Julius Grey, civil rights lawyer and human rights activist and Israeli-American political activist and anthropologist Jeff Halper spoke about the barriers to peace in the Middle East at McGill last Wednesday. The event was hosted by Young Jews for Social Justice (YJSJ) and Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).
Applause and cheers rang as Halper stood to speak.
Halper blamed Israeli tribal nationalism and a belief in exclusive ownership of land as the reasons why peace remains so elusive, likening “this is our land, but you can live here too” attitude to nationalist periods seen in Germany, Poland, Russia.
“Think of ‘The Motherland, The Homeland!’ People say Israel is a Western democracy, but it isn’t,” Halper said. “Zionism comes out of Eastern Europe, not Western Europe.”
Halper also claimed that this “doctrine of the permanent enemy” guides Israelis to assume that Arabs want to kill them, and thus that there is no political solution.
“Israel is a military state. It is run by generals and Israel has set up a set of parameters that make peace impossible,” Halper said.
Halper then used his “doctrine” to argue Hamas is the only group capable of protecting Palestinians from Israel, concluding that as a result armed resistance is legitimate according to international law.
Halper stopped once during his presentation and allowed a question to be asked by an upset Israeli, which was met with a raucous response from the audience – including one student who tactfully turned around, shouted, and dramatically mimed “zip-it-up.”
Halper concluded his presentation by claiming that the world was forgetting Palestinians and turning them into “surplus humanity” by apathy.
He proposed the abandonment of the two-state concept and a focus on a single-state solution, an option on neither party’s radar. He noted Israel has historically come to the negotiating table expecting to walk away with everything.
“I hope my message wasn’t a ‘down’ message, but there cannot be a win/lose resolution.”
Grey’s discussion preceded Halper. He felt Canadians have been far too passive in human rights activism, explaining that “safe” human rights activists avoid controversy– such as language laws and labour issues in Canada, and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
“Human rights are quite useless if not accompanied by courage,”Grey said.
Grey implied Israel’s recent action in Gaza has darker Machiavellian undertones.
“Condemning the invasion is in the interest of Israel,” added Grey.
He found any real resolution to be in the hands of Israel’s government, who he said needs to step away from policies of hate and war. He then outlined how Canadian action can speed up that process.
Representatives from QPIRG and IJV claimed McGill tried to censor the event when it demanded an additional $250 for security on the day of the talk. The audience was asked for further donations to cover the unexpected cost.