Israel has once again conducted a premeditated, full-scale massacre in broad daylight, in front of the cameras of the world. Once again, it took place in Gaza.
On May 14, Israeli snipers and other forces gunned down more than 60 Palestinians, and wounded thousands of others, including civilians, journalists, and paramedics. “You try nonlethal means and they don’t work,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “So you’re left with bad choices. It’s a bad deal. You know, you try and you go for below the knee, and sometimes it doesn’t work, and unfortunately these things are avoidable.”
It appears that the only way not to be killed, according to Netanyahu, is to meekly accept imprisonment inside the prison of Gaza. Among those killed by Israeli forces was an 8-month-old infant. Her name was Laila al-Ghandour. They also killed at least seven other children and a man in a wheelchair, and that man had lost his legs after they had to be amputated following an earlier Israeli attack.
Israel has made it clear that it believes that it has the right to systematically murder Palestinians for the crime of continuing to exist. There is no defense for what Israel has done. None. On Tuesday, I spoke to Yousef Mema, a young Palestinian nursing student in Gaza. Yousef is not a member of Hamas. He’s a Palestinian civilian studying to become a nurse. I spoke to him soon after he left the Shifa hospital in Gaza. That is where many of the dead and wounded from Monday’s mass killings were brought.
“I’m really shocked by what I saw there. There were tens of ambulances arriving to us at the hospital and transferring injuries. There was a large number of injuries. They were shot directly by Israeli forces,” Mema said. “Most of them were shot in the chest and the back and the neck, and I saw tens of injuries on the ground inside the Al-Shifa Hospital because [there were] not enough beds. All the beds was full of injuries. I see, in my eyes, tens to hundreds of injuries on the ground, waiting the doctor to come and give them medical treatment. The hospital was in a horrible situation. The people here in Gaza Strip, they are living in a very hard situation. They are living in open-air prison. There’s no life in Gaza Strip.”
Mema said that the citizens of Gaza are choosing “peaceful resistance to show the world that the Israeli Army is really [a] war criminal. They [are] killing peaceful protestors at Gaza’s border. Those people who were killed, they have families. Some of them [are] married and have wife and have kids. My dream is to live free from the suffering that we have here in Gaza Strip.”
On Tuesday, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley brought plenty of blame to pass around at the Security Council for the deaths of unarmed Palestinians. She blamed Iran. She blamed Hamas. She blamed the Palestinians who protested. But Nikki Haley placed no blame on Israel. “This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake — Hamas is pleased with the results,” she said. “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”
After Nikki Haley blamed the Palestinians for murdering themselves with Israeli snipers, she wouldn’t even listen to the Palestinian delegation at the U.N. She walked out when they began speaking.
It was fitting that this latest Israeli massacre in Gaza took place as the United States celebrated its official opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. It was fitting that President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were celebrating and enjoying fine dining and partying with Israeli war criminals and religious American zealots while Palestinians were being murdered.
While Jared and Ivanka partied, Palestinians were being gunned down for daring to protest for their right to return to lands they were expelled from at the barrel of guns and tanks and under bombardment some 70 years ago. It was fitting that the Barbie and Ken of international diplomacy were there to kick off the carnival in Jerusalem, because that’s what U.S. policy actually boils down to — celebrating Israel no matter how atrocious the crimes, no matter how despicable the justification, while claiming that Palestinian children and disabled people are weapons that need to be neutralized in the name of security. And this is not hyperbole: The IDF’s official Twitter feed put out a graphic titled “Hamas’ Tools for Infiltrating Israel.” It included things like Molotov cocktails, rocks, wire cutters and what they called “arson kites.” The IDF also listed “children,” “disabled civilians” and “rope tied to fence.” They listed those as Hamas weapons, as though Hamas is launching people in wheelchairs at Israel’s nuclear stockpile or slingshotting 8-month-old infants at Israeli drones. “Well, we can’t put all these people in jail,” reasoned Israeli government spokesperson Michal Maayan. “We’re talking about hundreds of people that are attacking the fence, and I can tell you that the IDF, our military, is not aiming to kill.”
Never in modern history has there been such a merciless, sustained campaign of collective punishment like the one that Israel has meted out against the people of Gaza. And that punishment is horrifying enough, just when you consider the humanitarian consequences of the blockade and the poisoning of the environment and the water supply. But then add to that the regular massacres of people literally trapped between the sea and a nuclear-armed nation-state, with the most advanced mass-killing machinery on the planet and you have to ask: What does Israel really want? And the answer, it seems, is submission and acceptance of dehumanization by the Palestinians or they die.
This week on Intercepted, we spoke to the blacklisted academic Norman Finkelstein. He has authored 11 books including, “The Holocaust Industry,” and “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.” The story of Norman’s family is a harrowing one. His father was a Jewish resister to the Nazis and survived both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. His mother also survived the Warsaw ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp, and slave labor imposed by the Nazis. Norman grew up in Brooklyn. His father was a factory worker and his mother stayed home with the kids.
Finkelstein says that he has been targeted for his outspoken views and scholarship on Israel. It has been more than a decade since Finkelstein has been able to teach at a university. He remains defiant. “Is it accurate, is it calling things by the proper names to say that the Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a border fence?” he asked. “No. The Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a concentration camp fence. They’re trying to breach a ghetto fence. They’re trying to breach a prison gate.”
Finkelstein’s latest book, published in January, is called “Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom.” It is a meticulous 440-page study of international law, of Israel’s sustained attacks against Gaza and its people and offers what may well be the definitive history of one of the most horrifying and sustained campaigns of collective punishment in modern world history. Not a single major publication in the U.S. has reviewed Norman’s book.
What follows is the complete transcript of our conversation with Finkelstein, an excerpt of which aired on Intercepted.
Jeremy Scahill: Norman, welcome to Intercepted.
Norman Finkelstein: Thank you for having me.
JS: First, just your response to what’s happening right now on the ground in Palestine.
NF: Well it was eminently predictable. In fact, it was predicted, the Great March of Return, as it’s been called. Began on March 30, they said it would go on for six weeks, they said it would climax this week. Originally it was supposed to climax on May 15, but then, because of the unveiling of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, they moved it up to May 14. But apart from that difference in days, everything was according to plan. And even if you looked at the Israeli papers, they were speculating about how many they would kill. They came up with a figure of 100. And it’s still unclear how many at the end of the day will be killed, because there are attempts to break out of the prison on Tuesday, on Wednesday and on Friday.
JS: When you say that it was entirely predictable, what do you mean?
NF: Well the Israelis said they were going to kill the people when they attempted to breach the prison gate. The people inside the prison said they’re going to try to break out of the prison. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out what’s going to happen in that scenario.
JS: When you say prison, what are you referring to?
NF: I don’t want to get too pedantic about this, but Confucius once said, “The beginning of all wisdom is to call things by their proper names.” That might sound like a fortune cookie entry, but in fact it’s a pretty profound idea. It took me a long time to sort of come to grips with it, or for it to be processed by my mind.
So, in the case at hand, if you look at the mainstream publications which echo Israeli propaganda, or if you just look at the Times, they keep referring to a border fence. A border fence is if two sovereign states stand on each side of that fence.
But then let’s look at the facts: Early back in 2003, the Hebrew university sociologist Baruch Kimmerling, he was a distinguished sociologist, now when I say back in 2003, bear in mind that the blockade, the intensity of the blockade, was notched up in 2006 after the elections that brought Hamas to power. So, when Kimmerling was speaking, it was before the intensity of the blockade had set in, and he described Gaza as, and now I’m quoting him, “the world’s largest concentration camp ever.”
The respected Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, they refer to the “Gaza Ghetto,” with the obvious resonances for Jews, the Warsaw Ghetto.
And then if you take the conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, he referred to Gaza as an open-air prison.
So, is it accurate, is it calling things by their proper names to say that the Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a border fence? No. Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a concentration camp fence. They’re trying to breach a ghetto fence. They’re trying to breach a prison gate.
But that’s only half the story. Because it’s not even a prison. It’s not even, in my opinion, it’s not even a concentration camp. I don’t want to get overly technical about this, but the Nazis had two different kinds of camps — the concentration camps which go back to the Boer War in South Africa, and then there are the extermination camps, which is something apart. Not always apart, in camps like Majdanek and Auschwitz. They combined the two. But then there were just some separate just extermination centers, like Sobibór.
Now, let’s return to Gaza. What are the facts about Gaza?
Number one, beginning in 2012, the United Nations, very staid, dull-witted but competent bureaucrats, began issuing reports. The first one was in the form of the interrogative. It said, “Will Gaza be livable in 2020?”
Then, in 2015, another report was issued by UNCTAD, one of the premier U.N. agencies, and they switched from the interrogative to the declarative. They said, “Gaza, on its current trajectory, will not be livable in 2020.”
Then, in 2017, a senior U.N. official — again, very conservative, proper bureaucrat — said, It seems like our forecasts have been optimistic. Sanguine. He said, “Gaza has crossed the threshold of unlivability a long time ago.”
We’re not talking about poetry. We’re not talking about hyperbole. We’re talking about the assessment, the verdict of very conservative, but professional and competent, U.N. bureaucrats. Gaza is an unlivable space.
What does that mean concretely? Well, let’s take one indicator: 97 percent of Gaza’s water is contaminated. It’s unfit for human consumption.
Well what does that mean? Well, let’s take the opinion of Sara Roy, who is the world’s leading authority on Gaza’s economy. Very bright woman, very decent woman. I know it’s not relevant, but I’ll mention it: Both of her parents were in Auschwitz concentration camp. So, consider her language. She said: “Innocent people, most of them children,” — because Gaza is overwhelmingly, majority children, 51 percent children — “are daily being poisoned.”
And that’s a fact. And people don’t want to hear it, they get all squeamish. Why are you talking about concentration camps? Why are you talking about poisoning? Well, hey! Don’t blame the messenger for the bad news. Concentration camp? That’s Baruch Kimmerling. Poisoned, one million children — there are one million children in Gaza that are being poisoned. Israel poisoning one million children.
So now, let’s get back to the question, calling things by their proper names. Are the people of Gaza trying to breach a border fence? No. The people of Gaza are trying to breach an unlivable space in which the population is daily being poisoned. Those are the facts. And we shouldn’t recoil from those facts. If you could talk about the Syrian government using poison gas, and everybody can get indignant, there may be a question, a reasonable question, about which side used the poison gas, and I’m not about to resolve that question. The point is: Everybody gets indignant. You’re poisoning people!
In our own country, when it was it was discovered that the water in Flint was contaminated, there was a national outcry. National outrage. National indignation.
And now you have a whole population, predominately children, being systematically poisoned. And they have no way out. Which is another feature about Gaza, which sets it apart from the other horrific situations in the world today.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, it said a couple of years ago, there is something about Gaza that’s distinct, they said. I don’t want to say unique, because we don’t want to get into the Holocaust sweepstakes. Let’s just call it distinct.
They said: Everywhere else in the world, when there’s a natural disaster, say a drought, or a human-made disaster, such as the war in Syria, the people have the option, UNRWA said, at least to move. And that’s not a great option. It means becoming a refugee, and in many cases, it means getting a tent if you’re lucky, and the tent is pitched in mud. But, it’s an option.
The people of Gaza are the only people in the world who don’t have that option. They’re caged in. In those circumstances, to refer to it as a border fence, strikes me as almost obscene. And there’s another obscenity. The obscenity of referring to Israel as using disproportionate force, and/or excessive force, which is what the human rights organizations, as well as, say the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, what they typically say.
Well, the implication of that is, Israel has the right to use proportionate force. Israel has the right to use moderate as against excessive force. People are trapped, and trapped in something that seems to go beyond even a concentration camp. And Israel has the right to use any force? To keep them confined? Israel has the right to use proportionate force? Moderate force? To confine the 1 million children of Gaza in effectively a death camp, where they’re being poisoned everyday?
No, there’s something really wrong about that’s going here. Now, as I said, I’m not going to compare magnitude of crimes. I don’t want to go down that route.
Incidentally, the expression, “Holocaust sweepstakes” doesn’t come from me. It comes from the late University of Chicago Historian, Peter Novick, who said that when Jews and Israelis insist on the fact that the Holocaust is unique, and then the others start weighing in, the Armenians, the Native Americans, they say, “No, ours is just as bad,” it becomes a Holocaust Sweepstakes. And that phrase resonated with me. Read the book 20 years ago, but it stood with me. I don’t want to go down that route. But there something here that’s profoundly wrong.
I was profoundly wrong in my opinion, beyond the martyrdom of the people of Gaza. It’s the squeamishness and the cowardice about calling things, as Confucius said, by their proper name. That’s the least that’s owed the people of Gaza.
I like Bernie Sanders, and I worked very hard for Bernie during the campaign.
JS: Let me read what Bernie Sanders said on Twitter, so we precisely quote him. Senator Bernie Sanders, and to my knowledge, the only U.S. senator that has said to anything opposed to what the Israelis are doing.
So, Sanders tweeted this on Monday when this was still very, very much in its early stages. “Over 50 killed in Gaza today and 2,000 wounded, on top of the 41 killed and more than 9,000 wounded over the past weeks. This is a staggering toll. Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters. The United States must play an aggressive role in bringing Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and the international community together to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and stop this escalating violence.”
Your response, Norman.
NF: There was no Hamas violence. I’m not a defender of Hamas. I’m not an apologist for Hamas, but I do care about facts and I do care about truth.
The fact of the matter is, for anybody who is in the least bit familiar with the situation, Hamas was given very strict orders: No violence, no guns, no weapons, no provocations.
For the past two weeks, Hamas has been absorbing one provocation after another by the Israelis, because the Israelis are desperate, they are desperate, as they said in that famous WikiLeak, “we don’t do Gandhi well,” which means they don’t know how to cope with nonviolence because it looks bad when they start using their brutal force against nonviolent protestors.
So they’re praying, they’re doing everything to provoke Hamas into resorting to some sort of violence so then they have their pretext to come in, and, as they call it, mow the lawn.
Well, Hamas has resisted the provocations. They killed, you might say, a friend of Hamas in Malaysia, two weeks ago. Then they killed six Hamas militants a couple of weeks ago. And then they keep provoking them, and provoking them. To the eternal credit of Hamas, and there are 10,000 things to criticize them for, and I’ll be the first one to do it, but to their eternal credit, they’re exercising Herculean restraint in the face of the Israeli systematic, methodical, desperate provocations. It’s gotten so preposterous, so ridiculous, that they need a pretext. So their scribes, the stenographers, like Isabel Kershner in the New York Times, she talks about this new lethal threat. The lethal threat is kites. The kites have lit rags on the kites. They don’t have the Hamas rockets, they don’t have the terror tunnels, so their stenographer and scribes for the Israeli propaganda machine, they’ve come up with something new: Killer kites. You know, it’s so pitiful.
And now for Bernie to weigh in and talk about Hamas violence. First of all, let’s be clear: They have the right to use violence. They have that right under international law. As a general proposition, they have that right. That’s the law: a people fighting for self-determination or under alien occupation, they have the right to use violence in order to free themselves.
On the other hand, the law is very clear: An occupying power or a power denying people the right to self-determination, they have no right whatsoever to use violence.
So as a general principle, the people of Gaza, Hamas, they have the right to use violence. But they’re not. They’re trying to adopt a new strategy because they’ve seen that the violence — it’s not even violence. Hamas rockets, they’re not even rockets. But that’s another story for another day. They have refrained.
And now for Bernie to do that. No — it’s unacceptable. A friend of mine called me up this afternoon and said, “Well, Norm, aren’t you being a little harsh? He didn’t really say Hamas violence is the cause.” No. No. I’ve been in touch with the people in Gaza. I’ve been in touch with the organizers. And I’ve been telling them, “You can get Bernie over.” They put out signs, they had kids holding signs, “Thank you, Bernie.” That was me! It’s very painful for me now. Because I lead them down that route. I told them to try that strategy. I told them to invite Bernie. I also told them to invite Charles Schumer, which they did. And now I feel it’s a betrayal. You make me look foolish, and you betray Jews by that. Because they reached out to you, and they know you’re Jewish. You betrayed Jews by that. It makes me very angry.
Bernie won the Arab vote during the primary. In fact, he won a higher percentage of the Arab vote than he did the Jewish vote. Who would have ever thought that the first serious presidential candidate in American history, he wins a higher percentage of the Arab vote than the Jewish vote.
I invested a lot in it personally and politically, and then I see “Hamas violence” and people start sending me these emails, “Bernie — Hamas violence.” That’s not calling things by their proper name. That’s being opportunist. It’s being cowardly. I know Bernie doesn’t believe it, but he has to protect his flank, pretend to be even-handed. No, this is not the time to be even-handed. It’s not the time to be even-handed. Those people have been suffering for 11 years under that brutal, inhuman, illegal, and immoral blockade. Now when Bernie says, “The Egyptians, the Americans, they all have to get together,” no, Bernie, that’s not correct. With all due respect, and I do respect you, it’s not correct. The correct statement is that blockade is illegal under international law, it constitutes collective punishment under international law, it is what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said, “a flagrant violation of international law” and the only thing Israel has a right to do, I’ll quote now the New York state judge Mary McGowan Davis. In the U.N. report she put out after Operation Protective Edge, and that was an awful report, what she said, and now I’m quoting her, “The blockade of Gaza has to be lifted immediately and unconditionally.”
Now, I want the listeners to hear that word. It’s unconditionally. It doesn’t say Hamas has to disarm. It doesn’t say Hamas has to stop constructing tunnels. That blockade is illegal under international law. It’s a flagrant violation of international law. It has to be lifted immediately and unconditionally. It doesn’t depend on Egypt, it doesn’t depend on the United States, it doesn’t depend on the Palestinian Authority — all of whom want to destroy Gaza.
No, the law is immediately and unconditionally. That merciless, cruel, brutal blockade of Gaza has to be lifted.
JS: We’re talking about the position of Bernie Sanders, who of course is making an effort to address some of what you’re saying, but of course you’re offering this detailed critique of him. We hear Raj Shah and others that are speaking on behalf of the Trump administration placing the blame entirely on Hamas, even when confronted with the number of civilians that have been killed, they say it’s a grotesque propaganda exercise by Hamas, as though Hamas is launching Palestinian civilians at Israel to be killed.
But there’s a lot of outrage about the way that the Trump Administration is posturing on this. How different though is that response that the Trump White House is offering versus previous assaults, onslaughts, on Gaza when Democrats are in power?
NF: Well, it was the same. I’ll just give you two examples of the exemplary figure, namely Barack Obama. Operation Cast Lead began December 26, 2008, it ended January 17, 2009; what Amnesty International called 22 days of death and destruction.
And up until that point, it was the most murderous of the Israeli periodic operations against the people of Gaza.
Barack Obama had already been elected president in November. As a matter of fact, Israel launched its provocation in order to start up Operation Cast Lead on November 4, 2008, just as Barack Obama was winning the election.
Now, Operation Cast Lead ends January 17. Why does it end January 17? Because Obama’s going to be inaugurated on January 20, and that stupefying narcissist didn’t want any distractions, any diversions from his inauguration. So he passes the word to Israel: Stop operation Cast Lead. That’s the only reason.
JS: Just on Cast Lead, your book is a meticulous scholarly history and argument on what is happening in Gaza and has happened for decades now, but the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli citizens killed 400:1, 300 of the 1,400 or so Palestinians dead were children.
NF: 350 were children. Now turn to Operation Protective Edge. It actually occupies a very unique place in modern warfare. It’s hard to convey in numbers, because we’ve all become inured to the numbers, after what’s unfolded in the past few years in the Middle East, so I prefer to just convey it in a different way.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross is a fellow named Peter Maurer. And you go to your Google and you Google “Peter Maurer Afghanistan.” He’s been there. “Peter Maurer Syria.” He’s been there. “Peter Maurer Yemen.” He’s been there. “Peter Maurer Central African Republic.” He’s been there. “Peter Maurer Iraq.” He’s been there. He’s the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His job description, aside from his administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities, is to bear witness at war zones. He’s been everywhere, all of those horror places that we’re familiar with from the nightly news.
In 2014, after Operation Protective Edge, Peter Maurer went to Gaza. He came out of Gaza and he said, “I’ve never seen such massive destruction ever before.” The person who has been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Central African Republic, Yemen — he goes to tiny little Gaza, which could fit into this studio room — and he says, “I’ve never seen such destruction ever before.”
Bear in mind, that is the eighth Israeli murderous operation in Gaza in the last 15 years. Eight Israeli murderous operations, which is overwhelmingly comprising children. Operation Days of Penitence, 2004. Operation Rainbow, 2004. Operation Autumn Clouds, 2006. Operation Hot Winter, 2008. It begins to sound like an Irving Berlin production. Operation Cast Lead, 2008-9, Operation Pillar of Defense, 2012. And then Operation Protective Edge. And now we have to add the new massacre the past few days.
What did Barack Obama do? He kept going out, he and his representatives, and he kept saying, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
You know when he finally criticized it? It’s an interesting story. He finally criticized it on August 3rd. You know why? Israel was systematically targeting the U.N. shelters. These were U.N. schools which had been converted into civilian shelters.
JS: This is 2014, you’re talking about.
NF: Yes. Yes. It’s July and August, 2014, because they start targeting the UNRWA schools, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main humanitarian organization in Gaza. He began targeting schools in July.
He bombed one shelter, a second shelter, a third shelter, a fourth shelter, a fifth shelter and then the pressure begins to build in the U.N. system. And finally Ban Ki-moon, that comatose puppet of the United States.
JS: He was the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time.
NF: Well, theoretically he was Secretary-General.
JS: It was his official title, yes.
NF: I don’t know what he was. But I’m glad he’s gone.
JS: OK. So, Ban Ki-moon.
NF: So he finally had to say something and he condemned the bombing on August 3 of the U.S. shelter. That was in the morning.
Now, the United States no longer even had the fig leaf of Ban Ki-moon. So finally, in the afternoon of August 3, the United States says what Israel did was criminal — they used very harsh language — didn’t use the word “criminal,” but they used very harsh language. And lo and behold, the night of August 3, Prime Minister Netanyahu announces Israel’s withdrawing from Gaza.
Only thing you needed to end that operation was one word from the United States. It all happened August 3rd, Ban Ki-moon in the morning, the U.S. in the afternoon.
Now it did go onto the 26th because it was a negotiation phase, but they could have stopped it. Barack Obama did nothing.
JS: Point taken on that, too.
NF: It was obviously what happened during Protective Edge, even, you know, given the horror now, there’s no comparison.
Israel had the right to protect itself? Let’s just take some basic numbers: 550 Gazan children were killed. You know how many Israeli children were killed? One. 18,000 — 18,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed. You know how many Israeli homes were destroyed? One. 550 to 1. 18,000 to 1. And the only thing Barack Obama could see was Israel has the right to defend itself.
Same thing with Bernie, sorry Bernie, but facts are stubborn things, as that British proverb used to say. 53 Palestinians killed [Monday]? More than 2,000 wounded, a large number of them, the expression they use is now, life-changing injuries, meaning permanent injuries, amputations, and so forth. And not one Israeli, not just [Monday], but the last six weeks, not a single Israeli, forget about killed! Forget about wounded! Not even a scratch! And you invoke Hamas violence? That’s way off-base. It’s unacceptable.
JS: One of the reasons why I ask you that about previous administrations, particularly Barack Obama’s, is because a lot of the way, and this happens with many issues regarding Donald Trump, where you see this outrage that seems specifically tailored to, “We’ll see what Trump is doing.” And yes, you have the fact that they have opened the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and Trump and Pence’s names are actually chiseled onto it, but what I was trying to get to: Has there been any significant change from Obama to Trump as regards Gaza?
NF: I would not say as regards Gaza. I would say it is probably true that, probably, behind the scenes, the United States was putting some restraint on Netanyahu in previous administrations — I can’t document it, but I think it’s reasonable to assume. You remember, for example, at that famous news conference where Secretary of State —
JS: John Kerry?
NF: Yeah. It was when Israel demolished Shujaiya — that’s another story. And it bears repeating.
Shujaiya is a civilian neighborhood in Gaza. It’s among the most densely populated civilian neighborhoods in Gaza, which is among the most densely populated places in the world.
There had been a firefight outside Shujaiya and several Israeli soldiers were killed. And, you know, Israel has a very peculiar notion of a war. Israeli soldiers are not supposed to get killed in wars. Only the other side is supposed to get killed. So Israel went mad. It’s very hard to communicate the horrors that have been inflicted in that place.
Israel dropped more than 100 one-ton bombs on Shujaiya and fired thousands — thousands — of indiscriminate high explosive artillery shells into Gaza. And that was at that point, you might recall, in the news conference this is, they called it, a pinpoint operation — which in fact was true. They pinpointed Shujaiya and they proceeded to decimate it, and Kerry was kind of infuriated and he uttered, I guess his mic was open and he wasn’t aware of it, he said, “some pinpoint operation.” So there had to be some constraints that were work. With this guy Trump, and that Pence guy. You know, there are no restraints. They’re all laughing. You know the type, you know the type. Netanyahu is like, don’t worry, all will be forgotten in two days. All that will be remembered is the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. And he’s right! It will all be forgotten in two days.
JS: The juxtaposition of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, who technically is in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian, quote-unquote negotiations, them sitting around with their Israeli counterparts eating fine food while not far away there’s the mass slaughter, this massacre happening.
NF: Yeah, it’s pure cynicism.
JS: I wanted to —
NF: It’s not even cynicism.
JS: I actually think this was an appropriate image to see that this is whether the U.S. point people are doing.
NF: The life is so cheap. The life is so cheap. Palestinian life. It’s a very painful sight to behold and it’s very hard, it’s just very hard to face people there. I had — for those of you who are reading my book, I had been very emphatic in the book that the armed resistance, even though it was legally legitimate and justified, that it was never going to achieve anything and I was very emphatic that they had to switch to a strategy of nonviolent civil resistance.
JS: And are you talking specifically Gaza or Palestinians?
NF: No, Gaza. Well, the book is on Gaza, so.
JS: No, I know your current book is on Gaza.
NF: In general, but in particular in Gaza, because the Palestinian Authority, it technically had embraced what it called international diplomacy, which basically means collaborating with the United States, and the people, leadership in Gaza had embraced armed resistance, and I said, “You have that right.” And I was very emphatic because I know the law quite well. But I said as a practical matter it can’t work, and I think that nonviolent civil resistance can work.
No, I did enter a large number of caveats. I did say the Palestine struggle is very tough now, because it’s salience has been drastically dramatically reduced because events in Yemen, Saudi, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, so the Palestinian struggle has lost its political and moral salience. Then, most of the significant states in the Arab world are either out of the picture because they have been decomposed, or they support Israel — the Saudis, the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan — they all support Israel. And the Palestinian Authority wants to see Gaza destroyed. So those factors were now working against nonviolent civil resistance.
But I said, if two conditions are met, it has a possibility. One is they have to adopt in a very strict way nonviolent civil resistance. I also said Hamas has to move to the side.
And to my shock they did it. They have no Hamas flags at the demonstrations. The organization is really democratic, they just have, they’re the most moderate force, by the way, in what’s called the High Commission, because they’re trying to strike very strictly to nonviolence.
So that condition was achieved. It’s not a Hamas phenomenon. It’s really a mess, nonsectarian, phenomenon. But I said there was one other factor and I was very optimistic. I said the solidarity movement is now dormant, however if you engage in mass nonviolent resistance I think the solidarity movement will come back to life. You might recall the joint Operation Protective Edge. There were tens of thousands of people demonstrating in London. It was a huge international outcry of outrage and indignation. And I was really bewildered that they did engage in the mass nonviolent civil resistance and the solidarity movement was missing in action.
JS: So, this week, Israel is not only celebrating the founding of the state of Israel, but also it’s the date of the creation of the Israeli Defense Forces, the combined defense forces, and I want to read a quote to you that I know you’re familiar with from a lecturer at the IDF National Defense College, Arnon Soffer. He said this in 2004: “When 2.5 million people lived in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today. With the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam, the pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war, so if we want to remain alive we will have to kill and kill and kill, all day, every day.”
NF: Now let’s just stop for a moment, go to my website. It’s going to be a little ways down, it’s going to be Netanyahu’s speech before the Jewish nation. Read what he says:
JS: “It’s easy to declare the people of Gaza must be exterminated, but it’s not an easy task to accomplish. Most of you will know what it’s like when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1,000. To have executed this ghastly charge and to have remained decent, it has earned us a glorious page in the annals of history. We have the moral right, we have the duty to our people to kill this people who would kill us. We have carried out this most difficult task out of love of our people and we have suffered no defect within us, in our soul or in our character.”
NF: Yeah. We’re killing this people who want to kill us. It’s a terrible task. We all shoot and cry, but that’s what we have to do.
JS: So, whose words did I just read there?
NF: If you substitute “Gaza” for “Jews,” that was Heinrich Himmler. It’s a very famous speech of his, where the Nazis, like some others who came later, they derived this kind of sick pleasure in pitying themselves.
JS: I understand but the notion that is put forth consistently by Israeli political figures, or I just mentioned this geographer who’s an instructor at the IF university that Israel has a right to kill these people because it’s in their defense, and that is sort of how it’s framed. And if you say anything about Gaza on social media you get hounded immediately by people saying, “Are you saying Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself?”
NF: That’s exactly what the U.N. report said. You have the right to defend the border from attack. You have no right to cage in a people in an unlivable space who are slowly being poisoned. You regain, you reclaim your right when you do three things:
One, you end the illegal blockade of Gaza. Two, you end the illegal occupation of alien territory. And three, you give the people in Gaza and the West Bank the right to self-determination and statehood. The denial of all of those three rights, not one fundamental right, not two fundamental rights, three fundamental rights, the denial of those rights means you lose any right to quote-unquote “defend yourself.” Until and unless you end those three consecutive, compounded, illegal situations.
There’s a fundamental principle of international law. I won’t give you the Latin, I’ll give you the English. You can’t get a right from a wrong. If you are inflicting on Gaza an illegal blockade, an illegal occupation, and you’re illegally denying them the right to self-determination, you don’t have a right to self-defense. You lost that right because you do not have the right if you are inflicting a wrong. If a rapist is raping a woman, and then a woman starts pummeling a rapist, the rapist doesn’t have the right to hit back in self-defense. You lost that right to self-defense the moment you start raping the victim. And it’s the same elementary principle there. You have only one right. It’s a right to pack up and leave and to stop tormenting and torturing those people. That’s your only right. Once you pack up and you leave and all the legalities are in place: No blockade, no occupation, the people are able to exercise the right to self-determination and statehood once the situation has become legal and legitimate, Israel has the right to self-defense.
I have said that from the moment I began being involved in this conflict more than 35 years ago. When all of these so-called radicals, when all of the radical posing and posturing, with all of their inane slogans about BDS and one-state, I have stayed very steadfast and firm and paid a very big price.
Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself but not until and unless it stops tormenting and torturing the people of Palestine, and, in particular, the people of Gaza. Until and unless, they have no right except to pack up and leave.
JS: What is Israel’s ultimate end goal in Gaza? Reading the book, it’s almost like you are a prosecutor, documenting —
NF: I’m not a prosecutor!
JS: I know you’re not. I’m saying it reads with that specificity.
NF: I stick to the law. I don’t like a lot of international law. I think a lot of it is problematic. A lot of it is outright, in my view, morally unacceptable. But I stick by the law. I stick by the facts. And, as I said in the introduction, the reader will decide for him or herself reading the book, perusing the book, whether it’s me that’s partisan to Gaza, as in I am their prosecutor or I am prosecuting for them, or whether it’s the facts that are partisan to Gaza.
JS: From your study of the facts, I’m asking where you see this going, particularly with Netanyahu in power, what is —?
NF: Netanyahu is a very, he’s a very narrow politician. He looks for quick victories and doesn’t think long-term. Like, like President Trump, he was mired in domestic scandal, and, you know, probably part of his motivation was just to extricate himself from the scandal. If you asked what’s the long-term vision, there isn’t a long-term vision. You have to understand my opinion, the Israeli mentality, the Israeli mentality is a kind of holding action, this is true of the entire Zionist movement from the inception at the end of the 19th century, it’s a kind of holding action until kind of what you might call, and they call, a miracle extricates them. So, the Zionist enterprise begins at the end of the 19th century. It seems inconceivable. How can mostly penniless Jews in Eastern Europe, because that was a prime constituency, establish a state in Palestine? It’s already occupied. There are so many great powers involved. The British are involved, the French are involved, the Germans are involved, the Ottoman Empire, how are these Jews going to pull it off?
So they don’t know, they don’t know and then the miracle happens. What’s the miracle? It’s the miracle of the Balfour Declaration.
Now, of course, it wasn’t just a miracle. They worked very hard. But still it was a kind of pulling a rabbit from the hat to get that Balfour Declaration out of the British. So now they have established a foothold in Palestine.
Then after World War two they have, on the agenda was establishing a Jewish state.
And then the Cold War had already broken out by 1947, and then another miracle happens when it comes to the partition resolution, both the United States and Russia vote for it, amidst already the outbreak of the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union for different reasons, they end up allying and they get the miracle of the Partition Resolution.
So now they get their state. But they have a problem. In their state, what’s called the Jewish state, there are as many Arabs as there are Jews. If you look at the population, it’s almost 50-50 as the U.N. map demarcated the Jewish state.
And then they have another miracle, in the Zionist literature, they call it the “miraculous clearing of the land,” which we now know in retrospect as the ethnic cleansing. So now, again, a miracle, of course it has very secular roots, but another obstacle is surmounted.
Then come 1967, the Zionist enterprise, now the State of Israel, and by 1967, it was not looking good. There were more Jews emigrating from Israel than immigrating to it. The Zionist enterprise, now the State of Israel, seemed like it was on decline.
They had another miracle. It’s called the miracle of the Six Day War. By the way, all the language I’m using, they use: The miraculous clearing of the land, the miracle of the Six Day War.
Then a new obstacle emerges. In the 1970s, the Arab population of Israel is growing much more rapidly than the Jewish population, and it looks like this Jewish state is not going to be Jewish, at least overwhelmingly Jewish, for much longer. Who would have guessed it? Another miracle. You know what that miracle was called? The miracle of Soviet Jewry. A million Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel. Who would have guessed it? You know?
And so, the whole Zionist movement, its history and then the State of Israel, they have holding actions. They wait. They wait. If you were to ask me now what’s the holding action, what are where they waiting for, probably they’re waiting for a cataclysm of such dimensions that they can carry out another a miraculous clearing of the land. That would be the ideal situation. Until they reach the ideal situation, they’ll just wait. You know, people say: How much longer can it last, it’s gotta — ? No, it doesn’t have to end. For Christ’s sake, the occupation has already lasted a half-century. They could keep it going. There’s no real obstacles. And so, to the credit, I suppose, you could say of the Zionist movement, they’re patient and there were a few moments when it looked like they had the right conditions, there was speculation that there would be another expulsion. It didn’t happen. But I suppose if there was a war with Iran, they would use that as a pretext to carry out a mass expulsion, probably get away with it.
As for Gaza, they’ll just let it vegetate and die.
JS: You brought up Iran, what is your analysis of Trump quote-unquote ripping up the Iran deal?
NF: It’s hard to gauge, first of all, whether there’s any foresight or farsight involved in what he’s doing.
I tend, on these issues, whether you like the person or not, and you’re entitled to your own opinion, Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah is probably the shrewdest political analyst of the Middle East. He’s very, very sharp. And after Israel attacked the Iranian, I guess it was the Republican Guard in Syria.
JS: In the Golan Heights.
NF: Just the first one, which was about three weeks ago, he made a very somber and sober speech and he said they made a mistake. They have made a mistake. And then they did it again, Israel.
I not of the opinion that Netanyahu wants a war, because as Nasrallah said, the Israelis are fundamentally cowards. He says that when they come into a country, they’re surrounded by all of these, you know, the soldiers. They’re surrounded by all these very, very, heavy armored tanks and so forth. I don’t fault them, don’t get me wrong, because I don’t like to pretend to be a hero, I’m not. I’m sorely lacking in physical courage. And the Israelis, they like the nightlife, they like to travel, they like cafes — they don’t like war, unless it’s against a defenseless enemy. That’s why they suffered a very significant defeat in 2006 during the 34-day war with the Hezbollah and they never invaded.
They would not want hand-to-hand combat with the party of God. Hezbollah. You know, it’s not big. Back then it was only 6,000 soldiers, and Israel had amassed 30,000 troops. But they knew, the Hezbollah, they’re ideologically very committed, they don’t fear death, and there is a long, a long series of grievances.
Israel occupied Lebanon from 1978 until they were finally expelled in 2000. They occupied the South and those people are very angry. They hate Israel.
And so, I met those fighters. No. You don’t want to go into the field with them. There was one guy, he was about 6′ 5” tall, and 6′ 5” round. He looked like Mr. T. And I said to him, “Buddy, I need you. I need to take you home. Because ifs somebody fires a rocket at me, and you jumped in front, it’ll just bounce off.”
JS: [Laughs.] Oh my God.
NF: So, they don’t want, you know, it’s an interesting story: Why did Israel attack Gaza in 2008, 2009? It’s totally relevant to your question, so I’m not digressing.
They had suffered a defeat in 2006, and they said, the expression Israelis like to use is their deterrence capacity, their deterrence capacity be had been severely undermined.
What is deterrence capacity? It’s just a fancy technical term for the Arabs fear of us. And the Israelis worried that the Arabs no longer feared them. And, well, the obvious thing then to do is to go in again to restore that deterrence capacity. But they didn’t want to go into Lebanon again. Not against the party of God because the nature of those attacks is you cannot disable the rockets from the air. The only way to disable them is a ground invasion.
You might recall, you probably won’t, but up until the last day of the 2006 war, up until the 34th day, Hezbollah was firing hundreds of rockets into Israel. You can’t disable them unless you send in the ground force, and Israel does not want, the soldiers, I don’t blame them [laughing] — they don’t want to fight with the party of God. And they said, the only way to restore deterrence capacity is to attack Gaza.
JS: What you’re really saying, just in plain terms of our world, is they got their clocks cleaned, and now they need to go pummel someone weaker so that they can say, “Our last adventure wasn’t a disaster. You need to continue fearing us.”
NF: Right. But they did it in a particular way, because everybody knew that Hamas was not a serious fighting force, so you don’t restore your deterrence capacity by quote-unquote defeating them. The only way you could restore your deterrence capacity is by leveling Gaza and then transmitting the message: If you mess with us, we’re going to turn you into a parking lot, like they did in Gaza.
If you look at the actual record, most of the attacks on Gaza had nothing to do with Gaza. You know, it was other Israeli ambitions or objectives which where realized by attacking Gaza. It didn’t have to do with the people of Gaza. They just happen to be in the hapless situation of being defenseless.
Now, I don’t believe, to return to your question, that Netanyahu wants a war with Iran. However it’s quite possible — Nasrallah has just delivered a major speech, I haven’t yet read the text of it — it is quite possible that they have crossed the Rubicon. And Nasrallah’s, the speech he gave about a month ago, he’s not a fear monger and he’s not a scare monger, he said: “I’m not saying it’s probable. I won’t even say it’s possible,” but he said “we might be heading towards a regional war.” And if he says it, I think we need to pause and we need to really worry.
People like Trump and Netanyahu who don’t look past the next day, Iran is a 5,000-year-old civilization. It’s very patient. You could see, over the long-term, how slow but surely it’s building up a pretty impressive what they call a resistance front in the Middle East. And so they’re patient, and they may patiently wait for the right moment, and then we’re going to have a very — it’s not a mess. It’ll be a nightmare. It’ll be a nightmare.
No, I have to say, and I’m not proud of it: Israel, I think it’s quite possible could face, the, not a, the catastrophe. I know there are a lot of people in the Arab world who are longing for it. And I find myself, like today, thinking, what goes around comes around. And you asked for it. The way you carry on — the way you carry on — your celebrations, your hoopla, while a million children are being poisoned.
I’m torn with those thoughts, but the arrogance, the racism, the obnoxiousness, the Jewish supremacy, it’s gotten out of hand.
I found myself today thinking: It’s really become a satanic state. And I stopped short, and I say: OK, Germany was a satanic state and then after World War II, it was transformed. It became probably the most civilized state in Europe, which is not saying much, you know its Europe, but probably most civilized state in Europe. So, countries can redeem themselves and maybe I’m being too harsh in my judgment. But the way they carry on, I just don’t get it.
You read the story about the African-American musician, singer. She was in Israel a couple of weeks ago. She said, “What goes on in this country? I’ve never been to a place that’s so racist.” [Laughs.]
And we’re talking about planet earth! There are lot of racist places. It’s an abomination. They did a poll: 83 percent of the Israelis support their government’s killing of the protesters, 67 percent oppose any diminution of the siege. How could you be so heartless? One million children. It’s children! And you don’t want to diminish the siege? It’s not just the water that’s poisoned. All the plant life, because the soil is poison.
So, you know, to quote —
JS: Norman comes prepared with all of his footnotes.
NF: Sara Roy, she went to Harvard undergrad, she went to Harvard grad, she’s a practicing Jew, she has a lot of family in Israel, both of her parents, as I said, were in the Nazi Holocaust.
And in the new edition of her book, she just very calmly, matter of factly, she says, “Innocent human beings, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink and likely by the soil in which they plant.” And you don’t want to lift the siege?
JS: Norman, when you talk about the end of Israel as it currently exists — ?
NF: Now, I have to be honest, I don’t say “as currently exists,” there is a definite problem, with people like — I’m sure you understand and I don’t want to sound in any way patronizing or condescending — Iran is being punished for honoring the agreement. I mean, how many times have you had that happen in history? They sign an agreement. They honor the agreement. It was a very tough agreement. The 5+1 as it was called extracted virtually every positive concession that you can get from Iran, and then to be punished for honoring the agreement. And the orchestration of the ripping up of the agreement started with Netanyahu. What are people going to think about this self-proclaimed Jewish state? What are they going to think? It wasn’t hidden from view. Who started the hoopla, the dog and pony show?
So, what do you think people think? Nasrallah, his son was killed by the Israelis. South Lebanon, they had a prison called Khiam. I remember one French newspaper described it as a Gestapo torture center. I was there. I saw it, I remember they used to take you on tour when you were there. In 2006, you know what the first thing the Israelis did? They sent in planes to destroy it. They didn’t want people to see what they had done. You know? So the anger, the hatred for the Israelis —
I’m not going to pretend to be a saint, but the funny thing is, among Palestinians, I’m the one who’s always trying to moderate the hatred. I was begging the people in Gaza, when you put out your point of view, don’t put Israel in quotes. You lose everybody. Don’t — and that’s very hard for them, because it’s an instinct, the Zionist entity, put it in quotes. I’ve done my level best to say, first of all, it’s politically imprudent and legally, it’s the law, I’m sure you’re aware of the price I paid for telling BDS, if you say you’re anchored in international law, Israel’s a state. Got to recognize it. Otherwise you’re being hypocritical.
And so, and I am emotional being, but I am also a person of reason and fact. And when I find myself thinking these thoughts these very dark thoughts about a Satanic state, I can just imagine what everybody else is thinking who is not as mentally — or tries to be — as mentally disciplined as me, and is more given to outbursts, irrational outbursts of anger. So, you can just easily conceive the accumulation of anger at that state. And as the Iranians patiently calmly maneuver their pieces on the chessboard, I think it’s going in a very, very, very ominous direction.
And so to even ask the questions, what do you think the Israelis are thinking? They are not thinking. As Mehdi Hasan wrote in your The Intercept, all the Israeli officials who think, the generals, the political people, all say it was a good agreement. Don’t rip up the agreement! He ripped it up anyway, because he’s a third-rate politician. He’s a showman. He’s P.T. Barnum. No, I’m serious. He’s P.T. Barnum of international politics. You know, Barnum’s famous saying, “A sucker is born every day?” He just looks for sucker.
No, Iran is not a sucker. This is not Saddam Hussein. And neither is Nasrallah. They’re playing the long game. And I’m afraid.
As I said sometimes, I have those dark thoughts. I’m afraid where it’s heading. It’s a very dangerous situation. That place is very small. Hezbollah is well armed. And they can reach Dimona. Whether they’ll do it? I don’t know.
We’re in a bad, very bad situation, though.
JS: On that uplifting note, I want to thank you. No, I know, you always are, you take your work and the work of those around you very seriously, and I appreciate that stance. And thank you so much for all of your work, Norman.
NF: Thank you.
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Fascinating interview. Good to hear from such an informed historian about the state of the middle east. It is, indeed, very scary.