by Nora Barrows
Flashpoints Radio (12.28.2005);
Israel laid siege to the Northern Gaza strip overnight, attacking roads and fields, shortly after Israeli occupation forces announced that they were implementing the so-called buffer zone after a home-made Qassam rocket was allegedly fired across the border near the Israeli town of Sederot. This attack coincided with Israeli warplanes open firing on southern Lebanon, in an apparent response to two Palestinian-made rockets that were lobbed over the border.
Meanwhile, bulldozers are busy uprooting hundreds of Palestinian olive trees in and around Jerusalem in preparation for the continued construction of the illegal apartheid wall. The Stop the Wall Campaign issued a statement yesterday about the wall, saying, “Completion in early 2006 will leave the majority of Palestinians in and around Jerusalem – around 190,000 people – facing two options. One, To stay in Jerusalem’s ghetto neighborhoods, subjected to high Occupation taxes, imprisoned by Walls and a life under siege, and Second, exile into what remains of the West Bank and Gaza or abroad, and permanent loss of the right to live in the Palestinian capital. Given that Palestinians rely on Jerusalem for employment, basic services and education, the Wall is beginning to depopulate these villages as well as tearing families and communities apart.”
At the same time, settlers are beginning to construct over a dozen new colonies in the West Bank, in plain view and, of course, against international laws. And brand-new so-called terminals are being constructed up and down the West Bank, which will allow illegal settlements to be linked by Jewish-only roads, while turning Palestinian villages into ghettos.
Recently, we spoke with Dr. Norman Finkelstein for perspective and analysis of the developing facts on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territories. Finkelstein is a professor of political science at Chicago’s DePaul University, and he is the author of many important books, including The Holocaust Industry, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, and, most recently, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
Flashpoints: Professor Norman Finkelstein, it’s great to have you with us again on Flashpoints.
Norman Finkelstein: My pleasure.
FP: First off, what’s your reaction to the continued attacks on Gaza, from the sonic boom attacks to the open firing on fields and the missiles and bombs dropped on buildings?
NF: Actually, I haven’t followed too closely, but it seems as if the disengagement as of now – the so-called disengagement – hasn’t had much impact. I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how the human rights organizations are going to react to what’s happening now. Immediately, during the disengagement, and immediately before it, the human rights organizations took a pretty principled position stating that the occupation has not ended, on the grounds that if you re-position, as it were, prison guards, on the periphery of the prison, rather than inside the prison, that fundamentally under international law, nothing has changed. On the other hand, there was the agreement worked out on the Gaza border with Egypt – the subsequent agreement on the Gaza border with Egypt – which seemed to give, at least on paper, full control on entry and exit between Gaza and Egypt – it seemed like at that point, the human rights organizations were going to cave in and say that the occupation has ended. But now, it’s still murky, and we’re going to have to wait and see exactly what the ruling is going to be, in fact, it’s not going to make much difference, technically, under international law, if the occupation is over in Gaza, as is clear from recent events, it doesn’t really make much difference for the plight of the Gazans.
FP: Can you talk about the sped-up land steal in the West Bank, after the so-called Gaza disengagement? Israeli groups are talking about redrawing the borders of Jerusalem to include the illegal West Bank settlements. How do you assess this current situation?
NF: Well, first of all, it’s important to bear in mind that there’s a considerable body of documentation now on what’s going on there from very reputable organizations. I would first call your listeners’ attention to a report put out by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which is very reputable, a report it put out a few months ago entitled “The Jerusalem Powder Keg.” And then, there was a recent report by the E.U., or its missions in the area…unfortunately, for the E.U., in an act of moral cowardice, decided to suppress the report, but I understand that a number of websites have posted it. The E.U. also documents quite closely what’s going on in and around Jerusalem, and that’s well worth reading. So I would want those who are Internet users… it’s well worth reading both reports. And they both reach the same conclusions, incidentally. The head of the E.U., the Foreign Minister Solana, he claimed that he was suppressing the E.U. report because it was “one-sided,” which was completely laughable, because the suppressed E.U. report didn’t reach any different conclusions than the Crisis Group report. And now, let me just run through quickly what both of the reports conclude.
Number one, Jerusalem accounts for about one-quarter to about one-third of the whole Palestinian GNP. So if you annex Jerusalem from an economic point of view, if you annex Jerusalem, it’s effectively rendering the possibility of a viable Palestinian state null and void.
Number two, Jerusalem is not only the financial hub of a future Palestinian state, it’s also the social hub, the political hub, and so forth. And so, the Crisis Group report states, a Palestinian state without Jerusalem would be the equivalent of a chassis without an engine; and that there’s no possibility of a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital.
Number three, the wall that they’re building will extend almost to Jericho by cutting the West Bank in half, and then in the Northern sector, if you cut the West Bank in half, the wall that they’re building around the settlement of Ariel will once again divide the Northern sector into half, so basically, it will be dividing the West Bank…the term they keep using is “cantons,” which I find totally inappropriate – this is not Switzerland – it will be cutting the West Bank into three pieces. As far as Jerusalem itself, about 200,000 Arab Jerusalemites will be caught on one side of the wall, separating them from the West Bank, to which they have many of their ties, and many of the institutions have ties with the West Bank. So, for example, people working in the hospitals, nurses and doctors and so forth, they commute from the West Bank; they’ll be now cut off from it. And on the other side of the wall, immediately, there will be 50,000 Arab Jerusalemites cut off from Jerusalem, and another 50,000 who live in sort of satellite areas of Jerusalem, they’ll have to move out because of the very restrictive building codes that Israel has enacted for Palestinians in Arab Jerusalem, so they’ll move to other neighborhoods, and they’ll be cut out, and it’s quite clear – and nobody disputes it, actually – that the way the wall is being built, it has nothing at all to do with security – the wall around Jerusalem – the route of the wall is simply being built to exclude as many Arabs as possible, in order to solve what they call the “demographic problem” in Jerusalem. That is to say, too many Arabs. And the E.U. report is very clear on that. They call it the main consideration; in fact, it’s the only consideration. The route is being determined not by security concerns, but being determined by how to Judaize Jerusalem. And that’s basically the picture. Both reports reached the same conclusion: that once the wall is completed, any possibility of a two-state settlement will be pre-empted between the bisecting of the West Bank, the annexation of Jerusalem, and the wall tracing a course which will annex the most fertile Palestinian land as well as its most productive water resources. Between those three facts, the annexation of the most fertile land and water resources, the cutting of the West Bank into two, and the annexation of the hub of Palestinian economic, social and political life, namely Arab Jerusalem, between those three facts, there won’t be any possibility for a two-state settlement. Which means, now we’re basically at the end game.
FP: Well, this sounds a lot like ethnic cleansing, ethnic purging…in fact, in a September 2004 article in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, it was reported that Jerusalem city officials unveiled a plan for “thinning out the population in all quarters of the Old City, except the only one restored so far — the Jewish Quarter — as a means of slowing down the rapid population growth.” We see this policy acted out on a daily basis – the social suffocation inside the West Bank and Gaza, and the racism that exists inside the 48 borders against Palestinians — Professor Finkelstein, why is this tolerated, why is this not called ethnic cleansing by the international community, the media?
NF: Well, on the last question, in fact, it is called, if not ethnic cleansing, the references to apartheid abound. If you open up, for example, the most recent – maybe it’s not the most recent, because they put out reports so rapidly – but the Bt’selem report entitled “Forbidden Roads” – on the very first page of the report, it says that the road system, or as they call it, the Road Regime that Israel’s creating in the West Bank, resembles the Road Regime under apartheid. And, you know, if you look through their reports, and many others, if you look, for example, at Gideon Levy, the main Ha’aretz journalist covering the West Bank at the time that Israel was unveiling its new road regime in the West Bank, he referred to it as the Jews-only policy of apartheid road system. So those sorts of references are not exactly – at any rate, in the Israeli press – they’re not exactly obscure; you constantly come across them. As to why it’s tolerated, I think there are two reasons – one, which most listeners will be familiar with and probably agree with, and the second reason, I think, they’re not so familiar with and may not agree with. The first reason is…I think that the campaign that began in the end of the year 2000, the so-called “new anti-Semitism campaign” which was pursued very aggressively – I think it basically did its job. Its main purpose was in Europe, to silence and intimidate and brow-beat the Europeans into silence on the issue of criticism of Israel, claiming that it was contributing to part and parcel of a resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe. That was a completely fraudulent claim, concocted by main Jewish organizations and apologists for Israel. But it did its work – suddenly, the United Nations was holding all of these conferences on the “new anti-Semitism;” Kofi Annan, in an act of painful moral cravenness, started declaring things like “World Holocaust Remembrance Day” and giving speeches about not forgetting anti-Semitism and the resurgence of anti-Semitism…and then the E.U. began playing along with Prime Minister Sharon’s charade of the Gaza withdrawal, knowing fully well that it was being used as a diversion to consolidate Israeli control over the West Bank, and finally, the E.U. buried the report on what’s happening in Jerusalem, and decided to take no action whatsoever on the World Court advisory opinion stating that the wall was illegal, and it was incumbent upon the international community to stop the wall’s construction. The E.U. voted in support of the General Assembly resolution upholding the World Court decision, but after that, it took no action whatsoever. So, that’s one side of the equation. In my opinion, just to reiterate, I think that the fraudulent campaign of new anti-Semitism proved effective in brow-beating and silencing European opinion. And the other side of the equation is the completely ineffective, incompetent, corrupt Palestinian leadership which took no advantage whatsoever of large number of opportunities to lead a struggle to prevent – maybe not to win a full Israeli withdrawal, that’s a tough one – but at least to block construction of the wall, which, in my opinion, they could have won. But these people are just a band of hangovers from the Arafat era. And probably their only accomplishment will be to make Palestinians long for Arafat’s return.
FP: Well, there’s also the argument that apologists for Israeli colonialism have repeated – there’s the claim that Israel has given up so much over the past few decades and Palestinians have consistently refused to cooperate or meet Israel half-way. I’m not sure what is meant by that, since Palestinians are fighting for less than 22% of their original country at this moment. But, people believe the continued rhetoric of Israeli goodwill as opposed to Palestinian concessions. How is this logic skewed, how is this argument played out?
NF: You know, when you say “people believe,” I think that’s a too indiscriminate statement. It’s true that the media echo the claims of the US government and echo the claims of the Israeli government on these matters, but it’s not true that there’s a uniform “people believe.” If you look at what the human rights organizations have been writing, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Bt’selem, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, all of the human rights organizations have been very consistent in deploring what Israel is doing and deploring the construction of the all and asserting its illegality and so forth – and then the responsibility of people who support the Palestinians is to try and bring this information into the mainstream. And it’s not impossible to do so. The problem is that no work is done on the topic on this front, and the principal organization which ought to be leading that sort of struggle, namely the so-called Palestinian Authority, it’s doing nothing whatsoever. But, you know, when you make statements like – and I’m not condemning you, I’m just trying to qualify it – when you make statements like “people believe” as if this were a homogeneous mass, it leads the listeners to become very defeatist. And I don’t think there are any grounds for that sort of defeatism. The problem is not the objective situation. The problem is the subjective will. Objectively, those who support the rights of Palestinians, in my opinion, they have a very formidable arsenal. There’s large numbers of reports, there’s information, there’s very reputable mainstream organizations which have been completely supportive of the Palestinian rights. Not to mention that the International Court of Justice, the most authoritative judicial body in the world, voted on all crucial questions – they voted in support of the Palestinians, Palestinian rights. They declared the settlements illegal, they declared the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, they declared its inadmissible for countries to acquire territory by force, they declared that the wall was illegal, they declared that all member states of the United Nations are duty-bound to enforce the decision of the International Court – I mean, this was a spectacular victory for the Palestinians. Any other movement, any other leadership would have capitalized on it, and probably, I think – you can never prove these things – with sufficient will, they could have stopped construction of the wall. But there was no leadership, there was no mobilization, and there was all of this, I think, unwarranted and self-serving despair and claims that we can’t do anything. In fact, a lot could have been done that wasn’t done. But I don’t think it’s accurate to blame it on objective circumstances, and I don’t think it’s accurate to blame it on a uniform, homogeneous consensus that was against the Palestinians. It’s just not true.
FP: well, let’s talk a little bit more about the media… Today, Linda Gradstein of NPR reported on the alarm within the Israeli government that there are fears that in five, maybe ten years, Iran could be ready to develop nuclear weapons. Can you talk about hypocrisy, what kind of nuclear arsenal should we be concerned with in that region of the world?
NF: well, you know, there’s the obvious hypocrisy of Israel having – I’m not sure of the most recent figures – but, when I studied it fairly closely, the figures usually given were two to three hundred nuclear devices, and there have been points when Israel has threatened to use them in the past, so, obviously, there is that hypocrisy, and on the question of the Iranians, there’s an awful lot of hypocrisy. Actually, what I would recommend to your listeners is to look on the CounterPunch website, the article by James Petros which goes through the Iranian record pretty closely. It shows that even if Iran were on the path to building nuclear weapons, and we don’t know that, it’s still quite a long distance away from being able to do so, at least several years – and that, in part – in part, I’m not saying completely – in part, this may be an electoral ploy to create this hysteria about Iran, just as, for people whose memories go back far enough, the main reason that Begin blew up the Iraqi reactor in
1991 – which, incidentally, was not going nuclear, that’s a complete fraud, and probably it was because of the Israeli attack – that they decided to start going nuclear – here, I’m referring to Iraq – but, if you go back to recall the exact sequence of events, the main reason that Begin did it was an electoral ploy at the time, and it may be that again, though, of course, here, the stakes are much higher. But I would recommend to you to interview Professor Petros, who has written quite informatively on the topic.
FP: Finally, professor Finkelstein, we spoke to you just after your book, Beyond Chutzpah, was released — what kind of media attention, both by the corporate mainstream and the alternative press, has your book received — any surprises, any disappointments?
NF: Well, the answer to that question is very simple (laughs)…there was no reaction at all. I can’t say I was altogether surprised; there were disappointments along the way. The book received, to my knowledge, and my knowledge is (laughs) pretty exhaustive here, I follow it – there wasn’t a single mainstream review of the book…and by “mainstream,” you usually refer to first, second and third-tier newspapers. First-tier newspapers would be the national newspapers like the New York Times, the Post, and you would probably include things like the Wall Street Journal. Second-tier newspapers would be something like the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe; newspapers of that sort. Among the first and second tier, there were exactly zero reviews of the book…actually, apart from, I think, one-half of one sentence – literally – maybe six words, even less, maybe five – there wasn’t any mention of the book, anywhere, in the first or second-tier newspapers. The third-tier newspapers would be sort of local newspapers, in my town, New York, maybe the Daily News, the New York Post – the local tabloids – to my knowledge, there wasn’t any mention in any of the third-tier newspapers of the book. In understand that in the Chicago Sun-Times, which is sort of the “junk” tabloid, there was a paragraph mention under something like “lunatic authors;” they mention myself and the Holocaust denier David Irving. So, that was it for third-tier newspapers, so, that was a complete zero. Among leftist publications, it was pretty much totally ignored. The Progressive Magazine — Matt Rothschild, who’s the editor-in-chief – he said the book already had enough publicity, so he wasn’t going to review it, which was kind of odd, because I thought there was a difference between a publicity stunt and a serious book review, but he said no. The Nation magazine never reviewed it. There were a few little publications on the left who reviewed it. But the main, left, liberal publications, no mention of it, nothing, absolute zero. Among media, obviously no television. I think, apart from your program, and a couple of programs that have come from your neck of the woods, there was no radio. Certainly there was no mainstream radio, no NPR, nothing. Absolute zero. And even Democracy Now! didn’t have me on, which was sort of a disappointment. So, altogether, I would say, a complete zero, a complete washout. I wasn’t totally shocked by it, but it was frustrating, and, in some cases, it was a disappointment.
FP: Well, what exactly do you attribute to having almost zero publicity for your book?
NF: There are various reasons. For some people…you know, I talked to people about it and I heard different explanations. My good friend and former editor Sarah Bershtel, who’s the head of Metropolitan Books, a powerful and excellent publisher, they do stuff by Mike Davis, and now they’re doing stuff by Noam Chomsky, they’re very good – Sarah’s opinion was that [Alan] Dershowitz scared them off with all the threats of the lawsuits, people didn’t want to get involved in it. And there’s some truth to that. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s the main reason. I think the main reason was two-fold – I think one was the institutional question, that is, professor Dershowitz, he’s the senior most professor at Harvard Law School, and that when you raise questions of the kind that I raised about him, it raises serious questions about the institutions to which he’s connected – Harvard Law School, or the New York Times, which heaped high praise on his book, The Case for Israel, which was the subject of my book, Beyond Chutzpah, trying to demonstrate how successfully readers can decide on their own, but trying to demonstrate that his book, The Case for Israel, was a complete fraud. So, I think that part of it was institutional, that people felt very uncomfortable – not in attacking Dershowitz, who’s not a particularly likable person, but in attacking the institutions of which he represents; and what does it say about our society as a whole if corruption runs so deep at places like Harvard and at the New York Times. And then, there are others for whom they knew that what Dershowitz was writing were lies, but it was sort of like the Stalinist mentality of the 1930s – that there are little truths, but then there is the big truth. And that Dershowitz may have gotten the little truths wrong, and may have even lied about the little truths, just like the Communists in the ‘30s, who in some cases got the little truths wrong and in some cases they lied about what they took to be the little truths. You know, little truths like the purged files, the killings, the deaths, and everything. But there is the belief that aside from the little truths, there is the big truth. There is the big truth about the Soviet Union, that they’re building socialism and they’re on their way to communism – that’s the big truth. And that all the little truths about human rights were just not that important. And I think that a lot of these supporters of Israel – it’s the same sort of mentality: that this is The Cause. And in the name of The Cause, okay, we may lie here a little, we may stretch the truth there, and so on and so forth, but those little truths are of secondary significance next to the big truth. So I think there’s quite a lot of that among the true believers who occupy prominent places in the media. So they fully well knew that Dershowitz was lying, and they fully well knew that everything I wrote was true, but they just didn’t think it was important. And then there was the third issue – the first being the institutional, the second being the ideological – and the third, I think, is the personal issue – namely, me. That you simply cannot validate anything I say as true. Because if I’m right about Dershowitz, well then maybe I’m right about other things. Maybe I’m right about the holocaust industry. Maybe I’m right about the holocaust compensation racket. Maybe I’m right about Israel in general. And so, even though people acknowledged what I was saying privately, acknowledged that what I was saying was true, and in fact, in this particular case, it was very difficult to deny that what I was saying was true, since I was using only mainstream sources, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Israeli human rights organizations, I was using only mainstream sources – and for each claim I made, I used at least two or three of these mainstream sources to document it, and in so doing, documenting that whatever Dershowitz was writing was a lie, it was impossible to dispute what I was writing. But the problem was, if you acknowledge that I was right here, it may raise people’s curiosity – well, maybe he was right about all that other stuff he wrote. It is, after all, the same person. And that was not acceptable. So, in this case, it was not just the message that was at issue – it was the messenger. That you could not validate this messenger even if his message were true. You know, the usual expression of “don’t blame the messenger for the message.” But in this case, the messenger was, in part, the message, which they couldn’t accept. So I think those were the main reasons, there was the institutional, there was the ideological – because we’re basically dealing with ideological fanatics and zealots who have their Cause with a capital C, and the facts are just beside the point – and then you have the personal issue, which is me. And that’s it. As to what happened with people – comrades, so to speak – comrades and friends on the left, I think, frankly, it’s best to ask them what happened. I have my own speculation, and it’s speculation – I think it’s wiser to just ask them why they ignored the book.
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