront and we fight. But we fight in a non-violent
way. In other words, we don't go attack the army, but we try to paralyze the
army. We try to stop it by sitting down, or not obeying orders, or by getting
in their way. Now hopefully . . . I mean, it would be great if there was a whole
civil rebellion. I'd love to have a hundred thousand Israelis get up and say,
"Hey, stop this we're not going to let you demolish houses and we're going to
march on the Civil Administration and throw all their computers out the
window." That would be great; it's not going to happen, but I would love to
see an escalation like that.
Question: Do you feel that the people involved in ICAHD activities should have an
understanding of the basic issues before participating in actions such as
Answer: First of all, on the surface of it, if something is unjust you can find
it. It's not very hard to see why house demolitions are unjust. But if you
develop an analysis of why it is unjust, then what can you do, you can be more
effective in stopping it. If you've noticed from what I send out . . . you see
most of the peace movements do is they'll say we have a demonstration
settlement on Saturday at 10:00 at the park and they go. What I try to do is,
I always try to have a part that's background. And I've gotten a lot of
criticism from Israelis that say . . . I used to put it up front and they say,
"Don't do that, just tell us where to go." But I do it anyway. And I've
gotten a lot of feedback from people who say they appreciate that. Because
are they demolishing this house, why this particular village, why now, what's
going on? I really try with everything we do to have a background . . . so that
it's not only in terms of that problem, but if you keep reading over the
and months you begin to put together a picture of what's going on. Or for
example, this campaign that we had, we really set out in all the literature
what the components were. It's very academic, it's very Friends Worldy in a
way. Because the idea is to inform action with knowledge and with context,
context is very important. And you try to give enough information for
And I'm very happy when people say, "Look we don't agree," or when people
question and they wan to understand it, that's good. So that's another way in
which we're different from the other groups; we really try to explain, because
it's very complicated what's going on. It's not an easy thing.
Question: Would discourage a person from attending an activity if they had no
knowledge of the situation?
Answer: No. It's an experience, everything's an experience. I wouldn't
them from going and visiting the settlers in Hebron either. There's only one
way to learn and that's to go out and experience. What you hope is that, that
will be an opening, raise a lot of questions, raise a lot of issues and
go on and try to figure out what's going on. That's in a sense what we do.
That's exactly what we do and I'll tell you why; because Israelis don't know
what's going on. So one way to raise consciousness is to get an Israeli
Tel-Aviv, who's never been out of Tel-Aviv, you get him to go to the West Bank
where he's afraid to go, he'd never go to an Arab village on the West Bank.
You go out and you have him meet some Palestinians and meet the wives and the
kids and we build and we eat and we talk. What it does is it gives an
opening. You can do with that whatever you want to do, you can go on or you
can say, "Ok, I did my thing and now I feel good and I'm going to go home."
you can say, "I think its terrible what these guys did." We don't oppose
anything. That's really what experiential learning means. You structure
learning situations for people. You help empower them by giving them
information. By structuring interaction, by raising an issue. And then it's
up to them. They have to be the active partner and draw their own
Question: Do you receive any support from American organizations?
Answer: Not really, no. We have individuals. One of the groups that works
is Rabbis for Human Rights. There's Rabbis that are very supportive. There
are certain Jewish social action groups like there's Jewish groups on college
campuses for example, that work with us that pass our messages around, that
have demonstrations there and so on. The Jewish community is very
when it comes to Israel. One of the things we're working on is to try to open
a dialogue. We've worked for example, I've written for . . . we have a lot of
support from Tikun magazine. You know Tikun? That's a very liberal
intellectual sort of . . . a very influential Jewish magazine that I write for, and
they help us as well. But you know, it's true in general. First of all, this
is the `90s, as people keep reminding me, fortunately we're almost out of the
`90s. So in general everybody is conservative and politics are backburner
stuff. And in general if you talk about Israel to Jews you get all this
emotional stuff. And I think people are getting more critical. Certainly
Netanyahu helps. But on the other hand I'm Israeli, we're Israelis, and we're
not anti-Israeli, we're Israelis. And that's our message really. We're not
doing this only for the Palestinians. We're doing this for the Palestinians
from the point of view that they're living in an unjust situation, occupation,
and we have a moral responsibility to do something. Just as much, we're doing
this for ourselves because you can't develop a normal healthy country if
occupying somebody else. It makes your own democracy a sham and it brutalizes
your own kids. All these kids who go to the army, and what are they doing in
the army, they're going and knocking down Salim Shaarmwe's house at 5:00 in
the morning and throwing his kids out . . . that's what are kids are doing in the
army? It's terrible. We realize that in order to live in this part of the
world and have a normal flourishing society we've got to have peace. So this
is really pro-Israel, but it's saying that Israel's interests are very
different from what a lot of American Jews and a lot of Christians, a lot of
fundamentalist Christians . . . . you know they really talk about the Jewish
but Falwell and the fundamentalist lobby, the Christian lobby, is much more
influential. Most of the senators and congressman that are really supporting
the right come from Kansas, Utah, they don't come from places that have big
Jewish populations. So we're trying to change those frames of reference.
Because there's a whole concept of a `Friend of Israel'. And a `Friend of
Israel' has always been defined by the government as a senator, a
a president, and ambassador, whatever, who is uncritical, who just supports
government blindly, and usually with a right wing twist to it. And what we're
saying is, if you want to be a real friend of Israel be critical, support the
forces of peace. It's a real country and it needs peace. We're saying now . . .
how you can be pro-Israel and against the government and fight the army,
whole process, those are the kinds of jumps that are sometimes hard for people
to follow. Tikun magazine has a whole campaign now, we helped them to
with the words. To try to sign thousands of American Jews on a statement
saying we welcome the establishment of a Palestinian state that lives in peace
with Israel. American Jews . . . they're not Israeli, its not they're government
and so on. But in terms of being Jewish- Americans and so on, they have to
find their own ways to express what's happening. Just like an American would
speak out against Tibet. So there's a degree of being closer to Israel,
further from Israel . . . but in a way, you can speak out, but you don't speak out
in the same way we do. We have a lot of support from the European community.
That's another whole organization I didn't mention. The European community.
As a matter of fact we're supposed to be getting about 150,000 dollars from
them for our activities. The problem is there's a big scandal, if you read
about it in the last week or so. The whole European commission resigned . . . I
don't know when that's going to come thorough, but they're very supportive.
The consuls, the embassy staffs, are very supportive, they even come to
demolitions. The American consulate is very supportive. I would say in her
own way Madeline Albright is very . . . the whole issue of house demolitions
pisses her off. Every time she opens her mouth in the Middle East she
house demolitions. Clinton talked about it in Gaza. He mentioned house
demolitions explicitly. So its ramifying. It's an issue they might not have
talked about a year ago. So you have that support. We have support of all
kinds of people on our email networks all over the world that demonstrate,
write letters, that send us donations and stuff. We've got one Israeli guy
whose our angel in our sense. He wouldn't want me to . . . he's Annie Lennox's
husband. You know Annie Lennox? She's married to an Israeli. And he's very
moved by this whole thing and he sends us a lot of money. Because of him in a
sense . . . we get money from other sources, from donations, I just got a thousand
dollar check in the mail from some guy . . . but he really in a sense has
bankrolled us. He's allowed us to do a lot of this stuff. Because you know,
building a house, its also expensive what we do. It's not like going out and
holding up a sign . . . you know you go out and build a house . . . we build three houses
in one day, each of those houses is four thousand, five thousand dollars and
then they are knocked down. In other words, what I am saying is, that the
press has been very supportive . . . but I think the Israeli public . . . a lot of
have been drawn into this especially by the human contact. So, you know that
I'd say that we touched a nerve. Whether it is political or more human based,
or whatever, we touched a nerve and a lot of people have responded and it has
very much upset the right wing . . . you know more than others because we . . . you see
right wing in Israel whether it's religious or secular the basis of it's
strength . . . it's high moral ground . . . to hear Netanyahu say that we want to make
peace with the Palestinians, we need reciprocity, we're doing and they're
That self righteousness is a very important part in the whole legal system of,
"We are the only democracy . . . there are terrorists and all that." We are the
group that is piercing that fa?ade and saying wait a minute, you know . . . state
terrorism is worse that . . . I mean yeah, it's terrible and it's true you have a
guy that gets on a bus and blows up a bus and thirty people are killed.
terrible thing, but if you look and accumulate what Israel has done over the
past thirty years . . . I mean six thousand houses have been demolished . . . I mean six
thousand families that don't have houses . . . what's that? That's not the
equivalent of a bus. It's a different kind of a thing, but state terrorism is
a form of terrorism too. That really, that just drives them out of their mind
because . . . the whole thing that Clinton said in Gaza was that . . . you couldn't
believe the Israeli action. When he said Israelis do not have a monopoly
over, over being victims and suffering and so on, and having a portion of the
blame. That they brought this little girl, and this girl has a right to see
her father . . . Palestinians . . . that was . . . you wouldn't believe the rage that was in the
right wing in Israel because that's the whole point because, "We are right and
we are good," so on, "and they're the bad guys." I think what our campaign is
doing is piercing that, and that's where it's really effective.
Question: I want to jump back to something quickly, you said that some consulate
members come to the demolitions?
Question: Two questions concerning this. Which consulates, and do they come in an
Answer: Yeah, I mean they don't come to build. I don't want to be too . . . all the
Answer: The American, she wanted to come, but she didn't get permission.
Question: Who was this?
Answer: A woman named Adrian, who is the . . . she is the woman in the American Consulate
who is responsible for monitoring what goes on. I tell you, the Europeans are
freer, for two reasons, than the Americans. One is that they are not
pretending to be honest brokers. The States is trying to be an honest broker
somehow, and so if the American Embassy people or the consulate people go out
and identify too closely with what's happening, that doesn't serve their
political functions. And beyond that . . . you know, the United States is trying
to, has a pro-Israel constituency, Jews and Christians and all that stuff.
Europeans are much freer because Europeans don't pretend to be neutral.
Europeans are really pissed off at Israel. I mean they're supportive . . . I mean
Israel gets a lot of money from Europe and favored status in trade and all
kinds of things. It's not that they're anti-Israel, but they're much freer,
just pissed off . . . they're really pissed off at Israel. And they're critical
they come to demolitions, they don't build, but they're there. And actually,
the European community, we have a thing that every time . . . it's not often
hear of demolitions actually happening because they happen early in the
and they're scattered and it's, it's very hard to get there. But they say,
anytime you hear of a demolition that's going to happen, call us and we'll be
Question: Exactly which European consulates are you referring to?
Answer: All of them . . . including not just Europeans; Australians, South Africans.
South Africans have been very good . . . some of the Latin American countries. I
mean it's uh, you know, nobody supports it, nobody supports it, except our
famous joke here. You know the one country that always supports Israel
the States? Micronesia. There was one vote of censuring Israel that the
United States and Micronesia and Israel voted against.
Question: Where is Micronesia?
Answer: Exactly! So everybody said, who and where, where the fuck is Micronesia?
It was a whole thing . . . it was so funny, a couple years ago when this happened.
And they sent a couple a couple of Israeli journalists to go find Micronesia.
And they found a bunch of scattered atolls in the middle of the Pacific. In
Micronesia there's no newspaper, there's no newspaper there. And so, finally
the Israelis found it and they asked the Micronesians,"Why, why?" And they
said, because our . . . a hundred percent of our national budget comes from the
United States; so whatever the United States says, we do. Now there's a whole
thing . . . they have a satirical show on T.V., I don't know if you've ever seen it,
with the puppets. Its like the British splitting image program. And at
different times there's a little figure that's about this tall, who's a
Micronesian. Sometimes they'll have Sharon on . . . you know, as the puppet of
Sharon as giving a talk to the foreign minister. And this little tiny voice
comes out, little tiny Micronesian, "I'm for you guys," and he runs across the
screen, this little tiny . . . he's like a microguy. And Israel's become a joke . . .
Micronesia. But except for Micronesia, you know, no embassy is here of any
country, except Elsalvador and Costa Rica, in Jerusalem. Everyone else is in
Tel Aviv, here there's just consulates.
Question: Please explain the figure of 6,000 destroyed houses?
Answer: What we do, the way you usually do it because there's no figures really, I
mean in terms of how many people. You assume the Palestinians . . . most
Palestinian families, if you go in, have eight, nine, ten kids, the parents,
the grandparents, you know, a lot of them are fourteen, fifteen people in a
family. On the other hand, some of the buildings that are demolished, people
haven't moved in yet, or they're shells of buildings . . . So what we do, is we
a figure of five, which is much lower than the average family, but it takes
into account that not all the buildings . . . So we figure there's five . . . there's
thousand houses and other structures that have been demolished since '67. And
you multiply by five, which is fair, it might even be low, but its, it's fair,
it's reasonable. You know, you get to thirty thousand people.
Question: The mayor of Jerusalem is planning on building 15,000 houses in East
Jerusalem, where you aware of this?
Answer: Not for Palestinian. It depends on what East Jerusalem is. Ras-Alamoud,
the Moslem Quarter, and Har-Choma; all those places are East Jerusalem. I
don't know what he means, if he means for Palestinians, or if he means
for Jews in East Jerusalem. If they built for Palestinians . . . I mean, it would
be great, that's what they announced when the Har-Choma project was on, that
they were going to build five thousand homes, but I would doubt it. First of
all who's going to give him the money to do it, who's going to give him the
money? The government's going to give money to build houses for
And second of all, I don't think . . . You know, it's a declaration, I don't
it would ever happen. Besides which, it' too low. Jerusalem, even the city
itself says, that the Arab sector of Jerusalem is lacking twenty-five thousand
houses. You know, there's no building for thirty years. Twenty five
they're lacking, alright, now ten thousand that exist, are defined by the city
as illegal. You know, it's illegal building. So in other words they're
thirty five thousand places that are legal or don't exist. So, even if they
build fifteen thousand it's a drop in the bucket. Between the declaration and
the actual product is a big . . . there's years and uh, it doesn't happen.
Question: Earlier, you mentioned David Rosen. What is his involvement?
Answer: David, what does David do, he has an institute or something, he was the
chief rabbi of Ireland once. He, uh, I don't think he works for an
organization, I think he runs a . . . I'm not sure exactly, I know him pretty well,
I think he runs some religious organization, study center, or something like
that. He's also, he's not American, so he's not with one of the American
Question: What kind of assistance has he been able to provide?
Answer: No, David's not so . . . David's not very active, it's more . . . He might have
come to one of our activities, but um, he's not one of the active . . . . We have a
whole group, we have two religious groups, Jewish religious groups active with
us. One is Rabbis for Human Rights. The other one is a group called N'tivot
Shalom which is much more orthodox. The Rabbis is more Reform and
Jews. N'tivot Shalom is more orthodox, but they're involved. N'tivot Shalom
means the pathways of peace. That's one of the groups that's on the lists. I
don't know if David is really a member of any of those groups, so much. His
participation was more individual with us.
Question: What are the long term goals of ICAHD?
Answer: I think there's three goals that I see. Not everybody . . .
you know I tend to
look, to see bigger than a lot of other people. Some people would say save
Salim's house, hah, hah. I think there's three things. One is to end the
Occupation. The second is to work for reconciliation between Israelis and
Palestinians, and the other is to provide Palestinians with economic
End of Transcription
As I exited Halper's home I posed one final question. If there is to be an
armed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians where would Mr.
Halper find himself standing. "I would stand with the
Palestinians," answered Halper, "not necessarily on the battle
field but I would support them." "Would you encourage others to
do so?" I asked. Halper replied yes, citing the "unjust policies
of the Israeli regime".
I have enclosed a full transcription of an interview
conducted with Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions and recently appointed director of the Tourgeman Museum.
Mr. Halper contacted me by phone requesting that he be allowed to publish a
comment in the same newsletter that I distribute his interview; I have
consented to his request.
Halper's letter appears below.
As I told you on the phone, I was extremely upset -- angry? betrayed? used?
-- to find the entire conversation we reported verbatim over the Internet.
Not that I don't stand behind everything I said, or that I didn't know that
you might use the material (although I did think it was a more academic talk
than a journalistic interview), but that you weren't up-front about who you
were, what your agenda was and HOW you would use the material -- and you
didn't give me a chance even to look over the transcript and "clean it up."
We use language on tape that we don't use in written formats, and some of
the material -- in particular about our funders -- I would have left out.
Or more accurately, I would have answered if you had asked me but would have
left some personal meterial out.
I understand that you feel you got a "scoop" -- someone very candid about a
highly controversial issue and activity, and I now understand where you were
coming from politically and why you were digging so much about our sources
of support and funding . . . But use of that material in its raw form without
even extending me the courtesy of reviewing it is, in my view, unethical
and dishonest . . . I don't know what your agenda is, but its unethical and
dishonest in both journalistic and personal senses. I have been
interviewed by hundreds of
journalists and others and I have spoken to them as candidly as I did to you
because I operate out of a basic trust of the other person. This is the
first time I've been "stung" . . .
I ask you, then, to place these comments on the same e-mail/Internet forum
where my interview appeared -- and I would like to get copies. If you use
the material again I ask that you remove all names and references of donors.
I stand behind everything I said, but I regret it if I compromised people or
organizations through my wanting to help you understand who we are and what
See previous article Successful Launching of
Our Campaign Against the Perpetuation of the Occupation
Return to Contents
1st-7th April, 1999
Corruption Cover-Up in UNWRA?
by Zeina Khodr
"An UNWRA report proves that some officials have been mishandling
funds. But, as Zeina Khdor reports from Beirut, Palestinian officials are
worried that delays in tackling the scandal could have adverse effects on
The Palestinian Popular Committee at the Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp in the
southern city of Sidon has for years been complaining about corruption and
mismanagement within the administration of the UN Relief and Works Agency,
But the relevant authorities only began to take their allegations seriously
last November when the director general of UNWRA in Lebanon, Wolfgang Plaza,
vowed to uncover the "truth". Plaza had urged the UN to launch a thorough
investigation into reported acts of embezzlement and squandering of funds at
A few days later, Plaza was forced to relocate to Brussels. He said he was
"summarily dismissed" because he did not meet deadlines to reply to requests
by UNWRA for information about the corruption allegations he had made.
Palestinian sources said Plaza was given an "administrative holiday" to
prevent him from uncovering a scandal at the agency.
Two investigations were launched in December 1998: one ordered by UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the other by UNWRA's Commissioner General
Upon the request of the German government, UNWRA officials in Gaza
investigated three German-funded projects in Lebanon.
The final report charged that senior UN officials changed the terms and
conditions for a tender to build a school. By doing so, the contract was won
by an under-qualified construction company.
"The final report admits clearly that there was corruption and mismanagement
at all managerial levels in the Lebanon office and the UNWRA headquarters in
Gaza," Ghazi Al-Assadi, another member of the Palestinian Popular Committee
at Ain Al-Helweh, told Al-Ahram Weekly . . . . . ". . . so far,
no action has been taken," Al-Assadi said. "We demand the commissioner
general and the director
of UN affairs in Lebanon take immediate disciplinary action," he said.
It is believed that measures will not be taken until a report by an
international investigating team from New York is made public. But the
Palestinian committee is worried that the delay in releasing that report may
be an excuse to cover up the charges.
"The team left Beirut six weeks ago. They were supposed to present their
report three weeks ago," Al-Assadi said.
The Weekly contacted the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services in New
York to find out what had happened to the report, but there was no one
available at the office.
Furthermore, the Palestinian committee has criticised what it sees as the
failure of the Gaza report to assess work carried out in one of the camps
Projects have now been put on hold, following reports of corruption that
made donor nations question how their money was being spent . . . .
Palestinian officials say the refugees will lose out further
if there are any more delays in tackling the corruption scandal.
"The money sent by international donors for the Palestinian people is not
reaching them and this cannot be allowed to continue," Makdah said.
The Root of the Evil
Ever since Mr Netanyahu came to power in Israel, I have been following
the strange way he has been conducting Israeli policies towards the Arabs
with great apprehension and disappointment, undoubtedly like many other
I cannot help wondering just how valid today is what Sir John Nicholls,
British ambassador to Tel Aviv from 1954 onwards, said after a few months at
his post: "The centre of infection in the region is Israel and I believe
that we must treat the Israelis as a sick people." The quotation is from
Keith Kyle's admirable book: Suez, 1991, p.67, published by Mamdouh
El-Dakhakhni in Alexandria, Egypt.
Dr. Joseph Lerner,
Co-Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O.BOX 982 Kfar Sava
Tel: (+972-9) 760-4719
Fax: (+972-9) 741-1645
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