5th February, meeting with Jeff Halper
Genova, 02/05/20. Meeting with Jeff Halper, anthropologist and peace activist from Israel, author of War Against the People (Pluto press, 2015).
War as an international affair
This book comes out of my work on Palestine and Israel. I’ve been an activist for many years. I am the head of an organization called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. We try to fight Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. And the question that comes up all the time is: how does Israel get away with this? Why does the world allow Israel to have an occupation for more than fifty years, to violate international law, to repress an entire people? Not only does it allow it, but Israel gets more and more international support, its status goes up and up in the international community.
There are all kinds of explanations people think of, for example the strong jewish lobby in the United States. But that doesn’t explain the Italian support for Israel. It doesn’t explain support for Israel from countries where there are no jews: today India and China are two of the strongest supporters of Israel in the international community.
Then there is the idea of the guilt over the Holocaust. That maybe plays a role in Germany, or in Poland and in the United States to some degree, but that isn’t the issue in Latin America, where Israel now has tremendous support: it is the first non latin-american country to be an associate of the latin american market. Another explanation is Christian fundamentalists: the evangelicals, the right-wing Christians, and again that’s important in the United States, but that doesn’t really matter much in other countries that still support Israel.
So it was hard to explain. To me, the thread to look for seemed to be: what is Israel’s role in the world? In other words, we’re always looking at Israel down to what it is doing to the Palestinians, the demolitions, the wall, the settlements etc. We don’t often look up at Israel’s role internationally. As I began to do that, it became very clear that Israel plays a key role in the military security police functions of the world system.
Interestingly, there is not a lot of work done on the role of war and security in international affairs, while there is a lot of work done on the reasons for war, and on the history of war. There’s work done on military technologies. But what role does war play – and not just war but security – in international politics isn’t very well studied. For example Marx almost didn’t mention war at all. Immanuel Wallerstein, in his theory of modern world-systems, doesn’t get at all into the issue of war. War is seen as disruptive, as a bad thing, but it is not seen as an integral part of the way the world works.
So I wanted to see what is the role that war and security play in the modern world. I tried to put my work within the framework of transnational capitalism because for the first time, maybe beginning in the 1870s, you begin to have a world system. In particular with the end of the Cold War and with the rise of neoliberalism and global capitalism. And of course as we know global capitalism is good for a few people but not for everybody.
Surplus humanity and resources
There is this concept of excess or surplus humanity. It turns out that 80% of the people in the world are surplus humanity. The capitalist system does not need them. They will never be consumers in a meaningful way. They will never be really educated or productive in the capital sense of productivity. They are superfluous, they are excess. 80% of the world’s people live on less than 10 dollars a day. 50% of the world’s people live on less than two dollars a day. The vast majority of people are not able to really support themselves.
This system does not deal very well with those people – but still they are 80% of the people, you have to somehow control them. For example, we know that the world economy is highly concentrated on particular companies and corporations and rich people, about a hundred-forty-seven firms – there is some Italian firm in there as well somewhere – controlling 40% percent of the world’s economy.
We now have what are called resource wars. Wars today are less wars for ideology and more wars over resources, because as resources get scarcer – and of course most of the world’s resources flow into the global North – that’s the cause of tremendous warfare: water, minerals, wood, and oil of course. According to Michael Klare, there is a belt along the Equator that has some of the world’s most valuable resources. In other words, where the poorest people in the world live is where the the world’s most valuable resources are concentrated. The world system is largely based on extracting those resources from those people – and we know the resulting conflicts in that kind of belt.
The capitalist system then has a problem, and the problem is that we are only benefiting a small percentage of humanity, and that most people are outside. That includes also middle class people, like in Italy and in Europe. The middle class young people in the global North are becoming more and more marginal to the job market: trade unions are getting weaker, you have a McDonald’s type economy of people being hired temporarily, young people do not make enough money to really earn a living, cannot get housing etc. So this is not only a matter of the “Third World” or the global South, this is something that is really happening in the global North as well.
Securocratic wars outside
The problem then becomes: how does the capitalist system secure its hegemony?
There is an hegemony over the world system. It is not that we control everything, not that we go out and conquer. Not like Hitler, who wanted to conquer everywhere in order to control. You do not have to conquer, you have to extend your hegemony in a more political, economic and cultural way over the world in order to have control. But the problem is that the people that are left outside of the system resist more and more.
So what we have is what I call a war against the people. It’s been called by other people the “everyday war” or the the “permanent war”. Certainly, it is a securocratic war. That’s the term that I use. It’s a war for security.
I don’t really mean the war that we usually think of. Wars between powerful countries, usually conducted with armies that fight battles and one side wins. Conventional interstate wars are a thing of the past. The last major interstate war in which two or more major powers fought each other was World War II. Maybe Korea, in a sense. But all the other wars between countries, even if not always small in deaths, they were small in terms of episodes. They were localized: the Iran-Iraq war, the Falklands war, the Israel-Arab wars, wars between Georgia and Russia, or with Ukraine.
Something has happened between countries? First of all, such wars do not involve only two major powers. Sometimes there’s one big power and a smaller country like the United States and Iraq or the United States in Afghanistan. And second of all again, they’re very localized.
So conventional warfare is not really what I’m talking about. But secure chronic war has two major expressions.
One: securocratic wars are fought abroad, outside of your country. There is a lot of terms for them: “asymmetric wars”, “limited warfare”, “operations”. The first war in Iraq was called operation Desert Storm. Often they’re not declared wars. Real wars, or interstate wars, are normally declared. Then there’s rules of warfare. But now wars usually are not declared. The “guerrilla wars”, “dirty wars”, “small wars”. Sometimes they are called “colonial wars”, “conflict”. Or “conflicts short of war”: that means that you can have a war without the rules of war, for prisoners for example. You are not confined by international law. “Military operations”, “counterinsurgency”, “low intensity warfare”, “counterterrorism”.
All those are kinds of wars that are fought outside of the Big World, usually between larger powers in countries or areas that have resources that you need. And you are taming the populations, you are creating conditions of extraction of materials, you have a captured population for cheap labor. Those are the securocratic wars that enforce the hegemony of corporate capitalism over the whole world.
Now we are getting types of weapons that are immediate, whether they are drones or different kinds of cyberborgs, they have immediate responses anywhere in the world. I call them securocratic because the idea is not to win. Not to beat the other side. There’s no ideology here. The idea is to create conditions of control and hegemony, forever. There’s no end.
Securocratic wars inside
The second kind of wars happen inside, like here in Italy. It used to be, in the global North, that there was a wall between the military and internal security agencies, for example the police forces. The military was outside and the domestic forces were inside – and they did not talk to each other very much. This comes from the idea of the state in the West: you have to stay out of the internal affairs of other countries. For example, in the United States, the CIA is not allowed to talk to the FBI, except in certain channels. The military is not supposed to deal with police forces, but certainly since September 11th those differences have begun to be blurred, and the military, and internal security, and policing become one thing.
So what we have today in securocratic wars is that militaries are becoming like police forces. The american militaries in Iraq or in Afghanistan are not really fighting battles anymore. They are police forces. They are partly training. They are partly keeping the order. They are partly doing peacekeeping operations, which is another UN form of security. So the military is being “policified”: made like a police force.
But at the same time the police forces in your country are becoming militarized. They are beginning to wear dress and carry weapons and do things that was not considered appropriate to police, just a generation ago.
So you’re getting the militarization of the police and the policification of the military. That’s where it’s all beginning to come together. Securocratic war inside has to do with with internal security: counterterrorism, again. Think of the “war on drugs”. “War on crime”. “War on immigration”. These metaphors are being used because these threaten the corporate control of a country inside. And then it gets into things like discipline, prisons, what is called the prison-industry complex.
What do you do in a country like Italy, where a lot of the young people – not just immigrants – do not have a secure future? Or in Europe in general?
This is the securocratic war to enforce hegemony in the capitalist system in which most people are excluded. It is the role of war today. I call it a war against the people. Different from a war like World War II.
That’s how I’ve been conceptualizing it.
In all this, Israel plays a key role. I won’t get into Israel. But Israel plays the key role in this. Because Israel is a country that is in a pivotal position. Israel has been fighting a war against the Palestinian people for a hundred years, now. So Israel has more experience.
Europe used to fight colonial wars. That ended a long time ago, maybe 60-70 years ago, or more. Italy was in Ethiopia and Libia for a little while. But Europe does not have that experience. And neither the United States do. Vietnam was the last time the US dealt with that kind of a war, and they didn’t do very well. They didn’t do very well in Afghanistan today, either.
Israel has that experience of a war inside, on another people, but at the same time Israel has a very high-tech capability. It is able to develop weapon and security systems, and tactics and strategies, that other countries find useful.
And here’s where I get to answer: how does Israel get away with it? Because those other countries use these technologies!
Including China, where Israeli technology is being used against the uyghurs. Israel has a tremendous security relationship with China. After Russia, Israel is the number two arms supplier to China. Or India, which is now Israel’s largest military customer. That’s really amazing because Israel doesn’t sell big expensive weapons, tanks, and ships, and jet airplanes. It doesn’t produce those kinds of weapons, they are too expensive for Israel. They are producing radar, security, surveillance systems. And components for systems (if you take those smaller sorts of systems, that adds up to being number two, after China). You can imagine how deep that penetration of Israeli technology is in Chinese military, Chinese security, Chinese police. After Russia, Israel is the number two arms supplier to India.
So, “little Israel” is the number two supplier to two of the largest military countries in the world. Expecially in surveillance systems with facial and body recognition. There’s a company in Israel called Nice Systems – what a name! – producing a digital technology that, with just cameras around, picks up everybody. Everybody has something special about them. Your height, weight, facial, all of that. Some people blink their eyes, or walk with a limp, or have a twitch. Whatever it is (and it picks up on all of that!), with this digital technology you don’t have to go back and look at films of a million people. You pick up traits and identify people immediately. These are very sophisticated systems.
Israel is exporting almost everywhere in the world. Even with countries it has no diplomatic relations with. For example Israel and Saudi Arabia. As a matter of fact it was just in the news last week that the telephone that bin Salman used to catch Khashoggi in Istanbul was equipped with NSO and Israeli surveillance systems. He just used that same system to go into the phone of Jeff Bezos’s [Amazon’s CEO], and found data about his love life. Jeff Bezos got divorced, and the information about the affair he was having with this woman came out of his phone that was plugged into from bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, through an Israeli company.
Israeli companies are really there. I will not get into all that but there’s trade with almost every country in the world. What does Israel specialize in a particular?
One thing is drones. 60% of the world’s drones are Israeli. As a matter of fact the technology for drones made in Europe and in the US is Israeli. The Watchkeeper Drone, which is the drone being developed in the EU, is owned 51% by an Israeli company, Elbit Systems. A part of it is from Technion, the polytechnic that is considered the laboratory of the Israeli army and defence industry.
It’s interesting to understand how the concept of war affects the weapons. The drone technology has been known for many years. There were even primitive drones in World War II. But Europe and especially the United States decided that they were not going to pursue and develop drones, because drones are very vulnerable. What is a drone? A drone is a plane that stays in one place. For days and weeks it just surveys what is going on. That’s its main function. In English, we call it a “sitting duck”. It’s very easy for an Air Force or even artillery to shoot down a drone. The United States would say “why should we have a stupid airplane that costs a billion dollars and that you can shoot down”? So they never got into that kind of technology. But Israel is fighting another kind of war. Israel is fighting a war against the Palestinians, who don’t have an Air Force, so they couldn’t shoot down an Israeli drone. For Israel drones were very useful for that kind of guerrilla warfare in which you’re trying to keep control of all the movements and everything going on. That is why Israel captured that market – because for wars against the people these are very good weapons. For conventional wars they are terrible because you just shoot them down. The Pentagon is still preparing to fight conventional wars against China, against the Soviet Union. They’re still developing weapon systems that are useless in asymmetrical warfare. The F-35, the latest American stealth aircraft, is useless.
Another Israeli product is walls and barriers: dumb walls, but also smart walls with sensors. You have Israeli walls all across Europe, against immigrants, for the most part. Most of the walls in Europe are outfitted with Israeli technologies. That includes the wall on the Mexico-American border, which is being done by Boeing and Elbit Systems, again. This is a whole technology that Israel is selling to Europe and other places, that are based on sensors – not on physical walls so much.
Automated fire, but I will not get into that.
The scientist’s responsibility
Surveillance systems. Urban surveillance is another huge industry in Israel. The idea is that the most dangerous threatening thing for a police state is what are called spaces of anonymity. Where the state doesn’t know where you are, doesn’t know who you’re talking to, who you’re with. Those are very dangerous. The idea of the Israeli security system is to know everything. So Israel is not only exporting technologies of war against the people, but also surveillance systems. There is all kinds of those. I won’t get into them all but there’s mini-drones, mimicking insects or birds. You weaponize actual insects. Or you manufacture an insect – how’s that for a drone!?
Not only that but Israel is also one of the world’s leaders, with Italy, of nanotechnology. Italy is one of the world’s leaders in nanotechnology for medical purposes. Also Grenoble and some other European centers. Israel is one of the world’s leaders in the military field. So now they have opened a joint Israeli-Italian nano research center in Firenze. I’m not sure of everything because it’s very secret. This is a drone [showing an image], a little mosquito. These are the cameras. Elbit systems makes lenses that are used in satellites, that can show you what is on this table from space. They are very good at that. But here is what we call a beaker with a needle. With nanotechnology you can take a disease like anthrax, that has no anecdote, that cannot be cured, and in this little thing here you could put enough to kill a hundred thousand or more people. You could put this in the water supply, put it in individuals so you can make a contagious virus like the one in China now. Nano is a billionth of a meter, a molecule size. Now you can think about molecule size weapons. Here’s where it gets together with the biomedicine point of view. Why is nano so important in medicine? I’m not going to give a medical lecture, but the point is that nanotechnologies are so small that they can be put in your blood system and monitor the blood supply without interfering with it. Well, now you can weaponized them, either with diseases or with sprays. There’s a suspicion, but we cannnot prove it, that Israel has used these weapons in Gaza. What you can do is you could upload somebody’s DNA. Let’s say you’re looking for somebody in Gaza. It’s like loading pieces of dust or spray with this information and then you can plane spray Gaza. As it lands, the person with that DNA will appear to the people that are monitoring it. So in other words, you can take those kinds of systems and find anybody. Or you could affect DNA. You can put a nano material that could cause a whole population to forget, or to laugh uncontrollably, or have things that affect your mind or brain in a nano sort of away. This is almost a system you cannot fight against.
Nano is the most financed part of weapons research today. In Italy, Israel, the US, China, Germany, it gets the most funding of any other branch of weapons development.
In a conference of scientists sponsored by the Future of Humanity Institute in 2008, they asked scientists what do they think the probability that humans will be extinct by by 2100 and from what source will humans go extinct. What is the greatest danger to human survival? The scientist said overall probability is 19% that humans will be extinct. I don’t know if that’s high or low. But as they were talking about how this will happen, it’s interesting to know that the top reason why people would go extinct is molecular nanotechnology weapons. That was the most dangerous. Because we always think of nuclear weapons as the most dangerous. Then you go down and you find superintelligent alternative artificial intelligence is also up there, but things like engineered pandemics is first, that gets into what I was saying about how you could use this DNA to spread pandemics. Down the list, not very far, nanotechnology accidents.
In other words nanotechnology is high up there in terms of a pretty big danger, and we don’t talk about it. One reason I wrote this book, by the way, is because I’m on the left. The left knows nothing about this stuff. I knew nothing about it until I wrote the book. We don’t know weapon systems, these technologies, and we certainly do not know nanotechnology. Most of us in the left come from the social sciences, the humanities, and we do not really know “science science”. We don’t know what science is cooking up, 25 year-olds in the laboratories, and at the same time often scientists are not exposed to the bigger questions of ethics, history and politics. They are in their labs, doing their stuff, and they don’t really understand the implications of it. I think that’s a really important aspect.
Exporting the Security State
And then the militarization of the police, as I mentioned before. Israel, for example – but not only Israel – is developing weapons that used to be military weapons and that are now made for police. So for example, the most famous Israeli submachine gun is a Uzi – the mafia loves the Uzi, everybody loves the Uzi. It’s a little machine gun. Now they’re making it as a pistol, a hand gun. So a policeman can have it in a holster and pull it like this. But it’s a submachine gun, it is not firing one shot at a time. We are beginning to get more and more militarized weapons in police forces.
Let’s go back one second. Israel’s not only exporting technologies of securocratic war – for which Israel is especially good because it has a laboratory: the West Bank and Gaza. Millions of people that you can experiment on. In my book I show all the weapons that were used for the first time in Gaza, in the different operations. There’s a whole population and no oversight, you can do anything you want with them.
But it’s not only that: Israel has a concept of a security state, that is exporting. Not just the security technology, but the concept of a security state, in which basically security becomes the central element. You can have a democracy, too, but the democracy is under security. Everything is under security. Due process suffers, the laws suffer, human rights suffer. The point is that security becomes the major thing. You see how Israel is working in Europe, for example. When a couple of years ago you had the attack in Brussels, at the airport and then in the city, Israel said to Belgians: “stop eating chocolate, and join the world”. And they said: you’ve got a problem with terrorism. You all Europeans have a problem with terrorism. And you’re not doing very well with it. You’re criticizing Israel for its occupation. You shouldn’t be criticizing Israel. You should be imitating Israel. You should be doing what Israel does because, look, you have a neighborhood of muslims in Brussels that’s doing some terrorism. We have a country between the Mediterranean the Jordan River, we have a democracy – the only democracy in the Middle East right? – we have a great economy, our people feel a real sense of personal security and safety. In a country where half the population are terrorists! If you define Palestinians as terrorist by definition… We can create security in a country, where half the population are terrorists, imagine what our model could do for you in Brussels, or in France or anywhere else.
Israel is really working with the right wing all over the world. Israel works with the Italian right wing, of course. With Orban, the whole Eastern European: Poland, even Austrian right-wing, Hungarians and so on. Israel works very closely with the right wing in Britain, in the US with Trump of course, Bolsonaro is a best friend, he loves Netanyahu! So that there’s a real thing, there is a real danger of a kind of combination of right-wing nationalist ideologies that begin to have a concept of a Security State that guides them. It is not just a bunch of right-wing people who don’t want immigration, and there’s a French version and a Polish version and Italian version, but they begin to get the same ideology, the same program of a Security State, and then they begin to get the technologies that Israel is developing. Not just Israel is developing an overall securocratic complex: and you know that becomes a real danger to all of us.
War against the people is not just one little area of international politics. It’s the way in which corporate capitalism enforces its hegemony. It’s integral to this. It isn’t just something on the side: and this isn’t reflected very much in research, and it isn’t reflected very much in the agenda of the left. We are misunderstanding the significance of all this in international life.