Israel plays a host of praiseworthy roles in today’s troubled world, some say — providing a homeland for the planet’s perennially victimized Jews; bolstering peace and democracy in a uniformly violent and illiberal region; hatching clever innovations for the betterment of humanity, against all odds, plagued by endless hazards.
In his new book War Against the People, Israeli-American writer-activist Jeff Halper argues that Israel’s true genius lies elsewhere: as the preeminent vendor of hi-tech tools and tactics for waging “full spectrum” war, smashing “terrorist” entities, policing borders and internal ghettos, and “securitizing” restive populations — all combat-proven, under real-life conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and besieged, hopeless Gaza.
In the global, post-9-11, permanent war economy, says Halper, Israel has parlayed its permanent subjugation of the Palestinian people into a huge competitive advantage — deeply attractive to powerful elites within the “core” and far off in the periphery.
The quid pro quo for providing permanent warfighting solutions to the world’s great and lesser powers: impunity for actions everyone agrees grievously contravene international law, such as transferring its citizens into occupied territory, and dispatching occupied subjects into homeland prisons.
Customary media reports contextualize Israel as a heartwarming “start-up” nation, forever on the verge of annihilation. Forty-nine years ago, poised to be invaded for the third time (according to its allies and mass media), it seized a chunk of land beyond its internationally recognized border where millions of “Palestinians” lived (Israel denies that Palestinians actually exist). Over the years it has transferred 650,000 of its citizens into what it calls “Judea” and “Samaria,” under the protection of Israeli army and police. The international community calls this occupation, and has declared Jewish settlements to be illegal (although the US, Canada and Western Europe refrain from sanctioning Israel, and actually invest in the settlements). “Judea” and “Samaria” were promised to the Jews by God, Israel contends.
And so on. For almost thirty years, American negotiators have moved heaven and earth to achieve a “two-state solution.” Preserving Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” they say, is crucial to global peace and “security.” But the “conflict” is “intractable.” No one should be expected to work harder for peace than the warring parties themselves, Washington sighs. Various proposals have been put forward — including a 2002 Saudi offer to embrace Israel in exchange for its return to 1967 lines — but Israel insists that the “Arabs” have to accept Israel as a “Jewish state.” Israel and its friends all agree that Israel inhabits a “dangerous neighborhood” (“villa in the jungle,” one Israeli put it, jovially) and that Israel’s “Jewish and democratic character” must be preserved at all cost.
It’s all smoke and mirrors, says Jeff Halper. Beyond the deeply held Zionist doctrine that “Eretz Israel” belongs completely and entirely to the Jewish people, Israel has profited enormously from its occupation of the West Bank and ruthless siege of Gaza. Jewish settlements are integral, highly productive components of the Israeli economy. More to the point, permanent occupation has necessitated the development of technologies and protocols for surveillance, policing and population control that Israel can market around the world, generating healthy profits.
The acronyms for these technologies and concepts, each more frightening than the last, are listed at the start of Halper’s book: armored infantry and combat engineering vehicles; nanoweapons; display and sight helmets; dense inert metal explosives (that vaporize tissue down to the bone); electromagnetic pulse bombs; electro-optically guided weapons; ground moving target indicators; high-energy laser weapons; medium-altitude long-endurance drones; miniature autonomous robotic vehicles, some of them weaponized; micro-air vehicles (insect-like entomopters); genetic weapons.
As warfare moves from its conventional interstate forms to hybrid wars, war amongst the people, securitization at home and abroad, counter-terrorism and militarized domestic policing, Israel is able to parlay its interminable struggle against the Palestinians (and Hezbollah) into an exportable commodity.
Israel tried its hand for a while to develop major weapons systems — jet fighters, armored tanks and the like. Over the years, it steadily came to occupy a narrower, arguably more lucrative niche, developing and manufacturing highly sophisticated subsystems for missile guidance, target acquisition, reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, cyber security and countermeasures. These tools, many of them developed in partnership with US and European defense giants, have been field tested in the course of both conventional and “hybrid” conflicts in Lebanon and Gaza. Hundreds of Israeli state-run, university and private corporations now dominate global sale of these technologies.
As important as unbelievably ingenious gizmos (e.g. eyeball monitors that can be tossed into rooms or forests to roam around, searching for insurgents, or insect-sized drones that can fly great distances or hover for hours), Israel’s masterwork is what Halper calls its “Matrix of Control,” developed over half a century of subjugating Palestinians in the West Bank and besieging Gaza. Halper divides the Matrix of Control into three categories: infrastructural (borders, barriers, checkpoints, layered defenses, monitoring and surveillance facilities, etc.), administrative/legal regimes (interlocking military and civil governments, zoning regulations, administrative and mass detention, permit systems, segregation of populations into islands), and operational doctrines and tactics (arbitrary tactics, disproportional force, collective punishment, targeted assassination, urban warfare, militarization of the police, weapons of suppression).
Made-in-Israel war-fighting and counterinsurgency tools and techniques honed to perfection in the first (1987-1992) and second (2000-2002) intifadas were emulated by the US and its NATO allies in the first and second Gulf wars, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Lesser powers out in the periphery — places like Guatemala, Honduras and Chile, Indonesia, South Korea; Iran, believe it or not — have also put Israeli technologies to impressive use.
According to Halper and others who’ve written in this field, Israeli “pacification” and “securitization” technologies and tactics have enabled what Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Glenn Greenwald have been warning about over the past decade: that the “War on Terror” has turned into a war on civil liberties back home, essentially aimed at amassing power and wealth for those who pull the levers of capitalist accumulation. In exchange for its nifty solutions — invested in, jointly produced, swapped, studied, rehearsed and work-shopped by U.S., Canadian, European and Australian police and military forces — Israel gets a free pass. Abstentions or otherwise favourable votes at the UN are guaranteed, Security Council resolutions are thwarted, and plenty of money changes hands. Such are the ways of “security politics.”
Jeff Halper’s new book is a sobering read. Those who know little or nothing about military technologies, and care less, may opt to skim over the exhaustive, very clearly written raft of specs Halper provides. His rundown of Israeli cooperation with “hegemons of the core and periphery” compellingly synthesizes a very large, preexisting literature. Coupled with his analysis of Israel’s Matrix of Control, War Against the People is a must-read.
Listen to my conversation with Jeff Halper. Click on the SoundCloud link above, and the play button on Jeff’s photo. The founder of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) grows weary of disunited local struggle, particularly in Israel-Palestine. (What’s the end-game of BDS? No one can explain, to his satisfaction). He sets his sights on larger arenas for collective action (a new initiative called The People Yes! Network; the upcoming World Social Forum, in Montreal) out in Global Palestine.