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The Power of Nonviolent Palestinian Resistance


The United States is refusing to criticize Israel after Israeli forces shot dead at least 61 unarmed Palestinian protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in Gaza Monday. More than 2,700 Palestinians were injured. At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has blocked a call for an international investigation into Israel’s actions. On Tuesday, she repeatedly blamed the violence on Hamas while praising Israel for showing restraint. During her remarks, Nikki Haley refused to place any blame on Israel. She later walked out of the Security Council chamber when the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, addressed the council. Since Palestinian protests began on March 30, Israel forces have killed at least 112 Palestinians and injured more than 12,000. On Tuesday, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said she was closely following the situation in Gaza and would “take any action warranted” to prosecute crimes. Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office has condemned the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli security forces in Gaza. For more, we speak with Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar whose most recent book is titled “Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The United States is refusing to criticize Israel after Israeli forces shot dead at least 61 unarmed Palestinian protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in Gaza Monday. More than 2,700 Palestinians were injured. At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley blocked a call for an international investigation into Israel’s actions. On Tuesday, Haley repeatedly blamed the violence on Hamas, while praising Israel for showing restraint.

NIKKI HALEY: This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake: Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday. I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council: Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During her remarks, Nikki Haley refused to place any blame on Israel. She later walked out of the Security Council chamber when the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, addressed the council.

Since Palestinian protests began on March 30th, Israeli forces have killed at least 112 Palestinians and injured more than 12,000. During that time, there have been reports of just one injury to an Israeli soldier.

Haley’s comments have been widely criticized. On Capitol Hill, Senator Dianne Feinstein said, quote, “I’m deeply disappointed in Ambassador Haley’s decision to block a U.N. inquiry into yesterday’s events. Without question there should be an independent investigation when the lives of so many are lost.” She also criticized President Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the chief prosecutor of International Criminal Court said she’s closely following the situation in Gaza and would, quote, “take any action warranted,” unquote, to prosecute crimes. Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office has condemned the, quote, “appalling deadly violence,” unquote, by Israeli security forces in Gaza. This is U.N. human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville.

RUPERT COLVILLE: Lethal force may only be used as a measure of last—not first—resort, and only when there is an immediate threat to life or serious injury. An attempt to approach or crossing or damaging the green line fence do not amount to a threat of serious—to life or serious injury, and are not sufficient grounds for the use of live ammunition.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the crisis in Gaza, we’re joined by Norman Finkelstein. His most recent book, Gaza: An inquest into Its Martyrdom. He’s the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. Norman Finkelstein is a son of two Holocaust survivors.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Norm.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s just happened, in the last two days, in the last six weeks in Gaza.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I’ll take off from the comments that you posted now from Nikki Haley and also from Dianne Feinstein. Nikki Haley says that Israel has shown remarkable restraint. So what does the picture look like? About more than 60 Palestinians were killed. About over a thousand, or, actually, over 2,000 were injured. And what happened on the Israeli side? These demonstrations have now been going on now for six weeks. Over a hundred Palestinians have been killed. Yesterday, or May 14th, Israel announced for the first time there was one, quote, “light injury” of an Israeli soldier. One soldier, after six weeks, apparently incurred a scratch.

Now, she says Israel has shown amazing restraint. But all the other witnesses say differently—respected witnesses. Amnesty International, it referred to Israel’s “murderous assault” on overwhelmingly nonviolent protesters. The shadow British foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, who’s usually very bad on this issue, she referred to the “slaughter” that occurred in Gaza on May 14th. So, I think, at the very least, Nikki Haley is way out of what the most respected and also pro-Israel figures have had to say.

Then we turn to Dianne Feinstein. And it is true her remarks are significant, because whereas public opinion has shifted on Israel, Congress has, up until now, proven to be immobile. But there are significant developments now within the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, on the question of Israel and Palestine, it’s changing. And so, this is a critical moment, because now the critical mass that has been reached in public opinion, it’s finally registering in the Democratic Party.

And there’s one fundamental—well, there are two reasons. One, because Israel is an evangelical Christian state, and that’s why it has so much support in the Republican Party, and so much support among Trump’s followers, in particular. And so there’s a natural recoiling by the Democratic Party towards the state of Israel because of its allies in the United States. So, there has been this shift. And then there’s the Bernie base, because the real shift is, whether it was witting or not, the Bernie base of the party is very pro-Palestinian. And that’s causing a major shift within the party. So, that, too, is a critical development and a positive development.

Dianne Feinstein, she called for an investigation. With all due regard—and I wouldn’t oppose an investigation—we have to remember, there have been many investigations already. There was—after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-’09, there was the Goldstone mission. After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, there was the mission led by the New York state judge, Mary McGowan Davis. And they all recommended there has to be some action taken. And all of it just died in the U.N. bureaucracy. So, although I don’t think Israel should get a free pass, I don’t hold out any optimism that even if there were an investigation, it would go anywhere. The same thing with the ICC. I totally support an ICC investigation. But even if, finally, the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bom Bensouda—even if she did undertake an investigation, at some point it either will die inside the ICC or it will go on interminably.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Norm, I wanted to ask you, in terms of this particular—what’s happened in the past few days, whether this is really a turning point, on the scale, let’s say, for instance, of what the Sharpeville massacre was in South Africa, in terms of turning world opinion completely against a regime, because the previous attacks by Israel were basically not as visible to the rest of the world, on camera, as this one was. And secondly, the difference was that in previous attacks the Israelis were claiming that Hamas was itself attacking Israel. Here, you have unarmed protesters, basically with slingshots and with Molotov cocktails, up against a total military force. And whether you think that this is a turning point in terms of world opinion being able to continue to ignore what’s happening in Gaza and Palestine?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I think that’s the critical question. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960, it was nonviolent protesters who were burning their pass cards. And it was about 67 people, if my memory is correct, who were killed. Here, again, it was overwhelmingly nonviolent protesters, in this case 62 or 63 who were killed. So it’s roughly the same numbers, roughly the same scenario. The important point is, it shows, it demonstrates the power of nonviolent resistance in mobilizing public opinion.

This is not the first time Israel has targeted civilians. In fact, Israel’s operations—what it calls its operations—have overwhelmingly targeted civilians. So, after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-’09, Richard Goldstone, the report, it concludes that Israel’s objective was to, quote, “punish, humiliate and terrorize the civilian population.” They’ve always targeted civilians. And in fact, if we were to look, you know, coldly at the facts, in the past six weeks, Israel has killed a little over a hundred Palestinians. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-’09, on the first day, in the first five minutes, Israel killed 300 Palestinian civilians. It was Palestinians who were attending a graduation at the police academy.

So, as you point out—and it’s a critical point—that the world is now enraged, indignant, outraged, at a much lesser—relatively speaking, a much lesser—criminality displayed by Israel, why is that? Well, it’s for the reason you already suggested. It’s because it was nonviolent, and Israel had no pretext to justify its attacks. And so it was exposed to the world. Israel has said—and it’s true—they said—Amos, his name just slipped—Amos, I can’t remember his last name. He said at one point—it was in the WikiLeaks. He said, “We don’t do Gandhi well”—”We don’t do Gandhi very well.” And it wasn’t a facetious remark. His point was: “We only have one tool in our box. The one tool is killing civilians. That’s our only tool. And you need a pretext to do it; otherwise, it looks very bad in international public opinion.” And so, Israel—

AMY GOODMAN: That was the IDF Major General Amos Gilad?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Amos Gilad, yes. Amos Gilad. And it was true, that they need a pretext. And when they don’t have—and all along the pretext has been the Hamas rockets, which in fact aren’t rockets, are just enhanced fireworks. But it gave Israel the pretext. And now they don’t have the pretext. They’ve been desperately, desperately trying to evoke the pretext. They killed a person close to Hamas in Malaysia. Then they killed six Hamas militants about three weeks ago.

And it was interesting. One of the reasons there were very few demonstrations yesterday, even though May 15th was supposed to be the culmination, it’s because Israel sent word, through Egypt, that if there are those mass nonviolent demonstrations again, we’re targeting Hamas’s leadership. It was reported in Haaretz and in other places. It’s a very interesting fact, because Israel did not target Hamas’s leadership during Operation Cast Lead. It did not target Hamas’s leadership during the Operation Protective Edge in 2014. But it dreads—it dreads the nonviolent protests, because it puts a constraint on the amount of brutality it can inflict. So, even though—and it’s true, hundred—63 people killed on May 14th, about 2,000 injured, even though those are large numbers, we have to remember, they only loom large because it was nonviolent. In the course of Israel’s other operations, that’s what happens in the morning or in an afternoon on a typical day.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, speaking on Tuesday.

HEATHER NAUERT: But let’s go back to something that we have covered extensively here, and let’s go back to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. We have had many Gazans who have suffered at the—from the loss of medical care, not being able to have access to enough medical care, not having access to consistent electricity, food, jobs and many other things, as well. The misery that is faced by people in Gaza is because of a result of Hamas. That is something that we come back to. People want to blame Israel for all of this that is going on over the past few weeks. Let’s take a look at the dire situation that people in Gaza are facing, and that is a result of Hamas’s governing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the State Department spokesperson. Norm, this whole—people forget that the blockade, how the—the origins of the existing blockade around Gaza as a result of Israel’s reaction to a democratic election that occurred in the Palestinian territories. Could you refresh the viewers’ minds about this? And who is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. First of all, as Amira Hass, the respected journalist from Haaretz, pointed out today in the newspaper, the blockade of Gaza, in its milder form, but still severe form, it goes back 27 years. It started in 1991 during the first intifada. The blockade was then significantly, qualitatively intensified after the Hamas won the parliamentary elections—what Jimmy Carter, who was an observer, called a completely and honest—completely honest and fair elections, in January 2006. The immediate reaction of Israel, followed by the United States and then the EU, was to impose this brutal blockade on Gaza, which at a certain point even blockaded, prohibited chips, potato chips, baby chicks, chocolate from entering Gaza. And then, after Hamas preempted a coup, orchestrated by the United States, Israel and elements of the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Israel ratcheted up the blockade of Gaza.

Now, who is responsible for the current crisis in Gaza? First of all, we have to be clear about—OK, let me start with who’s responsible. As you are no doubt aware, there’s been a—there’s a proliferation of reports, from the World Bank, from various U.N. agencies, UNCTAD, the IMF. They put out report after report after report after report. And there’s a complete—there’s a consensus. There’s a consensus that the proximate cause of the horror in Gaza, the proximate cause, is the Israeli blockade. It’s not Hamas. There might be some Hamas responsibility, but it’s so marginal, so minimal, as compared to that blockade.

Now, we have to be clear, and I don’t want to get too dramatic about it, too emotive about it, but we have to be clear about that blockade. Number one, it’s a flagrant violation of international law, because it constitutes a form of collective punishment. Number two, since 2012, the United Nations—and these are very staid, conservative bureaucrats, who don’t use—they don’t use poetic language. They start, in 2012, by saying—issuing a report in the interrogative: Will Gaza be livable in 2020? In 2015, UNCTAD issued a report. It then used the declarative. It said, on its present trajectory, Gaza will be unlivable in 2020. Now, bear in mind, literally unlivable. These are U.N. reports by professional economists. By 2017, the U.N., Robert Piper, he said, “We were too optimistic. Gaza passed the unlivability threshold years ago. Gaza, as we speak, it’s unlivable.”

Now, what does that mean concretely? Ninety-seven percent of Gaza’s drinking water is contaminated. Now, bear in mind, of the 2 million people in Gaza, 1 million or more, 51 percent, are children. One million or more are children. Sara Roy, who’s the world’s leading authority on Gaza’s economy—she’s at the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies—in the latest edition of her standard work on Gaza’s economy, she says, “Innocent people, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink.” Now, Sara is a very respected, cautious economist, or political economist, as she calls herself. “Innocent people, most of them children, are slowly being poisoned.” That’s what Gaza is today.

Now, to get back to Nikki Keddie—Haley, excuse me—to get back to Nikki Haley, she said, “What country in the world would do anything different to protect their border?” Let’s be clear: That is not a border, and that is not a border fence. Baruch Kimmerling, the sociologist in Hebrew University, the late sociologist, he said Gaza is the biggest “concentration camp” ever to exist. David Cameron, the conservative British prime minister, he said Gaza is an “open-air prison.” Haaretz, the most respected of Israel’s newspapers, referred to the “Palestinian ghetto.” Israel’s snipers are poised not on a border. They’re poised on the perimeter—call it a concentration camp, call it a ghetto, call it an open-air prison.

And the people of Gaza—it’s unusual in the world today. As the United Nations Relief and Works Agency pointed out, they said Gaza is different than all the other humanitarian crises. Why? If there is a natural disaster, like a drought, people move. If there’s a human-made disaster, like Syria, people move. Gaza is the only place on Earth where the place is unlivable and the people can’t move. They can’t leave. They’re trapped.

And then that raises, for me, what’s the fundamental question. Even the human rights organizations which haven’t been bad, even they refer to Israel’s use of excessive force. They refer to Israel’s use of disproportionate force. Implicit in that language is, Israel has the right to use proportionate force. Israel has the right to use moderate force. In fact, leaving aside the legalities and the technicalities, let’s just look at the picture raw. Israel doesn’t have the right to use any force. Two million people, half of whom are children, are trapped, caged in an unlivable space where they are, to quote Sara Roy, “slowly being poisoned.” Unless you believe that Israel has the right to poison 1 million children, it has no right to use any force against the people of Gaza. They have the right to break free from the cage Israel has created for them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Norm Finkelstein, as we begin to wrap up, what do you think is the solution?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there isn’t a solution. You know, there’s all talk—there’s a lot of talk about big solutions. I think what we need to do now, we have to assemble an international team of respected jurists. I would include John Dugard. I would include Alfred de Zayas. I would include James Crawford. These are the top people in international law. And they have to present a plan to end the illegal blockade of Gaza.

Now, Israel wants the protests to end. In fact, the people of Gaza, of course, have the right to nonviolently protest. Israel has no right to inflict that blockade. But for the sake of the people of Gaza, then let’s just have a quid pro quo: The Gazans will stop demonstrating, but you have to lift that blockade.

And I think a plan has to be presented by respected jurists, and then garner the support of the leadership in Gaza, which I think they can win, and then from the U.N. community. In other words, no more investigations. We have had enough investigations. We need now action. And that action means, first and foremost, that illegal, inhuman, immoral blockade of Gaza has to end.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Norm Finkelstein, for joining us. Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar. His most recent book, published earlier this year, is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. He’s the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End. To see our interviews with him when his book Gaza came out in December, you can go to democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We will be back in a minute.

1 comment

  1. george patterson June 16, 2018 6:48 am 

    We must end this illegal, inhuman, immoral blockade of Gaza by Israel as soon as possible. Thus, we must mobilize collectively and individually with relentless determination on a global basis to terminate this blockade.

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