On Monday, in front of a small, intimate crowd in the James Gallery of Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center, Jeff Halper, the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, lectured on conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians
Halper received his doctorate in cultural and applied anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has taught at universities in Israel, the United States, Latin America and Africa, and he has authored three books on Middle Eastern conflicts.
“I am an anthropologist by profession, but I call myself an engaged anthropologist. … I take my academic training and I use it in the real world, in the political world,” Halper said. “So, I am an anthropologist slash peace activist, I guess you could say.”
In 2006, Halper was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Although he did not win, he believes his nomination has benefited his work.
“[The nomination] was important because it, you know, gives credibility to our work. You know, it is true, it doesn’t open doors exactly, but it is an acknowledgment of what you are doing and it is something that gives you a little more access and a little more authority that you wouldn’t have otherwise. So, it’s very useful as a tool to have that nomination,” Halper said.
Despite Palestinian occupation of Israel, the United Nations, after World War II, declared a portion of Palestine to be a Jewish state. Since this declaration, Halper explained, political unrest, outright war and land takeovers have existed between Palestinians and Israelis in the area.
“There has to be a just peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also that this is a global conflict. It isn’t simply a local Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, therefore, if you want to bring some stability to the Middle East in general and for Americans, if you want to reconcile with the Muslim world, you’ve got to resolve this conflict. Then beyond that, this conflict involves fundamental violations of human rights and international law and we have to protect that,” Halper said.
Halper indicated that his visit to Youngstown State University is part of a worldwide tour meant to educate the public on the mistreatment of Palestinians living in Israel.
“Youngstown is part of a tour. Last month I was in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand — now, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh. The idea is to get out and get the churches and the public and get to the universities and spread the message,” he said.
Halper compared the treatment of Palestinians in Israel to that of locked-up prisoners.
“There’s a situation worse than apartheid and that’s what’s called warehousing. It is a political term that is coming out of the American prison system in which prisoners are warehoused. They’re there; they disappear; they’re fed by the states. They’re essentially inmates,” he said. “That is exactly the way Israel looks at the Palestinians. They’re inmates of areas A and B in Gaza and as long as they accept that, we’ll allow them to stay.”
Halper’s lecture was well received by both faculty and students. Keith Lepak, an associate professor in the political science department at YSU, explained the importance of Halper’s message.
“Dr. Halper is useful at the university because most Americans simply have no clue what is happening on the West Bank with Israeli settlement construction. What was most important, in terms of his visuals, was the maps showing just how the West Banks is de facto, or in fact, controlled by the Israelis,” Lepak said. “He came to my class, and I came back here to see what he would be speaking about, and I am glad I did.”
Jessica Willmitch, a criminal justice major at YSU, attended the event and also responded positively to Halper’s address.
“It is interesting,” Willmitch said. “It is nice to hear directly from someone who is involved and been there in the Middle East, and actually experienced those situations. When you go on TV, you just hear those little 30 second excerpts, and I don’t think that is
Additional reporting by Liam Bouquet