By Geoff McMaster
January 23, 2009 – Edmonton-Israel’s attack on Gaza had little to do with self-defense and everything to do with instilling fear among Palestinian people, says political scientist Norman Finkelstein.
Invited to speak on campus by the Edmonton chapter of the Palestine Solidarity Network, Finkelstein accused Israel of deliberately killing Gaza civilians in order to cement their control over the occupied territory.
He said the incursion was only the latest in a more than 60-year history of “terrorizing the Arab world periodically into submission, and reminding them who is in charge in the Middle East.”
Following its defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2000 and 2006, Israel was waiting for an opportunity to seek revenge, Finkelstein claimed. It turned to Gaza when “the feebly armed resistance, Hamas, had defiantly resisted Israeli dictate.
“As Israel targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, UN sanctuaries… and slaughtered and incinerated Gaza’s defenseless civilian population, Israeli commentators gloated that Gaza was to Lebanon as a second sitting for an exam is to the first: a second chance to get it right.
“There’s no pretense here that this war had anything to do with rocket attacks-it’s about getting it right,” and restoring Israel’s “deterrence capacity” he said, adding that Hamas fired rockets into Israel only after Israel broke a ceasefire agreement and killed seven militants.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein received his doctorate at Princeton University in 1988 and has since been a fervent and controversial critic of Israeli aggression in Palestine. In five books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering and Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, he has attacked what he sees as the Israeli/U.S. propaganda machine.
Along the way, his polemical style has alienated many commentators on the Middle East, among them the pro-Israeli author and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who has charged that he is “guilty of various forms of intellectual dishonesty” and that his “entire literary catalogue is one preposterous and discredited ad hominem attack after another.” Finkelstein’s supporters include the prominent political dissident Noam Chomsky.
Finkelstein has held a number of academic appointments but was last year denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago, some contend because of the controversial nature of his work. He is now an independent scholar and active public intellectual.
Some 400 people crowded into Dinwoodie Lounge in the Students Union Building Thursday to hear him speak. He had intended to discuss the non-violent example of Mahatma Gandhi in resolving the Middle East conflict but decided to change his topic at the last minute because of the crisis in Gaza.
Even before the Gaza invasion, he said, Israel had “starved the population” and “reduced it to abject despair” through a long-standing blockade. When United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, visited Gaza, she reported having witnessed “a civilization being destroyed,” he said.
In December Israel sent in the full weight of its military arsenal, achieving a kill ratio of 100 to one, said Finkelstein. More than 1,300 Gaza civilians were killed in the conflict, one third of them children, according to the latest figures from the United Nations. Last Sunday Israel and Gaza’s Hamas leaders reached a ceasefire agreement.
In addition to terrorizing the population, Israel was also intent on discrediting Hamas, who had signaled it was ready to agree on a resolution to end the conflict, said Finkelstein.
The international community-including the vast majority of the United Nations Assembly, the International Court of Justice, and a number of prominent human rights organizations-supports a two-state solution, he said, involving a full withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories to pre-1967 borders and a provision to properly take care of refugees.
“There can’t be a worse disaster for Israel, because Israel wants to keep the West Bank, and always needs someone who it can claim doesn’t want to negotiate. So it pulled Hamas out of the hat, and now Hamas won’t co-operate, it wants to settle,” said Finkelstein.
He accused Canadian political leaders of unwittingly helping to bring about the demise of Israel by supporting its disregard of the rule of law.
“If Israel continues on this path, there can’t be any doubt that it will be destroyed,” said Finkelstein. By endorsing an unjust war against civilians, “Harper, Ignatieff and the rest support putting Israel in a path where it can’t possibly survive much longer. And when that destruction comes to pass, the blood will be on their filthy, filthy hands.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently blamed Hamas for the provoking the Israeli attack on Gaza, and two weeks ago Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff agreed that Israel was justified in taking action to defend itself.
Finkelstein also derided the “absolutely ghastly press and media” in Canada, singling out the Globe and Mail, for their pro-Israeli bias.
Nonetheless, he said, “this massacre was the last time Israel will get a free ride. People now know too much, the myths have been dispelled and the truth is out there. People are appalled and disgusted at the state which has become in some sense Satanic in its constant, incessant desire to wage war, war and more war.”