This week, activists and political analysts were caught off-guard by a shocking statement made by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he labelled Palestinian demands for the dismantlement of Jewish settlements as “ethnic cleansing.” In a video released on Facebook, the prime minister said that the claims by Palestinians to the Palestinian territories that Israeli’s occupy will result in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the approximate 650 000 Zionist settlers currently occupying the lands. What many deem to be even more shocking is the fact that he was able to identify ‘ethnic cleansing’ as a violation of international law, which the state of Israel has for years been accused of violating. Commentators have now described the prime ministers assertions as a means to transform the pro-Palestinian discourse into anti-Semitic rhetoric.
To breakdown Netanyahu’s statements, VOC spoke to anthropologist, author, political activist, and former director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Dr. Jeff Halper.
Halper, who has written several books on the Israeli-Palestinian, explains that Netanyahu’s statement raises the bar on what normal means within the Israeli context.
He says that this is evident in the fact that the international community and, at least in principle, the United States have said that the settlements are illegal and that the territories needs to be returned to the Palestinians, yet Israel continues expanding its illegal settlements.
Given the construction of settlements and the vast development within settlements, Halper asserts that the international community have not been able to prevent further usurping of Palestinian lands.
“There is a huge makeshift of highways and the water and electrical system is all integrated,” he added.
Describing Israel as the only existing Apartheid state, he notes that Israeli Authorities in an effort to legitimize their occupation of Palestinian lands is attempting to position Palestinians as the intruders.
“What Israel is really saying is that this is ‘our conflict, this is our country, forget the two-state solution and the Palestinians are trying to get out of our land’. Twisting the whole thing on its head and making the Palestinians out to be the invaders and ethnic cleansers,” he said.
Halper further notes that by normalizing and rooting the concept of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Palestinian peoples, Israel is developing a discourse in which all atrocities enacted against Palestinians is seen as normal and acceptable.
“Israel is creating a unilateral, one-sided discourse, where this is our country. They don’t even use the term ‘Palestinian’ often, they say ‘Arab’. Because, to say ‘Palestinian’, it gives too much legitimacy to an entity that they do not want to recognize.”
In light of the discourse surrounding the issue of the right of the Palestinian peoples to self-determination, he says that Israel has given Palestinians one of three choices.
The first is to remain in their lands, not as Palestinians or a nation, but as “Arabs.”
The second option, Halper explains, is the fact that while Israel has imprisoned Palestinians in what remains of their lands, the occupiers have provided a “back door” exit. As a result, Israel has forced Palestinians to choose between leaving their lands and residing under unacceptable conditions.
“I think that that was the message in Operation Protective Edge, in 2014; you either submit, you get out, or you die. Then on the other hand [Israel] said to the international community: ‘you have nothing to say about it, it’s over’,” Halper stated.
Israel’s control through the sale of technology and armaments
He says that the international community’s continued support of Israel, both in providing arms and otherwise, further perpetuates the suffering of Palestinians, while granting Israel free reign to promote its interests.
“South Africa has wonderful relations with Israel, everyone is buying Israeli arms, Saudi Arabia is ready to open an embassy in Tel Aviv and Sudan is having a love affair with Israel – so Netanyahu [can] say the most outrageous things,” he added.
In light of the United States (US) announcement of a $38 Billion arm package to Israel, Halper explains that Israel will always enjoy special privileges in the arms trade with the United States.
He further notes that that Israel only has to spend 70 per cent of the credit it receives from purchasing arms in the US. The remaining 30 per cent, he asserts can be used for developing its own defence industry.
“30 per cent of a $40 billion is a good subsidy for your own industry. So from that point of view, Israel still enjoys tremendous advantages.”
Given Israeli arms development, he says that the US appears to curbing the sale of Israeli arms, since Israel is leading in the building of drones, which are preferred in the European market.
“[Zionists] say; ‘ethnic cleansing’, Palestinians have no rights, and it’s all our country, and the reaction is ‘we will give you $40 billion dollars in new arms’. So what’s the message to Israel – ‘you win’.”
Mobilizing at grassroots level
Halper asserts that while Israeli authorities continue committing atrocities against the Palestinian peoples and violating their basic human rights, at grassroots level, pro-Palestinian activism is rife.
He notes that the entire international and Israeli pro-Palestinian movement needs to mobilize in order to pressurize governments into forcing Israel to dismantle the system of occupation and provide Palestinians with the right to self-determination.
“There are literally thousands of groups that support the Palestinian cause and I think that it has achieved the prominence in the world that the anti-Apartheid cause had. But the problem we have is how to translate the support of Palestinians into government policy.”
He says that despite the fact that the international community, to a large degree, no longer accepts Israeli explanations for the occupation and the accompanying treatment of Palestinians, Israel’s position in the field of technology, particularly in the development of arms, acts in its advantage.
“The people [of a country] may not like Israel and the ministers may not like Israel, but the prime minister and the minister of defense do, because Israel makes tremendous exports into their arms, surveillance and security markets,” he stated.
He says that while no one prefers occupation, when compared to the military advantages that accompanies relations with Israel, governments often choose to ignore public opinion.