Jeff Halper’s War Against the People exposes the global role of Israel’s military and security industry, finds Kit Klarenberg
Jeff Halper, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (Pluto Press 2015), xi, 340pp.
“Until the wolf shall lay with lamb, we’d better be the wolves.”Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel 1999 – 2001
It seems implausible to the point of preposterous today, but it wasn’t long ago that an end to Israel’s voracious expansionism and its gruesome accompanying occupation seemed not only achievable, but somehow inevitable. By the early 1990s, Israeli conduct in the Occupied Territories had become very bad for business indeed; it was not only a costly on-going overhead, but its deleterious fiscal impact was exacerbated by boycotts of Israeli goods in many countries, and sanctions. George Bush Sr. even threatened to withdraw US economic aid if Israel’s settlement enlargement policies weren’t terminated, and the Likud administration didn’t attend peace conferences with neighbouring Arab governments.
As 1991 reached its end, Israel’s anguished corporations decided enough was enough, and began pressuring the government to cease hostilities forthwith. So it was that in September 1993, following months of secret talks between the government of Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn, and signed the first Oslo Accord. “We who have fought against you the Palestinians,” Rabin said, “we say to you today in a loud and clear voice, enough of blood and tears, enough."
While the Accords’ fell far short of cementing concrete concord – they were only agreements to complete a peace process in future – and their offerings to the Palestinians were rather meagre, they still seemed to promise a better future. Instead, the years since their inking have been among the most blood soaked and tear stained in Israel’s nigh-on seven-decade history. The puzzle of what went wrong has troubled academics and activists alike ever since – and further confused attempts to explain how Israel continues to get away with it all.
Many solutions to both quandaries have been suggested; most common is Noam Chomsky’s thesis, that Israel is a reliable regional sheriff abetting American exploitation of the Middle East’s oil resources. While that’s no doubt true, it doesn’t explain why the US’ tepid pressure on Israel to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians has all but evaporated, despite recognition by top American military brass that Israel’s behaviour is a strategic liability.
Furthermore, it doesn’t explain why international condemnation of Israel’s conduct has diminished while atrocities have intensified, or why countries such as India and China, previously highly sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight, have developed close diplomatic and economic ties with Israel in recent years.
Guns and butter
Setting out to unravel this enigma decisively, campaigner Jeff Halper has conducted an extensive investigation, the findings of which comprise War Against The People.
As a starting point, Halper notes that Israel currently maintains diplomatic relationships with 157 countries. In every instance, those relationships contain military and security treaties and agreements, which serve to spread Israeli killing apparatuses, surveillance ‘solutions’ and battle tactics worldwide. This accounts for why the tiny country is now a seemingly permanent fixture in lists of the world’s top arms exporters, and the most militarised state in the world.
Evidently, Israel’s oppressive methods have stopped being bad for business. In fact, they’ve mutated into a unique selling point, and have bought much criticism-stifling goodwill from Israel’s customers in the process. Why?
Halper attributes this phenomenon to a global move towards weaponised neoliberalism the world over post-9/11, as governments scramble to suppress internal dissent that their iniquitous economic and military policies create. In this milieu, Palestine and Palestinians themselves have become a vital asset; a laboratory, replete with test subjects held in controlled conditions, largely unseen by outside observers. This structure allows Israel’s numerous ‘defence’ and ‘security’ firms to innovate new systems and methods of suppression without scrutiny or condemnation, leaving the IDF to test and perfect them in their occupied workshops, before the finished products are marketed in the international munitions marketplace to other governments.
So, what are states, overtly oppressive and ostensibly open alike, currently able to buy from Israel? The wealth of dismaying wares uncovered by Halper beggars belief, recalling dystopian sci-fi horrors at their most outlandish. Android soldiers, cannons that transform water into bullets and bombs, remote controlled drone boats armed with missiles, guns that shoot round corners, and airborne surveillance and attack drones, the size of flying insects, are just some of the flabbergasting gadgets presently emanating from Israel’s military-industrial complex.
Those suffering the most from the rapacious excesses of neoliberal economics – communities eroded by gentrification, inhabitants of areas rich with natural resources, or members of marginalised minority groups (religious, political, cultural or ethnic) – have much cause for worry. The technologies and strategies described here could be applied to them at any time.
In some cases, they already have; areas of the occupied territories have been converted into model towns for practical training purposes, replete with mock-up buildings. Numerous foreign police forces and militaries have been trained there in recent years, including two of the law enforcement agencies that led the aggressive crackdown on the 2014 Ferguson riots.
Perhaps predictably, this work is anything but light reading matter. However, it’s not just the blood curdling merchandise described that makes processing its contents a demanding task. War Against The People is dense – despite clocking in at under three hundred pages (including endnotes and references), an enormous amount of ground is covered, with a great many themes raised and areas delved into.
Positively, this makes for an expansive, and indeed staggering, piece of detective work. Every page is replete with extraordinary information, much of which has never (based on my own knowledge and research) filtered out into the public domain previously. Negatively, its awe-inspiring scope may in fact be Halper’s (partial) undoing. War Against The People is simply about too much, and its purpose is muddied as a result. Is it primarily a book about the plight of Palestinians, and its ramifications for other countries and struggles? The global military-industrial complex? Israel’s place in the US imperial structure? The rise of weaponised neoliberalism, and Israel’s role in facilitating it? These are just some of the topics Halper tackles. Some are granted a dedicated focus, others parenthetical consideration – either way, the sense that many strands are underexplored and underdeveloped is recurrent.
In the book’s defence, this expansiveness, and its attendant sense of incompletion, is almost certainly unavoidable. Halper is, after all, exploring byzantine subjects with extensive national and international implications, produced by complex political, economic and social trends and phenomena. Each individual facet could fill a great many books, each far longer than War Against The People alone.
In any event, it may be that investigating just one component of the story in isolation was impracticable, and necessitated further exploration to provide context and support. There’s definitely a sense the author may not have known what he was getting into when he embarked on the quest, and found himself powerless to stem its proliferation into unintended areas. Adding to the book’s density, however, is the sheer level of technical detail on display. It can sometimes daunt, and outright flummox on occasion. Halper himself is plainly wise to this, at one point apologetically acknowledging that some of the language employed and information relayed will likely be difficult for a lay reader to penetrate.
He justifies this on the grounds that activists must understand the detail of what opposes them to effectively oppose it. This is a sound rationale, and difficult to refute. Perhaps this feature of the book is even a blessing in disguise; almost every paragraph contains shocking revelations, and their magnitude arguably demands measured, thoughtful digestion.
These criticisms, while hardly insignificant, must not be construed as disparagement. Despite them, War Against The People remains a momentous achievement, and an indispensable resource for supporters of the Palestinian cause – surely a testament to its inherent power and worth.
The mainstream media (dominated by a demonstrable pro-Israel bias not just in the UK, but worldwide) relentlessly whitewashes Israeli crimes, presenting the country as a plucky, embattled liberal-democratic oasis in the Middle East. The wider dissemination of the information contained within this work is a potent resource for counteracting this fantasy; it is difficult envisage how anyone could seriously endorse the notions of Israeli innocence or Palestinian parity in the dispute after digesting it.
As noted in a previous review of Norman Finkelstein’s Method and Madness, following developments in the West Bank can feel a gruelling experience at times, and a depressing air of inevitability plagues many works on the topic. However, War Against The People is positively energising – it’s surely nigh-on impossible to read it and not be outraged, and one hopes it inspires action in those who read it.
Moreover, Halper’s conclusions are terrifying, and have grave ramifications for the rights, freedoms and very existence not merely of the Palestinians, but people everywhere. His notion of the ‘Palestinianisation’ of populations on every continent is not pessimistic speculation, a grave forecast of a potentially impending nightmare future – it’s happening now, all around us. Understanding it is fundamental to fighting it – and War Against The People can only be considered vital reading as a result.