A couple of posts down, I linked to a video recording of a talk given here in Baltimore by the remarkable Norman Finkelstein. He spoke -- sometimes passionately, sometimes wittily, always intelligently -- about the origins of the recent atrocities in Gaza. Some of you may not have the time to listen to the entire event
. I have decided to transcribe what I consider the most important section, in which Finkelstein discusses the context of this massacre.
It's a story that most Americans -- even those who dare to criticize Israel -- do not know. Anyone who reads this post will instantly zoom ahead of everyone else who tries to speak about this issue.
A couple of points:
1. I've lightly edited the transcript to increase readability. If you compare the words published below to the actual video, you'll see that I have snipped a few repeated phrases and smoothed over one or two minor verbal stumbles.
2. This is only the first part of Finkelstein's talk. We'll get to those much-ballyhooed rockets and tunnels next time.
The words below the asterisks are taken from that important speech by Norman Finkelstein.
* * *
Virtually everything that’s being said about the current round of Israel’s massacres in Gaza is simply not true. Saying “it’s not true” is just a euphemism for saying it’s a lie
. I think it’s important to have some clarity about what triggered it, what’s happening now on the ground, and where things are headed.
Let me begin with the beginning – with the context. It’s important to get the point of departure right because we have to know what was the cause and what was the effect.
We’re told that the cause was the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, and that the effect was the harsh reaction in the West Bank. That’s the sequence. Virtually every account begins by saying that it all started with the abduction and the killing of the teenagers.
But that’s flat-out false.
It began in April of 2014, when Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, or Fatah, formed a union government. The Prime Minister of Israel demanded that the United States and the EU break off relations with this new government, because Hamas was a terrorist organization.
Surprisingly, the United States and the EU said: “No; we’re going to continue in our relations.”
At this point, Netanyahu was enraged.
He was being consistently ignored. First on the question of Iran, when he claimed that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power and was threatening a second Holocaust. The United States and the EU persisted in negotiations with Iran. And now on his home ground, on the question of Israel and Palestine, once again he was being ignored.
Then the gift fell into Netanyahu’s lap -- the abduction and the killing of the three teenagers.
Even after that gift fell into Netanyahu’s lap, the US continued to say: “We are not going to break off relations with the new Unity government.”
Well, now Netanyahu had a pretext. He knew full well from day one that the kids were dead and Hamas had nothing to do with it. But he saw an opportunity to do what Israel always does when Israel wants to break off what Israelis call “a peace offensive.”
Hamas had signed on to the Unity government. Prime Minister Abbas was the spokesperson of the Unity government. He said: “We accept the EU-US terms for negotiations.” The terms were:
1. Renunciation of violence,
2. Recognition of the state of Israel, and
3. Recognition of all past agreements.
Abbas said: “The new Unity government accepts those terms.” Hamas had joined the Unity government. By inference, Hamas has accepted the terms of the EU and the US.
So Netanyahu has a big problem on his hands. It was one of those periodic Palestinian peace offensives.
Israel did what it always does. It’s not peculiar to Prime Minister Netanyahu: It’s typical of the Israeli government. When you have to deflect one of these peace offensives, you start pounding and pounding the presenters of the peace offensive until they react violently.
Netanyahu had his pretext: The abduction and killing of three kids. He then started going after Hamas in the West Bank. He arrested about 700 Palestinians, the majority of them being Hamas, ransacking homes, demolishing two homes.
Israel carried on as it always does in these moments, like a hooligan state carrying on these rampages until Hamas finally reacts.
And when it finally reacts (as anyone would under those circumstances) what does Netanyahu say?
“Look, you see? I told you. They’re terrorists. You can’t negotiate with them.”
This is a particularly odd situation because it was not a Palestinian peace offensive. Ironically, this was a Palestinian surrender offensive. Prime Minister Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had accepted all of the Secretary of State’s conditions for ending the conflict. It was called the Kerry initiative, or the Kerry process.
Abbas accepted that Israel could annex the major settlement blocs.
Abbas accepted the nullification of the right of return.
It’s perfectly clear from the record, or from what’s been leaked. He accepted everything. He accepted a defeat.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu, because of coalition politics, wouldn’t even accept a surrender from the Palestinians. And so now he was determined to wreck the Unity government.
After the rampage in the West Bank, things gradually escalated, and at some point it turned into the ground invasion.
I made many predictions along the way about what would happen. Many people will recall that one of my predictions was that I thought it would be impossible for Israel to repeat what it did during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. I thought that the international community had drawn a red line.
The red line had a name: It was called the Goldstone report. Even though the report of Richard Goldstone was eventually ignored, it set up a new standard. For Israel, the standard was: “No, you cannot do that sort of stuff anymore. You went too far.”
For a long time, my prediction held up.
In November 2012, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense, a lesser massacre in Gaza. That was a very different type of attack from 2008-9. For those of you who recall, during Operation Pillar of Defense in November of 2012, they didn’t target schools, they didn’t target mosques, and the death toll was significantly different: It was about 170 people. In Operation Cast Lead, it was 1400.
So up until that point , what I predicted turned out to be right. However, it’s perfectly obvious now that I was way off base in terms of the new massacre in Gaza. It’s more or less on the same magnitude as 2008-9.
[Finkelstein said these words while the operation was ongoing. We now know that the 2014 attack was a good deal worse than the 2008-9 operation in Gaza.]
It’s the same thing all over again. And now the question is: Why was I so off-base?
I’m not trying to defend myself; I’m trying to understand the situation. Political analyses can at best be about trajectories, where things are headed. But politics itself is about taking advantage of opportunities, being skillful at exploiting the moment.
I mentioned the original gift that fell into Netanyahu’s lap: The abduction and killing of the three teenagers. Two new gifts now fell into Netanyahu’s lap.
Gift number one was the vampire Tony Blair. Tony Blair is a clever politician and a vampire; the two obviously are not mutually exclusive. He’s also a high-priced call girl, and those three are not mutually exclusive.
Tony Blair dreamt up something clever. He said: “Let’s come up with a cease-fire proposal which Hamas has to reject.” And he comes up with this proposal and hands it to that monstrosity, President Sisi of Egypt. It’s now called “The Egyptian initiative” -- as if Sisi can even spell “initiative.” But it was Tony Blair’s.
“We’re going to have a ceasefire,” he said. “We’ll lift the blockade.” That sounds reasonable: A ceasefire in exchange for lifting the blockade. That’s what Hamas wants.
But the language was very clever: “We’ll lift the blockade when the security situation stabilizes in Gaza.”
Well, according to Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organization. So the security situation can’t stabilize until Hamas is disarmed. In effect, Tony Blair’s ceasefire was an ultimatum to Hamas: We’ll lift the blockade if you disarm. If you don’t disarm, then we’re not lifting the blockade.
Of course Hamas had to reject those terms. That was gift number one: Now the whole world can be told that the Prince of Peace, Prime Minister Netanyahu, wanted a ceasefire; it was Hamas that said no.
Gift number two was the downing of the Malaysian airliner. When the Malaysian airliner was downed, Gaza was immediately replaced in the top headlines.
Netanyahu is not a genius, but obviously he’s a competent politician, and it was perfectly obvious what was going to happen then.
In 1989, there was the first intifada. And during the first intifada, which was giving Israel a very hard time, there was the Tiananmen massacre in China. And Netanyahu back then -- he has been around a while, as have I – he gave a famous speech in which he said: “Israel’s big mistake was it didn’t take advantage of the Tiananmen massacre to carry out a mass expulsion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” So you know that this guy knows how to connect unpredictable events with political initiatives. That’s politics.
When the Malaysian airliner went down, he saw the opportunity. Between the fake claim that Hamas had rejected a reasonable ceasefire and the Malaysian airliner downing, he now had the pretext to launch the ground invasion.
[Next: Rocket's red glare!]