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Video recording and Transcript: Special Emergency Podcast on Gaza, October 8th 2023
Norman Finkelstein and Mouin Rabbani held an emergency teach-in session yesterday regarding recent events in Gaza. This is the recording of that session as well as a rush transcript. There are some blips in the video here and there which we hope the audience will forgive as we’ve tried to put this out quickly in response to a rapidly changing situation.
(PDF available here for off-site reading)
Okay, folks, for those of you who've just joined us, the protocol is going to be I'm going to speak on the background, the historical background to the current situation, and then Mouin Rabbani will speak on what's currently unfolding or has unfolded since October 7th. There have been many comments along the lines of “this is the biggest shock to the Israeli political military establishment since the October 1973 war,” which was one day more than 50 years ago, a half-century. So what I want to do first of all, because I think many of you have no recollection or no knowledge of the historical background. So even references to the October 1973 war won't mean much to folks here. And I want to fill in that background, focusing on those aspects of the historical context which are relevant to understanding what's going on now. So, with your permission, I'm now going to go through that long history, but it's going to be in a very compressed form and you'll feel free if you have any questions to ask me about that history. I'm also going to say that on the whole, I won't document any of my claims. However, if you have any doubts about the claims I make, then you should feel free, either to question me afterwards, or I can point you to sources which will provide, I think, adequate documentation. So just beware, I can't for every point I make document it, otherwise we'll never get to the current situation, or its context is the June 1967 war. In the course of the June 1967 war, Israel conquered several territories, they being the Syrian Golan Heights, the Egyptian Sinai, The West Bank in Gaza. And those came to be called or came to be denoted “the Occupied Territories” or sometimes the term, the abbreviation was used “the OPT” -- the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Immediately after the June 1967 war, the UN General Assembly and then the UN Security Council -- both bodies -- focused on trying to establish terms for resolution of “the Israel-Arab conflict.” It wasn't yet called “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It was a broader dimension, Israel-Arab conflict and the basic terms were embodied in what came to be called or numbered U.N. Resolution 242. U.N. Resolution 242, which was passed by the Security Council unanimously, UN Resolution 242 had essentially two components:
Component number one was that in accordance with the principle laid out in the preamble to U.N. Resolution 242 that it is inadmissible to a conquered territory by war, Israel was obliged under international law to withdraw from the territories it conquered in the course of the war, during the June 1967 War, they being, to repeat myself, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, and the Egyptian Sinai.
The other component of U.N. Resolution 242, in accordance with the principle that every state in the UN system had a right to live in peace with its neighbors, the second component was that the Arab states had to recognize Israel's right to exist as a state in the region, in a conformity with the principles of the U.N. Charter. That was the quid pro quo, full Israeli, full recognition of Israel's right to exist as a state in the region. Now, when the resolution was passed, the U.N. appointed a special mediator named Gunnar Jarring to try to achieve some sort of settlement on the basis of those principles. From the beginning it was clear that the main protagonist in the drama would be Egypt. Egypt back then was the most formidable power in the region, and there was a recognition that there was no possibility of a settlement without Egyptian acquiescence, Egyptian agreement. Gunnar Jarring went on a peace mission, shuttled diplomacy back and forth between Egypt and Israel, Finally, after several abortive attempts, he resolved to put forth the terms to end the conflict. And he presented those terms to Egypt, and he presented those terms to Israel. The terms were in strict conformity with that U.N. Resolution 242. Egypt accepted the terms of the “Jarring Mission.” And then the ball was in the court of Israel. Egypt accepted not only to recognize Israel, but it accepted to sign a formal peace treaty with Israel. And now, as I said, the ball was in Israel's court, and in a very dramatic moment, Israel replied, and now I will quote Israel, “Israel will not withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines.” That means Israel refused to abide by one component of U.N. Resolution 242, namely, “it's inadmissible to conquer territory by war,” and therefore Israel was obliged to relinquish control of all the territory it conquered in the course of the 1967 war.
Now, at that point, at that point in 1971, when Israel refused to abide by international law, and refused to abide by U.N. Resolution 242 in particular, the Secretary General of The U.N. -- his name was U Thant. He was from Burma and he was a remarkably decent human being -- probably in my opinion for what it's worth -- the only decent Secretary General the U.N. ever had. He was a very modest person, he was a Buddhist, but he was also remarkably so in his position, he was remarkably honest. He said right after the rejection by Israel of those terms for ending the conflict, he said, “there can be little doubt that if the present impasse in the search for a peaceful settlement persists, new fighting will break out sooner or later.”So, given Israel's recalcitrance, its refusal to abide by international law, as U Thant pointed out, a war then became inevitable. New fighting will break out sooner or later.
Israel proceeded after its refusal to accept the terms of a settlement, Israel then proceeded to expand its settlements in, at that point, it was in the Sinai Peninsula, which was Egyptian territory. It became clear that Israel was never going to relinquish control of the Sinai, the Egyptian Sinai. And at that point, Egypt kept saying, or the head of state of Egypt at the time, Anwar El-Sadat, kept saying “we're going to attack. You're not giving us any option. You refuse to relinquish the territory you conquered. You're ignoring international law, you're not giving us any option except to wage a war.”
As I wrote in a book published decades ago now, I said, because this October war, as most of you know, came to be called “a surprise.” Israel was shocked. And in fact, as I wrote, “no war in history has been launched with as much advanced publicity as the surprise attack in October 1973.” You might ask yourself the question, “Why did Israel ignore these warnings by Anwar Sadat that he was going to attack?” And there you have to sort of get into the mindset of the present Israeli leadership and the present population. The view among the Israelis, and this was pervasive, was that war is not an Arab game, that the Arabs had no military option. That being, after the humiliating defeat that the Arabs suffered in June 1967, what's sometimes called the Six-Day War, the idea became entrenched in the Israeli leadership but also the people themselves, that Arabs were incapable of fighting. So the foreign minister at the time in Israel, General Moshe Dayan, who was famous back in the day, I don't know how many of you will know him for the pirate's patch in one of his eyes, and as the hero of the June ‘67 war, he said, “the weakness of the Arabs arises from factors so deeply rooted that they cannot, in my view, be easily overcome.” The moral, the technical, and the educational backwardness of their soldiers. Yitzhak Rabin, another formidable figure in Israeli military history, but also in Israeli political history, said at the time, “there is no need to mobilize our forces whenever we hear Arab threats,” meaning the threats by Sadat. “The arabs have little capacity for coordinating their military and political action.” The foreign minister at the time, Abba Eben, commented in his memoir that the atmosphere of manifest destiny, which regards the neighboring people as lesser breeds, has begun to spread in the national discourse. And a military historian, an Israeli military historian, he commented that the nickname that was given to Egyptian soldiers was they were called “monkeys.”
So what one can conclude, I think, about that October 1973 war was, number one, it wasn't really a surprise in the sense that once Israel refused to withdraw from the Sinai, as U Thant said, a war became inevitable. But the other point I would make, because it was commonplace back then, and it's now commonplace in the current discussion surrounding the events in Gaza and Israel -- it's being discussed in terms of what happened in October 1973, as today, in having been an intelligence failure. But ultimately in my view it was not an intelligence failure, it was a political failure. Israel could have had peace, but born of the racist assumption that Arabs would not resist, it chose conquest. That was the problem then, and it seems to me, as I think Mouin will get to, it's the problem today. It's not fundamentally an “intelligence failure,” it's fundamentally a political failure because the political calculus of the Israelis was, and is, that you can so humiliate, so subdue the Arabs, and they’re so inherently incompetent, that at the end of the day, force will prevail and the Arabs in general -- or the Palestinians in particular -- will acquiesce.
Okay, let me now turn to the background to the current situation. First of all, and those of you who are familiar with the basic facts, you will forgive me for giving a kind of encyclopedia entry, but it seems to me that unless you know those basic facts, you really can't understand what's happened. Number one, 70 percent of Gaza's population comprises refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants. That is, 70 percent of Gaza's population comprises people who were expelled from their homeland in 1948 and the descendants, (and at this point the descendants of the descendants), of those who were expelled. Under international law, 70 percent of the population, as refugees. Number two, half the population of Gaza -- its population is 2.1 million -- half of it consists of children. We're talking, and I don't think it should ever be forgotten, we're talking about children. Younger than probably anybody currently listening to this podcast. Number three, Gaza is among the most densely populated places on God's earth. It's more densely populated than Tokyo and that population is confined to a strip that's five miles wide and 25 miles long. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I was looking around this morning for an analogy or a way to picture what that means. What that means is, I jog every morning along the Coney Island seashore. That's five miles. That's how wide Gaza is -- my morning jog -- and its length is less than the length of a marathon. It's 25 miles. That's Gaza. Five miles, my morning jog, by 25 miles, a marathon.
Half the population of Gaza is currently unemployed. I was looking back at a book I wrote a few years ago, which goes through the history, that figure has stayed constant. About half the population has been unemployed since about, at least since 2010, but probably longer. 60% of the youth are unemployed. About half the population is classified by relief agencies as suffering from severe food insecurity. Barring the rarest of exceptions, no one can go in Gaza and no one can go out of Gaza. So, if you imagine a society on a starvation diet confined in an area that's among the most densely populated in the world, and in which half the population is below the age of 18, that is classified as children, then you won't be surprised when you hear that the former conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron, he described Gaza as an “open-air prison.” You might not like to hear it, but Baruch Kimmerling, who was one of Israel's leading sociologists before he prematurely passed, he described Gaza as far back as 2003 -- now bear in mind, that's before Israel ratcheted up the blockade of Gaza, to which I'll get -- in 2003, he described Gaza as “the largest concentration camp ever to exist.” That's Gaza.
Now, how did Gaza become Gaza? From a denotation on a map to an object of ceaseless death and destruction. So, allow me to repeat myself, 1967, U.N. Resolution 242, full Israeli withdrawal in exchange for agreement to let Israel exist at peace with its neighbors. Beginning in the early 1970s, the representative Palestinian organization at the time, the Palestine Liberation Organization, it acquiesced in those terms for resolving the conflict, what came to be called the two-state settlement. The P.L.O. accepted it. For Israel, this was a source of panic, because if the Palestinians accepted a resolution of the conflict in accordance with 242, then Israel was going to be put on the spot. “Why don't you agree to the terms of international law?” So Israel, in a panic, did what it always does: It tried to provoke the Palestine Liberation Organization in order to elicit from it some sort of military action. Then Israel comes in with the intent of trying to destroy the P.L.O.. Why did Israel want to destroy the P.L.O.? Well, a very good Israeli historian named Avner Yaniv, he said because Israel had to stop the Palestinian peace offensive. And in order to do that, it launched an attack on Lebanon in June 1982. At the time, the P.L.O. was headquartered in Lebanon, and in the course of that war, Israel killed, the estimates are between 15,000 and 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, overwhelmingly civilians. After the -- Mouin, are you still with us? – [Mouin: Yes, I am.] Okay, do you realize we can't see you? [Mouin: Oh, sorry. I was just getting a glass of water.] Okay, just want to make sure you're there because I'm here this particular history Is actually a living history for quite a number of us is Sana Kassem here?
I don't think Sana was able to get in -- we're at capacity.
She is here. She's probably muted.
Oh, can you unmute Sana? Sana, are you there?
I want to recognize Sana because she was in Beirut in August 1982 during the brutal Israeli bombing of Beirut. She's a survivor of it. And she's been, besides being a mother and being a wonderful, wonderful teacher, she's been on the front line fighting for the rights of Palestinians since that horrible invasion. When you hear the numbers now, as shocking as they all were, I always have to remind people, all the numbers, in all the Israeli attacks on Gaza and even now they pale in comparison with the horror that Israel inflicted on Lebanon in 1982. Well, the Palestinians were defeated in 1982, at least the military aspect, suffered a major defeat. And things look like what happens periodically. It looked like it was the end of the Palestinians or the Palestinian struggle. National Security Advisor named Zbigniew Brzezinski, he famously said, “Bye-bye P.L.O.,” That it’s over.
Well, in 1987, the Palestinians in the occupied territories, seeing that they were getting no support from abroad, decided to take their fate into their own hands. And they launched what came to be called the Intifada, an overwhelmingly nonviolent civil revolt against the Israeli occupation of those territories. I did spend quite a lot of time there in the summers during that civil revolt. And for those of you who don't remember it, I can only say it was a deeply inspiring uprising by the masses of the Palestinian people, the most ordinary Palestinian people from ages, literally from ages, I would say from ages three to ninety. You saw infant kids and you saw grandmothers who in their own way were participants in that non-violent civil revolt. The Israelis launched a very brutal repression of that revolt, it was famously compressed in the slogan of, at the time, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin when he said “we're going to inflict force, might, and beatings” on the Palestinian civilians to get them to surrender.
For various reasons, not worth going into now, that first Palestinian Intifada or the Palestinian Revolt, the civil revolt, was in-fact defeated. And the climax of that defeat came in 1993, what's called the Oslo Accord. And that anniversary was just, so-to-speak, celebrated. It was 30 years ago. It was September 13, 1993, so it was 30 years ago this past month. And actually, Mouin Rabbani wrote something quite, I thought, insightful on what happened at Oslo. The bottom line of Oslo is very simple: It was, as Edward Said, the professor and spokesperson for the Palestinians, put it just at the time, he said it was a “Palestinian surrender.” Israel decided to rationalize its occupation, and rationalizing the occupation meant, why should we do the dirty work and look bad before international cameras? Let's hire some Palestinians to do the dirty work for us. And the P.L.O. at that time was desperate and also was already very corrupt. And so the P.L.O. basically, to put it crudely, but I think accurately, it switched sides. It now became Israel's subcontractor to maintain the Israeli occupation, as it were, by remote control. And we have to say, Israel was remarkably successful. It was for the Israelis an experiment: Can we create a class of collaborators who will do all of our dirty work, if in exchange we give them some of the perquisites of power?
Now back then, I remember, many people doubted that the Israelis would ever serve, excuse me, the Palestinians would ever serve as willing accomplices of the Israeli government. And though that doubt has by now been dispelled, what's called the “Palestinian Authority,” which is in effect the descendant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is a willing collaborator with Israel. Then there was another attempt under President Clinton to seal an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. That attempt came in Camp David in 2000. I don't want to go into the intricacies of Camp David. I will simply present the essence of it. The essence of it came to be called the Clinton, named after our President Bill Clinton, “the Clinton parameters” for resolving the conflict. The Clinton parameters, to speak candidly, they were not awful, they were not terrific, but they were, you might say, a basis to achieve a settlement. The Palestinians and the Israelis accepted the parameters with -- both sides basically used the same expression -- with reservations. However, after when there was an agreement, when the negotiations were resumed in this area called Taba, which is part of Egypt, at some point the current prime minister at the time Ehud Barak cut off the negotiations and the attempt to achieve a settlement proved abortive. Soon after that, the Palestinians again, Mouin, correct me, it's the second Intifada begins what month, September 2000?
Yeah, late August and then September, yes, 2000.
O.K. The Palestinians again go into civil revolt against the Israeli occupation. Now, again I can't go into the details, but I would like to just establish basic facts. That second intifada began in the same civil manner as the first intifada. But the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Barak, decide that “we have to inflict maximum death from the get-go to prevent this Intifada from spiraling out of control like the first one.” So Israel fired within the first few days of the second Intifada, Israel fired a million shells at the Palestinians protesting non-violently. And by the end of the third week, I think, the proportion was 20 Palestinian deaths versus one Israeli death. Well, in the face of that, it was perfectly predictable that at some point the Second Intifada would go out of control and would turn violent. And that's in fact what happened. There was substantial deaths on the Palestinian and Israeli side. It was 2,400 Palestinians killed, 800 Israelis killed -- it was about three to one -- vast majority were civilians, and that basically, it petered out. It never officially ended, the Second Intifada, nor did the First Intifada really. It never officially ended, but that second revolt petered out. The next major event comes in 2005, when the Israelis in Gaza redeployed their forces. That's falsely depicted in the press as Israel having withdrawn from Gaza. Israel never withdrew from Gaza, its settlers were removed from Gaza, but Israel simply redeployed its forces from within Gaza to the perimeter of Gaza. But Israel, from that day until today, under international law, remains the occupying power in Gaza.
So, as Human Rights Watch reported, whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed along its periphery, it remains in control. To this day, Israel is still the occupying power in Gaza. Now, I'll have some things to say about that in the course of the conversation, because in my opinion, it is not accurate any longer to speak of Israel as an occupying power. Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, they have all been incorporated as part of Israel. What is happening now is not a war in the sense of a conflict between two states. It's internal. And it can best be regarded, in my opinion, you have to figure out the right language and no language is ever perfect, but it should be regarded, either a slave rebellion reminiscent of the slave rebellions in my own country, the United States, or it should be regarded as Israel has established a Gulag archipelago. For those of you who know that reference, the Gulag archipelago the slave labor camps that were established under the Soviet Union in the Stalin-era, Israel has established a Gulag archipelago, but within its own country. It's not a war -- as is now being said -- between Israel and a foreign state. At minimum, at minimum, Israel remains an occupying power, but in my opinion, for reasons I can get to later, it's in-fact no longer an occupying power, it's dealing with a civil revolt from a slave population.
In 2006 -- and that's where we get to the current situation -- in January 2006 there were parliamentary elections in the occupied Palestinian territories and Hamas won those parliamentary elections. Jimmy Carter was in Gaza, our former president, the former American president, Jimmy Carter was in Gaza at the time of the elections, and he called them “completely honest and fair elections.” They were so honest and fair that they deeply disappointed Senator Hillary Clinton, who said at the time, “we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.” That's the US idea of a democratic election.
Now, immediately as Hamas came into power, its position on recognizing Israel was going through an evolution. Up until then, it refused to recognize Israel's existence. But as one of the UN leading figures in Gaza at the time said, after the election, Hamas was evolving and could evolve still more. And one of the leading experts on Gaza, he wrote later, that a political solution was within reach on the Hamas side, but only if the active interference of the United States, and the passivity of the European Union had not sabotaged this experiment in government. There were real possibilities on the Palestinian side, and in particular the Hamas side, to achieve a settlement on the basis of international law. Israel, the U.S., and the E.U. sabotaged them. That's not all that happened. Israel then instituted its blockade of Gaza. Now it annoys me to no end when people keep referring to the blockade as having begun 16 years ago, in 2007. It began when Israel was dissatisfied with the results of that Palestinian election. That's when the blockade began, or as the UN representative at the time put it, economic activity in Gaza came to a standstill, moving into survival mode. That's when the troubles began that climaxed in the events of the past week, when the people were told, instructed, commanded, exhorted, to carry out an election, they did, but because the results were not what the U.S., Israel, and Israel and the E.U. wanted, they were punished by the infliction of that blockade.
In 2007, the U.S., the EU, and Israel attempted a coup to overthrow the government in Gaza, the Hamas government. Hamas foiled the coup, and at that point, Israel and the U.S. and E.U. ratcheted up the blockade. Beginning in December 26th, 2008, Israel launched, not the first, not the second -- there were so many it's very hard to count -- launched its murderous assaults on Gaza. This one, to which I'm now going to refer, Operation Cast Lead, was the best known, and it was, as compared to previous Israeli assaults on beside what happened in Lebanon in 1982, Israel launched what Amnesty International called “the 22 Days of Death and Destruction.”
Why did Israel launch Operation Cast Lead? Was it something the Gazans did? Was it a provocation? The people of Gaza instigated? No. It was very clear at the time, and it's still clear today. Israel had suffered a dramatic military defeat in 2006 in Lebanon when to war with the Hezbollah and the Hezbollah inflicted a massive defeat on Israel. What the head of Hezbollah, Sayyed Nasrallah called “the divine victory.” And Israel now was concerned -- I'm not sure if “terrified” is the right word, but concerned that what it calls its “deterrence capacity” had been undermined. That is to say, after the victory by Hezbollah, the Arabs would no longer fear Israel. And so Israel wanted to restore its deterrence capacity and launched a murderous assault on Gaza. In the course of the assault -- let me just get the numbers right -- 1,400 Gazans were killed. Up to four-fifths of them were civilians. 350 Gazan children were killed. On the Israeli side, ten combatants were killed, and three children were killed. Israel also massively targeted the infrastructure of Gaza and flattened 6,000 homes in Gaza.
One noteworthy result of that event -- and it probably represented a high point of international support for the Palestinians -- was that a noted South African Zionist Jew named Richard Goldstone issued a report in his name in which he documented in fine detail what he called war crimes and possible crimes against humanity that Israel inflicted in the course of those “22 days of death and destruction.” He later retracted his name from that report for reasons which to this day remain a mystery. In 2014, Israel then launched another intensive assault on Gaza. It was called Operation Defensive Shield. It lasted 51 days. The head of the president of the Red Cross, his name was Peter Moorer. He visited Gaza and now I'm calling him, he said, bear in mind, this is the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He's seen many a warzone. In fact, his job is to visit war zones. And he said after visiting Gaza, “I've never seen such massive destruction ever before.” 550 children were killed, 18,000 homes were destroyed. The last thing before I turn the remarks over to Mouin, in one last desperate attempt, in one last desperate attempt to break that blockade of Gaza, which turned it into the world's largest concentration camp ever, with the other curious distinction of it being a concentration camp where half the inmates are children. The last desperate attempt by the people of Gaza before today to break out of that concentration camp, came in 2018, “the Great March of Return,” where Palestinians overwhelmingly and non-violently tried to breach that blockade of their home. And there weren't many human rights reports issued, but there were some. And the most exhaustive and authoritative one, concluded, and now I'm calling from memory -- but my memory is pretty good on these things -- Israel targeted, it targeted, remember, a non-violent civil protest to try to break that blockade of Gaza. It targeted children, it targeted medical personnel, it targeted journalists, and it targeted people who have physical disabilities as in on wheelchairs. At some point, the brutality just became insupportable and as in the past, that protest too, petered out.
Now there were a couple of other Israeli-Gaza exchanges, but I think you got the general picture and now we come to the present, and I'm going to allow Mouin is an old friend of mine, and sometimes I think he's too modest in his credentials. I would say he's by a wide margin the most astute, competent, and precise commentator on the Israel-Palestine conflict today. [Mouin: My, my, my.] No, I think it's true. And so I always look forward and not only look forward, I always learn a great deal reading from him. I want to just say one last thing and then it's over to you. Please. There are a few people here who know me personally, Sana being one, Mouin being another, and I had when I -- in 1982 -- I made a commitment, “I'm not going to abandon the Palestinian people, come what may, I'm sticking to this cause.” By 2020, and I know Sana, who's here, will not be happy with what I say, but you'll know it's true, I had given up. I thought the cause was lost. I didn't see any point at this moment to do anything anymore. So as of 2020, I had started to write these huge legal documents going into more and more and more and more detail and I thought, what am I doing? More and more detail, documenting more and more about the cause that's lost. And I had given up. And when I read Mouin's account recently, it's still unpublished, of the situation today, I had actually learned things I didn't even know. You talked about “the Unity War” of 2021. It went way over my radar. So I rely on Mouin to keep me up to date and to provide the background to what's happening now.
Thank you very much, Norm, and as always, for your very detailed and insightful synopsis of the relevant history. I – actually -- my article was published while you were giving your introduction, which is why I was at times looking away, and I put a link to it in the chat function, if anyone wants to look it up. So, what I'd like to do is to take a few minutes to help explain why we are now in the midst of the crisis we're experiencing. As Norm explained, Hamas won the 2006 elections that were held among Palestinians residing in the occupied territories and they were effectively blocked from governing by a combination of the Palestinian Authority and the Western powers. This led to growing conflict at the conclusion of which, Hamas in 2007 seized power in the West Bank. I'm not going to repeat any of the history that Norm has already provided us, except to say that if you were to look at the situation from the perspective of those who launched what is called “Operation Desert Flood” or “Desert Storm” yesterday, they would see the following. Hamas has been ruling the Gaza Strip since 2007, and it had reached the point where it was no longer being taken seriously -- particularly by Israel. And what I mean by that is that Israel had reached the conclusion that really the only thing Hamas cares about is maintaining and perpetuating its rule over the territory of the Gaza Strip and its people, and all the statements it makes about the Al-Aqsa Mosque, about deepening settlement in the West Bank, about all these other issues, are just rhetoric that it uses to legitimize itself and issues that can be safely ignored. And at the same time the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip was not really being significantly relaxed.
In addition to that, the government of Qatar, which had been providing monthly cash infusions into the Gaza Strip in co-ordination with Israel has in recent months reduced its support to the Gaza Strip, and had basically imperiously told Hamas that it needs to find more sustainable solutions to its financial crisis. Turkey, which had hosted prominent Hamas leaders, had exiled a number of them during the past year. And so Hamas saw where it was being treated as an irrelevance by Israel. It saw escalation by Israel, particularly under the current government and its predecessor, as having been transformed into an Israeli strategy. And we saw this, for example, with the almost daily settler raids assisted by the army into West Bank villages that even senior Israeli military commanders have come to describe as pogroms. It saw the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and of course it saw the growing number of incursions into the Haram al-Sharif, the compound in the old city of Jerusalem that contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque by prominent Israeli politicians and settler groups, and essentially I think Hamas concluded that Israel has simply gone too far for too long and that something needed to be done about it. Now the scale and scope and sophistication of what we saw yesterday cannot be explained as a response to something that happened yesterday or last week or last month. This was obviously many many months in preparation and I think Hamas' comparison was to look at what happened in 2021.
You know all these previous conflicts -- if I can just use that word -- between Hamas and Israel had been initiated by Israel and had been about issues concerning the Gaza Strip. What happened in 2021 is that not only was the armed confrontation for the first time initiated by Hamas rather than by Israel, but it was also initiated by Hamas for issues that were not directly related to the Gaza Strip but rather had to do with growing Israeli assaults on the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan and intensifying settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Long story short, a ceasefire was reached, promises were made, and you fast-forward to this year and last year, and the situation was essentially unchanged. There was no significant relaxation of the blockade of the Gaza Strip and so on. And so clearly Hamas came to the conclusion that it needed to do something genuinely spectacular spectacular with the objective of making the status quo obsolete.
And I think essentially that is what we saw yesterday. A sophisticated military operation, if you look at it purely in those terms, and I should add I'm not a military analyst, but it's being compared to the joint Egyptian-Israeli surprise attack of October 6, 1973 -- half a century ago, almost to the day -- that launched the October 1973 war. But there's an important difference. The first is that in 1973, although Egypt and Syria made considerable efforts to conceal their intentions and preparations, Israel did arguably have sufficient warning of the impending Arab offensive, but chose to ignore it for reasons that Norm has already explained. Yesterday, I think it's fair to say, Israel was virtually completely in the dark about what was about to happen. Not only that, the Gaza Strip is the most intensively surveyed territory and population on the entire planet and nevertheless Hamas was able to do this and was able for the first time since 1948 to enter into territory within Israel's internationally recognized boundaries to seize military facilities and population centers and to hold a number of them are not are not only still going on but there are also reports that additional Palestinian fighters are still entering Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip and i think it was an Israeli analyst whose whose name is case before the moment that essentially what happened is that Israel has spent the last several years preparing for an armed infiltration on its northern borders conducted by Hezbollah, but what but this has now taken place from the Gaza Strip conducted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- a development that I think is all the more astonishing when takes into account that this is has also been a blockaded territory very modest resources, very resourceful people I may add, and it's still ongoing.
Now without really getting into too much analysis of the military aspects --which again is something I know very little about and am not particularly interested in -- let's look at the wider context, which is what is Hamas hoping to achieve? I think, number one, it insists on being taken seriously. It insists that when it puts demands on the negotiating table, these are seriously negotiated, and that in contrast to previous agreements, that when agreements are reached, these are also implemented in practice. Its second objective is, I think, to impose a large-scale exchange of prisoners with Israel. There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails Some of them have been there for decades and Hamas is very much hoping to basically empty Israeli prisons of Palestinian political prisoners. The third one is it also wants to place -- at least restraints -- on Israeli conduct by the army, by its settler auxiliaries in the West Bank to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley which is virtually complete, to stop these daily violent raids into West Bank villages and so on. And third of all, there has been growing international complacency about the question of Palestine, people global capitols have kind of reached the conclusion that “well, you know, we have Libya we have Syria we have Iraq we have I.S.I.S. These are real crises that need to be dealt with.” By contrast the question of Palestine has been there since the late 1940s, the sky has yet to fall in from their perspective, so it can safely be ignored while we deal with Syria, while we deal with Ukraine, while we deal with the migration crisis and what-not. And Hamas wanted to send a very clear message: that you ignore us, and you ignore the Palestine question at your peril, because we are not only capable of disrupting business as usual, but we are capable of disrupting it in a very unpleasant way for you.
A lot of people have spoken about an impending peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia and that a main objective of Hamas was to render this in -- what do you call it -- ineffective. I don't buy that. The first reason is that I don't think a Saudi-Israeli deal is really on the cards. If you look at how it's being discussed, a Saudi-Israeli deal would include American commitments towards Saudi Arabia that would never get through the U.S. Congress, and it would include Israeli relatively minor concessions so-to-speak, to the Palestinians, that despite their largely cosmetic nature would never get through Israel's governing coalition. For these and a number of other factors, I believe that an Israeli-Saudi agreement is really not on the table. But if for the sake of argument, there was going to be such an agreement, I see no reason to conclude that a mound of Palestinian bodies or a successful Palestinian offensive against Israel is going to change Saudi Arabia's mind about entering into such an agreement. I mean, at best, they can integrate a decent interval until they consummate such an agreement. And you know, no other Arab state has ever been deterred from reaching agreements with Israel because the Palestine question remains unresolved.
So I really don't think that's a significant issue. I do think embarrassing Arab governments who have formal or informal links with Israel is kind of an added benefit from Hamas' point of view. And so those I think are the main objectives. Now many people would look at what has happened in the last few days. Many hundreds of Israelis died. I don't think, although it may be premature to state this, but it appears that the main purpose of this attack was to send a shock through the Israeli military and security establishment, rather than to simply kill massive numbers of Israeli civilians, although there are reports that need to be investigated and I may be wrong on this score. Either way, people say “well, it’s clear there’ going to be massive Israeli response”, and indeed there already has been. This is something that Hamas will have prepared for but I think Hamas will also look at the experience of previous Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip and deposed its Hamas rulers, but has chosen not to. It has chosen not to do so because, on the one hand, it is very hesitant about re-establishing a permanent presence within the Gaza Strip for a prolonged period of time. It would be subject to daily attacks from within very densely populated population centers and so on. And another reason is that as hostile as Israel may be to Hamas, from a strategic perspective, a priority for Israel is promoting the fragmentation and the political fragmentation of the Palestinians. It therefore prefers a West Bank and Gaza Strip that are separated not only territorially but by a political schism between the rulers, than a West Bank and Gaza Strip that are reunited under a single Palestinian authority, even if it is one that is in effect an Israeli deputy. So I think that Hamas' calculations are that Israel will launch massive incursions into the Gaza Strip, try to crush these movements, cause massive damage --presumably mass casualties as well -- but after a certain period of time, will withdraw. And again, you know, we have no idea what Hamas was capable of yesterday. And we also don't know what Hamas may have lying in wait for the Israeli armed forces if and when they do launch such a ground invasion.
And then there's one last point I'd like to make, and this is that Hamas is a card-carrying member, if you will, or is once again of the self-styled axis of resistance, which includes Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, the Houthis in Yemen and others. And I think there's an unanswered question to be asked about the degree to which there is coordination between Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon in particular. I mean it's quite clear that Hamas compared to its previous performance has benefited very significantly from Hezbollah's expertise but I'm referring more specifically about whether Hezbollah is potentially part of a broader campaign in terms of what we're seeing now.
I think it's an unanswered question. My suspicion is that as we saw on Israel's northern borders today. Hezbollah is engaging in kind of minor skirmishes simply to remind The Israelis that they may want to think twice between committing the full weight of their armed forces to the Gaza Strip, and it may also well be the case that between these two organizations there is an agreement that if Israel crosses certain red lines that Hezbollah and perhaps others as well will then engage more significantly in the conflict that's currently ongoing. So those are kind of my preliminary marks. I think it's very important also not to lose sight of the human dimension of everything that's going on now because I do think it's a fair assumption that it is going to get significantly worse in the days and perhaps even weeks ahead. Today there is a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. It's of course not going to call for a ceasefire because that would require American acquiescence. The Americans have made clear that Israel has a green light from Washington to continue with this campaign. And looking at past experiences, Norm mentioned 2006, the war with Lebanon, for example, the way these things typically work is when Israel launches an attack, the U.S. blocks each and every attempt at either a cessation of hostilities or even de-escalation. Eventually, Israel gets stuck and wants to stop, but can't do so itself for fear of losing face as they say, and then all of a sudden Washington becomes a great peacemaker and rams a ceasefire resolution through the UN Security Council. I suspect something similar will play out this time. So those are my introductory comments.
END INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS FOR BOTH NORMAN F. AND MOUIN R.
I'm going to just exercise a prerogative, even though nobody has handed me that prerogative. I want to just ask you a couple of questions, Mouin, because I want to hear your point of view.
Two main things I've been hearing from correspondents, and also from reading is number one, even if Hamas was justified in its operation (I hate those clinical terms but I'll use it) even if Hamas was justified, it was unwise, we all know what Israel is going to do, there's going to be so much death and so much destruction that they shouldn't have done it, that's one. And number two, I know it's very early in the day to ask the question, but since I get so many queries about it, you did allude to it. I wondered if you might give your specific information on what happened in regards to civilian deaths in the course of the Hamas assault. So, I'm more interested in that second one, obviously, until the human rights reports come out, it's going to be speculative. I would like to hear the basis of your seeming belief that civilians weren't, at least, targeted as a matter of policy. What these young people might have done when they got in, I don't know. But also, more importantly, was it a stupid thing what Hamas did, in your opinion?
Well, I mean, it's a legitimate question. But, you know, can we now also say that the First Intifada was a stupid initiative, to the extent that it was prepared that the Second Intifada should have never happened? In other words, you place people in a situation where they have no way to overcome their exceptionally difficult circumstances. You're basically telling people that it's safer to die a slow death than to undertake a spectacular “operation” to try to break the logjam and thereby perhaps avoid a slow death. I mean, I guess what I'm trying to say is, I can see the rationale that went into the planning of this operation. I can see that it was a calculated risk. I can also see the disadvantages of not doing anything and nothing changing.
Was it a justified initiative or a foolish foolish one, I think the only conclusion that we can reach is that only time will tell. I think we can already conclude that the human cost is going to be very substantial and that's certainly true. At the same time, others would respond by saying “yes, but the alternative is to have children dying of cancer without medications and mass unemployment, mass poverty, because no significant initiative is being taken to break the blockade and end the siege.” So I think it's a very difficult question to answer with clarity, and I'm sorry I can't be more specific than that. I think time will tell. I will say I can fully understand the rationale that believed something significant needed to be done to break the logjam and to impose on Israel, on the region, on the world, that you ignore us at your own peril. I can also understand the perspective that says the price is going to be so enormous that you may have wanted to think a hundred times before you embarked on this. Regarding your second question, yes, there are reports which appear to be increasingly substantiated that there was a mass casualty event at a rave that was being held in the Negev Desert. Was that part of the planning does that help explain the timing of the operation? I really don't know. I would also say given -- as you would know better than anyone -- given the nature of Israeli and pro-Israeli propaganda that I would like to withhold confirmation and judgment until the facts are out. But if there was indeed a deliberate attack on a civilian gathering with the explicit purpose of causing mass casualties, I would have two observations: A. That's a despicable thing, and B. Palestinians would be entirely justified in treating any condemnations coming from people who have no record of condemning the crimes perpetrated against them, of treating those condemnations with utter contempt.
Enter Sana Kassem
Okay, one last question I'm going to ask Sana. Sana, are you there?
We will unmute her.
Okay, you're a mother, you're a grandmother.
If you were living in Gaza, having heard everything now and having read, I assume you've read everything there is to read right now, where do you think you would stand in what's happening? Would you support Hamas or would you say “the death and destruction is too much, this is irresponsible, I don't wanna see my children and my grandchildren die?”
No, I definitely, even without being in Gaza, I definitely support this operation. And it's so legitimate for the Palestinians to fight back, to release their prisoners, to open their prison, the Gaza prison. Of course, I would be supporting. I'm supporting the operation, definitely. In fact, it was like a dream for me to wake up in the morning and see this operation. I couldn't believe it. And I'm happy to hear you, because many times you repeated to me “the Palestinian cause is dead.” No, it's not dead. Until justice is there, it will not be dead. It's not a dead cause. We will keep on fighting. We have no option.
Could I maybe just add to that -- Sorry, Sana, if you're not done, please continue.
No, no, no, no.
I think the point she made is precisely a key factor in explaining. It is to show “we are not dead, we will not surrender, and until you take our concerns seriously, we will find a way to wreak enormous havoc and you treat us as an irrelevance at your peril.” And you know, in recent years people have been talking about Iran as this growing regional power, about Hezbollah as having a military force that is equal to or greater than many of the regular armies of many states in the region, but who were the first to physically occupy territory within Israel's internationally recognized boundaries and hold them now for well over a day. It was this - what only a few years ago - was a ragtag militia and once again the most heavily surveyed territory and population on the face of the earth. So you know I think I could of course it gives a clear majority, overwhelming majority of Palestinians, an overwhelming sense of pride. You know, yes, we still exist. And, you know, you ignore us at your peril.
I'll just make a couple of comments on what's just been said. And then we'll open it up for questions. Number one, my parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto up until the uprising in April 1943. The uprising in the ghetto is normally regarded as a heroic chapter, or the only heroic chapter during the Nazi extermination. And when the anniversary came around, probably around 20 or 30 years ago, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, she interviewed my mother about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. And my mother was very - let's just put it this way - she was very skeptical of all the praise that was being heaped on it. She said, number one, we were all destined to die, so there's no great heroism in trying to resist when there was no other option available, we were going to be deported and exterminated. Number two, she said that the resistance was vastly exaggerated, which in fact was true. It was a very minuscule resistance to the Nazi occupation of Warsaw at the time. And so I saw that Amy Goodman, her face began to drop because my mother was diminishing what was supposed to be a heroic chapter or the only heroic chapter during that horrific sequence of events. So my mother said, excuse me, Amy asked her, “was there anything positive from what happened?” And I remember my mother commenting, first she talked about the ingenuity, the ingenuity of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto. And she described how they had no implements. They developed this very complex catacombs - what were called “bunkers” in the ghetto - using their bare hands. And I remember her use of that word ingenuity. And then when I saw or witnessed or read about the ingenuity of the people of Hamas, the most surveilled place on God's earth. Every nook and cranny of Gaza is under 10,000 different Israeli surveillance technologies. And yet they managed, amidst all this, to block all of the surveillance and conduct this operation -- I pay tribute to that ingenuity! I pay tribute to the resistance of a people with literally, or almost literally, their having figured out a way to resist this concentration camp imposed on them or overcome it.
I remember during the war in Vietnam, that horrific chapter in our history, which unfortunately has been completely forgotten by the new generations. I remember there was this left-wing historian and writer, I.F. Stone. And he said, if anything redemptive can be read out of this experience, he said it was the power of the Vietnamese to resist for thirty years, three decades, this relentless bombardment of their country. The U.S. was dropping the equivalent of two atomic bombs in Vietnam every month. And I remember I asked once Professor Chomsky, “how do you think they did that?” “I don't know. I don't know.” And it's the same sense of wonderment when I got up in the morning, and I think it was Sana who sent me an email, “check out the news.” And the same wonderment - I am still totally baffled - that Hamas figured out a way to tribute the human ingenuity and that spirit of resistance, and all the powers that each individual can summon forth in that struggle for resistance to defeat a very formidable or impose a defeat, even if it turns out not to be longstanding, to impose a momentary defeat on those racist supremacists and Untermenschen who just don't believe the Arabs are clever enough, smart enough, have enough ingenuity to prevail.
As to the question of the civilians and the civilian deaths, I don't know what happened. I'll patiently listen and I will as fairly as I can parse the evidence as it becomes available. I'm not gonna put a “but,” I'm not gonna put a “however,” I'm just gonna state the facts. Number one, I was rereading the other day Karl Marx's Civil War in France, and that describes the period when the Parisian workers come to power in Paris, form a commune, and the government, the official government, was assassinating prisoners of war, hostages. and it became so brutal that the Communards, as they were called, they took about 50 or 60 hostages. The government wouldn't relent, it wouldn't relent, and the Communards killed the hostages.
Karl Marx defended it. He defended it. He said “it was a matter of... They were being treated with such contempt, the Communards.” The Communards were begging for a way to peacefully resolve this. They asked for one of their leaders, Blanqui, to be returned to them, and the government wouldn't. You know, John Brown, he didn't have a clean record. When he was in a battle in Kansas over a place called Osawatome, he killed hostages. He did. And when he was hung, it was very hard to find a person to defend him. Actually, I recently learned from reading something by Cornel West, one of the few people who spoke on his behalf was Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, which I wasn't aware of. But he killed hostages, and he was hung and very few rose to his defense, but before you knew it, the Civil War came along. And, one of the marching songs in the Civil War was “John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave.” History's judgment can be very different than the momentary judgment. And the third thing I would want to say is, it is so appalling, it's not just the despiriting, it's so appalling, the reaction of all of these cowards and careerists and scum who use their microphones called Twitter to just denounce the Hamas attack. And I think to myself, I've been recently reading books on Eugene Debs - the great American socialist at the turn of the 20th century - and I'm reading it because I want to plunge into Dr. Cornel West's candidacy, and I feel I need to read about past radical candidacies which had a substantial amount of success.
And Eugene Debs, he went to prison. I hope God's honor will hear this. Now this is at the turn of the century, it's 1918. He goes to prison at age 63. Now bear in mind, 63 back then would be about 83 now. People died of natural deaths at 63. He's only about 83 now. He went to prison because he opposed World War I and because of his advocacy of the rights, his radical advocacy of the rights of working people. He walked in, fearless although it's now clear from letters that he was deeply depressed and despondent. He got a 10-year sentence. When he got out of prison, he got out after three years. When he got out, the prison warden opened all the cells in the prison and all of the inmates poured out of the cells in order to say goodbye to Eugene Debbs. And that to me, that's the great tradition of the left. When I see the AOCs, the Ilhan Omars, the Bernie Sanders, when they “condemn” the revolt of the inmates in the concentration camp. “Israel has the right to defend itself when the inmates breach the walls of the camp.” I spit on them. They nauseate me.
The statement today by Cornel West, it was good. Wasn't perfect, but he's running for president. It was good. He redeemed himself. Gideon Levy. He wrote an excellent column today in Haaretz. He redeemed himself. But unfortunately, you can count on the fingers of one hand - and even less than the fingers in one hand - the number of people who showed any heart, any soul, any compassion for the God-forsaken people of Gaza.
I will read one that came in. This was asked by someone named Hash. They wanted to know, is it not clear that the Israeli state had more to gain from Hamas apparently invading than Palestinians? Surely this will only strengthen Netanyahu's mandate for power and silence those against him in Israel?
I already asked that question to Mouin because that's what many people are saying and I don't…
Let me ask the next one. “Norman previously stated that the rockets of Hamas are fireworks and they don't do real damage. Do you have the same stance now, given the scenes we have seen in the media, where this time it looks as if the damage was done?”
First of all, I'm not yet in a position to make an assessment like that. What I did see, and I don't claim my reading is exhaustive at this point, I tried to read as much as I could, but it's not exhaustive. Whether the rockets, if they are rockets, whether they're causing a lot of destruction or not, I'm not sure. What I did see was when Israel started to attack the high tower buildings, not skyscrapers, but the towers, at that point one of the Hamas leaders said that “if you continue on this path, we're going to target a building in Tel Aviv.” And in fact, shortly thereafter, a building in Tel Aviv was struck. So that would still be consistent with the possibility that most of the rockets are not doing any serious damage, but they have some which have what's called the difference between a rocket and a missile is a guidance system. And they may actually have some missiles with guidance systems which can strike targets. Now, I don't know. One of the things I did find, which is I think quite interesting, and again, I may be wrong about this, so Mouin, I would want you to correct me -- or anybody who's listening -- to correct me. This is the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, where there's no mention of the Iron Dome. Iron Dome, this supposedly fantastical Israel anti-missile system, doesn't seem to be very much in the news. Am I mistaken about that, Sana? [Mouin: I think you're right.] Which is quite funny, you have to say, because Israel is boasting about this iron dome, this miracle, this miraculous anti-missile defense system, which it claims showing all these images in the air, can knock out all of these Hamas rockets. Then they try to market it all over the world, saying “we have this miraculous defense.” And now it seems, this miraculous defense is, as my brother called it, “Swiss cheese,” not Iron Dome. But I don't know. Mouin, you can comment. Has there been definite evidence that the rockets are having a substantial impact?
Yes, but not in the sense of their military destruction. Again, speculation, but I think most of the physical damage that we're seeing is being caused by mortars rather than missiles. I think the main purpose of these projectiles, whether they're missiles or rockets, are not to destroy physical structures or kill people as you would think but rather to paralyze normal life in Israeli urban areas, to bring the economy and other forms of normal life to a standstill. Secondly, I think the reason we're hearing much less about Iron Dome this week is that it has from the outset been recognized that one weakness of Iron Dome is its inability to deal with large numbers of missiles that are simultaneously fired at a single target. And by that I don't mean building, but you know, a particular population center. And I think what we have seen is that Hamas has developed the capacity to launch large or significantly larger numbers of rockets and missiles or whatever they are, simultaneously, and to thereby overwhelm, if you will, Iron Dome. And I think that's basically what's happening. It does seem that they've also managed to increase the effectiveness of what they do have, but I'm not aware of them having guidance systems or them being able to target individual buildings. I think they can perhaps target military bases or particular cities, but not much more than that.
I would just add that the purpose of the so-called rockets, in the past, has been because Israel declares them a threat. So, once you've declared them a threat, you have to subdue the threat. So, if Hamas keeps firing them, the pressure builds on Israel to launch a ground invasion. And Israel has not wanted to launch those ground invasions because they always turn out to be a disaster for them. In 2006, in the war in Lebanon, they didn't wait until the last 72 hours before they sent troops into Lebanon, and then they rushed them to the border, so there's a photo-op of Israeli troops in Lebanon. They didn't want to fight with Hezbollah. The last thing they wanted on God's earth was to tangle the party of God. They didn't want to do it. And in the Operation Cast Lead and Defensive Shield, what typically happened was Israel sent in planes the first week to flatten everything in Gaza in the hope that the rockets would stop. But when they kept coming - or projectiles stopped - and when the projectiles kept coming, the pressure builds on the government. You have to launch that ground invasion. And they constantly, in every single one of these assaults, they amass troops on the border, doing right now.
But they wait and wait and wait before they go in because it's proven for them. Remember, Israel has a very low threshold of tolerance for military casualties. It's been built up over the years because they're used to deluxe wars where Israeli soldiers don’t get killed. And in the last major assault, Operation Defensive Shield, a significant number of Israeli soldiers were killed. That's considered a disaster in Israeli society. In Israeli society, it's a Spartan-like society, they value the death of a soldier much more than the death of a civilian. It's the reverse of what you might call normal societies. And so they have a very low threshold of tolerance for civilian deaths. And so the government always holds back from that ground invasion, but the main purpose of those projectiles is to goad -- goad -- lure Israel into launching the ground invasion.
I - I just wanted to add, Norm, you mentioned Israel’s 2006 ground invasion of Lebanon, and it's a perfect example of the point I was making earlier about the Security Council. When the Israeli assault on Lebanon from the air commenced, you had that dimwit Condoleezza Rice talking about the birth pangs of a new Middle East and I think it was John Bolton at the time at the Security Council, I'm not sure who was U.S. ambassador, you know basically sabotaging each and every attempt to impose a ceasefire. And then once Israeli tanks started going up in flames one after the other, suddenly an immediate ceasefire became a matter of urgency for the Americans.
We unmute Robin. Robin, you're still muted. You're still muted on your end, Robin. Should be a button that says unmute.
Nonviolence : A viable tactic?
I have to run, so it's going to be a quick question, Norman. With a longer preamble, maybe. I've been following your material for decades. I'm a big supporter. I've been supporting the Palestinian cause for about four decades. I've never believed that use of terror is a useful national liberation effort. I see it as being counterproductive, alienating the public, causing damage, especially in the response to it, as will no doubt happen now from Israel. Whether or not you agree with me on those points, what are the alternatives, non-violent, non-terrorist alternatives that Palestinians can use, that their cause can be advanced and not likely damaged as I see happening now?
Listen -- it's forgotten -- not so long ago, in 2018, Palestinians tried a non-violent tactic. Israel brutally repeated, according to the UN report, which was the only authoritative report. It was run by Human Rights Watch, but not quite in the magnitude of the U.N. report. Israel started to target civilians, targeted children, journalists, medical personnel, disabled Palestinians in wheelchairs. Nonviolence can only work under certain circumstances, and the circumstances are quite circumscribed. Number one, there has to be people paying attention -- If you're in an Indian rainforest – India-Indian -- rainforest, and you try nonviolent resistance, the government comes in and just wipes you out. End of nonviolent resistance. There are very specific circumstances in which you can succeed, and they're very narrow, actually. They're very narrow in which you can succeed. So that's one point.
Number two, I'm not saying it proudly, but I have to say it honestly. The Palestinians had lost me. I gave up. I thought the cause was hopeless and I moved on in 2020. They lost me, but unfortunately for them, they were still alive. I could move on. I had that option. I wasn't happy and I wasn't proud. And to some extent, I was ashamed to have moved on. And I know Sana was not happy because she frequently wrote me, why aren't you writing anything about the Palestinians? Why aren't you posting anything about the Palestinians on their website? And of course I felt guilty about that. But I couldn't see a way out. And I've studied it for 40 years. I couldn't see a way out. So, if there were an option, I would be the first one to advocate it, a nonviolent option. But I didn't see any. And you're never going to convince me, it's never going to happen, that you're going to convince me that the Palestinians have an obligation to just lay down and die in a concentration camp. You're barking up the wrong tree if you think you'll ever convince me of that.
Now, how far are they allowed to go in order to break out of that camp? How far are they allowed to go? I think that's a legitimate question. But here I'll give you an example. In 1996, the International Court of Justice was asked to deliver what's called an advisory opinion. The question put to the court was this, is the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law? Is the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law? Now, as all of you know, the fundamental principle of the laws of war is the distinction between civilians and combatants, between civilian sites, a military base, and so forth. So insofar as nuclear weapons by their inherent nature are unable to distinguish between civilians and combatants, civilian sites and military sites, insofar as they inherently can't do that, the question obviously arises, are they legal under international law?
So there was a huge Supreme Court I.C.J. deliberation on this question, and their conclusion was that under almost all circumstances, the use of nuclear weapons was illegal under international law for the reasons just stated. However, the court said there's one area where we can't decide. And the area where we can't decide, the court said, was what if the survival of a state was at stake? Namely, what if a country faced the prospect that an attack would come at the price of the disintegration of the state? And the I.C.J. said, well, maybe if a state, its survival was at stake, maybe the use of nuclear weapons might be justified. Now bear in mind, the I.C.J. did not deliberate on the survival of a people. It deliberated on the survival of a state. And so I say, if the International Court of Justice - the highest judicial body in the world - couldn't decide whether you have the right to use nuclear weapons to defend the survival of your state, then I would say you clearly have the right to use armed force in order to protect the survival of your people. So, by current international law standards, I find it very hard to condemn the Palestinians, whatever they did. I find it very hard.
Could I add a few points? I think first we need to define terrorism. I would argue that any armed action that is directed at a military target can in no way be characterized as terrorism. So, to the extent that what we saw yesterday was a military offensive against the Israeli military, it simply cannot be characterized as terrorism. Now you can, I think, have a very legitimate discussion and debate about the wisdom of conducting such an offensive, but as long as it conforms to the internationally recognized laws of war, there's simply no way to characterize it as terrorism. And I think, and this is not an accusation or in any way putting it back to you but if you look at the Israeli press for example you know when whenever a Palestinian attacks an Israeli soldier it's by definition terrorism, and that definition is habitually adopted by mainstream media in the West. Secondly, I think Palestinians have a very long history of adopting other forms of resistance. The First Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993 and didn't really transform into a primarily armed resistance until its later years is in this respect the classic example. And I would also argue, particularly if we look at the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel dehumanizes and represses and oppresses Palestinians to the extent that in the absence of disciplined and effective organizations such as we've seen elsewhere in the world that people almost as a natural response take to armed struggles in its various forms, whether it's terrorism or attacks against the Israeli military. And a final point concerns settlers, because settlers are typically characterized as civilians but these are effectively armed auxiliaries of the Israeli military and there was a court case - I can't remember if it was in New York or something in the late 1970s - where the judge ruled that a family that was suing I think the P.L.O. because a settler who had some connection with the United States was killed, the judge ruled that settlers were, in his words, “willing participants in a civil war.”
I would like to add one more point. I recognize the distinction between civilians and combatants. [Moulin: Yes, that's the key distinction.] However, I know I will seem to be contradicting myself, and that's because I think neither legal formulas nor sociological texts can, in all circumstances, capture the complexity of life. Most of the Hamas militants, probably the ones who broke through the fence, okay?
It's probably their first time out of Gaza.
It's their first time out of Gaza because you assume they're mostly in their 20s. The blockade has gone on now for 18 years. They grew up in a concentration camp. They want to be free. One of the natures of the current technology is they get to see on the screen all these people walking free. They want to be free. They joined Hamas, they volunteered. Yes, by international law, they constitute combatants. Do I think they're legitimate targets because they're combatants? You'll never convince me. You will never convince me.
I know what the law says. I know what I'm legally obliged to say. I know what as a scholar or reported scholar I'm supposed to say. But, are you going to convince me a person who grew up in a concentration camp and wants to breathe free air, is - to use the language of international law - a legitimate target, I can't do it. I cannot. Now, people are going to say, “you're a hypocrite, you say you uphold international law, you know the fundamental principle of international law is the principle of distinction. Now you're contradicting yourself.” Yeah, I'll admit it. I don't think legal formulas can capture every situation. And I don't believe a child who was born into a concentration camp is a legitimate target. If he, in this case, it is he, if he wants to be free. I can't see it.
If you'd like to take a question from Carrington Morris, she has her hand up.
Yeah. Carrington's an old friend.
We unmute Ms. Morris.
Thank you. So, it seems to me this is of a different nature than many of the - well, first of all, thank you, thank you for this emergency presentation – it seems like the nature of this, the past 24-48 hours, is a little bit different than what you've described happening previously. And it seems like maybe there isn't quite going back from it. Also, with the, you know, events going on in Ukraine, with the war going on in Ukraine, it seems like, you know, that this could spill out beyond Israel-Palestine, that Syria could be, Iran could be, the United States might be coming in on Israel's side. I mean you're not fortunetellers but I wonder if you have thoughts about like the sort of more broader implications of this or what might happen beyond like the immediate region of Israel-Palestine.
Sorry, just so I understand, are you, is your question basically asking "to what extent this conflict could widen?" [Norman Finkelstein: And also get out of control.] Yeah. Well, what...
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's what I'm saying. It seems like people are already lining up. I was surprised to see a letter from Saudi Arabia and from Qatar saying that they thought Israel should take a look at their own behavior. It wasn't the usual response, although there's plenty of usual response coming from Europe. I am curious about what you all think, what could happen to this in the broader region.
Well, what struck me is this evening is that the US is moving an aircraft carrier towards the Israeli coast as a show of support and I'm wondering you know what what does a boat in the Mediterranean Sea why would that be needed as a show of support and it struck me that for all the talk of Israel's military genius, has the US National Security Council perhaps reached a conclusion that if this war widens, in contrast to everything Israel's leaders have always told us about, you know, that they're perfectly capable of ensuring their own security that there's a US assessment that Israel simply no longer has a capacity to defend itself and that it will need direct US military intervention to fight off two militias or if it gets wider I mean I'm purely again I don't think this this this is a show of support in the sense of coming into the harbor and sharing drinks you know it's an aircraft carrier I should add so it really occurred to me that perhaps there's a US assessment that Israel's military and intelligence capabilities are in such shambles that they may need direct US military assistance besides weapons deliveries and the like. I don't know. It's possible. And again, you know, we talk about Hezbollah. Have perhaps the governments in Damascus and Tehran decided they've had enough of being constantly bombed by the Israeli Air Force in Syria's case or having assassinations left and right in Iran's case? And that if things reach a certain stage, they may want to join the fray as well. It could very easily, at a certain point, yes, spin out of control, to use your term.
I want to just emphasize, since the format today is what we used to call in the 1960s teach-ins, that is, these people gathering to get information from reasonably knowledgeable people who can tell them what's true and what's not true. The case of Gaza, I'm not saying it's a resolution. I'm not saying it's very obvious what the first step has to be. The first step has to be end that illegal, inhumane, criminal blockade of Gaza. So, when anybody asks you, “what is Israel to do?!” What is Israel to do? To begin with, to end that illegal, inhumane, immoral blockade of Gaza, which has confined over a million children in a concentration camp. What the next step will be I don’t know. I certainly do know what the first step has to be. End the blockade. And that's what every person on the left, which doesn't include the so-called “squad.” Every person on the left should be saying: End that blockade.
The most common question that we're getting right now is, what can people in the UK, and I guess I'll extend that to the West in general, do to help Gaza right now?
To put the first item on the agenda to end the blockade.
Okay, folks, I think we went on for roughly two hours. So that was, you got your money's worth, as the expression has it.
And so I'll look forward to seeing you in the future. As I said, Operation Cast Lead lasted 22 days. Operation Defensive Shield lasted... [Mouin: Protective Edge.] Would I say? No, Cast Lead lasted 22 days. Protective Edge, yeah, you're correct. Yes, Protective Edge, Defensive Shield was in 2003 with you too. Protective Edge lasted 51 days. So it's going to be judging by that, as always, the United States is going to give Israel enough time to wipe out Gaza. And if Israel is at some point forced to launch the ground invasion then the question will be how much resistance the Palestinians are able to summon forth, how many Israeli casualties result, combatant casualties, and then whether Israel will be forced as it has in the past, to end the destruction. It's going to be a long haul.
So I think we'll do our best. Thank you.
Good night, everyone. Thanks for bearing with us. Good night, everyone. Thanks for bearing with us.
 See, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom originally published in January of 2018
 Refers to article published in Global Herald, can be found here: https://theglobalherald.com/news/gaza-israel-war-deadly-aftermath-of-israeli-air-strikes-on-gaza/
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