A Global Matrix of Control

Against the Current, No. 187, March/April 2017

Michael J. Friedman

War Against the People:
Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification
By Jeff Halper
London: Pluto Press, 2015, distributed by University of Chicago Press,
280 pages plus notes and index, $25 paperback.

IN ITS LAST days the Obama administration offered a futile, last-minute gesture of rebuke to Israel’s undiminished drive to build more settlements in the Occupied Territories (particularly East Jerusalem). It abstained on a UN Security Council vote condemning Israel’s illegal, defiant and hostile commitment to continue this expansion.(1) This makes the question Jeff Halper poses in the introduction to War Against the People even more relevant: “How does Israel get away with it?” (2)

An anthropologist by training and a native of Hibbing, Minnesota (also the birthplace of Bob Dylan), Halper has lived in Israel since 1974. His previous books include the activist memoir An Israeli in Palestine (2008). In 1997 he co-founded and directed the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), taking direct action to rebuild Palestinian homes destroyed by the Occupation authorities.

He has also published extensive research on Israel’s systematic expansion of “Greater Jerusalem” and “Metropolitan Jerusalem” to swallow up huge parts of the remaining Palestinian territory.

To unravel the problem of how Israel can “get away with it,” Halper writes, “I began to look outside the box of the Occupation itself.” This led him to areas of research beyond the purview of his previous training, and that of most activists, into “a world of military systems I knew nothing about.” He found Israel playing a central role in a “global pacification industry, as I call it, (which) threatens us in fundamental ways not immediately obvious.” (3, 4)

Halper rejects some frequently offered formulas, for example, that Israeli support in the international community can be “explained by normal international relations.” Many countries who actively trade with Israel stand opposed to its Occupation policies, and Israeli rejection of the internationally supported two-state solution flies in the face of its support by the United States and many Arab states.

Nor does Halper accept that the strength of Israel’s lobby in the United States provides an adequate explanation, despite the fact that he characterizes the American Congress as being Israel’s “best friend.” Finally, Halper rejects the argument that the continued cooperation and support Israel receives from much of the world community, despite the widespread opposition to its Occupation policies and its miserable record on human rights, can be explained by Israel’s persistent efforts to have the world view it as the most tragic of Nazi holocaust victims.

Instead, Halper discovered that of the 157 countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations, “virtually all the agreements and protocols Israel has signed with them contain military and security components.” This leads him to conclude:

“Israel, it seemed was succeeding in parlaying its military and securocratic prowess into political clout, in pursuing what I now call security politics. The Occupied Palestinian Territories, I now understood, did not pose a financial burden on Israel or an unwanted source of insecurity and conflict. Indeed, the opposite was the case. Without an occupation and an interminable conflict, how would Israel sustain its strong international standing? The occupation represents a source for Israel in two senses: economically, it provides a testing ground for the development of weapons, security systems, models of population control and tactics without which Israel would be unable to compete in the international arms and security markets, but no less important, being a major military power serving other military and security services the world over lends Israel an international status among global hegemons it would not otherwise have. Israel is a small country scrambling to carve out a niche in the transnational military industrial complex. Where would it be without the Occupation and the regional conflict that it generates?” (3-4)

War Against the People is a testament not only to how deeply Halper immersed himself in the research to understand the global arms market and how it works, but also to his analytic skills in piecing together Israel’s role as a developer of niche weapons systems, techniques of population control and warehousing, and strategies of policing groups that are dissident — or deemed potentially to become dissident.

Security Politics and Neoliberal Order

Halper argues that Israel has “globalized Palestine” by making the Occupation an asset in Israel’s key export, which he defines as “security politics.” This argument is rooted in the theoretical framework developed by fellow anthropologist David Harvey’s theory of “accumulation by dispossession,” and by sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein’s tripartite division of the capitalist world order into core, peripheral and semi-peripheral states.

Halper’s analysis addresses the current state of this world order and documents how Israel has been able to capitalize its “niche” strengths into political leverage. Following a British General Rupert Smith, he contends that the paradigm of warfare has shifted from that waged between state actors to that waged “amongst the people,” or as Halper describes it “against the people.” (78, 79)

Halper focuses on the key difference in this paradigm shift. In the former (war between state actors) there can be a winner and the war can end, but in the war “against the people” paradigm (which Halper also refers to as “hybrid war”) such a final victory is impossible and the hostilities remain in a steady-state of tension and conflict for an extended period of time. “’(V)ictory’ is replaced by prolonged, low-intensity military engagement accompanied by permanent, repressive securitization.” (79)

In addition, the battle spaces in this new war paradigm are extended from faraway areas, where only state-sponsored armies engage, to the entire society as those in power can never be certain from where challenges to their control might arise.

Second, Halper contends that capitalist global domination has spawned a neoliberalism that created a “totalizing” form of transnational capital that, among other things, commodifies land and dispossess peasants, privatizes property and public services, weakens unions and other forms of social solidarity, and weakens or eliminates welfare and other social services.

Social and economic relations become monetized; people are cut off from any real democratic control while the notion of democracy becomes an abstract commitment; and cultural identities, histories and communities are destroyed. In short, the logic of capitalist expansion has also expanded the sphere of the “dispossessed,” creating the potential for many more and diverse challenges to the control that is necessary to maintain hegemonic power.

The Matrix of Control

In the context of these global developments, the Israeli settler experience from 1948 to the present — in fighting and seeking to control the Palestinian population on “the land that was without people” in the Zionist narrative — provided Israel with valuable lessons and skills ripe for export to other state powers confronted with challenges of control.

Indeed, among the most important of these Israeli skills is the “Matrix of Control,” which he outlined in an earlier pamphlet. (“The Matrix of Control: An Introduction,” ICAHD pamphlet) Expanding the idea in this book, he sees it as “a maze of laws, military orders, planning procedures, limitations on movement, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, settlements and infrastructure” “augmented by prolonged and ceaseless low-intensity warfare” that serves to perpetuate the Occupation, to administer it with a minimum of military presence and, ultimately, to conceal it behind massive Israeli “facts on the ground and a bland façade of “proper administration.”

The Matrix is supported by the carving up of the Occupied Territory into different enclaves and islands cut off and separated from each other, expropriation of West Bank land for settlements, highways, checkpoints, “by-pass roads,” military installations, nature reserves and other infrastructure elements, and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements.(2)

In War Against the People, Halper explains how Israel’s experience in developing a Matrix of Control in the Occupied Territories and Gaza enabled it to capitalize on the hegemonic need for a global counterpart. He contends that two countries — the United States and Israel — “disseminate global doctrines of militarized securitization.”

The United States pursues this through its global network of military bases, an extremely large military, and willingness (albeit somewhat diminished during the Obama administration) to engage militarily around the world. Israel does so through having developed operational strategies, tactics and weaponry that support pacification.

Halper’s middle chapters explicate the various strategies of such pacification: dominant maneuver, decisive advantage, focused logistics and full dimensional force protection. These are all dependent on variables such as C4 (command, control, communications, computers), information and logistics — niches in which Israel specializes.

Halper does not, however, limit Israeli exports in the global pacification effort to strategic and tactical planning concepts or software applications. He carefully, and in dizzying detail, explains the growth of the Israeli arms industry and the various niche products that have been developed by both the Israeli government through the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Shin Bet research and work done by private Israeli companies.

Although Israel’s size might have prevented it from developing and exporting major defense platforms, it has become well-known for successfully competing in key aspects of military hardware and software development. These include smaller conventional weapons (e.g. a gun that can shoot around corners), missiles, electronics, optronics, avionics, cyber-weapons, drones, early warning systems, human performance enhancement (i.e. tools, weapons and other gear that enable ordinary soldiers to be more effective) and unmanned ground vehicles, etc.

Israel has developed its military export industry to such an extent that for 2012 it was listed as among the top ten countries for arms exports by the two leading organizations that track such issues, Janes and SIPRI.

Halper also notes the direct U.S. hand in helping Israel develop these capacities when, in 1970, it signed a Master Defense Development Data Exchange Agreement with Israel. Halper describes this as the “greatest transfer of U.S. technology to any other country ever undertaken.” (40-41)

Under this agreement, Washington gave Israel a series of over 120 Technical Data Packages containing blueprints, plans and types of materials required to construct weapons. The United States has been actively sharing various technologies with Israel ever since.

Halper, however, does not provide many specifics as to which U.S. defense contractors work with Israel on specific weapons systems, information which would have been most helpful in fully understanding the strength of support for Israel in the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Is Resistance Possible?

Jeff Halper’s detailed discussions of the range of Israeli research and weaponry and its general relations with the U.S. defense industry becomes a bit intimidating, partly because most of his readers, like Halper himself before he began the research for this book, know little about the world of war strategies, weapons development and arms sales.

Halper has provided a valuable service in lifting the lid off of this often deliberately obscured area of international politics. He tracks in elaborate detail not only Israel’s exports of weapons and operational strategies to core states like the United States, Canada and Europe but also to peripheral and semi-peripheral states in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The impact, however, is also a bit intimidating because it makes it seem that the capitalist hegemons are so clearly committed to war against the people, and have developed such sophisticated tactics, strategies and weapons for fighting and controlling any dissident elements, that success in struggles against hegemonic control appears to be only a dim hope.

Clearly, Halper does not share that pessimism, but it is a somewhat unexpected side effect of the mountain of evidence he brings to bear.

Central to Halper’s thesis is that because the paradigm of warfare has shifted from inter-state struggles to “wars against the people,” the primary use of state violence will not be against other states, but against populations, internal or external, that mobilize against the established political and economic order.

Thus, the key order of the day for those seeking to preserve hegemonic power is the issue of domestic securitization. Thus “homeland security” becomes an integral part of the global war on “terror.” A consequence of this emphasis on domestic security is that the police become militarized to fight this new enemy of the state — its own people — not to defeat but to contain them, as this war has no clear end point.

Because of this, a military solution alone is not a viable strategy. Rather, many layers of security measures must be taken, from building walls to keep the unwanted out, to ongoing surveillance, creating divisions within the population to be controlled, periodic episodes of violent suppression, and proactive intelligence to ferret out and undermine circles of potential resistance.

As noted earlier, this strategy is based on the understanding that victory is not a feasible or even a desired outcome; what’s desired is a system of permanent control based on a mix of coercive and psychological tools and tactics.

In Halper’s view, Israel is an essential partner in this global pacification effort because it has developed such a model and used it successfully against the Palestinians for over 50 years. Governments buy what Israel is selling because it is not only sophisticated and comprehensive, but it has been field tested and shown to work.

“Israel offers a coherent, thought-out and field tested model of control that it actively propagates as an integral part of its security politics, together with appropriate weaponry . . . The ‘Israeli model’ effectively addresses the endemic problem of ‘securing the insecurities’ of an inherently polarized capitalist system, and for that reason law enforcement around the world seeks Israeli know-how.” (249)

Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that Israel, with the help of U.S. Jewish organizations, has been actively cooperating in training and advising hundreds of U.S. police departments, and thousands of police and law enforcement officials since shortly after 9/11 or that the U.S. military has programs whereby “excess” military equipment is made available to local police forces at little or no cost.

Given these factors, it is not surprising that in the United States, the “war on drugs” has become a war on the Black community. Hebron and Ferguson are not that far apart.

In the end Halper does not formally pose another famous historical question, “What is to be Done?” However he does attempt to set forth a progressive response to the global pacification project that he has laid out out in such excruciating detail. Perhaps inevitably, his response, which is based not on what exists but on what needs to be developed, seems reasonable but somewhat inadequate.

Halper is consciously aware of this problem. He understands that an action focus is key and emphasizes that moving people to action is the immediate aim of the book. He fully realizes that such an action program to counter the global pacification efforts of the hegemonic powers would have to be proportionally powerful to successfully challenge the powers it confronts.

Understanding this, Halper turns to another aspect of the struggle. “No campaign of counter-hegemony can succeed, of course, without an informed vision around which to mobilize.” (279) This leads him to turn to intellectuals and academics, organized in community-based think tanks who will nurture “organic intellectuals” from the grassroots.

Halper himself is in the process of establishing an Institute for Strategic Activism. He envisions this as an integral part of a movement to provide an infrastructure for counter-hegemony. Halper has also founded an organization called The People Yes! Network, which he hopes will play a significant role in building such a movement.

While these efforts are to be applauded, they seem a rather tepid response after such a well thought out, incredibly detailed and incisive analysis of the strategies, tactics and modalities of Israel’s matrix of control concepts and the weapons systems that serve to maintain that control on a global scale.

On the other hand, Halper’s clear-eyed view of the current “war against the people” and Israel’s leading role in that global pacification effort leads him to avoid proposing any unrealistically aggressive responses.

Perhaps efforts at counter-hegemonic resistance from activist community think-tanks will develop over time into a stronger movement that can offer a genuine challenge to power.(3) It could. The question is whether there will be enough time to build that movement.


  1. Resolution 2334, passed 14-0 on 12/23/2016, also contained implicit support for BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions). Its fifth clause calls upon States to “distinguish in their relevant dealings between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” This provision may spur increasing support for boycotting goods and services originating from areas of Israeli control in the Occupied Territory. The resolution, however, has no enforcement mechanism for any of its provisions.
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  2. While this Matrix of Control that Israel has implemented has most often been termed “apartheid,” in part to build an analogy to the policies of the South African government with respect to its black population — a policy was successfully overturned by international pressure and indigenous political pressure and armed resistance — Halper distinguishes what Israel is doing as somewhat different, referring to it as “warehousing.” Halper believes that this term captures what Israel is doing more effectively than “apartheid” because, in his view, apartheid implicitly recognizes that there is another side, but warehousing creates prison-like conditions that are permanent. Under this policy, there is no other side, just “Israelis” and the people Israel controls. The latter have no rights, no identity, as they are inmates. Warehousing is not a political condition, but a static, permanent one. Halper feels that apartheid understands that you can resist, perhaps successfully (that is why dissidents must be suppressed), but warehousing assumes resistance is futile. You’re a prisoner, and while prisoners may rebel, they will never overthrow the prison system. Halper’s remarks on “warehousing” here are taken from a transcript of Shalom Rav, a blog by Rabbi Brant Rosen, posted Aril 30, 2012.
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  3. As an aside, it should be noted that it took the U.S. conservative movement  from the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, through the work of various conservative think-tanks (e.g. the American Enterprise Institute), legal organizations (e.g. the Federalist Society) and a wide range of academics and intellectuals (e.g. the Chicago School), to build a movement that was able to elect Ronald Reagan in 1981.  Twenty-five years later this movement finally enabled the Republicans to take control of a majority of state legislatures and governorships, as well as Congress and the presidency. Not that the post-Goldwater trajectory of the conservative movement is a template for a building a progressive movement against global capitalism, but the example is perhaps instructive as to the impact academics, intellectuals and activist think tanks can have in building a successful movement, at least in the United States and possibly other core societies.
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March-April 2017, ATC 187