Norman Finkelstein: The “Big Lie” About Gaza is That the Palestinians Have Been the Aggressors

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our conversation with the scholar Norman Finkelstein, author of the new book, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. The book is being published as Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, included over 500 children.

In his new book, Norman Finkelstein writes, “Gaza is about a Big Lie composed of a thousand, often seemingly abstruse and arcane, little lies.” What is the “Big Lie” about Gaza, Norm?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The Big Lie about Gaza is that it’s an aggressor, that Gaza is aggressing against Israel, and Israel is reacting in self-defense. It’s a double lie. The first lie is, most of the Israeli attacks on Gaza don’t even have anything to do with Gaza. So, if you take Operation Cast Lead, in 2008, ’09, why did Israel attack Gaza? Not because of Gaza. Not because of anything Gaza did. The Israelis were very honest. This is revenge for Lebanon. In 2006, Israel suffered a major defeat in Lebanon against the Hezbollah, the Party of God. And then Israelis began to panic. They’re losing what they call their deterrence capacity. And their deterrence capacity simply means—it’s a fancy, technical term for the Arabs’ fear of us. And they worried because the Arabs no longer fear them after this—you know, not a ragtag guerrilla army, but it’s not a big thing, either. It’s about 6,000 fighters, the Hezbollah—at the time, it was 6,000 fighters. And they effectively inflicted a defeat on the Israeli invaders of Lebanon. And so they were looking for somewhere where they could restore what they call their deterrence capacity. They didn’t want to tangle again with the Party of God, with the Hezbollah, so they targeted Gaza. Had nothing to do with Gaza. The notion that they’re defending themselves against Gaza.

The second big lie is, what does Gaza consist of. When you read the official reports, even when you read the human rights reports, they talk about this big arsenal of weapons that Hamas has accumulated. Number one, how do you know how many weapons they have? If you knew how many weapons they had—have, then you must know where they are. And if you know where they are, then Israel would preemptively strike. If it’s not preemptively struck, it’s because it doesn’t know anything about the weapons. Israel plucks numbers out of thin air, and then all the official media, and even the critical human rights organizations, repeat these numbers. They talk about Grad missiles and Fajr missiles.

What is Gaza? What are its weapons? What is its arsenal? Let’s take the last attack. We have exactly—we know exactly how much damage was done by these weapons. There were 5,000 so-called rockets and 2,000 mortars fired at—mortar shells fired at Israel. So, altogether, that’s 7,000 projectiles. You know the damage done? Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it had a diary, listing all the damage done each day. Five thousands rockets, 2,000 mortar shells. One house was destroyed. One house. How is it possible that 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells can only destroy one house? Because they’re not rockets. They’re fireworks. They’re enhanced fireworks.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, they’re not rockets. The problem is—the problem is that Hamas and Israel have a mutual stake in pretending they’re rockets. Hamas pretends they’re rockets so it can show its people armed resistance works. “See how afraid they are of us?” And Israel pretends they’re rockets so it could say, “We’re acting in self-defense.” But they are not rockets. They’re just enhanced fireworks. Even if you factor in Iron Dome, OK? I don’t have the time to go into the details, but your listeners, or some of them, know, because you had Theodore—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what Iron Dome is.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. Iron Dome was their anti—so-called anti-missile defense system. And they claim that one of the reasons so little damage was done was because of their technological wizardry, namely Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Number one, Iron Dome was only located near the major urban centers of Israel. Number two, only 840 rockets were fired towards those major urban centers. Number three, Iron Dome, according to the official Israeli numbers, it deflected about 740 of those rockets. According to Theodore Postol, who you had on your program, the expert on anti-missile technology from MIT, he said its efficacy rate was about 5 percent, which means it deflected about 40 rockets. But let’s even take the Israeli numbers. Let’s say it deflected 720 rockets. Let’s take that number. That still leaves thousands and thousands and thousands of rockets which weren’t deflected. Forty percent of them landed in the border area where there was no Iron Dome. So how can it be that only one house was destroyed? Because they’re not rockets.

AMY GOODMAN: So why does Hamas do it?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Why does Hamas do it? I think part of it is because their, so to speak, claim to fame is they’re an armed resistance. They want to distinguish themselves from—distinguish themselves from the Palestinian Authority. So they claim, “We’re still resisting.” Number two, I think they really believe their own propaganda, because they see Israel saying, “You know, these rockets, they’re causing us, you know, so much damage and destruction and so forth.” I think part of it, you have to remember—no offense to them—no offense to them, but they live in a hermetically sealed society. Most of the Hamas leaders, they’re just recently out of spending 10 years in jail, 15 years in jail. They’re very inexperienced, because Israel eliminated the first line, the second line, the third line of the Hamas leadership. So, don’t attribute, you know, great strategic thinking to them. They’re living in this tiny, isolated, hermetically sealed enclave. And I think they actually have internalized a lot of the Israeli propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened in, first, Operation Cast Lead, 2008, ’09, and then Operation Protective Edge in 2014. And you referenced this in the first part of our interview, but in terms of casualties, in terms of the timing of these two attacks?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Mm-hmm. Well, I don’t want to go over ground that we’ve already looked at, so let me look at the salient points for the purposes of, you know, an interview. Number one, Operation Cast Leads begins December 26th, 2008, ends January 17th, 2009—what Amnesty International called “22 days of death and destruction.” There’s a ceasefire implemented in June 2008. Israeli official and unofficial organizations say Hamas was careful to respect the ceasefire. Hamas was careful to respect the ceasefire. Israel, however, it’s preparing, it’s preparing, it’s preparing for its attack on Gaza to revenge Lebanon. When all the pieces are in place—they spent about a year of preparation. When all the pieces are in place, they need a pretext. Well, they look around for a pretext.

And they wait ’til November 4th, the historic election, when Barack Obama is voted into office. They know all the cameras are riveted on the White House, riveted on the United States. And then they go in, kill six Hamas militants, knowing full well that there’s going to be a reaction. And from that point on, it descends into tit for tat, and then, on December 26, begins the assault. It ends January 17th. And for the time—for the time, it was by far the biggest Israeli massacre committed against Gaza. And you have to bear in mind—I’m not sure how vivid your memory is, even mine is beginning to fade on it, and I study it, you know, pretty closely—public opinion radically shifted against Israel after Operation Cast Lead. It created a huge international uproar. There were, believe it or not—

AMY GOODMAN: The casualties, the number?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The death, the destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: What was it?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There were about 6,300 homes that were destroyed, 10 Israeli civilian casualties. Palestinians, 1,400, of whom up to 1,200 were civilians. Three hundred fifty children were killed. They estimate about 600,000 tons of rubble were left behind. And there were about—believe it or not, there were about 300 human rights reports issued on what happened. And if you look at the proportions in my book, you’ll see, on Operation Cast Lead, it’s exhaustively documented across four chapters, large chapters, because there was a huge amount of information.

And it climaxed in the Goldstone Report. And the Goldstone Report was a catastrophe for the state of Israel. Goldstone is Jewish. Goldstone is a Zionist. Goldstone is a liberal.

AMY GOODMAN: Goldstone was a judge, right?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Right, he was a judge, a respected, you can even say renowned, judge. And so—and most important, he’s a Zionist. He’s on the board of directors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and so on and so forth.

And now, he came out with a report that said the purpose of Cast Lead was to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population. Total disaster for Israel. And so, Israel goes at him ferociously.

AMY GOODMAN: And this—he came out with the report in?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The report comes out in 2009. They go—Israel goes after him ferociously. Across the spectrum, across the political spectrum, all levels of the Israeli society, and also in the United States, they go after Goldstone. And the tragedy then occurs. I go through the record very carefully in the book. Goldstone—it was almost a joke, because it was April 1st. It was April Fool’s Day. He drops a bombshell in The Washington Post.

AMY GOODMAN: This is 2011.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: He doesn’t say it literally, but it’s clear, the message he’s transmitting. He’s recanting the report, and he’s taking it back. I’ll tell you, I remember that day quite well. I was in a library—I don’t remember where—and it was like something died in me. Really, it was like something died in me, something you believed in, or you wanted to believe in. And maybe I was naive, but the Goldstone Report was a very weighty document. At one point, Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We have—we’re facing three existential threats: Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, and the Goldstone Report.” And it was a very big problem for them. You might recall, this is the point when like—when Tzipi Livni visited the U.K., she was hit with an indictment for war crimes under the universal jurisdiction.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who she is.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Tzipi Livni was the foreign minister during the Operation Cast Lead. And she was a really wretched human being. The day after Cast Lead, the day after it ended, January 18th, she went on Israeli television, Channel 10, and she boasted, “We carried on like real hooligans in Gaza.” She boasted, “We went wild in Gaza. I ordered it. I’m proud of it, because they’re so brazen.” They’re so brazen because they have the United States protecting them, and they carry on with this kind of impunity.

And then, along came the Goldstone Report. It was like an “uh-oh” moment, because it seemed as if, for the first time, they were finally going to be held accountable. And that’s why they went mad, the Israelis. They had to stop Goldstone. He recanted. He claimed he recanted because new information had become available since the publication of his report. But I go through it systematically in the book. No new information became available.

And then the question is: Well, if no new information became available, why did he recant? One possible explanation is because all the pressure that was being put on him by the Israelis and on his family. They tried to prevent him from attending his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah in South Africa. Goldstone is South African. That’s one explanation. For reasons which I can’t go into now, because it requires detail, I don’t find it plausible. I think he was blackmailed. You know, it’s the Mossad. They’re an effective spy organization. Everybody’s got skeletons in their closet. And if you don’t have skeletons in your closet, a relative does. Goldstone’s daughter did Aliyah. She’s an Israeli citizen. I think he was blackmailed. That’s where the evidence points.

John Dugard, the respected human rights—he’s considered the father of human rights in South Africa, extremely principled guy. He’s actually the real thing. He’s a principled liberal. You know, there’s the Phil Ochs song, “Love Me”—”Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” about hypocritical liberals. He’s the real thing. He’s a real principled liberal and has been very principled on this particular issue. And he wrote a very devastating article the day after the recantation. And he said the truth of why Goldstone recanted will go with him to his grave.

Then, after that, the Israelis started to go after a lot of people. You might recall the case of Robert Bernstein, who was the founder of Human Rights Watch. Then he started to attack Human Rights Watch to try to, so to speak, defang them. He had his own bombshell he dropped—I think it was in The New York Times, but I could be mistaken—attacking Human Rights Watch. So, all the pressure is now being put on the human rights community. They start going after human rights respected jurists, like William Schabas, Christian Tomuschat. All of them have to drop out. They were supposed to be on commissions investigating Israeli crimes, for example, during Operation Protective Edge.

AMY GOODMAN: And they are from?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: U.N. They were U.N. officials, but, you know, prominent—prominent jurists, respected jurists. All of them had to drop out, because Israel started to dig up dirt. And everybody’s got dirt to be dug up on. We know that. So, now the human rights community begins to panic, enters into panic mode, because the Israelis are—they’re just out of control now.

And you saw the result after Operation Protective Edge. I’m not happy to have to say it. It’s the shortest chapter in the book. You know why? There were no human rights reports. Human Rights Watch published—for Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, it published seven quite substantial reports. After Operation Protective Edge, it published one tiny report, one tiny report of 15 pages. Amnesty International was the only major human rights organization that published major reports, but they were all whitewashes of Israel. They were a disgrace. I go through them systematically. The Amnesty chapter is one of the longest chapters in the book. Just going through it, as I said, Gaza is a big lie composed of tiny lies. And there’s no option except to go through it point by point and to show—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that lack of response to what happened in 2008, ’09, to what happened, the lack of investigation and holding accountable—again, the casualty—the number of casualties was at 1,600?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There were 1,400 Palestinians killed, of whom up to 1,200 were civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 350 of them children.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Three hundred fifty children, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that lack of accountability and the reports paved the way for what happened in 2014—

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, I don’t want—

AMY GOODMAN: —with Operation Protective Edge?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s a harsh thing to say, but it was Richard Goldstone that allowed Operation Protective Edge to happen, because the Israelis were very worried after Operation Cast Lead. It looked like prosecutions were in the offing. Universal jurisdiction was happening. And then, when he killed the report, it became a green light for Israel, and it enabled them to effectively go mad.

AMY GOODMAN: You also write that the Obama administration, as well as Hillary Clinton, tried to undermine the Goldstone Report.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Look, the Obama administration was—played a really wretched role in all this. Let’s just take the obvious examples. Operation Cast Lead, it ends on January 17th. Now, remember, Obama was elected in November 2008. Operation Cast Lead ends January 17th, 2009. Obama didn’t say anything after he was elected. Do you know why it ends January 17th? Because Obama signals to the Israeli government, “Don’t mess up my inauguration, January 20th. I don’t want any distractions. You’ve got to end the operation.” That’s why they ended.

Now, you go to Operation Protective Edge, 2014. Every day, Obama or one of his officials said, “Israel has the right to protect itself. Israel has the right to protect itself,” as Israel is leveling Gaza. There was no—actually, there was no comparison between Protective Edge and Cast Lead. It was so much worse. The interesting point is, for our purposes, with Obama: How does it end? Do you know how it ends? On August 3rd, Ban Ki-moon comes under all this pressure because Israel keeps bombing U.N. schools—or, UNRWA schools, which have been turned into civilian shelters.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how long Operation Protective Edge went on for.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, Operation Protective Edge, all told, went for 51 days; Operation Cast Lead, 22. Operation Protective Edge, 18,000 homes destroyed; Operation Cast Lead, 6,300. All the figures, they’re on a much higher—

AMY GOODMAN: And the number of people killed in Protective Edge?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Protective Edge, it’s 2,500 killed, of whom 1,600 were—2,200 killed, of whom 1,600 were civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 500 children.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Five hundred fifty children were killed. And August 3rd, what happens? Ban Ki-moon, that comatose corpse, he finally comes under so much pressure, because—

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t have to attack—do ad hominem attacks on people.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: No, no. These people are wretched.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ban Ki-moon, when he was U.N. secretary-general.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, when he was U.N. secretary-general, he does all the bidding for the United States when it comes to Israel-Palestine. I don’t want to go through—I can’t go through this whole sordid record, but the—Israel attacked seven U.N. shelters, which were housing civilians during Operation Protective Edge. And then, on August 3rd, finally, Ban Ki-moon has to say something. And he says, “This is a disgrace, this is outrageous, attacking civilian shelters.” August 3rd, Obama, he no longer has a fig leaf. Ban Ki-moon backed out.

AMY GOODMAN: He spoke against the military invasion.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. And now—and now Obama is alone on the world stage. So, August 3rd, the same day, Obama attacks Israel for the shelters, bombing the shelters. And now, Netanyahu, the day before, August 2nd, he says, “I’m not leaving Gaza.” After Obama says, “You can’t do this,” he leaves. Same day, August 3rd. Now, it is true, it did go on for another three weeks. It went on for another three weeks because you entered into the negotiation period, where Israel always brings in its most force to try to extract the best terms. But then there was also, you will probably remember, the beheading of the American reporter. And when the American reporter was beheaded, all the cameras again switched—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the beheading of James Foley by ISIS in Syria.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, yeah. And then the cameras switched again, just like with the Malaysian airline incident. And so, Israel brought on full force. And then it ended August 26th. Technically the war was over. But Obama had the power, if he wanted to. Instead, he was coming out and talking about how no country in the world would tolerate rockets being fired at it, no country in the world would tolerate these terror tunnels, and just giving Israel all the pretext it wanted.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain the examples that were used—the terror tunnels, the rockets. Explain the terror tunnels and what they were.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. Let’s be clear about the facts. They were not terror tunnels. There were about—according to Israel, there were about 12 to 14 tunnels that were built beneath the border separating Gaza from Israel. Now, here are the facts. And the facts are not trivial. Number one, the U.N. Human Rights Council report found, and respected Israeli journalists, Israeli—Israeli military people, they all said the same thing: The tunnels did not target civilians. Every time Hamas militants emerged from the tunnels, they had firefights with Israeli soldiers. They never went to the kibbutzim. They never targeted civilians. They weren’t terror tunnels. My guess is—it’s speculation—that they were trying to capture an Israeli soldier to do what they did with Gilad Shalit, to have a prisoner exchange. But there was never a question of them targeting civilians.

It was interesting what happened. It was, the Israeli propaganda backfired on itself. When it started to say they were targeting civilians, the so-called terror tunnels, the civilians fled. They got scared that there were going to be these Hamas terrorists emerging from these tunnels and killing them. And then they refused to return home. And when they refused to return home, Israel decided, “Well, we’ve got to tell them the truth, that they’re not targeting you,” in order to get them to come back.

Same thing happened with the Hamas rockets. They kept talking about how all these Hamas rockets are terrorizing Israel, how these Hamas rockets are an existential threat. Well, what happened? It was the tourist season. It was July, August 2014. And then Israel’s tourist industry took a nosedive. So they realized, “We better stop talking about these terror tunnels. They’re killing our business—I mean, we better stop talking about the Hamas rockets. They’re killing our business.” So, if you remember what happened, they had Mayor Bloomberg go over to Israel and say, “Everything is fine here. There’s no danger. We should open up Ben Gurion Airport,” because, you remember, Ben Gurion Airport was closed, briefly, because a, quote-unquote, “Hamas rocket” landed nearby. He said—he flew in to show it’s completely safe. So, each time their propaganda backfired, then the cat came out of the bag, and they told the truth. So—

AMY GOODMAN: In the lead-up to the Israeli military invasion of Gaza was the killing of the three Israeli teenagers.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened in June of 2014.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: What happened was, in June 2014, a rogue Hamas cell captured and then, apparently, almost immediately—we don’t know for certain—but almost immediately, killed the three Israeli teenagers. Now, the information we have—for example, I quote J.J. Goldberg, who’s the former editor-in-chief of The Forward, and I know you’ve had him on your show, Goldberg—he said that Israel knew, from day one, the kids were dead. But they claimed to be going on a search operation.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who killed them.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: As I said, it was a Hamas cell. We don’t really know much more than that. Apparently, it was a senior Hamas person in Jordan who gave the order. But the Hamas officials in Gaza had nothing to do with it.

But then Netanyahu used it as a pretext for launching what he called Operation Brother’s Keeper, which was a—killed several Palestinians, rampaged businesses, rounded up—I think it was about a thousand—I could be wrong, but I think it was about a thousand Palestinians in the West Bank, many of whom had been freed in a former prisoner exchange, rounded up and sent them back to prison. And then the tit for tat began with Gaza. It quickly descended, and the Israeli assault began.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you know that Netanyahu knew that these young men, the three teenagers, had been killed almost immediately?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, right, as I said, you can only quote what the sources tell you. And people like—there were several sources that said—you know, Israel has a very efficient intelligence operation. First of all, the whole Palestinian Authority works with them. So, they’re all working in cahoots. And it’s not a big place. And it is, for what it’s worth. You know, all U.S. direct aid—all U.S. direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, the direct aid—it’s, I think, $36 million—it all goes to the Security Services. The Security Services are trained by Jordan. They’re a very efficient operation. It’s not rinky-dink anymore. They’re a real—they’re a real terror organization, the Palestinian Security Forces, professional torturers and so forth. So, it’s not implausible that, with their security apparatus working with Israel and all of the collaborators, the spies, the informal collaborators and spies, that they would find out. And Goldberg says—and Goldberg obviously has no ax to grind, he’s the former editor-in-chief of The Forward—says that Netanyahu knew almost immediately that the kids were dead. The fear that they would be used for another prisoner swap. And that didn’t happen. And then the full-scale assault on Gaza began.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in Part 1 of this conversation, you talked about the former Israeli soldiers who gave the most vivid descriptions of what took place. Now, I was going to say in Operation Protective Edge, but even before we get to the description of that attack that they gave, how do—how are those names come up with—Operation Cast Lead, Operation Protective Edge? It seems as soon as you use that word to describe what’s happened, that already is clearly a propagandistic word that justifies what’s taking place.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, actually, they were disappointed with Operation Cast Lead. I guess it’s taken—I forgot. You know, I go through it in the book, but my memory escapes me now. It comes—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I remember, right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. was coming up with these kind of names, and they were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation. But then they had a problem because the acronym was OIL, “oil.” But how are these names come up with?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, they have a very sophisticated—they call it hasbara, which is translated as “public diplomacy.” They have a very—well, we would translate it as “official propaganda.” They have a very effective propaganda agency. In the case of Operation Cast Lead, they created—they already were preparing. As I said, they knew they were going to attack for about a year. They had to make sure all the pieces were in place. And one of the pieces was their propaganda. And they created an organization—it was six months in the making. And a part of it is to come up with these names. And a lot of people comment on how there’s a kind of, you might call it, immaturity about the names they choose. They had–there was a series called Hot Winter or—I can’t remember. But all of these are kinds of bizarre names.

But the important point, I think, is, you can laugh, and you can ridicule, but the propaganda is very effective, you know, because it’s what stays with you. If you take Operation Protective Edge, the three takeaways are the terror tunnels, the Hamas rockets and the Iron Dome. There were no terror tunnels. There were no Hamas rockets. And there was no Iron Dome. The three main images that were projected were all—they were just media creations. They were just propagandistic devices.

And the main propaganda, even—or especially by the human rights organizations, is the pretense that there’s blame on both sides, there’s blame—there’s death and destruction on both sides. But when you look at the numbers, I mean, it’s just ridiculous to put them in the same category. I gave you a chart, you know, to illustrate the numbers in Operation Protective Edge. Civilians killed, roughly 1,600—1,600 to six, civilians killed. Houses destroyed, 18,000 to one. Children killed, 550 to one. You go down the list. How can you create balance out of a balance sheet like that? You know? Out of a grotesquely imbalanced balance sheet like that? And what the human rights organizations do is they simply inflate what happened on the Israeli. So, for example, you take Amnesty International. One child was killed. One child was killed. They describe the child’s death over two pages. So, you say, “OK, you know, it’s a child’s death. What’s wrong with two pages?” Well, then let’s have balance. Five hundred fifty Palestinian children were killed. Did you give that 1,100 pages?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you say “they” gave it. Who gave it?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Amnesty. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: So, how do you deal with the claim that Hamas, that Hezbollah are responsible for a high number of civilian casualties because they use civilians as human shields, particularly they use children as human shields?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there’s a simple way to deal with it: You look at the evidence. There’s absolutely no evidence. We’ll start with Operation Cast Lead. The most exhaustive analyses were done, at that time, Operation Cast Lead, 2008, ’09—the most exhaustive analyses were done by Amnesty International and the Goldstone Report. Neither of them found any evidence that Hamas was using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Now, let’s be clear. There are a large number of supporters of the Palestinian Authority who live in Gaza. They had many harsh things to say about Hamas. But among the charges they leveled was not the charge that Hamas was using Palestinians as human shields.

You take Operation Protective Edge. Again, there is no evidence. I’ve read through all the human rights reports. None of them finds any evidence of human shielding. What they do claim they find is—there’s a technical term under international law that when you’re engaging in a military combat, you have to take feasible precautions to protect civilians, and that if you fighting in the vicinity of civilians, you are then guilty of a violation of international law. It’s not a war crime. It’s a violation of international law. They claim Hamas fired or attacked Israel in the vicinity of civilians, so is guilty of not taking all feasible precautions, which is different than human shielding, which is a conscious practice of, as it were, inserting a human being between you and the enemy, for which there’s no evidence.

But the feasible precautions—I’m not going to make excuses. I have my prejudices. I have my biases. But I’m also scrupulous. I am very careful with facts, because I know, when you make one error or two errors, you’re going to have somebody who’s going to come along and say, “This book is replete with errors, but for reasons of space, I can only mention two.” So, you’re held to a very stringent standard when you’re in my position. You can’t even make two errors. So I’m very careful. And I’m not trying to make excuses. But we have to remember two facts. What does Gaza look like? What does the law say?

Gaza—you were slightly just a little bit off in what you said during your—in the first part. It’s not the most densely populated place in the world, but it’s among the most densely populated. It’s more densely populated than Tokyo. And so, it’s very difficult to wage an armed struggle and not be around people.

Number two, the law says all feasible precautions. If you’re living in a densely populated area, then there’s not much feasibility. And so you have to show not only that Hamas fighters were in the vicinity of civilians. You also have to show they had no other option. And none of the human rights organizations were able to do so.

But then, Amnesty says something outrageous—in my opinion, outrageous. You know what it says? It says that Hamas should go to open areas and fight in the open areas of Gaza. Now, on its face, that might sound reasonable, except for, number one, there are very few open areas in Gaza; number two, the law does not say you have to do that. The law does not say you have to relocate all your troops in an open area. But then, number three, Gaza is not occupied internally by Israel. Gaza is surrounded by Israel, and it’s an occupation that is executed externally. So, here’s the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that, that Israel will always say Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza, they pulled out in 2005.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It controls—right. It controls the airspace. It controls the exits, controls the entries, controls the waterspace. There’s a sea blockade of Gaza. It controls everything, you know? It’s the equivalent of a jailer throwing the keys to the prisoners in the cell. They get out of the cell. “Great! We’re free!” Except the jailer then walks out of the prison, shuts tight the prison gates, surrounds the prison. Well, is that free? Well, that’s Gaza. As the Conservative British Prime Minister Cameron, David Cameron, said, Gaza is an open-air prison.

So, to return to the point, it’s externally controlled by Israel, right? And it’s an unusual occupation because it’s an externally controlled occupation, a remote-control occupation. All right? Now, international law—according to these human rights organizations, they all say all of Hamas’s weapons are illegal under international law, because they’re indiscriminate. The law is, you can’t use indiscriminate weapons. Hamas’s weapons are very primitive, to say the least. So, international law says its so-called rockets are illegal, its so-called mortar shells—its mortar shells are illegal. Now, what are you left with? Amnesty says to Hamas, “You have to go into an open space, but you can’t use any of your weapons.” But if you can’t use any of your weapons, because they’re indiscriminate, how do you defeat an externally controlled occupation? The only thing Amnesty didn’t tell them to do was to line up like ducks and let the Israeli airplane come in and mow them down.

Now, you might smile at that, but that’s literally—that’s where you’re left. That’s where you’re left, with what these human rights organizations are saying. It’s not to defend Hamas. It’s just to look at the law objectively, rationally, and ask yourself, “Is what—are what the human rights organizations saying fair? Is it true?” All the human rights organizations, they’ll always say Israel used disproportionate force. They’ll say Israel used indiscriminate force.

But there’s one thing they’ll never say. You know what they’ll never say? Israel targeted the civilians. Because that’s the no-no. You see, under international law, indiscriminate attacks are war crimes. Disproportionate attacks are war crimes. Targeting civilians are war crimes. That’s the law. But then there’s public opinion. Public opinion, it’s willing to turn a blind eye to disproportionate attacks. Actually, how can you even prove an attack is disproportionate? It’s almost impossible. They’ll even say, yeah, indiscriminate attacks, because it’s hard to separate civilians from soldiers. The one thing public opinion won’t tolerate is the targeted attack on civilians. That’s exactly what Israel does in every one of its massacres, and that’s exactly the thing that the human rights organizations—now, not during Operation Cast Lead, now, after the Goldstone debacle—that’s the one thing they all shy away from. They don’t want to say Israel targets civilians.

One anecdote, quick anecdote. I was teaching a class, volunteer class, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, on freedom of speech. And some issue came up—I won’t go into the circumstances—and somebody from the audience says, “Israel doesn’t target children. Israel never targets children.” And the person who I’m interviewing for this program, a very respected professor at Columbia University, considered a left liberal, has very good credentials—I’m sure he’s been on your show at one time or another. He says, “Yes, yes. Israel would never target civilians—or, excuse me, never target children.”

Israel is always targeting children. You have so many cases, like you have children playing on a roof. Right? A drone comes in. Human Rights Watch says—its report was called “Precisely Wrong,” after Operation Protective Edge—excuse me, Operation Cast Lead. The drone comes in. Human rights report says the drone can see very clearly what it’s targeting. The drone, it could—up to the very last minute, very last minute, it could divert. Goes right for the kids.

AMY GOODMAN: The kids on the beach in Gaza is another story, from 2014.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, that’s—that’s a most important story, and I’m glad you brought it up. You had four kids. They were playing hide and seek around a fisherman’s hut, a dilapidated fisherman’s hut. There were hundreds of reporters on the beach.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it was right in front of a reporters’ hotel.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Everybody sees what happens. Four kids, diminutive. Hut, dilapidated hut. Israel kills the four kids. Right?

AMY GOODMAN: With a strike.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. That was—it came from a naval—a boat. So, what does the U.N. Human Rights Council report say, the one by Mary McGowan Davis? “Israel didn’t take all feasible precautions.” All feasible precautions? There was no battle going on. There was no—there was no combat. There were only children there. “We don’t know why Israel mistook these children for militants.” What do you mean you don’t know why? Why do you assume they did? Why do you assume they did? It was the same thing with the fellow in the—the paraplegic who they shot in the head. You probably remember—you might remember, 2002, Occupation—

AMY GOODMAN: Tamimi, 17 years old.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Operation Defensive Shield, outside Jenin, there’s a fellow sitting in a wheelchair. He has a flag, holding it, a white flag. An Israeli tank comes and just runs right over him, the guy in the wheelchair. Right? You might recall, when I had the debate with Alan Dershowitz, I said, “Well, Human Rights Watch documented it. Amnesty International documented it.” He said, “It didn’t happen.” And that’s a large part of American Jewry over the age of 50. “It didn’t happen.”

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, it’s interesting that you—

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It happens, it happens, but it didn’t happen.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that you say over the age of 50—


AMY GOODMAN: —because American Jewry is changing—


AMY GOODMAN: —their opinion on Israel. Talk about younger people. And talk about overall public opinion here.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there’s a very simple way to put it. Who is President Trump’s main ally in the world? It’s Netanyahu. Eighty percent of American Jews find Trump a loathsome creature. And now they have a real problem: The main ally of this loathsome creature is the prime minister of the state of Israel, an amazingly popular prime minister of Israel, who’s been in for a very long time. And now, this is a real conflict for American Jews. Does being loyal to Israel mean we have to be supportive of Trump? It’s a crisis of values.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was happening before Trump, as well.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Oh, yeah, it was happening before, but now it’s quite—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about young people.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, there has been—you would say, there have been several turning points, beginning with the ’82 Lebanon War, then the First Intifada, then the repression during the Second Intifada, and then significantly, as I said, after Operation Cast Lead. Public opinion—in particular among young American Jews, public opinion has been shifting, I wouldn’t say against Israel, I would say away from Israel, which is different. Jews have an ethic, which I kind of understand, and I’m not exactly immune to it, about not airing dirty laundry in public. So there’s a kind of resistance, reticence, about attacking Israel in public, because you feel like you’re feeding anti-Semitism. And you get the idea. So they’re not going to publicly, in large numbers, en masse, publicly denounce Israel. But they’re not going to talk about it anymore, either, and they’re not going to support it—unless, of course, it’s an existential issue.

And that’s one of my big differences, if I can mention it, with the BDS. The thing is, when you start—

AMY GOODMAN: The Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yes. When you start threatening Israel’s existence, whether it’s through physical destruction or, let’s call it, demographic destruction, then Jews become very defensive. You know, that’s a red line. It’s a red line. If you say, “End the occupation,” American Jews will support it. If you say, “Israel shouldn’t be committing crimes, like it did in Gaza,” most American Jews are going to, you know, be willing to go there. But if you say, “Eliminate Israel,” no, you’re not going to get—then you’re going to get resistance. Mostly now, you’re going to get a slow drift into indifference, a slow drift into—it’s not a lot subject anymore.

Incidentally, just as a point of fact, because I go back far enough, in the 1960s, before the June ’67 war, Jews never talked about Israel. It wasn’t a topic. That’s why, as I said, if you look at people like Chuck Schumer, his sister, those—the issues back then were the war in Vietnam, civil rights movement. And American Jews were on the verge of making it. You were about to conquer the inner sanctums of American power. They were smart. They were ambitious. And they knew that they can do it. They didn’t care about a backwater called Israel. So this whole Israel phenomenon and obsession is relatively new among American Jews. And now, I think it’s fading. Israel has become like this the slightly meshuga—Yiddish for “crazy”—the slightly meshuga aunt in the attic. You don’t really want to talk about Israel anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: You said, when you talk about the BDS movement, when you talk about “eliminate Israel,” they’re not talking about eliminating Israel.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, as I said, there are different ways to put it. You can talk about physical destruction. You can talk about demographic elimination. And so, if the BDS platform were to be implemented, the–they talk about, let’s say, 7 million Palestinian refugees coming back to Israel. Right now, the demographics is—in the state of Israel, it’s about 15 to 20 percent non-Jews. If there were a full implementation of the law of return—the right of return, if there were a full implementation of the right of return, the demographic balance would shift roughly 70 percent Palestinian Arab, 30 percent Jewish.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re not talking about the Occupied Territories.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, if you take the total picture, it’s about 50-50 now. If you bring in—if the refugees are returned en masse, then, of course, again, the demographic balance is going to shift radically. And so, that would be—I’m not saying I support it or not. That, for me, is an irrelevant issue, because politics is not about your personal preference. Politics is about what’s possible. And I’m saying that prospect, that prospect of a radical demographic shift in Israel, which would mean, effectively, the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It’s a demographic, it’s not a physical—and I recognize that, and the distinction is important. But the bottom line, in some regard, is the same: Israel will cease to exist as a predominantly Jewish state. American Jews will never accept that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to what—

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m not saying—I’m not saying you have to defer to the opinion of American Jews. I’m simply saying—you’re asking me about the opinions of American Jews—yes, it has shifted radically from when I was growing up. However, there is a red line. And the red line is Israel is a Jewish state.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me go to, in the last few minutes we have, Israel publishing a blacklist of 20 different organizations they will not allow into Israel right now. We’re talking about groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, CodePink, the American Friends Service Committee, as well as Palestinian solidarity groups in France, in Italy, in Norway, Sweden, Britain, Chile and other places. Your response to what Israel has done right now?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, the important thing is to try to understand why they’re doing it. Now, some people claim that the reason is they fear BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I happen not to agree with that analysis.

In my opinion, Israel has a problem, has always had a problem. The problem is, it keeps getting bad press, because when it keeps carrying out these massacres or these shootings, it gets bad press. And so, obviously, what’s the solution? Eliminate the press, eliminate the witnesses. So, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, ’09, they prevented any reporters from coming in. So, for three weeks, it was a free-for-all. Then, after Operation Protective Edge, they didn’t let any human rights organizations in, so they couldn’t see what was the damage done. So, then the human rights organizations, what they did was, in my opinion, crazy. They said, “If Israel doesn’t let us in, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t commit the war crime.” But that just incentivizes Israel not to let human rights organizations in. You get an agnostic verdict rather than a guilty verdict.

Then, as I said before, the big chink in the armor was that Breaking the Silence, because these are Israeli combatants. And they weren’t even leftists. But they were describing what was happening. So Israel went with a vengeance, trying to get Breaking the Silence defunded, because it had a lot of European funding, claiming they were traitors, they were enemies and so on and so forth. And I don’t think—my guess, Breaking the Silence won’t do again what it did after Operation Protective Edge. It was—it was very hard to take. You know, Israel is a very nationalist society. And when you start being branded a traitor—and about 60 percent of the population said they were traitors, when they did the polls—

AMY GOODMAN: These were Israeli soldiers.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, you know, and they were being said to—about 60 percent said they were traitors.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think—

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Wait, so—and that brings me to this point. They’re using this moment—with Trump in power, they’re using this moment to try to eliminate as many witnesses as they can, keep everybody out. They want to do to the West Bank what they did to Gaza. It’s very hard for an outsider to get into Gaza. And now, the Israelis are carrying on in a very brazen way—the land grabs, the merciless killings of civilians, the brutal killings of civilians. And so, they want to clear the field of any witnesses. And they’re using the Trump presidency as a moment to seal off Gaza from any—excuse me, seal off the West Bank from any potentially hostile witnesses, to turn the West Bank into what they turned Gaza into. It’s hermetically sealed. There’s no way to witness the crimes as they unfold in real time.

AMY GOODMAN: Norm Finkelstein, in his book, Fire and Fury, journalist Michael Wolff quotes Steve Bannon boasting about the implications of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Bannon reportedly said, “We know where we’re heading on this. Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza.”

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, you know, I have no way to assess Bannon’s intelligence. Maybe he’s a smart guy. I don’t really know.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he was voicing what the Trump administration feels?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: They might feel it. I don’t really feel that, however, it has much connection with reality. That was the solution up until the 1970s, remember. Up until the 1970s, Gaza was—and the West Bank were occupied territories, and they were supposed to be returned to the people who previously occupied them, namely, Egypt and Jordan. But then that was superceded by the Palestinian national movement, the demand for an independent state, the demand for self-determination and sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. And the whole international community embraced it. I won’t say it was a strong embrace, but technically they embraced it. And you saw it again with the vote on Jerusalem, where the international community, about 128 states, they defied Trump, and they stood, you know, pretty firmly—there were some retreats, but not so important to discuss—stood fairly strongly in favor of the solution they’ve been advocating, which is Israel’s withdrawal from the territories they occupy.

I don’t think Trump’s announcement—personally, I don’t think it’s going to have much repercussion, because, historically, the major acts which have had enduring repercussions—the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the partition resolution in 1947—they were the product of a lot of deliberation, a lot of back-and-forth. And by the time they were promulgated—the Balfour Declaration and the partition resolution—they had a huge institutional force behind them. In the case of Trump, it was like a crap deal in Las Vegas. “Adelson, I’ll do it. What the hell.” You know? And those kinds of action don’t, in my opinion—are not likely to have an enduring effect. And, in fact, the result was, it kind of—the international community dug in their feet, dug in their feet that we’re not going to acquiesce to Trump’s unilateral move.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, you conclude your book by quoting Helen Hunt Jackson, a late 19th century American critic of our policy, of the U.S. policy towards Cherokee Indians, saying, “There will come a time when, to the student of American history, it will seem well-nigh incredible” what was done to the Cherokee. You then write, “Is it not certain that one day the black record of Gaza’s martyrdom will in retrospect also seem well-nigh incredible?”

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. When I was finishing up the book—it’s a funny thing about writing. I remember once you used the expression—we were talking privately about something—you used the expression of “reaching critical mass,” when something suddenly changes. I forget what the context was in what you were saying. And that’s some—that’s like me when I’m writing. I walk around, thinking about, thinking about, thinking about. I’m getting very agitated, agitated. And then, suddenly, I just go down and I start writing, you know? It’s there. And I wrote the conclusion very quickly—for me, unusually. It was, I think, only one or two drafts. Usually, I’m a perfectionist and go through it thoroughly. And at the end, I was immediately—I thought about, you know, what’s happening here is like—how could that be? How can it be that you have this medieval siege for 10 years? There was a period where Israel barred, prevented, prohibited chocolate, chips, chicken—chocolate, chips, chicks—from entering Gaza, on the grounds of security. How can that happen? And these people are just languishing there, in the face of the whole international community.

And I thought to myself, you know, it reminded me of what—it was a very nice book. It was called A Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson. She writes it at the end of the 19th century. And she describes how the United States just broke all the treaties—signs a treaty, breaks it—with the Native American population. And it’s an interesting story because Teddy Roosevelt, who was a great defender of the conquest of the American West, he devotes all these pages—it’s a three-volume or four-volume, five-volume maybe, history of the conquest—to attacking her, to attacking her. “How could you say this? How could you say this?” And the book was forgotten, her little book.

And then, when the whole Native American issue was revived in the United States—didn’t happen ’til the 1970s, you’ll be surprised, even though you’re not significantly different in age from me. It didn’t happen until—cinematically, it didn’t happen until Dustin Hoffman, I think Little Big Man. It was the first cinematic depiction of what had been done to the Native Americans. When we were growing up, I was always rooting for the cowboys. “Kill those Injuns! Kill those savages!” You know, I was. I remember it. You know? And there was a cultural revolution in the United States of sorts, and we suddenly discovered the Native Americans. And when we had our cultural revolution, Helen Hunt Jackson’s book was rediscovered.

And that’s kind of how I feel about my book. It will be ignored now, because everybody’s going to hate it. I went after not just Israel, but I was pretty tough on the human rights organizations, Kenneth Roth, Amnesty International, International Committee of the Red Cross, this guy Jacques de Maio, Richard Horton from the British Lancet magazine, the medical magazine. I’m very harsh. It’ll be ignored, with the exception of Democracy Now! and a couple of others. I’m aware of that. But I’m kind of old-fashioned. I believe in—I believe in memory. I believe these things should be remembered. It’s the only—it’s the only thing you can do for the dead, you know, is to remember them. And so, for me, the book was, in large part—I want it to sit on the bookshelf, which is why I asked a university press to publish it, because libraries nowadays—

AMY GOODMAN: And the photograph on the cover? We’ll end there.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I spent a lot of time trying to find the photograph. It was a Jewish woman who took the photograph, from Gaza. She was in Gaza. And I wanted—I said, “I want it to be simple. I want it to be stark. Simple, stark”—I can’t remember the third thing. And I felt it captured it, the essence.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe it.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s a picture of a Palestinian woman from Gaza, and she’s holding her dead baby, and the baby is wrapped up in, I guess, white cotton cloth. And you can only tell it’s dead because there’s a little blood at the foot. And I’ve not been to Gaza a lot. I’ve been there, I think, twice or three times. But what struck me about being there was—I don’t know if you’ve been there—people don’t wear their suffering on their shoulder. They don’t advertise it. They don’t talk about it. It’s just very matter-of-fact. “This is our life. What do we need now to move on?” And I felt that that was the cover conveyed.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, author, scholar, his new book, Gaza: An Inquest into Martyrdom.

To see Part 1 of our conversation, you can go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us

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