Genocide by Home Demolition


Jeff Halper, above the Palestinian village of Battir

A Conversation with Jeff Halper

GPM # 57

Jeff Halper was a Child of the Sixties.

The 78-year old American-Israeli activist ticks off all the boxes. Born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1946, his older brother was a classmate of Robert Zimmerman, soon to be known as Bob Dylan. Bob and younger Jeff hung out in the basement of Bob’s home. Bob attended Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah.

In the early Sixties, Halper traveled to Mississippi in support of the civil rights movement. He resisted the draft. Following high school graduation in the summer of ’68 (Dylan attended his grad party), he loitered on the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, doing his best to avoid the clubs of Mayor Daley’s thugs.

In the summer of’69, 23-year-old Jeff tromped through mud at Max Yasgur’s farm, in Woodstock, along with a half million other young music lovers.

But America bored him. In 1973, armed with an anthropology degree and disillusioned with American politics — with ‘The Movement’, widely seen as motionless and likely dead under Richard Nixon’s regime — Jeff Halper packed his bags and moved to Israel.

Six years into its belligerent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the self-declared ‘Jewish State’ struck the young Minnesota activist as “another front in the revolution.”

Halper was aware of the plight Palestinians faced, but Jewish ‘nationalism’ also piqued his interest. The occupation wouldn’t last long, he and other young Jewish activists figured. Israel’s settlement enterprise was still a blip. The oppression of Palestinians could be reined in through conscientious struggle.

“My idea was to, on the one hand, reconnect with a place that’s meaningful for Jews, with a Jewish population, but on the other hand work very much for an end to … I mean, we didn’t use those terms in those days; the ‘colonial thing’ … but an end to the occupation; to a just peace with the Palestinians; living together,” Halper told the GPM in a wide-ranging conversation at his West Jerusalem dining room table.

Before too long, Halper and others clued in to Israel’s modus operandis — the ruthless, systematic demolition of Palestinian homes.

In 1997, Halper and other peace activists formed ICAHD — The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. With financial support from the EU, UN and various church groups, staff were hired and an office rented. They began meeting Palestinians, something the Israeli peace movement wasn’t accustomed to doing, but clearly had to happen.

The learning curve was steep. Halper and his comrades knew nothing about the situation Palestinians faced at the hands of the administrative entity charged with their deepening subjugation and oppression — the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — and trust needed to be built.

Palestinian home demolition had been the driving wheel of Israel’s settler-colonial project from the get-go.

Between the UN resolution partitioning Palestine in November 1947 and Israel’s May 1948 declaration of statehood, 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly driven from their homes. The destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages and urban areas, and the demolition  of over 50,000 homes, would follow.

Israel’s aim was clear: preventing Palestinians from returning.

Between Israel’s 1967 conquest of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and today, another 60,000 Palestinian homes and building structures would be demolished. The homes of Palestinian-Israelis — Israeli citizens — weren’t spared. Now and then, demolition of their homes exceeded that of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Demolished Palestinian home in Al-Walaja, south of Jerusalem (David Kattenburg)

And Israeli  domesticide doesn’t cease. Indeed, it accelerates.

In the seven months since Hamas’ daring incursion into southern Israel, the Israeli military has demolished over 300,000 Gazan homes — almost three-quarters of Gaza’s housing stock — killing an estimated 35,000, most of them women and children. Countless thousands of Gazans remain buried under the rubble of their humble homes.

Armed with US bombs and missiles, Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in an instant. Palestinian suffering and trauma will endure for generations. What’s its aim? Ethnic cleansing, genocide, and the consolidation of the settler-colonial regime it established in 1948, says Jeff Halper.

“You can’t do that without house demolitions,” Halper told the GPM in a wide-ranging conversation at his West Jerusalem kitchen table.

Jeff Halper is a founding member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and of the more recent One Democratic State Campaign. He’s also the author of a host of books, including An Israeli in Palestine (2010), War Against the People (2015), and Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism and the Case for One Democratic State (2021).

Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Jeff Halper (David Kattenburg)