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Slouching towards Bethlehem

This is a guest post by amie

My eye witness account of Alan Johnson’s speech at St James in HP comments was posted on Elder of Ziyon:

Alan Johnson of Bicom spoke brilliantly; cogently articulating the case for the wall as a security issue. His rhetorical devices were masterly, as he spoke of the realities of the actual wall as against the never never world of the pretend wall, which in turn facilitated the calcification of the intellectual wall which refused to recognise the reality of the need for the real wall.

He cited famous harrowing instances of bombing and terror.
He showed graphs of how the level of terror decreased dramatically after the wall.
He cited last week’s abortive bus bombing where the terrorists had got through a breach in the wall, from Bethlehem. When he finished, (to a good round of applause from the substantial pro Israel presence there.) Jeff Halper, the next speaker, opened his mouth wide and bellowed: This wall has NOTHING to do with security. And without his having to say a single thing more to back up or verify this bellow, the hall erupted into cheers and applause.

I watched two attractive young women behind me as their faces broke into delighted beaming smiles of relief, clapping wildly. Without more, everything they had invested in, momentarily in danger of panicky disturbance by Johnson was reassuringly reinstated by this single, unsubstantiated bellow.

…Halper just shouted total outrageous lies, that Israel was killing children with chemicals which melted their insides, .. and with weapons with whirling blades which shredded them. All to wild cheers.

So outlandish did Halper’s charges sound, that some HP reader wondered whether Halper could really have said that. Since then, another attendee, Sharon Klaff, has painstakingly transcribed her recording of the event which I now have had the benefit of reading. [ Sharon was approached by a steward towards the end and told to stop recording “as she didn't have permission”].

For starters, Halper was having none of Alan Johnson’s complexity: After his klaxoned opening that the wall “has nothing to do with security, he declared: there’s no both sides here, there’s no complexity”. What then, is his simple truth?

“I reject the idea of complexity, I think it is absolutely clear there is an occupation.. “

Alas for Alan Johnson’s warning against reductivism, Halper’s  reductivism  wows the crowd. But then comes something more insiduous than reductivism. It is what I once termed the Tonge manoeuvre. That stemmed from Tonge’s wild words about the Israeli rescue team harvesting organs in Haiti. Despite the absence of a shred of evidence for this accusation she advised:

To prevent allegations such as these – which have already been posted on You Tube – going any further, the IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti.

Similarly for the St James crowd, just to mention something is to establish something; provided it is the favoured person doing the mentioning. I now have Halper’s exact words, thanks to the transcript:

The wall – and if you want  to talk about terrorism – you talk about cluster bombs used by Israel – you talk about anti-personnel weapons, you talk about tungsten based weapons that melt your insides, if you want to talk about Palestinian children with wounds that even doctors can’t figure out, talk about Flechettes – they’re like little razors like swords thousands of them going through the air and chopping limbs off. You wanna talk about terrorism, well let’s talk about terrorism, let’s talk about state terrorism..

Note the choice of  “talk about”   delivered in an unbroken demagogic outpouring, rather than facts in context.  The mere enumeration of these dread weapons raises the spectre that Israel must have used them, and must have used them in the worst possible way. At best, crowds are unreceptive to critical thinking  and this crowd, hothoused in a week  of demonisation, greets this readily with untroubled cheers.

For what it’s worth, it is left to us keyboard Casaubons to  sift drily through the chaff in search of facts.  This we do, fully aware that this tuquoque tactic of Halper in no way addresses the barrage of  assorted armaments, outlawed or otherwise, from Gaza which gave rise to the need for the security barrier.

Let us then,  talk about tungsten, or DIME, which melts your insides.  Even Col Travers of the Goldstone Commission had to concede that the Commission could find  no probative evidence of its use by Israel, but he too just couldn’t resist talking about it, anyway.

Halper’s dark mutterings about unexplained injuries has echoes in the pages  of the Palestine Telegraph which couldn’t accept  the Goldstone Commission’s failure to indict Israel in this regard, accusing the Commission of a cover up. The Palestine Telegraph is a paper which even Jenny Tonge found so outre she felt compelled to resign from its Board of Patrons

Let’s talk about cluster bombs. They are nasty.  The international community is rightly attempting to outlaw them. However according to the comprehensive table of their use by all countries since WW2, as documented by  Cluster Munition Monitor, (relied on by Human Rights Watch), Israel has only used cluster munitions in the 4 major clashes with Syria and Lebanon, the last time being 2006, aimed at Hizbollah. According to the table for 2006, Hizbollah sent them Israel’s way too. No mention of their use at any time in Gaza. Most recent use was by Libya in 2011, and to a horrific degree, their continuing use in Syria.

Now, flechettes. Also nasty.  I have read the relevant Israeli investigations of their use  in the Gaza operation, [Thanks to ElderofZyon for promptly supplying the references to these reports] and I know that, given their source, my impression of a solid forensic analysis, with thorough  legal oversight, will cut absolutely no ice with the Halperistas.

Here is the final report. See paras 113 -118.

This is from the Israeli government summary of the findings:

During the Gaza Operation a very limited use of flechettes (anti-personnel darts typically dispersed by means of an explosive shell) was made by IDF forces, which resulted in several complaints that were examined by the IDF, including two criminal investigations by the Military Police.

While the investigations did not reveal evidence of criminal action, nor of violation of the Laws of Armed Conflict, they nevertheless led to adoption of new standing orders clarifying restrictions on the use of flechettes in urban areas, as well as several other anti-personnel weapons. It is noted that the use of flechette munitions is not prohibited under international law, as confirmed by Israel’s Supreme Court.

See footnote 10 page 5.

According to this March 2010 report Israel was already  phasing flechettes out  “It’s a matter of opting for a shell that performs better, with obvious humanitarian benefits.

I can find no reference to their use by Israel since then, even from the most rabid sources. I also find nothing about phasing out  any of Hamas or Hizbollah’s weapons, only Iranian sourced upgrades.

As for Halper’s actual arguments:

If the wall had been built for security first of all, .. they would have built on the border. No one can have a problem with the wall including the international court of justice in the Hague had it been built on the border.

Sharon, he said, was against the wall, not only for landgrabbing, green line-erasing reasons but tactically:

..maybe  as a by-product maybe the wall did prevent a few attacks, but the wall has not been effective and  the army has been against the wall because the army feels constrained when it’s trying to move, it’s trying to chase, it’s trying to do this and that, everywhere you go there’s a damn wall to manoeuvre.

During Q&A he was asked by the chair: Is the wall not there to prevent terrorism?

Halper: “There is no internationally accepted definition of terrorism!  I prefer to use Human Rights language. Terrorism is violence against civilians. What about State terror? You hear about Al Quada, Palestinians, Hamas: what about States? Human Rights language means it prohibits the killing of innocent civilians.”
He then spoke about how it was impossible to have a Jewish State. This seemed to discomfit the chair, who queried this assertion.
Halper: “You can’t have an ethnically Jewish state in the 21stC. There must be a One State solution. We need to reframe the discussion. The issue is not security and terror. The issue is: the wall is a border. That is really why they built a wall.”

Alan Johnson was interviewed after his talk during the radio  4 programme called Sunday. A listener was indignant that  Johnson called Halper an extremist. He would have us know that Halper was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2006.

Before you all come rushing with your facts, your well argued, cogent refutations of the examples above from Halper’s  obfuscating misdirections, consider the words of Daniel Kahneman, an actual Nobel prize winner in economics:

The way scientists try to convince people is hopeless because they present evidence, figures, tables, arguments, and so on. But that’s not how to convince people. People aren’t convinced by arguments, they don’t believe conclusions because they believe in the arguments that they read in favour of them. They’re convinced because they read or hear the conclusions from people they trust. You trust someone and you believe what they say. That’s how ideas are communicated. The arguments come later.

Others have been marshalling the facts against Halper for years:

The troubling question is: Why do the acolytes of  St James still choose to put their trust in Halper, rather than Alan Johnson?

To twist Yeats: The best may have great conviction, but the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The rough beast has long since arrived at Bethlehem.