Norman Finkelstein interviewed by Emanuel Stoakes 6Apr11 April 12, 2011

ES: Mr Finkelstein, looking at the present situation in Gaza and the occupied territories, what hope do you have for a realistic and ‘just’ peace settlement- even in the next thirty years?

NF: It all depends on whether the people in the Occupied Territories find the inner strength and courage to duplicate what’s been done in neighboring Arab-Muslim states.  So far Palestinians are just watching, but from conversations I’ve had they appear to be hopeful. If mass demonstrations break out, Israel might be forced to withdraw to the June 1967 border.  Certainly, Israel will have trouble firing on nonviolent demonstrators without looking like Qaddafi.

ES: The present triumphant scenes in Cairo have got a lot of people in Israel worried about The Muslim Brotherhood gaining ascendancy in Egypt. A friend in Israel, a Zionist, told me that the current leadership in Egypt have begun to cut off gas supplies to Israel, an apparent act of “aggression”. Do you think the Muslim Brotherhood are a force for the good in supporting Palestinians, or are they counter-productive in that they will destabilize the region (to borrow a much-abused term)?

NF: I do not believe that Israel fears the Muslim Brotherhood because it is Muslim.  It is just as fearful of a secularist such as el-Baradei coming to power.  Israel dreads the prospect that a new government will respect the will of the people and will be committed to preserving the dignity of Egypt.  This has always been Israel’s biggest fear.  Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion frequently said that the biggest disaster for Israel would be if an Arab Ataturk came to power and restored the spirits of the people.

ES: You famously said that in Lebanon “Hezbollah are the hope” (in terms of standing up to American political influences and Israeli aggression). This elicited much condemnation from the usual quarters. Can you expand on this statement- in what way do you think Hezbollah offer “hope” and to whom?

NF: Hezbollah demands that the ordinary principles of international law be applied to Israel as well.  Israel must stop treating neighboring countries as long- or short-term parking lots.  It must stop indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. This is Hezbollah’s message and I agree with it.  When Ehud Barak recently threatened, “Maybe we’ll have to occupy Lebanon again,” Sayyed Nasrallah said the next day, “Maybe we”ll have to occupy the northern Galilee.”  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

ES: You must know that you are more or less hated by the Israeli Likud/right-wing establishment and their supporters, and indeed have been accused, inevitably, of being an enemy of Israel and an ‘enabler of terrorism’. This is probably water off a duck’s back to you. Nonetheless, what is your response?

NF: Judging by opinion polls, Israel has bigger problems than me.  It is among the most hated countries on the planet.  It should stop acting like a lunatic state.  Once it carries on like a normal country, I will be happily redirect my energies elsewhere.

ES:  Do you unequivocally condemn Palestinian attacks against innocent civilians?

NF: It is impossible to justify terrorism, which is the targeting of civilians to achieve a political goal.  But it’s also difficult to make categorical statements of the kind you suggest.  I do believe that Hezbollah has the right to target Israeli civilians if Israel persists in targeting civilians until Israel ceases its terrorist acts.

ES: Martin Indyk once called you a spokesman for Hamas. As a group Hamas have been accused of committing war crimes, torturing Palestinians, and, of course, have fired missiles at Israeli citizens, threatening innocent children in Southern Israel. Their charter openly appears to reject ideas of peace with Israel, to encourage violence against Jews, and so on. Do you support Hamas, and it is it really a morally legitimate thing to do?

NF: Hamas has made many statements expressing a willingness to settle the conflict on the June 1967 border.  As the British Economist recently wrote, it’s easy enough to test whether they are serious: just call their bluff.  Israel does not want to test their intentions because it knows that they are sincere and Israel does not want to withdraw to the 1967 border.

ES: Do Hamas use women and children as human shields? This is the perennial justification for civilian deaths after IDF assaults in Palestine. Are you prepared to admit that this goes on, and what evidence is there for it?

NF: None of the human rights organizations that investigated what happened during the Israeli invasion of Gaza–Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Goldstone Report–could find evidence that Hamas engaged in human shielding.

ES: In the documentary “American Radical” your friend and co-thinker, Noam Chomsky, reveals that he advised you to try to focus less on exposing Alan Dershowitz in your book “Beyond Chutzpah”, and to attempt to concentrate on a more general attack on the propaganda and deceit peddled by the many apologists for the Israeli establishment’s crimes. Taking on Dershowitz has lead to him trying to sabotage your career, and to him famously accusing your mother of being a capo, amongst many other repulsive actions. What is your response to the idea, if I take the position of the Devil’s advocate, that this has drawn attention away from the Palestinians in a way that has aided Dershowitz and his crew – and has diverted focus from the facts that need to be aired about Palestinian suffering?

NF: I devote approximately 200 pages of Beyond Chutzpah to Israel’s human rights record.  The personal issue of Dershowitz’s plagiarism occupiessome 20 pages in an appendix.

ES: In “Beyond Chutzpah”, you document how the ban on torture passed by Israeli courts around the turn of the century, that torture and gross mistreatment of Palestinians (including minors) still goes on. Do you still see this as the case?

NF: Israel continues to torture Palestinian detainees but on a reduced scale.  They have farmed out most of the torture to their collaborators in the “Palestinian” “Authority.”  The “P” “A’s” human rights record is quite horrendous, which is why it enjoys so much support in Israel and the West.

ES: Changing topic, to what degree do you perceive Israel’s attacks against neighbours and the Palestinians (I’m thinking about the ’82 and 2006 Lebanon wars, the crushing of both Intifadas,  especially Operation Cast Lead and so on) as being intentionally disproportionate [cf. Shock and Awe]?

NF: In past wars Israel set itself two goals: to inflict a battlefield defeat on its enemies and simultaneously to terrorize the civilian population in order to accelerate the victory.  The Gaza invasion of 2008-9 was different.  Hamas was not a significant fighting force so defeating it wouldn’t impress anyone.  The invasion of Gaza had no battlefield component.  The central fact about the Gaza invasion was that it was not a war: it was an outright massacre.

ES: Is Israel more or less a large-scale US military base?

NF: It’s highly dependent on the U.S. but it’s still a nation-state like any other member of the international system and the United Nations, and therefore has the same rights and obligations as any other state.

ES: What is the best case senario for a peaceful settlement between Palestinians and Israelis? How can activists bring this about?

NF: The most important challenge is to keep clarifying the documentary record on what’s really happening there and which side is blocking a diplomatic settlement.   Each of the various tactics that have been tried to get Israel to budge–nonviolent resistance, legal accountability, BDS–has had some measure of success.

ES: Why do you think that you are still labelled a radical, “far-left” or “fringe” voice in Israeli-Palestinian conflict discourse? You, after all, promote the ‘International Consensus’ on the conflict’s resolution?

NF: I suspect it’s because I have become pretty effective so I must be marginalized.


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