This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on May 20, 2015. On Reality Asserts Itself, Mr. Finkelstein analyzes Hamas rocket attacks and Israel’s claims of self-defence.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And we’re continuing our discussion with Norman Finkelstein. Thanks for joining us again, Norman.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, ACTIVIST, AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
JAY: So Norman’s biography’s below the video here, and just read it, but you should watch the other segments of this interview that leads up to this. So we’re not going to do another big interview. Just suffice to say Norman’s most recent book is Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Assaults on Gaza. So in the last segment we talked about deterrence capacity. Israel has to keep the fear factor. They need to prove to the Palestinians and the Arab world that we have overwhelming dominance over you militarily, we are not afraid to kill, including women and children. It seems to me that’s an important part of it. They need to show they’re willing to kill, including civilians, and that they don’t have reservations about that. But there also seems to me, on the other side, Hamas has to prove how tough they are, ’cause it would seem reasonable, when Israel launches such an attack, actually not to send rockets when you’re not going to hit very much, and let it be absolutely clear that this is a massacre. But they do; Hamas sends rockets. And, you know, what was it? Five or six Israelis were killed in the last war, their last assault? I mean, they’re not very effective. It is essentially symbolic. But it’s a kind of symbolism that seems to just play into Israel’s hands–oh, look at the rockets, and then, falling on us, we have a right to defend ourselves. And that becomes the mantra. We hear that over and over again, we have the right to defend ourselves.
FINKELSTEIN: Well, there are many things to be said. What you’re saying, in my opinion, is entirely correct. First of all, there’s the factual side. In fact there were no Hamas rocket attacks on Israel if by rocket you mean some sort of lethal weapon which has the capacity to inflict even minimal damage. There were no rocket attacks on Israel. And it’s very easy to demonstrate. Israel says between four and five thousand Hamas rockets were fired at Israel–I’m going to leave aside the mortar shells. Four to five thousand rocket attacks were fired on Israel. Of those four to five thousand rocket attacks, there were five civilian casualties and there were $15 million in property damage. That’s the official figure Israel gives: five civilian casualties, $15 million in property damage. Now, Israel claims the reason there were so few civilian casualties and so little property damage, they claim it’s because of Iron Dome, the antimissile defense system, that had it not been for Iron Dome–that’s what we’re told all the time–had it not been for Iron Dome, it would have been a catastrophe that was inflicted on Israel. There’s a very easy way to test that proposition. What we have to do is go back to Cast Lead. In 2008-09, there was no Iron Dome. Iron Dome is an invention that’s first tested in November 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense. There was no Iron Dome in 2008-09 during Operation Cast Lead. Approximately 1,000 rockets during Operation Cast Lead, and there were three civilian casualties. So if you multiply–it’s 4,000 during Protective Edge. So if you do the multiplication, without Iron Dome there would have been about 12 civilian casualties: 4 × 1,000 = 4,000; 3 × 4 = 12; In fact, there were about five–.
JAY: Well, unless Hamas rockets are more sophisticated [crosstalk]
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s an important point. In fact Hamas rockets were most much less sophisticated, because you have to remember during 2008-09 there was a tunnel system that enabled Hamas to smuggle in rockets, say, from Iran. But that by 2014, the Sisi government had come to power in Egypt and sealed all the tunnels. All of what was fired in 2014 was much more primitive, because they were all homemade and there was no material to make anything in Gaza. It had been sealed. And so in fact Iron Dome accounted–I said possibly it accounted for five civilian casualties. It would’ve been 12, it was seven, so it’s five. But in fact it didn’t even account for that, because between Cast Lead and Protective Edge, Israel had significantly upgraded its civil defense civil warning system. So if fewer people died, it was because of the civil defense system, not because of Iron Dome.
JAY: So I go back to my point. What–.
FINKELSTEIN: Just let me do–
JAY: Yeah, go ahead.
FINKELSTEIN: –just make one last point. One of the world’s leading authorities on antimissile defense is Theodore Postol from MIT. and Postol has, to his credit, that he was the one who exposed the Patriot missile hoax, which I don’t have time to go into now. But he said at most–at most–the efficacy rate of Iron Dome was at most 10 percent, probably closer to 5 percent. And so now we have a very simple mathematical problem which will take me two seconds. You fire 4,000 rockets at Israel. Iron Dome deflects at most 10 percent. That’s 400 rockets. There are 3,600 rockets which make their way into Israel. Israel itself says only $15 million in property damage. How could 3,600 rockets cause just $15 million in property damage? It couldn’t be the civil defense system, because buildings don’t go into shelters. If you fired a rocket at this building–it’s a nice building–it’s $15 million in property damage. So how could it be?
JAY: Well, our building’s not worth that much, but I take your point.
FINKELSTEIN: You take my point.
JAY: Yeah. This is downtown Baltimore.
FINKELSTEIN: Right, but it’s a beautiful building, too. How could that be? Simple reason: they weren’t rockets. They were enhanced fireworks. The problem is exactly as you said it. You caught the problem. Israel has a stake in claiming their rockets so it could say it acts in self-defense. Unfortunately, Hamas has a mutual stake in claiming their rockets in order to prove that armed resistance works. So they have a mutual stake in maintaining this pretense that there were rockets being fired in Israel. In fact you’re right: they have no–there is a difference between three things. One, what you have a right to do. Hamas has the right to fire those rockets, in my opinion. I understand what Amnesty International says: they’re unguided rockets; therefore they are indiscriminate, and therefore they’re illegal. I don’t want to get into the technicalities there. If you want me to get into the technicalities, I can. In my opinion, they have the right to fire those rockets.
JAY: Well, just quickly, I know in your book you make the point, you know, the ability of the rocket to be precisely targeted is a relative concept. So if you’re comparing it to these highly sophisticated weapons that the Americans and the Israelis have, yeah, you can’t target them that way. But as you make the point in your book, that means only rich countries are going to be able to fire rockets.
FINKELSTEIN: Exactly. Exactly. But there is a second point. What you said, exactly. In effect it means poor people have no right to resist for foreign invasions and foreign assaults. But there is a second point, and it’s a Gandhian point. Gandhi made the point, when you have a huge discrepancy in power, a huge discrepancy in power, then when a weak party resists, it’s not violence. He gives a few examples. He says, take the case of a woman who resists a rapist by scratching the rapist and hitting the rapist. He says that’s not violence; that’s just a woman trying to summon up the internal moral courage to die. That’s with dignity. With dignity. And then he says in 1939, you have the German Wehrmacht, the Army, the Luftwaffe (the air force), they invade Poland. Poland has six tanks. Poland resists. They use violence, they use their tanks. Gandhi says they had that right because it was such a huge discrepancy in power. He says it wasn’t resistance; it was dying with dignity. You’re just trying to summon up the moral wherewithal to die with dignity. And in my opinion–I can’t prove it; I can just convey it, and then you decide whether the analogies are right in the metaphors are right. When Palestinians who are under a merciless, inhuman, immoral, and illegal siege for seven years, when 95 percent of the drinking water is not fit for human consumption, when nobody in the world cares, when they keep signing agreements at the end of each of these rounds which says the blockade is going to be lifted, including the agreement that was signed after Protective Edge, the blockade would be lifted, the blockade is never lifted, the illegal, immoral, and inhuman siege continues, when parents have to poison their children each day by giving them water which they know is not fit for human consumption, then you’re telling me the Palestinians can’t fire symbolic symbols of resistance, notional symbols of resistance, namely these enhanced fireworks, which are actually more a message to the world than they are inflicting damage on Israelis? It’s SOS help us? No, they have that right. Now, I’m not going to quarrel with Amnesty International. I know they’re a respected human rights organization, and I respect their work. But as I said, there’s a legal issue, and then separately from the legal issue, in my opinion, you can still make a moral judgment. You can say legally they don’t have the right to do it, though for me it’s a little bit unclear how you can claim that movements for self-determination have the right to use armed force to win their right of self-determination. That’s international law. But then tell me every time they use a weapon, the weapon is illegal, they’re not allowed to use it, that doesn’t make sense to me. But let’s leave aside the legal issue. There is a moral issue, and it’s a separate one from the legal issue. You could say legally this is the case, but morally it’s a different judgment. Morally, in my opinion, they have the right to use those rockets. There are other arguments, legal ones, but I don’t want to get into technicalities now. I think they have the right. But there’s a difference between having a right, a moral right or a legal right–here I think they had the moral right. The legal right is grayer. As I say, I can’t go into the–. But is it a prudent political strategy? And for reasons which you just said, I agree with you.
JAY: Well, before we get that, let’s just one more time remind everyone that Israel does have very sophisticated rockets, can target them precisely, and are killings thousands of civilians, thousands of children.
FINKELSTEIN: They boasted during the Operation Cast Lead that they had 99 percent accuracy with the rockets they fired. Okay. If it was 99 percent accuracy, how did it happen that you destroyed all these civilian buildings? That had to be calculated. And that was what the Goldstone Report concluded. So, yes, if you want to claim this degree of precision, then you have to accept the moral and legal responsibility that comes from the fact that you were targeting civilian infrastructure and you were targeting civilian sites. Now they’re making all of this talk about how Hamas, you know, was using Palestinians as human shields and Hamas was using weapons, you know, locating weapons near civilian sites. There is some evidence for that, but let’s be for real. First of all, there were 500–the estimates range now between 538 and 550, but 538 and 550 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge. So you had those four kids who were playing soccer.
JAY: On the beach.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. Where was Hamas? Where were these Hamas fighters? Were they being used as human shields? Is that what happened? When they were bombing the UN shelters which are keeping women and children to the point that even Ban Ki-moon, the comatose puppet for the United States, even Ban Ki-moon finally had to denounce it as a moral outrage on August 3, were there Hamas fighters there? Not according to the UN. Not according to the UN. So exactly what you said: if you’re going to claim these are precision weapons which can target perfectly, then you have to accept the legal and moral responsibility that comes with the fact that you’re targeting civilian infrastructure and you’re targeting civilians.
JAY: Okay. So now let’s talk about Hamas’s tactic of firing these rockets or allowing rockets to be fired. It seems to play in Netanyahu’s hands, into Israel’s hands, and give a justification for what essentially is a massacre.
FINKELSTEIN: Look, I have said many times I do not believe armed resistance can work in the Palestine context. It had a justification in the case of Lebanon because nobody cared about South Lebanon. Israel had an occupation there from 1978 to 2000. Did anyone care? Was it in the eye of the international community? No. So nonviolent civil resistance had no possibility of working there. It’s exactly what happened Arundhati Roy writes when she describes what’s going on in the forests in India. Indian government comes in, commits mass murder, massacres. Nonviolence? Nobody even knows it’s going on. But Palestine occupies a unique place in the international arena, international stage. People do follow what’s going on in Palestine. And therefore you have the potential of mobilizing public opinion. And I think in places like Palestine, nonviolent civil resistance, including in Gaza, for example mass march with children at the front, just like in Selma–if it’s good Selma and it’s good in Birmingham, it’s good in Palestine. They used to say to King too, Martin Luther King, you’re exploiting the kids. And he used to say, oh, you’re so concerned now about black children? They put children–if you read Taylor Branch’s–the first volume, when he describes the victory of Birmingham–you know what it’s called, the chapter? An incredible chapter. It’s called “The Children’s Crusade”. “The Children’s Crusade”. It was putting children at the front. Yes, if the people in Gaza, they put children to the front–.
JAY: You’re talking about, like, a million people from Gaza come to the border.
FINKELSTEIN: That’s correct, with women and children at the front. And we in the solidarity movement in the West does its job, educates about this immoral, inhuman siege. I can’t go into the details now. It will take time. I think it has potential. So I think they do have an alternative strategy. I think they’re hung up on this idea of armed resistance as being the only–resistance equals armed resistance as being the only option they have. I think they have another option. However, saying they have, in my opinion, another option does not mean that I’m saying they don’t have the right to do what they [want (?)]. I think it’s politically not wise. That’s a political judgment on my part. But morally and (had time been available, I can make the argument) legally, I think they have a case. Of course, legally it’s a troubling case because Amnesty, which I respect–.
JAY: You’re only talking about the rockets. They certainly have a legal right to use arms to defend themselves.
FINKELSTEIN: Right. But it doesn’t really come into play. That’s the problem. The moment the arms to defend themselves came into play in Gaza, they just stopped the ground invasion, because they don’t want–Hamas was fighting back, and it was not enough to send in the planes, as they did during Cast Lead, and level everything in front of them. If you read the orders from Operation Cast Lead, the orders were very clear. We know all of it now, ’cause soldiers came forward and told what they were told. Everything to the left of you, everything to the right of you, everything in front of you, just flatten it. That’s the way you don’t have combatant casualties. You just destroy everything. The problem for Israel was, when they did that in Operation Cast Lead, it got hit with the Goldstone Report. And so it was worried that if they tried to repeat it during Protective Edge, they may get another Goldstone Report, from which they wouldn’t be able to escape. But then some things started to work in their favor. The details would take us too long. But one thing that–the ground invasion was launched the night of the same day of the downing of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine. Nobody has to doubt that Mr. Netanyahu is very attuned to cameras. He understands the media. And so he knew that that was the moment that the cameras would be fixed on the Ukraine, the Malaysian airliner–the charge is that Russia was behind it–and that he could now get away with committing mass murder and mayhem, which he did for a while. Then, when things started to get out of hand–it was August 3 when Ban Ki-moon denounced the attack on the sixth UN shelter–then the Obama administration denounced it. And then Netanyahu announced the end of the ground invasion. But then he was saved again because this new phenomenon emerged out of nowhere. It was called ISIS. And a reporter was killed by ISIS, and all the cameras shifted to that. And then Netanyahu, if you recall, at the very end, it was kind of like watching a computer game. They were just demolishing one high-rise building in Gaza after another. You just saw the buildings come down. It was like a mini 9/11.
JAY: And he links Hamas to ISIS, as if they’re the same thing.
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, and he links Hamas to ISIS. Exactly. And so he got another reprieve from the international community. The problem was Hamas wasn’t stopping–the rocket attacks had basically ended by the end, but the mortar attacks continued. Another Israeli civilian was killed, and he decided it’s time to end it. And so it came to an end on August 26.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to do one more segment and talk about the current situation and the possibility of a resolution at the United Nations. Please join us for Reality Asserts Itself with Norman Finkelstein on The Real News Network.
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“Norman Gary Finkelstein is an American political scientist, activist, former professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D. in political science at Princeton University.”