Israeli to speak about Palestinian homes in St. John's lecture

Activist says will describe how ongoing conflict affects Canadians

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on January 16, 2015
Jeff Halper in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, preparing as Israeli police and bulldozers come to destroy a family home. Halper was arrested for the protest action. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, with Halper, later rebuilt the home. He will be in St. John’s for a talk on Wednesday, Feb. 4. — Submitted photo/Photo courtesy of Jeff Halper

A collection of individuals who promoted rallies held this past summer in St. John’s, calling for an end to violence in Gaza, have taken on promotions for “Beyond fear and violence in Israel/Palestine,” an upcoming public talk to feature anthropologist and activist Jeff Halper.

Halper is co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a group based in the Middle East, promoting Palestinian residency in the West Bank by rebuilding demolished homes.

In early February, he will be in St. John’s as part of a cross-Canada fundraising tour, organized at the national level by the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine/Israel — a network of United Church members. The tour is co-sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices and will feature stories of rebuilding projects led by Halper and his team.

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Patricia Mercer is a local organizer for the event and was also involved with peace rallies held in the city last August. She told The Telegram she feels a particular desire to engage in the ongoing challenge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, considering it anything but distant.

“I was there for five months and experienced what life is like there for the Palestinians,” she said, explaining she experienced life in the West Bank through the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. “That’s how I got involved initially and this is a continuation of that.”

Halper’s talk, she said, will not require a pre-standing, deep knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, but will provide an opportunity for anyone who is interested to engage in promoting peacemaking.

She highlighted the fact Halper, who grew up in Minnesota and emigrated to Israel in the early 1970s, was co-nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2006, with Ghassan Andoni, a physics professor and activist at Birzeit University. Though he did not win, Halper was recognized for his ability to connect both Israelis and Palestinians on rebuilding projects.

“He’s been working to try and make it right,” she said, adding he offers respectful dissent in an environment where assumptions and terrorism have created terrible rifts.

Reached by phone, Halper said his organization has close ties with a handful of Palestinians who act as intermediaries on behalf of the organization, entering into Palestinian-occupied territories to extend offers for rebuilding new homes, demolished under watch of the Israeli military.

A re-building project is only undertaken when there is a letter of invitation to the group from the Palestinian family and community affected, he said, while speaking from a clear pro-Palestinian position.

 “We’re not bringing people together in a lets hold hands and love each other sense. We’re bringing people together politically because we’re saying to the Palestinians we understand your grievances, we support your right to a State of your own — at least to equal rights with us,” he said. “In return, the Palestinians are saying to us if you acknowledge our rights and you acknowledge what you’ve done to us and you’re willing to work towards a just peace with us, we’re with you. We’ll build with you, we’ll eat with you, we’ll be friends with you.”

The organization, he said, has found organizational partners and funding to complete 187 constructions to date. He said his upcoming talk will include the story of one home his group has re-built six times.

“This conflict affects your life in Canada in many ways. It affects your security, it affects the fears people have — the way people relate to immigrants, it brings Canada into an involvement,” he said. “There’s a lot of ties I’m going to bring out about why Canadians should be concerned about this conflict.”

“Beyond fear and violence in Israel/Palestine,” is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4 at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s St. John’s campus, the engineering lecture theatre, EN2006, in the SJ Carew Building.

Event sponsors include the Department of Anthropology and the United Church of Canada.