Jeff Halper’s Obstacles to Peace

Against the Current, No. 120, January/February 2006

David Finkel

Obstacles to Peace
A Critical Re-framing of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
By Jeff Halper
maps prepared and designed by Michael Younan.
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), PalMap (Palestine Mapping Centre).
Third edition April 2005.
128 pp (large format). For ordering information (USA) contact:

“THE OCCUPATION CHALLENGES us all… Can a system of control, displacement, denial of fundamental rights and repression actually prevail? What does it mean if we are unable to end an occupation that is growing continually stronger by the day, before our very eyes, in defiance of international law and more than 200 UN resolutions? If occupation and repression actually defeat a people’s aspirations for freedom and fundamental human rights, then what are the implications for oppressed peoples in other parts of the world far from public attention?” (Foreword, iv)

OBSTACLES TO PEACE is a resource manual, an illustrated chronicle of struggle and an appeal to the international “civil society” to support “the joint efforts of Israelis and Palestinians seeking a just peace in the Middle East.”

The author, Jeff Halper, has presented guided tours of the Occupied Territories, particularly the ever-expanding area of “Metropolitan Jerusalem,” over the course of many years for visiting journalists, diplomats and students. The present book, after introducing the reader to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), proceeds through concise chapters on the context of the conflict, the “generous offer” of Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2001, the U.S. “road map,” Sharon’s “unilateral solution,” the emerging Bantustan scenario, the issue of terrorism and potential ways out of the conflict.

More than a dozen full-color maps trace the territorial changes, from the 1947 United Nations partition plan to the present realities of the carveup of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Among the most important chapters is “The Matrix of Control,” a concept Halper has developed to show how successive Israeli governments have sought not only to consolidate the occupation, but to make it seem so normal and inevitable that it “disappears” from Israeli and international consciousness.

This is accomplished through a multiplicity of military controls and strikes; creating “facts on the ground,” from settlements and the carveup of the Occupied Territories to the Wall;  and most insidiously, “Bureaucracy, planning and law as tools of occupation and control.”

It’s the bureaucracy of Occupation that makes Palestinian daily life unbearable, makes home construction “illegal” and therefore always subject to demolition, destroys economic activity and promotes population “transfer,” a generally unreported but devastating form of ethnic cleansing.

Every aspect of these policies could be explored at book length, but the essential facts are presented here in a concise and digestible package. The following chapter, “Barak’s ‘Generous Offer,’” demonstrates how the offers made at Camp David and Taba (technically in the latter case there was no offer at all, since Barak authorized no formal negotiation there) did not propose to dismantle, but would actually consolidate, that Matrix of Control.”

Addressing the myth that Barak offered 95% of the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state, Halper compares it to the blueprint for prison control:

‘(The prisoners) have 95% of the territory: the living areas, the work areas, the exercise yard, the visiting area. All the prison authorities have is 5%: the prison walls, the cell bars, the keys to the doors, some glass partitions. The prison authorities do not have to control 20-30% of the territory in order to control the inmates. Similarly, Israel needs only a few control points taking a limited amount of territory to completely neutralize a Palestinian state. (28)

The final chapter, “So What Should We Do?” is particularly relevant for activists looking for vehicles for meaningful action. It poses a way for “international civil society” to reframe the conflict in terms of human rights and international law, and carefully presents ICAHD’s support for selective sanctions and divestment efforts that can make an important difference.

The book concludes with an Appendix of significant documents, a listing of resources and bibliography.  This is both a first-rate introductory text on the Israel/Palestine conflict and a guidebook for activism. Every peace and justice committee should have it on hand.

[To contact ICAHD, write to ICAHD, PO Box 2030, Jerusalem 91020, Israel. Website Tax-deductible contributions can be paid to AJPME, with ICAHD-USA in the memo, at this address: ICAHD-USA, PO Box 134, Carrboro NC 27510.]

ATC 120, January-February 2006