Israel’s Descent into Barbarism – Norman Finkelstein on RAI (1/2)
Transcript Part 1
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
In his book Method and Madness, Norman Finkelstein wrote, Israel’s evolving modus operandi for restoring its deterrence capacity describes a curve steadily regressing into barbarism. Israel gained its victory in 1967 primarily on the battlefield, albeit in a, quote, Turkey shoot, while in subsequent hostilities, mostly in Lebanon, it sought both to achieve a battlefield victory and to bombard the civilian population into submission. But Israel targeted Gaza to restore its deterrence capacity because it eschewed any of the risks of conventional war. It targeted Gaza because it was largely defenseless.
Further down, Norman writes, a supplementary benefit of this deterrence strategy was that it restored Israel’s domestic morale. A 2009 internal UN document concluded that the invasion’s “one significant achievement” was that it dispelled doubts among Israelis about, quote, their ability and the power of the IDF to issue a blow to its enemies. The use of excessive force proves Israel is the landlord (…) The pictures of destruction were intended more for Israeli eyes than those of Israel’s enemies, eyes starved of revenge and national pride.
Near the end of his book, Norman writes, in the Gaza Strip, they (meaning the people of Gaza) preferred to die resisting rather than continue living under an inhuman blockade. The resistance is mostly notional, as the makeshift projectiles caused little damage. So the ultimate question is: do Palestinians have the right to symbolically resist slow death punctuated by periodic massacres? Or is it incumbent upon them to lie down and die?
Again joining us in the studio is Norman Finkelstein.
Thanks for joining us again, Norman.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, ACTIVIST, AND AUTHOR: Thank you so much.
JAY: So, just quickly again, Norman is one of the foremost scholars of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as I mentioned, his latest book: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Assaults on Gaza.
So talk about this deterrence capacity, the necessity of Israel to prove the destruction it’s capable of wielding.
FINKELSTEIN: Alright. Well, Israel, it’s a long-standing is a feature of their security policy, basically, to remind the neighboring Arab states, Palestinians included, but neighboring Arab states as well, about who’s in charge and what are the consequences of challenging Israel. You saw that, for example, in the 1960s. It goes back quite a ways, but I’ll fast-forward to the 1967 War. It was quite clear–and Israel knew it; we know for sure Israel knew it–we knew two things: number one, that Nasser did not intend to attack on the eve of the Israeli first strike; and number two, even if he did attack and even if he did it in concert with neighboring Arab states Jordan and Syria, that the war would be over very quickly. Famously, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, he predicted that the war would last seven to ten days, and he was always proud of that prediction. In fact, the war was over in the first day, because Israel, in its first strike, demolished all of the Egyptian planes on the ground. So the war was over. The only reason it lasted seven days was because Israel then proceeded to take land in Jordan, take land in the Golan Heights. It wasn’t even seven days; it was really one day and the whole thing was over.
JAY: What is the evidence, so that people who haven’t followed the story, that Israel knew that Egypt wasn’t going [crosstalk]
FINKELSTEIN: Okay. That’s a good question. The evidence is as follows, the evidence I prefer to lean on. There’s all sorts of evidence, but I’ll use the evidence I prefer to lean on. People quote the the famous statement by Prime Minister Menachim Begin at the national war college of Israel in July 1982. It was during the Lebanon War. And Menachem Begin had been a member of the national unity government that was formed in 1967, so he knew all the inner workings. And he famously said in this 19–July 1982 lecture at the national war college, he said, let’s be honest with ourselves: there was no evidence that Nasser was going to attack; we decided to attack first. But that to me is–that’s some evidence. It’s not necessarily definitive evidence, because Begin at that time was trying to defend his decision to attack Lebanon in June 1982.
But internal evidence, which I consider overwhelmingly supportive of what I’m about to say, is the Israelis, they desperately needed–in 1967 they needed the U.S. green light because they were afraid if they attack like they did in 1956, that the U.S. president is going to force them to withdraw, just like Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw in 1956. So they wanted that American green light, so once they attacked, they wouldn’t be forced to unilaterally withdraw. And so they were sending all of their officials here to show evidence that we’re facing a existential threat from Egypt, Egypt is going to attack.
And so Johnson took all the evidence–Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time–he gave it to, like, six or seven U.S. security organizations, the equivalent of–like, I don’t know if it’s the same name now then, but it was, like, the National Security Council, the CIA, all of the organizations. He asked them, okay, vet the Israeli information, use your own information–what do you come back with? And each time he checked with them, they kept saying, there’s no evidence that Egypt is going to attack. And they also said, if there were an attack, and even if it were a concerted attack, it’s clear that Israel’s going to, in the famous statement, Johnson–I was talking to Israeli official. I think it was Abba Eban, the foreign minister, but I can’t say for sure. And he says that all our intelligence shows us, number one, Egypt is not going to attack, and number two, if they do–and Johnson’s famous line was: you’re going to whip the hell out of them.
Now, you might say, well, that says what the Americans thought; what about what the Israelis thought? It’s very interesting. On June 1–that’s just a few days before the Israeli attack–the head of Israeli intelligence, Meir Amit, he comes to Washington. He’s consulting. He’s also trying to convince and he’s also trying to sniff out what will the U.S. do if we attack. He meets with the American intelligence. And what does he say? He says, our intelligence agrees with all of your intelligence about whether Nasser will attack and what will happen if he is–attacks. So there’s complete agreement across the board–American intelligence agencies, Israeli intelligence agencies: Nasser is not going to attack; Nasser, even if he did, we will whip–Israelis will whip the hell out of them. Which brings is now back to your question.
The question is: then why did Israel attack? And the response–one of the responses, the one by Ariel Sharon–because there was a split in the cabinet whether or not–Israeli cabinet–whether to launch the first strike. And Sharon said, if we don’t–this was Ariel Sharon. It’s the same cast of characters–goes back quite a ways. Ariel Sharon, he says, if we don’t attack, it’s going to diminish our deterrence capacity. What does that mean? Because Nasser was making all of these noises, Nasser did close the Straits of Tehran, Nasser did move troops into the Sinai, and Nasser–you know the rhetorical flourishes about we’re going to defeat Israel and so on and so forth, and so had whipped up a kind of ecstatic hysteria in the Arab world, finally, to challenging Israel.
Now, de facto–de facto–Nasser was a windbag–a congenital problem in the Arab world, leaders who are windbags–and obviously there was nothing backing his claims, but they thought that this was whipping up too much of a hysteria in the Arab world; it’s time to remind them who’s in charge.
JAY: Well, then we get this term deterrence capacity.
FINKELSTEIN: Deterrence capacity. And incidentally, the expression “turkey shoot”, that came from the national security adviser Walt Rostow. And he says, well, yeah, it was–the Israelis attacked. He said, well, it was more like a turkey shoot, which is what it was.
JAY: And I should mention, in Method and Madness, all the sources for this are there. So if you want to know how we know so-and-so said what they said, check out the book, ’cause it’s very–the notations are very detailed.
Well, then, this deterrent–.
FINKELSTEIN: And–yeah. So now to bring it up to date, to where we begin with Gaza, because the book effectively begins with–.
JAY: Let’s–before you do that, I want to get to deterrence capacity runs into some trouble in a place called Lebanon [crosstalk]
FINKELSTEIN: That’s exactly what I was going to get to. That’s exactly–we’re on the same wavelength. So the book begins with the Israeli attack on Gaza Operation Cast Lead in 2008, December 27, 2008, to January 17, 2009. So what was the Israeli purpose behind that? It’s deterrence capacity–its ability to frighten, terrify the Arab world. It suffered a real blow during the July-August 2006 war in Lebanon. Israel went in with a full force of its high-tech killing machine, inflicted massive death and destruction. About 1,200 Lebanese were killed. Of those 1,200, about 1,000 were civilians, 200 were Hezbollah fighters.
But Israel was very careful not to launch a ground invasion, because you don’t want to go to war, hand-to-hand combat, with the Party of God, the Hezbollah. I’ve met Hezbollah fighters. They’re serious, and they want nothing more than to tangle with Israelis, and Israeli soldiers did not want to tangle with the Party of God. The long and the short of it was Israel, as I say, used its high-tech killing machine for about three weeks’ time–well, it was 34 days. But after about–okay, let’s call four weeks’ time. And then it was clear that the only option now was to launch the ground invasion, because the Hezbollah had these–.
JAY: What year are we in?
FINKELSTEIN: Two thousand six. Hezbollah–Israel claims it knocked out the medium- and long-term missiles. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but let’s for argument’s sake accept it. The problem was these short-range rockets that Hezbollah had. You can’t disable them from the air. The only you can disable them was with a ground invasion. And Hezbollah kept firing more and more and more, and not inflicting massive damage, but showing it’s still resisting. The only way to get rid of them is, as I said, through a ground invasion. Israel did not want a ground invasion, because it knew it would suffer significant combatant casualties.
And so Condoleezza Rice in the UN was blocking any resolution ending the conflict. Then it was clear, we’d better end this now because we’re in a mess. And so Condoleezza Rice finally allowed the resolution to pass in the Security Council and the Lebanon so-called–well, it was a war–in some ways was over. It was horrible what the Israelis did at the end. It’s all completely forgotten. The resolution was passed. The war was over. All that was waiting was now implementation on the ground. Everybody agreed the war is over. What did Israel do in the last 72 hours? It’s all completely eliminated from the historical record. It dropped 4 million–4 million cluster bomblets on South Lebanon, saturated the whole of South Lebanon. It was like a science fiction movie.
JAY: How do we know this?
FINKELSTEIN: Oh, you just look at the Human Rights Watch report. It was called Flooding South Lebanon. It’s a very vivid depiction of the monstrousness of what Israel did. It depicts homes, their roofs; through the windows the cluster bomblets enter. Entire apartments are just saturated with them, 4 million cluster bomblets.
In any case, that’s a separate issue maybe one day I’ll come back and talk about, but for now the point is Nasrallah kept referring to it as our divine victory.
JAY: Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, the head of the Hezbollah, Sayed Nasrallah, kept referring to it as our divine victory. And that, of course, shook up the Israelis, ’cause it was like Nasser, but with a real victory. And it was time–they had to figure out a way to restore their deterrence capacity. And they chose Gaza. And in a typical cowardly way, they chose a place which was utterly defenseless and then proceeded to–.
JAY: Prove how tough they are.
FINKELSTEIN: Prove how tough they are against a defenseless victim in Operation Cast Lead. About 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
JAY: This was 2009.
FINKELSTEIN: Two thousand eight, nine, of whom about–up to 1,200 were civilians. They left behind 600,000 tons of rubble, which was actually–it paled in comparison to what they did during Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Protective Edge was much worse. But it also was different because the Palestinians did manage to produce, to build the tunnel system. And because of the tunnel system, they were able–the tunnel system was–the tunnels were not vulnerable to artillery strikes or air attacks. They were pretty impressive. Anyone who knows the Arab world knows every–four out of every three Palestinians is a civil engineer, and in Gaza you have a lot of unemployed civil engineers. And so with very primitive implements they’d actually built a very impressive, sophisticated catacombs, tunnel system in Gaza.
And so, when Israel went in, it never went very far in. There was a misunderstanding about that. They basically stayed on the border, because the Palestinians were coming out, the Hamas fighters were coming out of the tunnels. And there was–it’s not Stalingrad, it’s not Leningrad, but in the first Operation Cast Lead, ten Israeli combatants were killed. Of those ten, four of the ten were killed from friendly fire, which means only six were actually killed by Hamas fighters.
This time it was different. It was 67 Israeli combatants who were killed. And they were basically killed for two reasons. First of all, the Hamas fighters appeared to have been more sophisticated this time. It said they were trained by Hezbollah, but I don’t know. But secondly, it was their tunnel system.
JAY: But your main point here is that the fundamental reasons for attacking Gaza is to sort of reassert the fear factor.
FINKELSTEIN: Fear factor. But there was also a second factor, which I discuss at equal length, which is the peace offensive, that every time Hamas was becoming too respectable, every time Hamas was becoming too reasonable, every time Hamas was upholding the terms of the ceasefire it had signed with Israel, there was the fear by Israel that somebody will say, well, if they’re respecting agreements, if they’re carrying on in a responsible fashion, then why don’t you negotiate with them? And the Israelis have a nice–or one Israeli political scientist (his name is Avner Yaiv), he coined a nice expression. He called it the fear of Palestinian peace offensives–they’re becoming too reasonable. And so we have to hit them hard so that the quote-unquote radical and extremist elements will gain the upper hand internally. So every time there’s a Palestinian peace offensive, Israel launches one of its murderous invasions. And that’s exactly–.
JAY: And the sort of–I guess one of the nightmares of the Israelis in terms of all this is some reunification with Hamas and Fatah and the PLO. And that’s exactly what happened. They created this unity government.
FINKELSTEIN: Right. And that’s actually how–that’s the proper starting point for what happened in Gaza this past summer. It was called the government of national consensus that was formed at the end of April 2014. And surprisingly, the United States and the European Union, they did not immediately break off relations with the new government, because technically Hamas is or has–a terrorist organization in the U.S., a terrorist organization in the E.U. So you would have expected the U.S. would break off relations and the E.U. would, but they did not.
Part of it, I think it was punishment because of the Kerry peace initiative, which was sabotaged by Netanyahu, and they wanted to get even with him for that. So they said, no, we’ll take a wait-and-see approach with the Hamas government. And this inflamed and incensed Netanyahu, because this is the second time these countries are dealing with terrorists. The first, of course, is Iran. They’re in the midst of these negotiations with this government that’s threatening a second Holocaust against Israel and all that sort of nonsense. And now they’re negotiating with Hamas, which, you know, wants to destroy Israel. But all Netanyahu could do was fume. He wasn’t able to do anything about it until in June of this past year: when the three kidnappings occurred of the Israeli teenagers, he found his opportunity. He decided to use that as a pretext. He knew the kids were killed, were dead almost within 24 hours. He knew all that.
JAY: So he didn’t have to go looking for them.
JAY: And it was also known almost right away that Hamas leadership were not in on this.
FINKELSTEIN: Exactly. He knew all that. But they used it as a pretext to lunch what they called Operation–.
JAY: In your book you call it a gift. It’s–.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, they are gifts. But these are politicians. You know, sometimes people feel like when you say expression like gift, that’s just a little bit too callous. They’re politicians. After 9/11, yes, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Cheney, they got in their little office, they shed their salty tears, and then 15 minutes later they said, now, what are we going to do with it? Now let’s get down to serious business. We’re not here to cry. And it’s the same thing with Israel. Okay, three kids are killed. We’re not happy about that. Now, what can we do with it? And so he launches Operation Brother’s Keeper, Israeli troops go on a rampage in the West Bank, kill Palestinians, demolish Palestinian homes, arrest 500 militants from Hamas, knowing full well that this is going to evoke a violent reaction from Hamas. And then, when they get that violent reaction, they can say exactly–.
JAY: Violent reaction meaning rockets that basically don’t hit very much.
FINKELSTEIN: Right, or some crazy thing, whatever is going to happen. And then Netanyahu can say, as he did say a few weeks later, he said, quote, never second-guess me again on Hamas; when I say they’re a terrorist organization, they’re a terrorist organization. And now he had his proof. And so he exploited the opportunity.
JAY: ‘Cause as long as he can keep Hamas, as a terrorist organization, out of the talks, any possibility of any reconciliation or deal is off the table.
FINKELSTEIN: Right, because he then says the Palestinian Authority doesn’t represent all Palestinians. So how can we negotiate a deal with them? The whole purpose is–.
JAY: And he comes to Congress and they stand up 27 times or whatever the crazy number of standing ovations was.
FINKELSTEIN: Mhm. But now he–I think he went a little too far with the last visit to Congress.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to talk about that and where we’re at in the next segment.
Please join us for the continuation of our discussion with Norman Finkelstein on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
Transcript Part 2
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And we’re continuing our discussion with Norman Finkelstein.
Thanks for joining us again, Norman.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, ACTIVIST, AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
JAY: So Norman’s biography’s below the video here, and just read it, but you should watch the other segments of this interview that leads up to this. So we’re not going to do another big interview. Just suffice to say Norman’s most recent book is Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Assaults on Gaza.
So in the last segment we talked about deterrence capacity. Israel has to keep the fear factor. They need to prove to the Palestinians and the Arab world that we have overwhelming dominance over you militarily, we are not afraid to kill, including women and children. It seems to me that’s an important part of it. They need to show they’re willing to kill, including civilians, and that they don’t have reservations about that.
But there also seems to me, on the other side, Hamas has to prove how tough they are, ’cause it would seem reasonable, when Israel launches such an attack, actually not to send rockets when you’re not going to hit very much, and let it be absolutely clear that this is a massacre. But they do; Hamas sends rockets. And, you know, what was it? Five or six Israelis were killed in the last war, their last assault? I mean, they’re not very effective. It is essentially symbolic. But it’s a kind of symbolism that seems to just play into Israel’s hands–oh, look at the rockets, and then, falling on us, we have a right to defend ourselves. And that becomes the mantra. We hear that over and over again, we have the right to defend ourselves.
FINKELSTEIN: Well, there are many things to be said. What you’re saying, in my opinion, is entirely correct. First of all, there’s the factual side. In fact there were no Hamas rocket attacks on Israel if by rocket you mean some sort of lethal weapon which has the capacity to inflict even minimal damage. There were no rocket attacks on Israel. And it’s very easy to demonstrate. Israel says between four and five thousand Hamas rockets were fired at Israel–I’m going to leave aside the mortar shells. Four to five thousand rocket attacks were fired on Israel.
Of those four to five thousand rocket attacks, there were five civilian casualties and there were $15 million in property damage. That’s the official figure Israel gives: five civilian casualties, $15 million in property damage.
Now, Israel claims the reason there were so few civilian casualties and so little property damage, they claim it’s because of Iron Dome, the antimissile defense system, that had it not been for Iron Dome–that’s what we’re told all the time–had it not been for Iron Dome, it would have been a catastrophe that was inflicted on Israel.
There’s a very easy way to test that proposition. What we have to do is go back to Cast Lead. In 2008-09, there was no Iron Dome. Iron Dome is an invention that’s first tested in November 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense. There was no Iron Dome in 2008-09 during Operation Cast Lead. Approximately 1,000 rockets during Operation Cast Lead, and there were three civilian casualties. So if you multiply–it’s 4,000 during Protective Edge. So if you do the multiplication, without Iron Dome there would have been about 12 civilian casualties:
4 × 1,000 = 4,000
3 × 4 = 12
In fact, there were about five–.
JAY: Well, unless Hamas rockets are more sophisticated [crosstalk]
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s an important point. In fact Hamas rockets were most much less sophisticated, because you have to remember during 2008-09 there was a tunnel system that enabled Hamas to smuggle in rockets, say, from Iran. But that by 2014, the Sisi government had come to power in Egypt and sealed all the tunnels. All of what was fired in 2014 was much more primitive, because they were all homemade and there was no material to make anything in Gaza. It had been sealed.
And so in fact Iron Dome accounted–I said possibly it accounted for five civilian casualties. It would’ve been 12, it was seven, so it’s five. But in fact it didn’t even account for that, because between Cast Lead and Protective Edge, Israel had significantly upgraded its civil defense civil warning system. So if fewer people died, it was because of the civil defense system, not because of Iron Dome.
JAY: So I go back to my point. What–.
FINKELSTEIN: Just let me do–
JAY: Yeah, go ahead.
FINKELSTEIN: –just make one last point. One of the world’s leading authorities on antimissile defense is Theodore Postol from MIT. and Postol has, to his credit, that he was the one who exposed the Patriot missile hoax, which I don’t have time to go into now. But he said at most–at most–the efficacy rate of Iron Dome was at most 10 percent, probably closer to 5 percent. And so now we have a very simple mathematical problem which will take me two seconds. You fire 4,000 rockets at Israel. Iron Dome deflects at most 10 percent. That’s 400 rockets. There are 3,600 rockets which make their way into Israel. Israel itself says only $15 million in property damage. How could 3,600 rockets cause just $15 million in property damage? It couldn’t be the civil defense system, because buildings don’t go into shelters. If you fired a rocket at this building–it’s a nice building–it’s $15 million in property damage. So how could it be?
JAY: Well, our building’s not worth that much, but I take your point.
FINKELSTEIN: You take my point.
JAY: Yeah. This is downtown Baltimore.
FINKELSTEIN: Right, but it’s a beautiful building, too.
How could that be? Simple reason: they weren’t rockets. They were enhanced fireworks.
The problem is exactly as you said it. You caught the problem. Israel has a stake in claiming their rockets so it could say it acts in self-defense. Unfortunately, Hamas has a mutual stake in claiming their rockets in order to prove that armed resistance works. So they have a mutual stake in maintaining this pretense that there were rockets being fired in Israel.
In fact you’re right: they have no–there is a difference between three things. One, what you have a right to do. Hamas has the right to fire those rockets, in my opinion. I understand what Amnesty International says: they’re unguided rockets; therefore they are indiscriminate, and therefore they’re illegal. I don’t want to get into the technicalities there. If you want me to get into the technicalities, I can. In my opinion, they have the right to fire those rockets.
JAY: Well, just quickly, I know in your book you make the point, you know, the ability of the rocket to be precisely targeted is a relative concept. So if you’re comparing it to these highly sophisticated weapons that the Americans and the Israelis have, yeah, you can’t target them that way. But as you make the point in your book, that means only rich countries are going to be able to fire rockets.
FINKELSTEIN: Exactly. Exactly. But there is a second point. What you said, exactly. In effect it means poor people have no right to resist for foreign invasions and foreign assaults.
But there is a second point, and it’s a Gandhian point. Gandhi made the point, when you have a huge discrepancy in power, a huge discrepancy in power, then when a weak party resists, it’s not violence. He gives a few examples. He says, take the case of a woman who resists a rapist by scratching the rapist and hitting the rapist. He says that’s not violence; that’s just a woman trying to summon up the internal moral courage to die. That’s with dignity. With dignity. And then he says in 1939, you have the German Wehrmacht, the Army, the Luftwaffe (the air force), they invade Poland. Poland has six tanks. Poland resists. They use violence, they use their tanks. Gandhi says they had that right because it was such a huge discrepancy in power. He says it wasn’t resistance; it was dying with dignity. You’re just trying to summon up the moral wherewithal to die with dignity.
And in my opinion–I can’t prove it; I can just convey it, and then you decide whether the analogies are right in the metaphors are right. When Palestinians who are under a merciless, inhuman, immoral, and illegal siege for seven years, when 95 percent of the drinking water is not fit for human consumption, when nobody in the world cares, when they keep signing agreements at the end of each of these rounds which says the blockade is going to be lifted, including the agreement that was signed after Protective Edge, the blockade would be lifted, the blockade is never lifted, the illegal, immoral, and inhuman siege continues, when parents have to poison their children each day by giving them water which they know is not fit for human consumption, then you’re telling me the Palestinians can’t fire symbolic symbols of resistance, notional symbols of resistance, namely these enhanced fireworks, which are actually more a message to the world than they are inflicting damage on Israelis? It’s SOS help us? No, they have that right.
Now, I’m not going to quarrel with Amnesty International. I know they’re a respected human rights organization, and I respect their work. But as I said, there’s a legal issue, and then separately from the legal issue, in my opinion, you can still make a moral judgment. You can say legally they don’t have the right to do it, though for me it’s a little bit unclear how you can claim that movements for self-determination have the right to use armed force to win their right of self-determination. That’s international law. But then tell me every time they use a weapon, the weapon is illegal, they’re not allowed to use it, that doesn’t make sense to me.
But let’s leave aside the legal issue. There is a moral issue, and it’s a separate one from the legal issue. You could say legally this is the case, but morally it’s a different judgment. Morally, in my opinion, they have the right to use those rockets.
There are other arguments, legal ones, but I don’t want to get into technicalities now. I think they have the right. But there’s a difference between having a right, a moral right or a legal right–here I think they had the moral right. The legal right is grayer. As I say, I can’t go into the–. But is it a prudent political strategy? And for reasons which you just said, I agree with you.
JAY: Well, before we get that, let’s just one more time remind everyone that Israel does have very sophisticated rockets, can target them precisely, and are killings thousands of civilians, thousands of children.
FINKELSTEIN: They boasted during the Operation Cast Lead that they had 99 percent accuracy with the rockets they fired. Okay. If it was 99 percent accuracy, how did it happen that you destroyed all these civilian buildings? That had to be calculated. And that was what the Goldstone Report concluded. So, yes, if you want to claim this degree of precision, then you have to accept the moral and legal responsibility that comes from the fact that you were targeting civilian infrastructure and you were targeting civilian sites.
Now they’re making all of this talk about how Hamas, you know, was using Palestinians as human shields and Hamas was using weapons, you know, locating weapons near civilian sites. There is some evidence for that, but let’s be for real. First of all, there were 500–the estimates range now between 538 and 550, but 538 and 550 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge. So you had those four kids who were playing soccer.
JAY: On the beach.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Where was Hamas? Where were these Hamas fighters? Were they being used as human shields? Is that what happened? When they were bombing the UN shelters which are keeping women and children to the point that even Ban Ki-moon, the comatose puppet for the United States, even Ban Ki-moon finally had to denounce it as a moral outrage on August 3, were there Hamas fighters there? Not according to the UN. Not according to the UN. So exactly what you said: if you’re going to claim these are precision weapons which can target perfectly, then you have to accept the legal and moral responsibility that comes with the fact that you’re targeting civilian infrastructure and you’re targeting civilians.
JAY: Okay. So now let’s talk about Hamas’s tactic of firing these rockets or allowing rockets to be fired. It seems to play in Netanyahu’s hands, into Israel’s hands, and give a justification for what essentially is a massacre.
FINKELSTEIN: Look, I have said many times I do not believe armed resistance can work in the Palestine context. It had a justification in the case of Lebanon because nobody cared about South Lebanon. Israel had an occupation there from 1978 to 2000. Did anyone care? Was it in the eye of the international community? No. So nonviolent civil resistance had no possibility of working there. It’s exactly what happened Arundhati Roy writes when she describes what’s going on in the forests in India. Indian government comes in, commits mass murder, massacres. Nonviolence? Nobody even knows it’s going on.
But Palestine occupies a unique place in the international arena, international stage. People do follow what’s going on in Palestine. And therefore you have the potential of mobilizing public opinion. And I think in places like Palestine, nonviolent civil resistance, including in Gaza, for example mass march with children at the front, just like in Selma–if it’s good Selma and it’s good in Birmingham, it’s good in Palestine. They used to say to King too, Martin Luther King, you’re exploiting the kids. And he used to say, oh, you’re so concerned now about black children? They put children–if you read Taylor Branch’s–the first volume, when he describes the victory of Birmingham–you know what it’s called, the chapter? An incredible chapter. It’s called “The Children’s Crusade”. “The Children’s Crusade”. It was putting children at the front. Yes, if the people in Gaza, they put children to the front–.
JAY: You’re talking about, like, a million people from Gaza come to the border.
FINKELSTEIN: That’s correct, with women and children at the front. And we in the solidarity movement in the West does its job, educates about this immoral, inhuman siege. I can’t go into the details now. It will take time. I think it has potential.
So I think they do have an alternative strategy. I think they’re hung up on this idea of armed resistance as being the only–resistance equals armed resistance as being the only option they have. I think they have another option. However, saying they have, in my opinion, another option does not mean that I’m saying they don’t have the right to do what they [want (?)]. I think it’s politically not wise. That’s a political judgment on my part. But morally and (had time been available, I can make the argument) legally, I think they have a case. Of course, legally it’s a troubling case because Amnesty, which I respect–.
JAY: You’re only talking about the rockets. They certainly have a legal right to use arms to defend themselves.
FINKELSTEIN: Right. But it doesn’t really come into play. That’s the problem. The moment the arms to defend themselves came into play in Gaza, they just stopped the ground invasion, because they don’t want–Hamas was fighting back, and it was not enough to send in the planes, as they did during Cast Lead, and level everything in front of them. If you read the orders from Operation Cast Lead, the orders were very clear. We know all of it now, ’cause soldiers came forward and told what they were told. Everything to the left of you, everything to the right of you, everything in front of you, just flatten it. That’s the way you don’t have combatant casualties. You just destroy everything.
The problem for Israel was, when they did that in Operation Cast Lead, it got hit with the Goldstone Report. And so it was worried that if they tried to repeat it during Protective Edge, they may get another Goldstone Report, from which they wouldn’t be able to escape.
But then some things started to work in their favor. The details would take us too long. But one thing that–the ground invasion was launched the night of the same day of the downing of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine. Nobody has to doubt that Mr. Netanyahu is very attuned to cameras. He understands the media. And so he knew that that was the moment that the cameras would be fixed on the Ukraine, the Malaysian airliner–the charge is that Russia was behind it–and that he could now get away with committing mass murder and mayhem, which he did for a while.
Then, when things started to get out of hand–it was August 3 when Ban Ki-moon denounced the attack on the sixth UN shelter–then the Obama administration denounced it. And then Netanyahu announced the end of the ground invasion. But then he was saved again because this new phenomenon emerged out of nowhere. It was called ISIS. And a reporter was killed by ISIS, and all the cameras shifted to that. And then Netanyahu, if you recall, at the very end, it was kind of like watching a computer game. They were just demolishing one high-rise building in Gaza after another. You just saw the buildings come down. It was like a mini 9/11.
JAY: And he links Hamas to ISIS, as if they’re the same thing.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, and he links Hamas to ISIS. Exactly. And so he got another reprieve from the international community. The problem was Hamas wasn’t stopping–the rocket attacks had basically ended by the end, but the mortar attacks continued. Another Israeli civilian was killed, and he decided it’s time to end it. And so it came to an end on August 26.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to do one more segment and talk about the current situation and the possibility of a resolution at the United Nations. Please join us for Reality Asserts Itself with Norman Finkelstein on The Real News Network.