Norman Finkelstein on Gaza and Israel’s Sinister Conspiracy

“I’m no prophet…” says Norman Finkelstein, slayer of myths and self-hating Jew, before proceeding to unveil a monumental international conspiracy: the impending Israeli invasion of Lebanon, due, according to Finkelstein’s crystal ball, in the next 12-18 months.

It was interesting hearing this Rottweiler of verifiable fact and reason succumb to the seductions of speculation. but Finkelstein said that this plot was sufficiently serious to risk his being wrong for the sake of doing something, rather than staying silent and watching it tragically unfold.

The aim of Israel’s plot, according to Finkelstein, is simple: the decapitation of Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, the real purpose of the conspiracy is slightly more involved (and sinister).

The following article is a review of a lecture Norman Finkelstein gave at Imperial College London on Friday 29 November. It presents the argument he gave there, rather than my personal views. 

I have supplemented the lecture, where necessary, with additional material and links to external sources. It’s pretty long, about 3000 words – but I promise it’s worth it!

Why does Israel need a Sinister Plot?

Okay, okay, not a plot, not a conspiracy – call it a ‘behind-the-scenes coordination’ if you don’t like those words. But remember, international political conspiracies of this order do happen.

In 1956, Britain, France and Israel conspired in just such a manner against Nasserite Egypt in order to regain control of the Suez Canal. The plot was only uncovered because it was unsuccessful: US President Eisenhower gleefully catching the two old colonial powers with their pants down and administering a slap with his New World Order cane.

Israel needs this ‘behind-the-scenes coordination’ to restore her ‘deterrent capacity’. What does this mean? It is a fabulous military euphemism for ‘Arab fear of Israel’.

The last ten years have seen a succession of Israeli military defeats and humiliation: the Arabs are getting uppity; they must be slapped down.

A Brief History of Israeli Humiliations

May 2000: The Israeli funded South Lebanon Army is finally defeated by Hezbollah. Israel withdraw to their side of the UN designated border.

January 2006: Hamas win the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, much to the displeasure of Israel and the West. Incidentally, this is the first time ever that an Arab government has been democratically voted out of office and a new government democratically voted in.

July 2006: Israel invades Lebanon. This operation can only be classed as a military defeat for Israel – or at best a Pyrrhic victory. They invaded in order to disarm Hezbollah and they failed in this objective. Their only morsel of success was that the threat of another invasion was a sufficient deterrent to prevent Hezbollah from intervening in Gaza in 2008/2009.

The result of these reverses was that Israel still had not restored her ‘deterrent capacity’ within the Arab world. And so they turned their weapons on their favourite shooting gallery: Gaza. Surely here they would be able to score a resounding military victory?

The Myth of the “Gaza War”

Following the victory of Hamas in the PLC elections, the US, Israel and various dissident Palestinian factions attempted a coup, successful only in wresting control from Hamas in the West Bank. This coup failed in Gaza because elections do mean something: a mass of the populace supported Hamas.

In a fit of pique, Israel tightened the blockade, hoping to starve them out. This didn’t work either. Unfortunately, in June 2008, Israel and Hamas had agreed a ceasefire, so Israel needed a pretext to mete out the punishment these democrats so richly deserved.

On 4 November 2008, a quiet day in the news – oh, aside from it being the day of the most compelling US Presidential election since JFK-Nixon – the ceasefire was broken by Israel, trundling bulldozers 250 metres into Gaza and killing six Palestinians in a bizarre tunnel offensive.

This, of course, provoked a response from Hamas and, sure enough, the rockets were fired and Israel had their pretext to invade.

And so, on the 27 December, the 22-day ‘Gaza War’ was launched and Israel had their triumphant ‘victory’.

But what kind of a war was this?

  • What kind of a war is it where not a single battle is fought?
  • What kind of a war is it when the supposed enemy sit tight in their bunkers until it’s all over?
  • What kind of a war is it when you launch (over) 2300 air-strikes and return with no planes even slightly damaged?
  • What kind of a war is it when you attack at night, rendering yourself totally invisible to the enemy because they don’t have your fancy night-vision goggles?
  • What kind of a war is it when the casualties are 100:1 in your favour?

Luckily, this isn’t just here-say or Hamas propaganda. We have evidence given by Israeli soldiers as well, recorded in the ‘Breaking the Silence’ testimony. You can browse this testimony at your leisure and make your own mind up.

Insanity?

As a side-entertainment, Finkelstein urged us to search for the word ‘insane’ on the ‘Breaking the Silence’ website. Here’s that search.

And if you can’t be bothered looking for yourself, here are a selection of ‘insanities’:

“We are hitting innocents and our artillery fire there was insane.”

“Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. You see a house, a window, shoot at the window. You don’t see a terrorist there? Fire at the window.”

“After the man-search they conducted a weapons search and suddenly saw a little 3-year old kid lying terrified under a bed and let her go. What insane luck he had, not getting killed.”

“This was the general attitude in the army: Go in with insane fire power because this is our only advantage over them.”

“There is a majority of voters who are so desperate or agitated because of the situation, that they are willing to elect him, and thus to grant legitimacy to his insane views.” [Talking about the election of Ariel Sharon.]

“He said we were going to exercise insane fire power with artillery and air force. We were given the feeling that we were not just being sent out there, but with enormous security and cover. He did restrain it and say, ‘It’s not that you’re out to carry out a massacre, but…’

“Sometimes the border-police battalion commander – who was a complete lunatic. He was insane. He would tell me: ‘shoot here, shoot here, shoot here.’ And I shoot in all directions, without regard to anything.”

These quotations have a somewhat similar scatter-gun effect, but they give you a broad idea of the disproportionate nature of the assault.

So was it a massacre?

There are no internationally agreed standards on the definition of war or otherwise, but Finkelstein’s conclusion is unequivocal:

“This wasn’t a war; it was a massacre.”

Furthermore, he adds that:

“Anyone who says it was a war in Gaza is – intentionally or not – an instrument of the Israeli government.”

The high number of civilian deaths (762-926 by NGO estimates, 55-65% of the total) are often explained by the ‘human shields’ excuse: the Israelis couldn’t avoid civilian casualties because of the unethical fighting techniques used by Hamas.

The truth about human shields in Gaza

Unfortunately for this convenient line of argument, Amnesty International, the world’s most respected human rights organisation (I think), found no evidence that Hamas used human shields, although, interestingly, they did find evidence that Israel did.

“[Amnesty International] found no evidence that Hamas or other fighters directed the movement of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks.

By contrast, Amnesty International did find that Israeli forces on several occasions during Operation ‘Cast Lead’ forced Palestinian civilians to serve as ‘human shields’.

This is from page 75 of the report.

Just to be clear, Amnesty International considers both sides of the conflict to be consistent violators of human rights.

An assault on civilians, not a military war

It is also interesting to note that, during this so-called ‘war’, Israel found the time to destroy the only flour mill in Gaza and twenty-two out of the twenty-nine cement factories in Gaza.

That was a real pity because the Israelis also left behind 650,000 tonnes of rubble. It’s almost as if they wanted, not to knock out the threat of mortar attacks on Israel from Gaza, but to raze the land to the ground and leave the people no chance to rebuild their homes.

Re-writing history

Far from being a heroic military victory to crow about, the history of this event is already being effaced. It was too one-sided, too easy a victory and the world noticed. Now the Israeli government would like us to remember that nothing at all happened in Gaza in 2008/2009.

Just recently, on the 20 November 2010, the New York Times had this to say: “the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been largely drained of deadly violence in the past few years.”

The newspaper did later publish a correction and amended the original article, saying that they meant to refer only to violence in the West Bank, but they still insist that: “the dispute is calmer than it has been in years.”

The battle for ‘humanitarian crisis’ status in Gaza

As this newspaper article might suggest, the international response to Gaza was rather phlegmatic. The blockade, let us remember, was and still is illegal. It is a form of collective punishment, a war crime under article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention. This diagnosis was supported by the UN Human Rights Council, who called the blockade an illegal action.

Furthermore, it had precipitated a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as reported by Oxfam and other relief agencies in March 2008, before the Israeli invasion.

There followed, in 2010, a bizarre argument between Oxfam and the Israeli government about the level of ‘crisis’, with supporters of Israel triumphantly producing a restaurant menu from Gaza that boasts steak au poivre and chicken cordon bleu. As if this would somehow ameliorate the destruction of the year before.

The Mavi Marmara Incident

And so on to the Gaza flotilla raid of 31 May. According to the Israeli’s own admission, they were not expecting any resistance. And rightfully so, I would agree. This was a flotilla of peaceniks and humanitarian hippies, was it not?

  • But why then, Israel, did you board the ship in the dead of night, at 4:30a.m. if you weren’t expecting resistance? 
  • Why did you use tear-gas if you weren’t expecting resistance? 
  • And if you were expecting resistance, then why not simply disable the engine, or physically block the boat from reaching the port?

The only logical answer is that Israel wanted a bloody conflict, perhaps not of the order that saw seven Israeli commandos injured, but still. A bloody conflict would, perhaps, rally Israel’s allies to her side against these flotilla-terrorists.

Unfortunately, the Mavi Marmara incident became a national humiliation. The commandos botched the raid: they were supposed to look like the elite force that Israel considered them. Instead three commandos were captured by an enemy armed with iron bars and the raid turned into a bloodbath.

This failure, combined with the public exposure and diplomatic crisis of the Mossad assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010 in Dubai, embarrassed Israel in the full glare of the international media and stung their national pride.

Or as one Israeli general put it:

“It’s one thing for people to think that you’re crazy, but it’s bad when they think you’re incompetent and crazy, and that’s the way we look.”

The Sinister Plot

And so, after all this, the Israelis still need to restore their ‘deterrence capacity’ – and these reverses mean that this time it must succeed and, furthermore, it’s got to be more spectacular than ever.

Thus the need for our grand international conspiracy:

Hezbollah must be decapitated and Lebanon shall be invaded in the next 12-18 months.

This isn’t just idle extrapolation by one half-cocked anti-Zionist. There is some recent concrete evidence to support the hypothesis.

On November 8, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the UN that Israel were going to withdraw from the Northern (Lebanese) half of Ghajar, a village on the border between Lebanon and the (Syrian) Golan Heights, which are currently occupied by Israel.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations got very excited and called this action an ‘important step towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701’.

Why does Finkelstein find this so ominous? It sounds positively docile, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.

This action concludes Israel’s obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The onus is now on the Lebanese government. But they have a slightly more arduous task: they must disarm Hezbollah.

This condition is going to be nigh-on impossible for the Lebanese government to fulfil and, when they fail, Israel will have the perfect pretext for invasion, blessed by the UN.

The Turning of the Screw

What follows, Finkelstein says, is speculation, but it is all too believable. Luckily for us it is easily monitored because it will all take place in the public eye.

First the UN Security Council will soften the target for Israel by creating disunity in Lebanon. They will start to put pressure on Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah according to Resolution 1701. They’ll threaten sanctions and embargoes when Lebanon can’t and don’t comply, raising international ire against this ‘rogue state’.

Secondly the media will start to point the finger at Hezbollah. Ever heard of Rafic Hariri? No, nor had I. But soon, everyone will. The CBC TV channel in Canada are launching a three-part special on ‘Who Killed Lebanon’s Rafic Hariri?’ They conclude, naturally, that it was a Hezbollah political assassination, rather than an Israeli-inspired one.

There is a BBC special in the making as well, all leading up to the first UN International Independent Investigation Commission indictments for his murder in March 2011.

Oh – who was he? He was Lebanon’s Prime Minister until 2004. He was assassinated in 2005. These media stories, as well as pointing the finger at Hezbollah and fuelling international hysteria for an Israeli invasion, will also stoke Sunni-Shia tensions within Lebanon, further weakening the target.

Why Bother with the Conspiracy?

But why bother with this great international conspiracy? Why not just invade and be done with it?

The answer to this is simple: to keep Iran out of the conflict. Israel needs the support of the UN so that the only combatants are Hezbollah and themselves. The only reason that Iran did not intervene in 2006 was because they didn’t need to: Israel was defeated.

This time Israel refuses to be defeated; therefore Iran will be compelled to enter the conflict. Thus Israel needs the support of possible UN sanctions to keep Iran in line.

Unfortunately for Israel, after the Mavi Marmara incident, it is not entirely clear if Turkey will also play along with the sinister plot. It is essential that they do to keep the ‘integrity’ of the plan intact, and thus Israel will attempt to draw their sting. By paying them off probably.

Once the ground is prepared, once the target is softened up, once Iran and Turkey are neutralised by the UN, a pretext for invasion will be found. It is not hard to imagine possible scenarios.

Israeli newspapers are already suggesting that Hezbollah might launch a coup in Lebanon. The source of this idea? ‘Secret intelligence’ – just like the ‘secret intelligence’ that led to the Israeli assault on Egypt in 1967.

The Invasion

When the invasion happens, Finkelstein even knows what it will look like. He knows because we’ve been told.

It’s something called the ‘Dahiya doctrine’.

This sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel, but in fact means the total pulverisation of civilian areas. In 2008, IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot elucidated:

“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there.

From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”

Unlike the war in 2006, this time Hezbollah missiles will be able to reach Tel Aviv. But Finkelstein argues that Israel is not too bothered about home casualties: they will only add to the perceived legitimacy of their case for war.

Is there a Way Out?

Finkelstein wasn’t just here to feed our love for sinister international conspiracies. He urged us to find a way out of the current impasse in the Middle East.

He sites the example of the Mavi Marmara again. While it didn’t succeed in breaking the blockade, it did at least sting the world into denouncing the blockade – after 3 years of almost total silence.

This shows the power of you and I to change world opinion. The Mavi Marmara was not a delegation from a government or an international human rights organisation or a bunch of lawyers from The Hague. It was a motley crew of human rights activists, like you and I.

Opinion, Finkelstein reckons, is changing. The mainstream is starting to take notice of the injustice of the Palestinian situation.

To conclude his lecture, Finkelstein offers us two platforms on which we can all stand to support the Palestinian case.

1. Stick to the Principles

The Palestinians, like everyone on the planet, have rights under international law. There is no need to forfeit any of them in the name of negotiation.

These rights are:

  1. For their own state in a united West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
  2. For the complete removal of the illegal Israeli settlements on this land.
  3. For refugees to be allowed their right of return and their due compensation.

2. But be Reasonable

It is paramount that we show Israel and the mainstream of public opinion that there is a way out, that we don’t have to be talking about this conflict for ever more.

At the moment, Israel is fighting like a dog with nowhere to run. We need to give her an option that allows her to withdraw with dignity and safety.

Norman Finkelstein ends his lecture with an optimistic quote, passed on to him by Edward Said, the sadly departed post-colonialist scholar and acute advocate for Palestinian rights. It was a quote from the poet Aimè Cèsaire:

“There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.”

What do you think?