[WSF-Discuss] Richard Falk on Jeff Halper’s ‘War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification’

Brian K. Murphy brian at radicalroad.com
Tue Apr 12 11:25:13 CDT 2016

*Source: Richardfalk.com*
*Reading Jeff Halper’s ‘War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians 
and Global Pacification’*

By Richard Falk , April 9, 2016: https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/

/[Prefatory Note: The review below was published in the current issue of 
/Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and Islamicate World/. 
I am posting it here because I believe that Jeff Halper’s book deserves 
the widest possible reading. It explains clearly and convincingly one of 
the deepest and least understood roots of Israel’s diplomatic support 
throughout the world, which is its role as a niche arms supplier and 
influential tactical specialist in waging wars against peoples who dare 
offer resistance to state power as variously deployed against them. The 
Israeli experience in exerting oppressive control of the Palestinian 
people provides the foundation of Israel’s international credibility and 
perceptions of effectiveness in disseminating for economic and political 
profit its hardware and software associated with managing and 
suppressing the resistance of popular movements fighting for their 
rights. The Israel stress on pacification rather than victory exposes 
the true nature of what Halper identifies so vividly and comprehensively 
as the distinctive character of waging ‘war against the people.’ ]//
Jeff Halper, /War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and 
Global Pacification/, Pluto Press, 2015, 296 pp., $25.00 US (pbk), ISBN 

Jeff Halper is an unusual hybrid presence on both the scholarly and 
political scene. He describes himself as an “activist-scholar” (6), 
which adopts a controversial self-identification. The conventional 
stance erects a high wall between scholarship and activism. To his 
credit and for our benefit, Halper excels almost equally in both roles. 
He is one of the most lucid speakers on the lecture circuit combining 
clarity with wisdom and a rich fund of information and firsthand 
experience, and his work as a writer is influential and widely known. 
His activist credentials have been built up over many years, especially 
in his work as co-founder and leader of the Israeli Committee Against 
House Demolitions, which has bravely confronted Israeli demolition crews 
and IDF soldiers, helped Palestinians on multiple occasions to rebuild 
their destroyed homes, thereby responding humanely to one of Israel’s 
cruelest occupation practices, an instance of unlawful collective 
punishment. Halper has estimated that less than 2% of demolitions can 
lay claim to a credible security justification (the respected Israeli 
human rights NGO, B’Tselem, estimates 1.3% of demolitions are justified 
by security, while the rest are punitive or 621 of 47,000 since 1967). 
As an author his main prior book makes an unsurprisingly strong pitch 
for activism as the most reliable foundation for analysis and 
prescription. His important and incisive title gave the theme away—An 
Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel.1 This 
earlier book remains valuable as testimony by a progressive Zionist in 
Israel that with good faith Jews and Palestinians might yet learn to 
live together, including finding a formula for sharing the land.

Halper’s own life experience makes this blend of scholarship and 
activism particularly compelling. He is an American born Jew who grew up 
in the Midwest and studied anthropology in Wisconsin, taught at a Quaker 
university for several years, and then moved to Israel where he married 
an Israeli and has three grown children. What particularly sets Halper 
apart from most other principled Jews in the ranks of critics of Israel 
is the striking combination of the radicalism of his opposition to the 
policies and practices of the Israeli state together with his evident 
commitment to remain in Israel no matter how far right the governing 
process drifts. Most other prominent Jewish critics of Israel have 
remained outside the country throughout their life (e.g. Noam Chomsky) 
or were born in Israel and then chose to become expatriate critical 
voices (e.g. Daniel Levy, Ilan Pappé, Gilad Azmun). There are a few 
internationally prominent Israeli journalists and cultural figures who 
have sustained sharply critical commentary (e.g. Gideon Levy, Amira 
Hass) and kept their Israeli residence despite harassment and threats.

In the book under review Halper broadens his own distinctive identity 
while enlarging the apertures of perception by which he views the 
Israeli state. He focuses attention on the Israeli arms industry, 
security doctrines, and policies, and examines Israel’s acquisition of 
formidable diplomatic influence grossly disproportionate to its size and 
capabilities. It is this gap between Israel’s significant impact on 
current world history and the modest scale of its territorial reality 
and its outsider status in most global settings that is the core mystery 
being explicated by Halper. He starts the book with some provocative 
questions that put the underlying puzzle before us in vivid language: 
“How does Israel get away with it? In a decidedly post-colonial age, how 
is Israel able to sustain a half-century occupation over the 
Palestinians, a people violently displaced in 1948, in the face of 
almost unanimous international opposition” (1)? He indicates that this 
phenomenon cannot be adequately “explained by normal international 
relations” nor by the strength of the Israel lobby in the United States 
nor by strong Israeli pushback to discredit critics by invoking the 
Holocaust as an indefinite source of impunity (3). What the book 
demonstrates very persuasively is that Israeli influence is a result of 
its extraordinary, partially hidden and understated role as arms 
supplier to more than 130 countries and as an increasingly significant 
mentor of national police forces and counter-terrorist operations and 
practices in many countries, including the United States.

Israel as Arms Merchant and Pacification Ideologue

Without exaggeration, War Against the People, is really three books in 
one. It is first of all a comprehensive and detailed look at the 
elaborate Israeli arms industry, including the extensive network of 
private companies engaged in arms production. Halper explores how Israel 
managed to become such a valued producer of sophisticated weaponry that 
so many governments have come to depend upon. Part of Israel’s success 
in the highly competitive international arms market is to identify and 
develop niches for itself in the wider global arms market that allows it 
to compete successfully for market share with companies backed by 
several of the world’s largest states by supplying specific kinds of 
weaponry that outperform the alternatives available for purchase. By so 
serving as an arms merchant to no less than 130 countries gives Israel a 
powerful unacknowledged source of leverage throughout the entire world. 
An aspect of Israel’s success is to be apolitical in its operations as 
an arms supplier, provided only that the foreign government poses no 
security threat to Israel.

Secondly, the book is a detailed examination of the specific ways that 
Israel has adapted its security doctrine and practice to the varieties 
of Palestinian resistance over the decades. The Israeli approach rests 
on adopting a goal toward internal security that seeks to achieve a 
tolerable level of “pacification” of the Palestinian population. As such 
it does not seek to “defeat” the Palestinians, including even Hamas, and 
is content with keeping violent resistance contained so that Israelis 
can go about their lives with reasonable security and the economy can 
prosper. At the same time, the threat of violent resistance never 
entirely disappears or is absent from the political consciousness and 
experience of Israeli society, and the fear factor keeps Israelis 
supportive of oppressive internal policies. Pacification in the face of 
a potentially very hostile minority Palestinian presence in pre-1967 
Israel has presupposed a fusing of Israel’s military, paramilitary, 
police, and intelligence capabilities, but also a less understood 
Israeli politics of restraint. The capabilities to sustain pacifications 
must be continuously updated and adapted to evolving circumstances, 
including shifts in Palestinian tactics of resistance.

This mental shift from “victory” over the natives to their relentless 
“pacification” to some extent reflects the ethical orientation of a 
post-colonial world. In many respects Israel represents a species of 
settler colonialism, but it takes the form of seeking some kind of 
imposed accommodation with the native population rather than their 
extinction or spatial marginalization. Actually, as Israeli politics 
have moved further and further to the right, the tactics of pacification 
have become more coercive and brutal, and do seem to push the original 
dispossession of the nakba toward some kind of “final solution” by way 
of settlement expansion as likely supplemented at some point by 
population transfer and by periodic massive military operations of the 
sort that have occurred in Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014. In other 
words, pacification as conceived in the 1950s has become quite something 
more ominous for the Palestinians in the twenty-first century as 
“Palestine” shrinks in size and diminishes in threat while Israel’s 
territorial ambitions continue to expand and seem to be within reach.

The Israel/Palestine encounter is certainly unique in several of its 
aspects, yet it bears sufficient similarity to a range of threats facing 
many governments in the world to allow the Israeli government to serve 
as an exemplary practitioner of counterinsurgency war/politics. It is 
precisely the generality of contemporary security challenges situated 
within society that makes the Israeli experience seem so valuable to 
others, especially when reinforced by the widespread impression that 
Israel’s security policies have succeeded in the face of difficult 
challenges over an extended period. This combination of considerations 
gives Israel’s weapons, training programs, and security doctrines their 
global resonance. Especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the 
long-term character of the Israeli experience became a strong credential 
on the arms market and among strategy-minded think tanks. Israel’s 
perceived counterinsurgency record has even led other governments to 
mute or even abandon their criticisms of the manner in which Israel 
suppresses Palestinians and flaunts international law. In this way, the 
Israeli network of arms sales arrangements has not only functioned as 
direct sources of influence and economic benefit to Israel, but also 
contributed a political payoff by weakening motivations at the UN and 
elsewhere in the world to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to modify 
its policies and uphold its obligations under international law. What 
Halper helps us to understand is this rarely discussed relationship 
between the arms trade and what might be called an international 
diplomacy of pacification. In effect, Israel has quietly bought off most 
of its potentially most dangerous governmental adversaries by making 
itself an invaluable collaborator in the security domain, which is given 
priority by every government when it comes to shaping its foreign 
policy. The reach of this weapons diplomacy is further extended due to 
Israel’s willingness to do arms deals discreetly with the most 
repressive of regimes around the world even while at the same time it 
takes great pains to substantiate the claim that Israel remains the only 
democracy in the Middle East.

Thirdly, this long experience of coping with Palestinian resistance has 
given Israel continuing field experience with tactics and weapons useful 
to subdue a non-state adversary, including convincing demonstrations of 
what works and what doesn’t. In fundamental respects the work of 
pacification is never finished, and so Israel continuously modifies its 
weapons mix to take account of battlefield lessons and technological 
innovations, and this is of great value to governments that were seeking 
to choose among several alternatives to meet the requirements of their 
particular security challenges. Israel can claim both the reliability of 
its weaponry through their field testing in response to varying 
conditions and success in adapting to ever changing tactics of 
Palestinian resistance. No other country has achieved this mastery over 
the hardware and software of a pacification approach to internal security.

Halper also makes us aware that pacification is what also best explains 
the hegemonic ambitions of America’s securitizing approach to world 
order. What Israel has achieved on a small scale, the United States is 
managing on a large scale. In other words the several hundred American 
foreign military bases together with navies patrolling all of the 
world’s oceans, further reinforced by satellite militarization of space 
for purposes of intelligence and possible attack are the coercive 
infrastructure of both neoliberal globalization and American global 
leadership. The objective is to keep those dissatisfied with this 
established order under sufficient control so that trade, investment, 
and basic security relations are not deeply disturbed. Part of Halper’s 
argument is that Israel understands the dynamics of an effective regime 
of global pacification better than any other country, and has done its 
best to be useful to the United States and Europe by providing niche 
support in terms of weaponry (say for border barriers, surveillance, and 
control) and doctrine (say targeted assassinations by drone strikes and 
collective blockades).

Matrix of Control

Halper relies upon an illuminating style of conceptualization to develop 
his basic analysis. For instance, one of his important contributions is 
to specify global pacification by reference to a “Matrix of Control.” 
The basic argument of the book is that the most defining “wars” of our 
times involve using state violence against a mobilized population that 
mounts threats against the established economic and political order. The 
matrix of control is the complex interaction of weapons, policies, 
practices, and ideas that make this project a reality. The paradigmatic 
case is the Israeli pacification of the Palestinians, which is less than 
their defeat or annihilation, but something other than sustained 
warfare; it is doing enough by way of forcible action to punish, 
terrorize, and suppress without clearly crossing the line drawn by legal 
prohibitions on mass atrocity and genocide. It is damping down the fires 
of Palestinian resistance into a smoldering mass of tensions and 
resentments that every so often bursts into flames, offering pretexts 
for launching a new campaign of devastation. The pattern of periodic 
onslaughts against Gaza since 2008 is indicative of the broader 
policies, with three massive attacks every 2-3 years, what Israeli 
officials are comfortable describing as “mowing the lawn” (146), which 
incidentally stimulates a new round of arms sales.

The Israeli matrix of control (143-190) is specified by reference to its 
various main components, forming an integrated and distinctive form of 
what Halper describes as “urban warfare” resting on the premise of 
“domestic securitization,” that is, conceiving of the enemy as mainly 
operating within the boundaries of the state, ultimately to be contained 
rather than defeated. Such an integrated approach relies on walls to 
keep the unwanted from entering, surveillance, fragmenting the 
population to be controlled, periodic and punitive violent suppression 
designed to prevent, preempt, and demoralize, and proactive intelligence 
that seeks to gain access to the inner circles of militant opposition 
forces. Such a matrix of control both deploys a mixture of traditional 
counterterrorist measures and the latest innovations in sophisticated 
technology, including armed robotics, drones, and a variety of 
overlapping surveillance techniques. The approach relies on a vertical 
layering of security measures that rests on redundancy to ensure 
effective control. What is original about this approach is its conscious 
realization that “victory” over hostile subjugated forces is not an 
acceptable or realizable policy option, and what works best is a system 
of permanent control sustained by a mix of coercive and psychological 

Pacifying Palestinians and Pacifying the World

Halper shows how this matrix of control, which developed to enable 
Israeli settler society to achieve a tolerable level of security with 
respect to the indigenous Palestinian population, seeks to fulfill an 
elusive requirement. It maintains security without resorting to genocide 
or to the kind of destructive forms of mass slaughter that characterized 
earlier experiences of settler colonialism where the land occupied was 
cleared of natives. At the same time, it pacifies in a post-colonial era 
where the power of the colonial master has been effectively challenged 
throughout the world. It is no longer possible to beat the native 
population into a condition of passive resignation as had been the case 
so often during the heyday of the extensive European colonial empires. 
These two considerations suggest a policy puzzle for the pacifier who 
must avoid extreme violence and yet depends on a sufficient degree of 
violence to intimidate a restive population that believes resistance is 
justified and currently accords with the flow of history.

The Israeli answer in a variety of acknowledged and disguised forms is 
best understood by reference to the Dahiya Doctrine, which incorporates 
a logic of disproportionate retaliation (174-176). In effect, for every 
Israeli killed or home damaged or destroyed, a far greater number of 
Palestinians will be killed and entire residential neighborhoods 
destroyed. The Dahiya Docrtine was proclaimed originally to justify the 
destruction of the Dahiya neighborhood in south Beirut during the 
Lebanon War of 2006. The people living in densely populated Dahiya were 
viewed by Israel as supportive of Hezbollah, but it is descriptive of 
Israeli behavior generally with respect to Palestinian acts of 
resistance, particularly with respect to Gaza since falling under 
Hamas’s control. The supposedly centrist Tzipi Livni, the Israeli 
political leader who served as Foreign Minister during the massive 
attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, expressed this Israeli way of dealing 
with Palestinian resistance in Gaza in the following chilling words: 
“Hamas now understands that when you fire on its [Israel’s] citizens it 
responds by going wild—and this is a good thing” (quoted in Halper, 
175). I would add that “going wild” is a euphemism for rejecting the 
efforts of international humanitarian law and the just war tradition to 
constrain the intensity of violence and suffering by insisting on 
proportional responses. In effect, to reject so overtly this admittedly 
vague effort of international law to impose limits on the conduct of 
warfare, Israel is incorporating into the core of its security approach 
a repudiation of the humanizing ambition of international law, and 
implicitly claiming the right on its own to use force as it wishes. This 
is a step back from the extensive attempt during the prior century to 
put the genie of war, if not back in its bottle, at least to gesture 
toward that end. With Israel’s concept of securitization, also 
descriptive of the approach taken by the United States, as well as such 
other countries as Russia, France, and China, it is arguable that 
international society has turned the normative clock back to a 
nihilistic zero.

There is another crucial feature of the matrix of control that is of 
wider relevance than Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that Halper 
associates with “Framing: A Tendentious Definition of ‘Terrorism’” 
(149-151). This framing idea is to make it appear that “the terrorists” 
are always those resisting control by the established political order, 
and never those that are exercising authority however oppressively. As 
Halper points out, the IDF may kill over 2,000 Palestinians, two-thirds 
of whom are civilians, in the course of an armed confrontation in Gaza, 
as opposed to Hamas killing five Israeli civilians, but Hamas will still 
be depicted as the practitioner of terror and Israel’s violence will be 
put forward as defensive measures that are reasonable and necessary for 
the protection of the civilian population of Israel. The Israeli 
government will describe Palestinian civilian deaths as regrettable 
collateral damage, while attributing Hamas’s comparatively trivial 
lethality to a deliberate intention to kill Israeli civilians. The final 
step in the ideologizing process is to make this construction of the 
respective intentions of the two sides hinge on the question of 
deliberate intention, and since Hamas’s rockets are fired in the general 
direction of civilian populations the intention is declared to be 
deliberate, while Israel is seeking to destroy militarily relevant 
personnel and weaponry. This kind of manipulative framing by Israel has 
been borrowed by the United States and other governments to lend moral 
authority to the form of disproportionate violence that has 
characterized counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 
post-9/11 era as well as lesser military operations around the world in 
the course of “the war on terror.”

What Israel has been doing within Palestinian territory it is seeking to 
control, the United States does globally. The introduction of drone 
warfare and special ops covert forces into dozens of countries 
throughout the world is an extension of the matrix of control as 
perfected by Israel within its limited field of operations. It also 
reformulates the parameters of permissible violence without regard to 
the limitations of international law, regarding any point of suspected 
adversaries throughout the planet as subject to deadly attack, borrowing 
notions of targeted assassination from the repertoire of Israeli 
practices. As with Israel, the operative goal of the so-called long war 
is not victory in the World War II sense, but rather the exercise of a 
sufficiency of control that is able to establish tolerable levels of 
security for Western societies and transnational economic activity. It 
is worth pointing out that as with Israel, the United States is 
unwilling to pay the costs in reputation and resources that would be 
required to achieve victory, although in the Iraq occupation as earlier 
in Vietnam it did seek to do more than pacify but in the end found the 
costs too high, and abandoned the undertaking.

Halper’s book gives essential insights to a key set of interrelated 
concerns: the political benefits to Israel arising from its dual role as 
quality arms supplier and counterinsurgency mentor; the degree to which 
Israel’s success in managing a hostile Palestinian population as well as 
a series of dangerous regional threats offers the United States a model 
for global securitization with a primary objective of preempting threats 
to the American homeland and safeguarding neoliberal global markets and 
trade routes from hostile forces; as also noted, the Israeli domestic 
security apparatus has been influential in the equipping and training of 
American and other national police forces. Additionally, Isreali 
technologies and knowhow have been relied upon to monitor borders and to 
erect barriers against unwanted entry; the advantages of having a 
seemingly permanent combat zone such as Gaza for field testing weapons 
and tactics increases the attractiveness of Israel as supplier of 
choice. This kind of combat zone is real world simulation that has many 
experimental advantages over the sorts of war games that are used to 
assess the effectiveness of weapons and tactics. Without incoming 
rockets from Gaza it would be impossible to reliably test the 
effectiveness of a defensive system such as the Iron Dome.

Concluding Comments

In the end, Halper answers the question as to why Israel’s seeming 
international unpopularity based of its long-term suppression of the 
Palestinian people does not harm its image or status. Israel manages to 
get away with its abusive human rights record while a more powerful and 
populous country such as apartheid South Africa was sanctioned and 
censured repeatedly. Of course, U.S. geopolitical muscle is part of the 
answer, but what Halper adds to our understanding in an insightful and 
factually supported manner is an appreciation of Israel’s extraordinary 
usefulness as arms supplier and counterinsurgency guru. A further 
implication of Israeli usefulness is a realization that governments give 
much more weight to relationships that bolster their security 
capabilities than they do to matters of international morality and law. 
Given these realities, it remains clear that the Palestinian national 
movement will have to wage its struggle on its own with principal 
support coming from civil society. Israel, it must be acknowledged has 
substantially neutralized both the UN and the foreign policy of most 
important countries, although public opinion around the world is moving 
in directions that could exert mounting pressure on Israel in the years 
to come.

As the title of Halper’s book suggests, what is transpiring worldwide, 
and is epitomized by the Israeli response to Palestinian opposition, can 
be best understood as part of a wider shift in the nature of global 
conflict in the post-Cold War period. Instead of most attention being 
given by security bureaucracies to rivalries and warfare among leading 
states, the most salient, dangerous, and cruelest conflicts are between 
state and society, or wars waged against people. There are no 
significant international wars between two or more states taking place 
now, while at least 30 internal wars are raging in different parts of 
the world. To be sure there have been a series of military interventions 
as part of the global pacification project under the direction of the 
United States and proxy wars in the Middle East in which major states 
intervene on opposite sides of a civil war. Yet whether we think of 
Syria as the paradigm of twenty-first century warfare or the Israeli 
matrix of control, it is “the people,” or a mobilized segment, that is 
being victimized. Halper’s book does the best job so far of depicting 
this new cartography of warfare, and deserves to be widely read and its 
main theses debated.

Jeff Halper (Hebrew: ג'ף הלפר‎; born 1946[1]) is an American-born 
anthropologist,[2] author, lecturer, and political activist who has 
lived in Israel since 1973. He is co-founder and Director of the Israeli 
Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
Halper has written several books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and 
is a frequent writer and speaker about Israeli politics, focusing mainly 
on nonviolent strategies to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He 
is a supporter of the BDS movement and the academic boycott of Israel, 
and considers Israel to be guilty of “apartheid” and of a deliberate 
campaign of “Judaization” of the Palestinian territories.
Richard Falk (born November 13, 1930)[1] is an American professor 
emeritus of international law at Princeton University.[2] He is the 
author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 
20 volumes,[3] In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) 
appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur 
on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories 
occupied since 1967."[4] He has been variously criticized by U.S. 
ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban 
Ki-moon for his positions on Israel and the September 11 attacks.[5][6]
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