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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Norman Finkelstein reveals the REAL origin of the Gaza massacre

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 [2014], 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!]
regarding the lie "the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers" was the beginning excuse - in fact, some palestinians had been murdered in the west bank prior to this and the kidnapping was their response.. unfortunately these minor details get buried and are hard to pull up.. i remember reading chomsky who pointed this out - however many months back. it is an important point as it is the beginning of the framework supposedly authorizing israels continued actions/theft/murder..
Yes, Anonymous, that is true. (Although I would prefer for you to sign with some kind of nick.) But always keep in mind: If Israelis, do a thing like that, it's okay.
This comment has been removed by the author.
By the way, folks -- behind the scenes, I have been getting some very strange messages. I mean, REALLY strange. I'm not sure if they all come from the same source. The author (presuming that there is but one author) is always anonymous.

These messages accuse me of -- well, it's hard to say, because the text is so bonkers. But apparently I'm part of a Nazi conspiracy, and I've somehow insulted Norman Finkelstein. Or something.

These messages go well beyond the usual knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism one receives every time Israel is criticized. This stuff is on a whole new level of weirdness.

The idea suddenly occurred to me: What if this stuff ISN'T coming from some unhinged supporter of Israel? What if my correspondent an old-school anti-Semite PRETENDING to be an outraged Jew? What if he's trying to make all Jews look bad by making them seem unhinged?

Now that I reflect on the situation, the "imposture" scenario doesn't seem the slightest bit unlikely. After all, this is a hot button topic. There are really, really bizarre people on both sides. Or perhaps I should say, on every conceivable side.

Trolls are devious little bastards, are they not? I never really understood the appeal of trolling, but some people seem to be addicted to that sort of thing.

At any rate, I am sorry to be a hard case, but in this instance I really must ask all of you to stick to the "Rules for Comments" posted in the upper left-hand corner. Those five rules are the most effective troll-killers I know.
The mention of the Malaysian jet downing is interesting to me. I think its clear from the response of the European governments involved that there is serious debate about what actually happened to it. Think about it for a moment - if they REALLY knew that the Russian backed rebels had shot down a nonaligned passenger killing a number of DUTCH and ASIAN non combatants, is truly believe we would see a NATO peacekeeping force in the Ukraine. There would be no other logical response to such an atrocity.

The apparent reality is - no one has any idea what happened to that plane,it is extremelysimilar to the OTHER unprecedented aviation event of the year, the disappearance of ANOTHER passenger plane from the very same carrier!

Not to go too far afield here, but is it possible the plane wasn't shot down by either side but was the exact same catastrophic mechanical, fuel or depressurization event that brought down the first plane? Or the same terrorist group or psychopath that targeted the first plane? You think?

And to bring it home and keep it reasonably close to topic - was the event seized on to distract public attention away from the current "great game " which is the ongoing, generational effort to replace Islamic culture, nationalistic quasi-republics led by popular strongmen (Iraq,Libya, Iran, Syria, etc) with client state western democracies (like Israel) or pro-west feudal religious dictators (saudi Arabia) because it will be easier and more efficient to develop the dwindling petroleum resources there ... Focus western media audiences attention on a dreary drama involving the twitching dead truck and tail of the failed Soviet experiment, exploiting preexisting perceptions about Russian power and threats to Western Europe WHEN EVERY EXECUTIVE DECISION MAKER SINCE NIXON HAS KNOWN THERE IS NO REAL RUSSIAN THREAT TO WESTERN EUROPE!

sorry for straying off topic and the caps, but woke this morning to CBS radio news warning me with the newest "threat of the week" (KHORASAN!) and then read this post and it just made me shake with anger. No one remembers that damn plane now, it severed its purpose for two weeks while the media message could be adjusted and new terror threats could be identified and marketed to us.

US troops will depose Assad, who will be shown to be the obvious backer if ISIS or KHorasan or Threat X before the 2016 election, and Obama Peacemaker will anoint Regular Joe or Mother Clinton and we will have had 20+ years of rule by neocon elite. They will broker the cold Peace between Israel and the new (friendly) caliphate, and western and Chinese corporations will used Arab slave labor to extract petroleum wealth from the sands in earnest ... When they are gone they will construct feeder reactors to power the world there.
hi joseph,
the anonymous post at the top was from me - james..
i think your theory in the 517am post has merit.. what i find about this never ending war on palestine/gaza always packaged in such righteousness is that the end result is always the same - more suffering/murder of the palestine people and more land grab on israels part.. meanwhile, all the warmongering countries of the world led by the usa/britian - condone it and never challenge it..

it is a repetitious cycle where ordinary people outside of the zone look in horror as it continues every few years... if there is any way to boycott or voice opposition to israel, aside from automatically being labelled anti-semite, a person is also in shock at how their own gov't responds to it too.. the world is one messed up place.. our political leaders are the last people to represent truth, peace and justice.. in fact they seem to represent the exact opposite without exception.. james

What he is saying is HIS READING of the situation. His interpretation. As Foucault says, "entering into the psychological swamp of interpretation" really leads nowhere. There will always be an alternative interpretation, a counter interpretation,a different point of view because the argument is taking place in the Dominating Discourse of classical Hegelian dialectical Discourse. Finklestein also uses "cause/effect" as his argument. Nietzsche put that one to bed at the end of the 19th century. Joe if you would read Foucault, your thinking would get much clearer and you wouldn't get sucked into something like this.
What nonsense, Seymour. You really think that flinging around names like Nietzsche and Foucault will replace the facts that exist with the facts you would prefer?

As it happens, Finkelstein kind of addresses your point. Go to the actual lecture, listen all the way through, and hear out his riff on the use and mis-use of the word "narrative."
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