Israel Resource Review 13th April, 1999

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

View & Purchase Exquisite Judaica on the Web
Click on the above banner for more information

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 DEMOLITIONS 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 House Demolitions?

Answer: The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. And there is a reason for 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 campaign we have against the Occupation in general. But you know, the other aspects of the Occupation like settlements, bypass roads, land expropriation, uprooting of 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 people 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. We try 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 days 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 second of 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 again.

Question: What was the status of house demolitions under the governments of Rabin and Peres?

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 about 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 cantons or 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 them 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 things were going to work out. So a lot of people began to feel even though the peace 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 game 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. And we 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. All 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 can 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 then of 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 into a 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 relationship of 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 political groups.

Question: Do B'tselem and the Association for Civil Rights come to house demolition activities?

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 together.

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 want 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 rights, and were very much with you." And they do, for example, speak out and file law 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 find 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 could 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 not 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 architects 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 therefore, when Palestinians build illegally," and there are thousands building illegally, "then we have a right and responsibility to uphold the laws." But that doesn't 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 making the laws. They're not represented the Palestinians, they don't vote, there are 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 its 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. And in fact, if you go one step further, Israel is in violation of international human rights covenant. And starting with the fourth Geneva convention human rights covenant, that it has actually signed on, that guarantee a basic human right is 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 tell 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 what 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 ever 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 the game is occupation. What's really behind this legal fa?ade is politics. So if 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 jobs, 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 guy in 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 you watch what happens to him." So that it's very strong because you see that it's 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 that civil disobedience is a means of both helping the person and bringing attention 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 understand 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, but 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 situations in which civil disobedience is called for.

Question: Do you expect an escalation in the amount of civil disobedience which is now occurring?

Answer: Maybe. First of all, we're non-violent. We're a non-violent group. We're 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 house rebuildings?

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 what most of the peace movements do is they'll say we have a demonstration against a 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 why 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 weeks 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 people. And I'm very happy when people say, "Look we don't agree," or when people ask a 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 discourage 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 they'll 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 out of 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." Or 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 conclusions.

Question: Do you receive any support from American organizations?

Answer: Not really, no. We have individuals. One of the groups that works with us 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 conservative 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 you're 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 lobby, 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 congressman, a president, and ambassador, whatever, who is uncritical, who just supports the 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, it's a 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 frame it 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 really pisses her off. Every time she opens her mouth in the Middle East she mentions 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, that 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 people 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 the 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 not. 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 only 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. It's a 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?

Answer: Yeah

Question: Two questions concerning this. Which consulates, and do they come in an official manner?

Answer: Yeah, I mean they don't come to build. I don't want to be too . . . all the consulates do.

Question: American?

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 and 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 that we hear of demolitions actually happening because they happen early in the morning 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 there.

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 besides 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 take 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 six 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 building 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 Palestinians? And second of all, I don't think . . . You know, it's a declaration, I don't believe 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 thousand, 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 lacking 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 groups.

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 Conservative 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 reparations.

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 we do.

In Peace,

Jeff Halper

See previous article Successful Launching of Our Campaign Against the Perpetuation of the Occupation

Return to Contents

Al-Ahram Weekly
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 refugees."

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, UNWRA.

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 UNWRA.

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 Peter Hansen.

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 accurately.

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

Full Text:
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 Egyptians.

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.

Translations by
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

Return to Contents

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine Authority.
You can contact us on