Welcoming Dr Jeff Halper to Stoke-on-Trent was daunting! Here is someone who is an academic anthropologist rooted in community action, able to bring the insights of the former to inform his understanding of the latter. Someone to look up to! Why did I worry? He was a lovely guest and easy to have about the house.
Dr Halper is on a book tour of England and Ireland. His new, War against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, seeks to answer the question “How does Israel get away with it. He sees the answer in Israel’s pre-eminence as the fourth largest arms exporter in the world and what gives Israel its edge over other arms manufacturers is that Israeli arms and surveillance equipment is tried and tested on Palestinians and it works! Governments, including our own, dictators, global corporations who wish to keep a lid on dissidents and the control of resources find a ready ally in Israel. Under the guise of the ‘war on terror’ more and more people are deemed a risk to security and there is less and less protection under the law which is steadily being eroded in the interests of public safety.
Jeff offered the story of a Palestinian family who have committed no offence but whose home has been demolished six times in the interests of ‘security.’ Israel makes out that it is the victim, not the Palestinians whose land continues to be colonised and exploited by Israel.
He reminded us that the PLO had been willing to settle for a two state solution as long ago as 1988 and that Hamas proposed a truce in 1997 with a view to an eventual Palestinian state within the pre-1967 war boundary.
Jeff has coined the slogan BDS4BDS. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for a Bi-national Democratic State. Ending the Occupation is only a first step. When Apartheid ended in South Africa the ANC had prepared a Freedom Charter. They knew what they wanted and were as ready as any group in exile to pick up the reins of government. The Palestinians have not begun to plan what comes next when the Occupation ends as it will sooner or later. Ghada Karmi’s book, The Return, illustrates this very well as she explores life in Ramallah and the West Bank and finds only petty fiefdoms, quarrelsome and competitive factions and no vision of what a two or a one-state solution might look like.
Jeff’s talk was prefaced by a viewing of My Neighbourhood which tells the story of a Palestinian teenager growing up in Sheikh Jarrar in the heart of East Jerusalem when Zionist settlers claim half his grandmother’s house and move in. It also tells of the coming of age of two Israelis, a brother and sister, who join the weekly Friday protests against house demolition and the impact on their family.
Equality Hall used to belong to the North Staffordshire Racial Equality Council. It is now a community hall for the Hanley City Centre Mosque next door. Members of the mosque were there to greet attenders and perhaps believing that home-made cakes and baklava were insufficient repast at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, produced samosas and pakoras which went down very well!
Cllr Jean Bowers, Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent welcomed Dr Halper and Jeremy Lefroy, Member of Parliament for Stafford, to Stoke-on-Trent and we were also pleased to welcome Jeremy’s wife, Janet, who is a GP in Stoke.
Before handing the platform over to Dr Halper with Jeremy Lefroy in the chair, Angela Glendenning briefly outlined the activities of Sumud Palestine and called for more people to step forward with an interest in joining the steering group.
Dr Halper’s audience were by no means solely the converted. There was some opposition to his analysis but his succinct responses were rejected.
Jeremy Lefroy was not exactly in home territory but he is keenly engaged in the Palestine Israel situation and he has visited Israel and the West Bank and is a member of the UK Parliamentary International Development Committee. I He stood his ground but it was disappointing to hear him affirm Israel as a democratic state. Jeff gave him a copy of his book and I am sure Jeremy will read it. He is too interested not to!
Peter Kent-Baguley displayed information about the newly launched Leek Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch, Jen and Daryl were there to sell Palestinian products, Patrick and Deborah Darnes to display literature from Sabeel, and the Sarah McCarthy did good trade on behalf of Babies in Bethlehem. Sumud Palestine had its usual table top exhibition.
Around 60 people attended the event. The collection for the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) was not as good as much as might have been expected but Sumud Palestine is happy to make it up to an acceptable amount.
ICAHD rebuilds house for Palestinians not as a humanitarian gesture but as a political act, often accompanied by various forms of resistance.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the event. I think it was a success but I am not really in a position to judge! I can always see room for improvement and how to do things better next time! Sumud Palestine would value your opinion so do get in touch.
In the meantime for anyone who is looking for bite-sized chunks of Jeff Halper’s wisdom, there is an introduction to this book in 2 short parts on YouTube:
Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3S_UdmHA7E (6 mins 47 secs)
Part 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxi5-dVohDc (3 mins 23 secs)
For those who may wish to delve more deeply, there is a head to head between Mehdi Hasan and Norman Finkelstein, with Jeff Halper among the contributors, (Aug 2015) on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EKAb8Rd_8E (47 mins 30 secs)
A longer 2010 interview with Jeff Halper can be found on:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVa0QbH8YcA (56 mins 45 secs)
And a film-length programme featuring Jeff Halper at his speaking engagement in Winnipeg in Feb 2015 on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z63qIOEDxeQ (1 hour 40 mins 55 secs)