Why Jeff Halper Makes Israel Nervous
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th August, 2008
In a welcome softening of its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip’s waters, Israel earlier this week allowed through from Cyprus the two ships Free Gaza and Liberty, which were bringing in humanitarian relief to the stricken territory, as well as 44 peace activists from 17 countries (including Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth). The plan is that the ships will also transport out of Gaza some of the Palestinian Fulbright scholars who were granted scholarships by the United States, but were then prevented by the Israelis from travelling overland out of the strip. However, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — who has high hopes of becoming Prime Minister following the expected departure of Ehud Olmert — told the conservative mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot that this was a ‘one-off’ case and warned that other craft should not attempt to break the naval blockade.
Unfortunately, the good publicity Ms Livni could have expected from this move was undermined by the fact that the one Israeli Jew on board the two ships, the US-born professor of anthropology and key figure in the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jeff Halper, was later arrested when he attempted to cross the land border between Gaza and Israel. Under current Israeli law it is an offence for an Israeili citizen to be in Gaza (though as Jeff Halper is also a US citizen, that legal argument is a little nuanced). Anyway, he was arraigned to appear in court in Ashkelon yesterday. A cynic might observe that it is a pity it is not also an offence under Israeli law for Israeli citizens to be in the occupied West Bank, as about half a million of them have taken up residence in settlements there, in controvention of international law.
Assuming Jeff Halper — who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 — does not have to spend much time in custody, he will be coming to the United Kingdom next month, and he will be one of the keynote speakers at the Liberal International British Group’s fringe meeting on ‘Middle East: Is a Two-state Solution Still Viable?’ at the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth, on 16 September.