In part two, Norman Finkelstein says that while Palestinian protesters in Gaza have bravely resisted their ghettoization under merciless Israeli fire, international solidarity is falling short
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. We’re continuing with Norman Finkelstein, author of many books, including his latest, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. And we’re talking about The Great March of Return in Gaza. All right, Norman. So, you were talking before the break a little about how the New York Times has been covering The Great March of Return. And I want to stay on that theme and talk about some of the talking points that Israel has put forward in trying to justify its firing on Gaza protesters, which is that these protesters pose a threat to Israeli citizens in trying to cross over from Gaza and that this march is the work of Hamas. So, Hamas is behind the march, some the protesters who have been killed are members of Hamas’ armed wing, which proves that this is a really just an entire plot by Hamas. So, can you address that?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, most of the human rights and media- let’s start with the human rights. Most of the human rights accounts of what’s going on in Gaza, they refer to Israel’s use of disproportionate force and indiscriminate force. And then, the question arises- if they’re accusing Israel of disproportionate force and indiscriminate force, are you implying that Israel has the right to use proportionate force and discriminate force? The law, I think is pretty clear in that question. Israel doesn’t have the right to use any force. Now, that may sound over the top, but what is the law? Gaza is under occupation. Gaza is struggling for self-determination, the right to self-determination, and statehood.
That’s been the preeminent demand of the Palestinian national movement, and that demand has been ratified by the United Nations and other responsible political institutions and agencies. So, what is the law? The law is, under international law, a movement struggling for self-determination or struggling to free itself of alien occupation is not prohibited from using armed force to achieve its objective. That’s to say, the Palestinians have the right under international law to use armed force in order to end an alien occupation and to achieve self-determination. The law is an unequivocal. There is no dispute whatsoever among specialists in the field that a occupying power, or a power denying the right to self-determination of a people, does not have the right to use any force.
Israel has no right to use any force. They don’t have the right to use proportionate force. They don’t have the right to use discriminate force. They have no right to use any force. And so, in my opinion, the human rights organizations have been very misleading in condemning Israel for using “disproportionate and indiscriminate force.” In addition, those determinations, disproportionate, indiscriminate. They’re wholly irrelevant to the situation in Gaza.
Israel is not using disproportionate force. It is not using indiscriminate force. Israel is using very discriminate force. It’s targeting civilians, its targeting unarmed civilians. That’s not indiscriminate or disproportionate force. Those are crimes against humanity. They’re about targeting a non-violent civilian population.
The second part is, is Israel defending our border? Is that what’s happening? Israel claims it has the right to defend its border. Well, is that a border, as if between two sovereign states. Is that a border? Let’s see what fairly uncontroversial people have to say. The distinguished sociologist from Hebrew University, Baruch Kimmerling. In 2003, that’s before Israel imposed a brutal blockade of Gaza- the blockade began in 2006. Already, back in 2003, Baruch Kimmerling described Gaza as the largest concentration camp ever to exist. The largest concentration camp ever to exist.
Haaretz Newspaper, Israel’s most respected- not widely read- but most respected newspaper, it described Gaza as “a ghetto.” David Cameron, the former British conservative Prime Minister, Cameron called it an “open air prison.” That’s not a border, that’s a concentration camp fence. That’s a ghetto fence. That’s a prison gate. That’s the fact. People don’t want to hear it. That’s the fact. They’re not trying to penetrate a border. They’re trying to break free from a concentration camp. They’re trying to break free from a ghetto. They are trying to break out of a prison that’s poisoning one million children.
And then you have to ask yourself the question. Let’s leave aside the legalities, the law as I recited it. Let’s leave aside the technicalities. Whether it’s disproportionate force, proportionate force, indiscriminate force, discriminate force, or is it the targeting of civilians? Let’s leave all of that aside and let’s ask a simple question. Does Israel have the right to poison one million children? If it doesn’t have that right, it has no right to use any force. Case closed. Full stop.
AARON MATÉ: And it only has obligations to stop poisoning children and stop the occupation.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. It Has one right. It has the right to pack up and leave.
AARON MATÉ: So, I want to ask you about the global response, both by governments of the world, but also from citizens, from people even who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I can say that here in New York where we are, we haven’t seen a lot of demonstrations yet in support of Gaza. And I’m wondering if you could comment on that, your sense of how the world is responding to- week after week, Gazans marching out, protesting and being shot dead.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, we have to have a kind of framework for understanding the situation. Non-violent resistance can’t work without public support. I don’t think many people understand Gandhi’s doctrine of nonviolence. Gandhi felt- in Gandhi’s opinion, politics was not about trying to change public opinion. He was trying to get people to act on what they already know is wrong. And Gandhi was of the view to kind of- I guess it’s a pessimistic view of human nature- he said the only thing that gets people to act is when they see people suffering, in particular getting killed- using legitimate methods, methods the public considers legitimate in order to achieve a legitimate end.
And so, you go on a fast, which the public sees as legitimate, and you set a goal which the public sees as legitimate. So, your methods have to be seen as legitimate and your goal has to be seen as legitimate. And then, hopefully, Gandhi says, if you suffer enough, then the public will move from passive agreement to active engagement. So, concretely what does that mean? Sounds very theoretical. Let’s see it concretely. Probably the most brilliant application of Gandhi’s tactics was not in India, actually in the American South. So, in the American South, they engage in nonviolent resistance-
AARON MATÉ: During the sixties.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: During the Civil Rights Movement, excuse me, during the Civil Rights Movement. And they set themselves goals, objectives which the public has to see is unimpeachable. So, for example, the right to vote, well that’s the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. End of segregation, well that’s Brown v Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision. So, they’re setting goals, which can’t be disputed by the public, and they are using tactics which the public can’t find impeachable. That’s how it works. But then, the people themselves came up against the problem namely the self was unmovable. They were dug in very deep.
AARON MATÉ: They couldn’t melt their hearts.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: You could melt their hearts, there was no way. And they recognized the people in the South. They said, eventually we’re going to be ground under, unless we can arouse the conscience of the North and the Federal Government, and get them to impose their will on the South.
AARON MATÉ: I see where you’re going here. So here, today, the North is the rest of the world.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: That’s correct.
AARON MATÉ: You’re not going to melt the hearts of Israelis.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, you’re wasting your time. It’s pointless. Israelis are dug in like the American South. Just look at the statistics from yesterday, the poll results. The poll results showed that seventy percent of Israelis- no, actually it was eighty-three percent of Israelis. Eighty-three Percent of Israelis support the tactics Israel is using against the protesters in Gaza, and sixty-seven percent said they oppose any lifting of the blockade. So, forget the Israelis. You’ve got to reach the solidarity, you have to reach Western public opinion.
AARON MATÉ: Just to add one more anecdote to that- in the eighties, when Israel invaded Lebanon in the early eighties, there was protest. There was a thousand people.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s a little bit misleading. That came very late in the day, that came in Sabra and Shatila. Up until then, it was like eighty percent supported the invasion.
AARON MATÉ: Fair. Just to put some numbers on it. At least back then, people could be mobilized for something. There was thousands protesting.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There was a- I don’t want to engage in hyperbole. The spectrum has shifted.
AARON MATÉ: Now protests in Tel Aviv is a few hundred people.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, totally correct. Yeah there was something that you could call a dissent in Israel that no longer exists. And so, in the absence of support from The West, they’re going to be ground under. One part that I really got very wrong- I thought that there was still a latent solidarity movement, that once Palestinians in Gaza start engaging in mass non violent resistance, would immediately get into action. And then I saw before my eyes- I was kind of bewildered- five weeks passed, five weeks. There wasn’t a single demonstration for Gaza. None. There was no hunger strike except with the shining exception of the progressive Jewish organization, If Not Now. There were no sit ins, there was nothing.
AARON MATÉ: I want to allow for some error. Is it possible that there were some protests somewhere that you were unaware of?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I said sitting in New York yet. I know the scene in New York. There was nothing. And it was really- I’m in contact with people in Gaza. They’re crestfallen, heartbroken. I kept making suggestions, let’s have a vigil in front of Schumer’s office, let’s go on a hunger strike- Charles Schumer, the senator from New York who called for the economic strangulation of Gaza in 2010 and nothing came of it. Exactly what accounts for that, I can’t really see. I’m pretty perplexed, but one thing’s for sure, in the absence of solidarity, they’re going to be ground down.