Since I'm fellating Finkelstein a bit already with the above youtube clips, may as well keep on stroking, given the subject matter:
Q. What about the courage you’ve seen in Palestine?
I personally witnessed a lot of courage during the first intifada. It was a kind of cognitive dissonance. These were nondescript, ordinary people, and yet at the same time each of them in his or her own way was displaying a kind of heroism that I was totally incapable of. I remember sitting in the kitchen of the house where I lived. It had a picture window. Every time a shot was fired outside, I wanted to dive for cover. But everyone else just went about their business as if nothing was happening. Everyone was involved, everyone showed awe-inspiring bravery. A grandmother—if a soldier started abusing a kid—she confronted the soldier, she was not afraid. She would go right up to the soldier and say, God is stronger than you.
The first intifada was not unlike the Civil Rights Movement. The most obvious question when you’re using nonviolence is, Who are you trying to reach with this tactic? That’s actually a complex question. Are you trying to convert the white Southerners, are you trying to reach white Northerners, are you trying to get the Federal government to act? It was quite clear from early on, the Movement realized, white Southerners? Forget it, they’re not going to be shaken by pictures of black (or white) people getting beaten. That’s not going to touch them. They were like the overwhelming majority of Israelis today, who are dug in, morally brutalized. They won’t be moved by pity. There’s no possibility that you’re going to reach Israelis by scenes of Palestinian suffering; on the contrary, they seem to relish it. So, if you choose as your audience, so to speak, the wrong target, you could be wasting your time. But the Civil Rights Movement understood early on, Our target is not white Southerners, our target is Northern whites, liberals and the Federal government. They carry on pretending to be a democracy, so we’re going to embarrass them into doing something about voter disenfranchisement and segregation.
These sorts of questions were not clearly sorted out when it came to the first intifada. It was too short-lived. It’s usually dated from December 1987 to Oslo in September 1993, but the first intifada was already over by 1990. Which was why the Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein and the Scud missiles he fired at Israel. They were back trying to be liberated by someone from above or outside them. The whole idea of the first intifada was, We’re going to emancipate ourselves. But it was already over by the time of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when they were looking to him as a savior.
PART 2: PALESTINE
Q. What wouldn’t you have predicted about where we’re at today in the conflict, ten years ago?
There are multiple dimensions to this question, each of which has witnessed significant shifts: the Palestinians, the region, the international community, and the Jewish diaspora. Some of these changes could have been anticipated, others came as a complete surprise.
On the Palestinian front, the salient development has been the successful conversion of the West Bank into a mini-Jordan. The Israelis made a calculation in 1993. Why can’t we create a little Jordan in the occupied Palestinian territories? We’ll just pay off enough VIPs in the PLO, and the US or Jordan will train the security services. The PLO will then do all the torture, they’ll do all the dirty work, and we’ll be relieved of the two biggest headaches inflicted on us by the first intifada: the public relations catastrophe, caused by media images of soldiers with Uzis beating children with stones, and the burden of having to mobilise the reserves to suppress a mass uprising.
The Oslo accord was designed to rid Israel of these two headaches. Number one, we’ll let Palestinians do all the dirty work. These liberals and human rights groups won’t be on our backs anymore because we won’t be doing the torture. It worked. I can’t think of a single report in the past decade by a major human rights organization, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch (HRW), on the West Bank. Occasionally, local Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations issue reports. But, however valuable, they’re not high-profile; they don’t garner media attention. It’s Arabs torturing Arabs, so who cares? And now, when there’s an Israeli massacre in Gaza, the PA represses demonstrations in the West Bank, so far fewer Israeli soldiers are required, and they don’t need to call up the reservists. The PA protects Israel’s rear. It’s the same right now with the so-called third intifada. It’s the PA that’s repressing the rebellion at Israel’s bidding.
Here’s another telling detail. The magnitude of the devastation Israel wreaked in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge beggars the imagination. In Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), 6,300 homes were destroyed. But, do you know how many homes were destroyed in Protective Edge? 19,000. 350 kids were killed in Cast Lead, 550 in Protective Edge. But here’s the thing. As many as 300 human rights reports were issued after Cast Lead, documenting Israel’s carnage. But after Protective Edge, there was dead silence. The only major human rights organization that published reports on Protective Edge was Amnesty, and Amnesty’s reports were horrible. The silence was partly because nothing came of the human rights reports after Cast Lead. The US, acting in cahoots with the PA, impeded any action. The reports just collected dust, so the organizations ceased caring. It was also because the international community has grown inured to Israeli atrocities and Israel’s lunatic prime minister. But the biggest reason was the cowardice—or, if you prefer, prudence—of the human rights community after Richard Goldstone’s crucifixion. I can’t prove it, I want to emphasize that, but in my opinion, based on a lot of circumstantial evidence, Israel dug up dirt on Goldstone and forced him to capitulate. So, first it was Goldstone. The next victim was Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist. He got kicked off one of the Human Rights Council follow-up committees on Cast Lead by the Israel lobby. Then it was William Schabas, a prominent fixture in the human rights community. He got ousted from the UN Human Rights Council investigation into Protective Edge by the Israel lobby. It was obvious that you’d better not have any skeletons in your closet if you go after Israel. Human Rights Watch published five substantial reports after Cast Lead, some of them quite good—such as Rain of Fire, on the white phosphorus. But it said practically nothing on Protective Edge, even as that operation was by far the most destructive. The human rights organizations, they just sat it out or, in the case of Amnesty, regressed to churning out apologetics. The UN Human Rights Council was an even bigger disaster. Mary McGowan Davis, this New York state judge who replaced Schabas, was a veritable horror story.
The only chink in Israel’s armor after Protective Edge was Breaking the Silence. Otherwise, Israel had intimidated everyone into passivity. There was nothing you could quote against the official Israeli—I know it’s called narrative, I call it propaganda. I couldn’t cite anything. Human rights organizations are still scrupulously correct in the collection of facts. Where all the distortion sets in is the legal interpretation of the facts. That’s where you see the hand of people like HRW’s Ken Roth. He used to—I don’t know if it’s true anymore—personally edit the HRW reports on Israel/Palestine—they were the only ones he personally edited—because that’s when you get into the law. You are allowed to describe ghastly things, but then in the legal section, maybe you can say that it was indiscriminate, maybe you can say that it was disproportionate, but the one thing you stay away from, is saying that an attack was deliberate, as in the deliberate targeting of civilians. So, in the Human Rights Council report, they’re describing over and over and over again deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, but you’ll never see that in the legal conclusion. That’s where Mary McGowan Davis entered the picture. She shamelessly whitewashed Israeli atrocities, just as HRW’s legal expert did back in 2006, in its reports on Israel’s use of cluster submunitions in south Lebanon.
Except for pointing up the discrepancy between the factual findings and the legal interpretations in the Human Rights Council and Amnesty reports, there wasn’t much I could say about Israeli atrocities during Protective Edge. There was no documentation from “neutral” human rights organizations that I could cite. I could quote Palestinian human rights organizations, which are, of course, reputable and reliable but, unfortunately and unfairly, they lack credibility among the broad public. The only thing I had left and what I constantly resorted to in a new book I’m writing on Gaza, was Breaking the Silence. It’s an unimpeachable source and its eyewitness testimonies demolished the official propaganda. If Israel can silence Breaking the Silence, if Israel can break Breaking the Silence, then the next time it’s just going to be Israel’s word against the Palestinians. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. I notice some “radical” Palestinians in the West have been given to disparaging Breaking the Silence. That’s unfathomable idiocy.
So, Israel’s calculation in 1993 turned out to be more successful than anyone could have conceived. The PA security services started out as a rinky-dink operation. Now, they’re a very professional organization, trained by the CIA and by Jordan. Maybe, if a mass Palestinian uprising erupted, the PA security services would collapse. But, for now, they have proven very effective. This level of collaboration and cooperation between the PA and Israel—would I have predicted it? No. The PA sabotaged the Goldstone report, it prayed for Israel’s victory in Protective Edge, it has acted as a conveyor belt for Israel’s torture regime.
The next dimension is the regional one. I would not have predicted that, while Israel was massacring Gazans during Protective Edge, Egypt would openly support Israel, Saudi Arabia would openly support Israel, the Arab League would openly support Israel. The Arab League met once during Protective Edge, and it supported el-Sisi’s cynical cease-fire proposal. If Israel was able to carry out an unprecedented massacre in Gaza, it was partly because it had not just the tacit but the vocal backing of so many Arab states. As for Western public opinion, the Holocaust blackmail still works at the state level but not among ordinary people. Fully seven decades have elapsed since the end of World War 2, while the Holocaust has been used like a shmatte—a multipurpose rag. It’s been drained of its emotional resonance; it no longer has the capacity to silence Europeans, at any rate, the younger generation.
On the other hand, I was perhaps the first one to take notice of the shifting currents among American Jewry. I used to lecture at about 40 colleges a year. It became clear from speaking to these audiences that Israel was losing the battle for public opinion. In 2007, I gave a public lecture on this topic at the Judson Memorial Church near NYU. I said that young American Jews are not going to defend Israel’s criminal conduct. Israel dropped as many as four million cluster submunitions on south Lebanon in 2006 in the last 72 hours of the war, when it was already over. It dropped white phosphorus, which reaches a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, on hospitals and a school during Cast Lead. If you’re a young American Jew, you’re probably liberal and idealistic, you’re not going to defend that sort of stuff. You may not come out swinging against Israel, but you’re going to lower your head in embarrassment and shame. I was slowly registering this metamorphosis. Something’s happening here. Younger Jews are changing. Some older Jews too—but not the majority.