…..so it must be true! On the Radio 4 Sunday programme on January 5th this year, Professor Alan Johnson of Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) bracketed Jeff Halper with what Prof Johnson regarded as “extremists”. In the same breath he described “a certain wildness” about the popular and successful “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival. This event, a replica Separation Wall art installation and celebratory festival in solidarity with the “Beautiful Resistance” movement of Palestinian arts and culture, took place over the Christmas season at St James’ Church, Piccadilly.
Prof Johnson shared a platform with Jeff Halper, of ICAHD, for a panel debate on the previous evening, Jan 4th, at St James Church. It was entitled “Both sides of the Barrier _ Separation or Security?” Johnson’s grounds for intimating Halper as an extremist were Halper’s assertion that the Barrier was planned for the purpose of separation, as part of the ‘matrix of control’ along with settlement blocks, settler roads and checkpoints. Johnson’s line was that the Barrier was built only for security against suicide bombers and other violent attacks on Israeli citizens and a dramatic drop in such attacks since 2003, when the Barrier construction was well under way, is the absolute justification for the Barrier, whatever its overwhelming effect on the lives of all people of the West Bank.
ICAHD UK stands with ICAHD in its advocacy for, and absolute commitment to, non-violent direct action by all parties in Israel-Palestine. This big reduction in bloodshed in this aspect of the larger theatre of the conflict is so very welcome.
But some argue, on this historic drop in lives lost, that the wall does not totally encircle the West Bank population, and has had many gaps during construction, so determined attackers have been able into Israel; that those who advocated murderous attacks decided to cease them, after the brutality of the Israeli Army incursions into West Bank towns and the months of curfews in 2002 showed what the cost of such violence was too great due to the extent of Israel’s resultant punishment of the general population.
As for Johnson’s assertion that the Barrier was built for security alone, and the festival’s replica wall “decontextualises” that, the professor is either dim or disingenuous. One look at a map illustrates why the Barrier is three times longer than the Green Line official West Bank border, and how it loops round settlements, land and water sources, so that it takes to the Israeli side 10% more of the 22% left of the original 52% of land allocated to Palestinians in the UN 1947 partition of the Palestine Mandate area. “Only 10%”, remarks the BICOM website typically in its FAQ section.
ICAHD UK would like to concur with Johnson’s intimated use of “extremist” in relation to Professor Jeff Halper, American Israeli Jew, Professor of Anthropology, co-founder and Director of ICAHD, an Israeli NGO given UN ECOSOC special consultative status. Absolutely, yes! Our Jeff Halper is an extremist, Prof Johnson! An extremist in all that is good and noble about what Judaism has bequeathed to humanity, an extremist to a degree which won him a nomination by the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) for the Nobel Peace Prize 2006.
No, unlike the approach of BICOM, Jeff says things as they are on the ground, with his knowledge as “An Israeli in Palestine”. Johnson’s comments (e.g. in image caption above) on Radio 4’s “Sunday” (to which Professor Halper was not present to respond) reflected the quality of much that is posted on the BICOM website (e.g. see www.bicom.org.uk/resources/faqs) where a decontextualised and simplistic titbit of any fact or statistic is supplied. By being given only a very small part of the complete fact on the ground described or wider historical statistics, someone who does not know the whole picture is given the impression of a benevolent occupier compromising at every turn to make the pill of their policies sweeter for those` occupied. In actual fact it is a toxically draconian pill to swallow, when those policies incessantly violate international law and any standard of human decency and dignity.
If it is extremist that those who devote a great part of their lives to defending the fundamental human rights of others, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is extremist, then, yes, we at ICAHD UK are proud to say that Jeff Halper falls into that category of extremism. He has spent a great part of his life and his good health in a long, frustrating and enervating David-and-Goliath struggle to see justice done and self-determination won for another people, occupied, oppressed and even dispossessed by his own people.
No doubt BICOM will not be admitting any suggestion of their professor’s possible dimness (above) as we have owned our Prof Halper’s extremeness!
There is something of the Old Testament prophet about Jeff, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
With his bushy beard, he is like a successor of that noble line of Old Testament Jewish prophets, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah, who thundered warnings to the Jewish people of sowing seeds of their own ultimate destruction if they turned their backs on moral decay, on the marginalised and the “aliens” in their chosen land to settle. Jeff and ever more Jewish voices are saying that social justice is at the heart of Judaism, and Israelas policies today risk tearing that heart out of Judaism and its great legacy to our whole world. See also Jewish Voice for Peace in the USA and in the UK Jews for Justice for Palestinians, plus several other groups as well as ICAHD in Israel.
Johnson’s attack on Halper brings to mind the excerpt from Revd Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was read beautifully by the actress Adjoa Andoh at the closing event of the Bethlehem Unwrapped festival. In it, below, King plays with the idea of it being not such a bad thing to be labelled as extremist. Jeff Halper is far too modest and too much a realist to see himself bracketed with Martin Luther King. But he has gone through more than most of us by his chosen journey, including days in jail, even if from the perspective of the “right” side of the fence, to understand within himself what the great man was writing about:
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos [an Old Testament Jewish prophet] an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” [From a letter by Revd M L King to fellow clergy, from Birmingham Jail, 16th April 1963]
Professor Johnson of BICOM was a signatory of a nobly intended enterprise, the Euston Manifesto, which stated:
“We reject fear of modernity, fear of freedom, irrationalism, the subordination of women; and we reaffirm the ideas that inspired the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity; human rights; the pursuit of happiness. These inspirational ideas were made the inheritance of us all by the social-democratic, egalitarian, feminist and anti-colonial transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries