“War Against the People” seeks to answer a common question amongst activists in the Israel-Palestine conflict: “How does Israel get away with it?” The author, Jeff Halper, argues that conventional explanations to this question - the power of the Israeli lobby for example - are not satisfactory.
The most common answers do not explain Israel’s ability to garner support in parts of the world where the Israeli lobby or the fervour of Christian Zionists are non-existent: In India, states in Latin America and Africa, even in the Middle East, Israel enjoys a favourable position at least on a governmental level if not amongst the population of the country.
Why then “in a decidedly post-colonial age....Israel is able to sustain a half-century occupation over the Palestinians, a people it violently displaced in 1948, in the face of almost unanimous international opposition”?
“Why, indeed, does the international community tolerate an unnecessary conflict that not only obstructs efforts to bring some stability to the wider Middle East....but one that severely disrupts the international system as a whole?”
According to Halper, the reason for this contradiction is extremely opaque and therefore requires new thinking to convincingly answer the question “how Israel gets away with it”. As the book’s subtitle - Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification - suggests, a comprehensive examination into securitisation against restive populations around the world is required.
Halper makes a bold suggestion and wants us to look beyond the normal world of government diplomacy to the hidden world of global security and take a careful look at Israel’s position within it, particularly in the post 9/11 world, where governments have imposed a state of “permanent emergency” in their attempt to secure their power and maintain a position of privilege in a “global battle space”.
According to Halper, the current global capitalist system is in crises. Millions of people are disillusioned with politics and millions more experience constant violations of their human rights. Growing disaffection has spawned national and “transnational movements of counter hegemony”, which poses new challenges to the elites and the ruling class (the Arab Spring inevitably comes to mind).
Halper believes that the decades of suppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people, instead of being a burden, has become the source of its political clout. Israel’s “culture of deep militarism” and years of experience in suppression of political rights means it is perfectly equipped to export its technology of control and domination to others. Its unique experiences have made the country an invaluable asset to governments around the world that too are confronted with new security challenges.
Central to Halper’s thesis is the notion that conventional warfare – war between states - is a thing of the past. The wars of our time are not characterised by armies fighting armies but armies and police supressing their population. Governments around the world are waging “a war against the people”, and seeking “securitisation” against migrants, dissidents, protestors; anybody and everybody seen as a threat to the global capitalist system. The number one policy concern of governments, according to the author, is to find a way to “secure insecurity”.
The logical consequence of the expansion of security and militarisation argues Halper, has meant that the people of the world have been "Palestinianised" and governments have become "Israelised".
Israel is in an enviable position to “secure insecurity” having had decades of experience in doing so. “Its edge in the high-tech security needs may have developed out of necessity but it has now developed into a core element of the Israeli economy and placed it at the forefront of the global security industry”.
Halper dedicates a number of chapters to develop this thesis. His formulation of global governments in conflict with the people is used as the basic framework to cite countless examples to demonstrate Israel’s entrenchment within the global military industrial complex, policing and security.
From the Contras in Latin America, to the riots in Ferguson North America, Halper cites numerous instances where Israel and Israeli security companies have led the way in the pacification of the people through the export of arms, surveillance technology, intelligence and security advice.
Many eye raising facts are unearthed to describe the creeping “Israelisation” of American, British and other forces around the world. The aggressive policing, notably in the US, comes directly out of Israeli police handbook argues Halper. Officers opting for a confrontational approach in dealing with protestors in Ferguson, US, were trained in Israel. By the same token officers that shot Charles De Menezes in the head in a London tube station had also incorporated Israeli military tactics in dealing with potential suicide bombers.
Critics would no doubt point to the fact that Israel’s total arms export is small in comparison to others. However, the author argues convincingly that Israel’s security export is unmatched not because of quantity but due to its quality. Israel has managed to carve out a "niche" in the security industry, selling its experience and expertise in policing, urban warfare, surveillance, intelligence; what Halper calls “full spectrum domination”. Its success is largely due to using Palestine as a laboratory to develop technologies of control and battle tested weapons to be imported to governments facing a restive population.
Halper presses home the central argument of his book that Israel is an invaluable asset to governments facing new security challenges by pointing to the country’s diplomatic relations with 157 states around the world, which contains a security component in it.
I think Halper has written a bold and incredible book. Parts of the book are theory heavy and quite technical. However the author in my view can be forgiven for this given the task he has undertaken. Not only has he provided dozens of examples of Israel's questionable relations with state suppression in every continent over the past few decades but he has also succeeded in developing a convincing theory to explain why Israel is feted by governments despite its unpopularity amongst the people of the world.