Norman Finklestein: US Involvement in Israeli Occupation


Photo credit:Students for Justice in Palestine ASU


Norman Finklestein came to visit ASU last week. He led a discussion on “Academic Freedom and Civility”, taught a POS 100 class and gave an evening lecture titled: US Involvement in Israeli Occupation.

As an independent Jewish-American scholar, Finklestein is a controversial figure for his stance against the state of Israel and supporting Palestinian statehood. His controversy followed him to our campus like the day before he came, a letter to editor was sent denouncing his presence and calling him an “avid anti-Israel speaker and anti-Semite.” Finklestein described himself as not pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab, but pro-justice.

Interestingly enough, I expected to see more opposition at his lecture during the question and answer session and it wasn’t there. Finklestein asked for those with criticism to ask questions first since everyone was so polite during his talk, but no one responded to that request. I highly doubt there weren’t any students or members of the community who disagreed with him, but they probably felt outnumbered in the audience or simply didn’t come due to their already established dislike for Finklestein.

Finklestein was a very assured, confident lecturer who spoke leisurely in the beginning and then built up in passion and directness as his speech went on and ending on a note of a mix of bittersweet pessimism. I found it strange he really didn’t focus on the title of his speech- the role of the US in the Israeli occupation-but nevertheless, he is certainly a unique voice in the debate over the conflict.

Here’s a summary of what he said (all ideas and arguments below are his and his alone, not mine):

Israel Offensive in Gaza Strip:

  • When Hezbollah evicted Israel from southern Lebanon, it became perfectly clear that Israel would not allow defeat and at some point find revenge and restore its “deterrence” capacity, ie. to restore Arab world’s fear of Israel,
  • In January 2006, parliamentary elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were held and Hamas won. It was the 1st case in the Arab world of a sitting government voted out of power and new one replaced it. The reaction of the US and Israel was to impose economic sanctions on the people of Gaza for electing the wrong party.
  • June 2007- US, Israel and some Palestinians attempted an unsuccessful coup, Palestinians who participated retreated to West Bank and the blockade tightened. Amnesty International said the Israeli blockade was a form of collective punishment targeting people of Gaza. Goldstone led a human rights investigatory mission by UN and said it was a possible crime against humanity.
  • In June 2008, a ceasefire went into effect between Israel and Hamas through Egypt. Each side had obligations and responsibilities. Hamas-stop rocket attacks on Israel; Israel-gradually lift blockade of Gaza. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire, but Israel reneged on blockade.”
  • Israel waited until November 2008 (during the election in US for Barack Obama, when no one would be paying attention) The ceasefire held for 4 1/2 months. , Israel attacked and killed 6 Palestinian militants in airstrikes because they wanted the ceasefire to break down. It had nothing to do with the rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinians.
  • Hamas said it was willing to restore ceasefire, but Israel has to lift blockade of Gaza;Israel said no. Israel’s former commander said to fellow Israelis “can’t leave them in economic distress and not expect Hamas to do anything.”
  • December 27, 2008- Israel invaded in Gaza for 22 days, referred to as “Gaza war,” though Finklestein called it a “massacre.”
  • He cited Breaking the Silence-, accounts by Israeli soldiers about what really happened in Gaza and the insane amount of firepower Israel used.
  • 300 human rights reports on Gaza, investigated charges by Israel that Hamas used human shields and came to the conclusion that Hamas did not engage in human shielding.
  • The blockade was still in place after 22 days and the effects were even worse. The only operative flour mill was targeted so people were dependent on Israel. 22 of 28 Gaza’s cement making factories targeted. Israel left behind 600,000 tons of rubble

The Flotilla:

  • May 31, 2010- human rights organizations declared Gaza a humanitarian crisis, though Israel denied that statement.
  • Both sides Hamas and Israel are consistent violators of human rights (Amnesty Internationa), so it was completely hypocritical to not have an arms embargo for both sides
  • Israel attacked the Turkish flotilla vessel carrying 600 passengers, 65% of Turkish descent. According to study, initially assaulted with tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets at vessel, then helicopters came, already using ammunition before any orders by Israeli commando.
  • Israel had many non violent options-could have disabled rudder, propeller, engine, towed boat to port, has formidable navy, could have blocked it there.
  • Israel had no right to attack vessel in first place. The humanitarian crisis was from the blockade, which was against international law. You cannot derive a right from a wrong.

The future:

  • Speculated  an attack by Israel in 12-18 months against Lebanon. Israel will not accept another defeat in Lebanon, they will bring whole region down with them.” Likely , the US will enter war.
  • Iran will not accept a Hezbollah defeat, they’re next. If Hezbollah is on the verge of defeat, it is almost certain, Iran will enter.
  • We should not squander our time and energy on the meaningless side show of the peace process. There has never has been a peace process and there won’t be in the future.
  • 17 years have elapsed since the Oslo Peace Process when 250,000 illegal Jewish settlers in occupied Palestinian territories. Now the number of settlements has doubled. 42% of West Bank has been annexed for the settlements. Judging by results, is that a peace process or in fact an annexation process?
  • Israel settlement watch program, Peace Now, said Israel said there would be no new construction in settlements. Netanayahu told settlers to lay foundation of houses before announcement of settlement freeze, getting around the agreement.
  • All 15 judges in International Court of Justice agreed that settlements are illegal. Under International Criminal Court, the settlements are war crimes.
  • Refugees have the right to return. For the sake of peace, they shouldn’t give up their rights.
  • Israel’s new pre-condition to resolve conflict is that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people. If they don’t, then there can’t be peace. There is no requirement under international law for this, main document on UN Resolution 242 never mentions that, nor do the treaties Israel made with Egypt or Jordan.
  • The only purpose for this is so Israel and its supporters can say Palestine didn’t recognize it, so both sides are responsible for failure in the peace process.
  • One simple fundamental truth of politics- God helps those who help themselves. If you want to achieve a just peace, a lasting peace, then we have to get our act together.
  • Public opinion is changing. It is getting hard for young Jews to defend the Israeli government, because most Jews are more liberal.
  • Reach out-be principled and reasonable. Present all parties to conflict a resolution which enables everyone to preserve their dignity, self-respect and decent life, then we can reach broad public, not just Americans and American Jews
  • Quoted the late Edward Said, “There is room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.”

To read more about his ideas, Finklestein’s new book, This Time We Went Too Far, is now available for purchase.

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