Norman Finkelstein: This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences in the Gaza Invasion

This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences in the Gaza Invasion

By Norman G. Finkelstein
Or Books, November 30, 2009, $20.00

On one level Norman Finkelstein’s new book, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences in the Gaza Invasion, on Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza does not reveal much new. It consists of information that has made its way to the public realm over the past year. Yet he brings together the disparate pieces of the event to sharp effect. There is a clear sense that the story has been insulted by the casualness of attention to it.

The attack on Gaza left 1,400 Palestinians dead. Four-fifths of those were civilians. Three hundred fifty of those civilians were children. Along the way hospitals, water treatment plants, houses, schools, even chicken farms were destroyed. Much of the major media called it a “war” yet only 10 Israeli soldiers were killed, four of them by friendly fire (three Israeli civilians died). As Finkelstein told me by telephone, “There was no war in Gaza, there was no fighting in Gaza, there were no battles in Gaza. It was a strictly and narrowly an assault. It was a massacre.”

The official line of argument by Israel and its apologists was that Israel was defending itself from Hamas rocket attacks. It did what it had to do. U.S. foreign policy expert, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote Israel’s actions were “intended to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage.” Finkelstein shatters this claim. He cites one Israeli soldier recalling his brigade commander’s order, “If you face an area that is hidden by a building — you take down the building. Questions such as ‘who lives in that building [?]’ are not asked.” Further he points out that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) General Staff in advance of the attack estimated 600 to 800 civilian casualties. The whole point of Gaza was to show the raw force of the Israeli army or in the parlance of the IDF and Israeli government its “deterrence capacity.” Speaking of Israeli actions in Gaza Minister Tzipi Livni told Channel 10 News in Israel “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded.” The reasonable conclusion Finkelstein draws is, “What happened in Gaza was meant to happen — by everyone from the soldiers in the field to the officers who gave the orders to the politicians who approved the orders.”

While not a long book, there is still an absence of critique of Hamas that seems glaring. Finkelstein is correct to not equate the actions of Hamas with those of IDF. However there is a certain hands-off view. In other interviews Finkelstein makes a certain comparison of Hamas to the Red Army in its fight against Hitler — we may not especially like the resistance, but they are on the side of right. This seems an incomplete argument. Hamas has its own agenda (including ties to the theocracy in Iran). That is a matter of some consequence — and looking squarely at this does not need to undermine ones ability to stand on the side of justice.

This seems particularly important given Finkelstein own observation of a certain shift on the way Israel is perceived in large quarters the aftermath of Gaza. He suggests that only the most shameless defenders can now apologize for it, shaking loose some of the progressive and liberal people who have paradoxically supported Israel up to now. As he notes in the forward, “This book is not just a lament; it also sets forth grounds for hope. The bloodletting in Gaza has roused the world’s conscience. The prospects have never been more propitious for galvanizing the public not just to mourn but to act. We have truth on our side, and we have justice on our side. These become mighty weapons once we have learned how to wield them effectively.”–Aaron Leonard

Read an excerpt of Norman Finkelstein’s This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences in the Gaza Invasion below. To purchase a copy of the book please visit OR Books. This book is not available from bookstores or other online retailers.

On 29 November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution dividing British-mandated Palestine into a Jewish state incorporating 56 percent of Palestine and an Arab state incorporating 44 percent of it. In the ensuing war the newly-born State of Israel expanded its borders to incorporate nearly 80 percent of Palestine. The only areas of Palestine not conquered comprised the West Bank, which the Kingdom of Jordan subsequently annexed, and the Gaza Strip, which came under Egypt’s administrative control. Approximately 250,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes during the 1948 war and its aftermath fled to Gaza and overwhelmed the indigenous population of some 80,000.

Today 80 percent of Gaza’s inhabitants consist of refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants and more than half of the population is under 18 years of age. Its current 1.5 million inhabitants are squeezed into a sliver of land 25 miles long and five miles wide making Gaza among the most densely populated places in the world. The panhandle of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza is bordered by Israel on the north and east, Egypt on the south, and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. In the course of its four decade long occupation beginning in June 1967, and prior to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s redeployment of Israeli troops from inside Gaza to its perimeter in 2005, Israel had imposed on Gaza a uniquely exploitive regime of “de-development” that, in the words of Harvard political economist Sara Roy, deprived “the native population of its most important economic resources — land, water, and labor — as well as the internal capacity and potential for developing those resources.”

The road to modern Gaza’s desperate plight is paved with many previous atrocities, most long-forgotten or never known outside Palestine. After the cessation of battlefield hostilities in 1949 Egypt kept a tight rein on the activity of Fedayeen (Palestinian guerrillas) in Gaza until February 1955 when Israel launched a bloody cross-border raid into Gaza killing 40 Egyptians. Israeli leaders had plotted to lure Egypt into war in order to topple President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Gaza raid proved the perfect provocation as armed border clashes escalated. In October 1956 Israel (in collusion with Great Britain and France) invaded the Egyptian Sinai and occupied Gaza, which it had long coveted. The prominent Israeli historian Benny Morris described what happened next:

[M]any Fedayeen and an estimated 4,000 Egyptian and Palestinian regulars were trapped in the Strip, identified, and rounded up by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], GSS [General Security Service], and police. Dozens of these Fedayeen appear to have been summarily executed, without trial. Some were probably killed during two massacres by the IDF troops soon after the occupation of the Strip. On 3 November, the day Khan Yunis was conquered, IDF troops shot dead hundreds of Palestinian refugees and local inhabitants in the town. One U.N. report speaks of “some 135 local residents” and “140 refugees” killed as IDF troops moved through the town and its refugee camp “searching for people in possession of arms.”

In Rafah, which fell to the IDF on 1-2 November, Israeli troops killed between forty-eight and one hundred refugees and several local residents, and wounded another sixty-one during a massive screening operation on 12 November, in which they sought to identify former Egyptian and Palestinian soldiers and Fedayeen hiding among the local population….

Another sixty-six Palestinians, probably Fedayeen, were executed in a number of other incidents during screening operations in the Gaza Strip between 2 and 20 November….

The United Nations estimated that, all told, Israeli troops killed between 447 and 550 Arab civilians in the first three weeks of the occupation of the Strip.

In March 1957 Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza after U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower applied heavy diplomatic pressure and threatened economic sanctions.

Current conditions in Gaza result directly from the events of 1967. In the course of the June 1967 war Israel reoccupied the Gaza Strip (along with the West Bank) and has remained the occupying power ever since. Morris reported that “the overwhelming majority of West Bank and Gaza Arabs from the first hated the occupation”; that “Israel intended to stay…and its rule would not be overthrown or ended through civil disobedience and civil resistance, which were easily crushed. The only real option was armed struggle”; that “Like all occupations, Israel’s was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation”; and that the occupation “was always a brutal and mortifying experience for the occupied.”

From the start Palestinians have fought back against the Israeli occupation. Gazans have put up particularly stiff unarmed and armed resistance, while Israeli repression has proven equally unremitting.

Aaron Leonard

Aaron Leonard

Aaron Leonard is a writer and journalist. His book, Heavy Radicals – The FBI’s Secret War Against America’s Maoists: The Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party 1968-1980,...