Norman Finkelstein Debates Former Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami

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"NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, on the issue of terrorism, I agree with Dr. Ben-Ami's definition. It's the indiscriminate targeting of civilians to achieve political ends. That's a capsule definition, but I think for our purposes it suffices. What does the record show? Let's limit ourselves to just the Second Intifada, from September 28 to the present. The period for that period, the record shows approximately 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, approximately 900 Israelis have been killed. On the Palestinian side and the Israeli side — I'm now using the figures of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories — on the Palestinian and the Israeli side roughly one-half to two-thirds of the total number were civilians or bystanders. And if you look at the findings of the human rights supports — B'Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, and so forth — they all say that Israel uses reckless indiscriminate fire against Palestinians, and B'Tselem says when you have so many civilian casualties, you have, you know, 600 Palestinian children who have been killed, which is the total number of Israeli civilians killed. 600 Palestinian children killed.

They said when you have so much, so many civilians killed — I don't particularly like the phrase "collateral damage" — when you have so many civilians killed, B'Tselem says it hardly makes a difference whether you are purposely targeting them or not, the state has responsibility. So, you could say Israel — using numbers, now — is responsible for three times as much terrorism in the Occupied Territories as Palestinians against Israel. That's the question of terrorism.

Let's turn to an ancillary issue: the issue of torture. Now, the estimates are, up to 1994-1995, that Israel tortured — and I'm using the language of Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem — Israel has tortured tens of thousands of Palestinian detainees. Israel was the only country in the world, the only one, which had legalized torture from 1987 to 1999. The record on torture, on house demolitions and on targeted —

SHLOMO BEN-AMI: 1999 is when we came to office.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I wish that were — I wish that were the saving grace, but . . .

the fact of the matter is, being faithful to historical record, the record of Labour has been much worse on human rights violations than the record of Likud. It's a fact that the only Israeli government during the period from 1967 to the present which temporarily suspended torture was Begin from 1979 to 1981. On the record of house demolitions, Mr. Rabin used to boast that he had demolished many more homes than any Likud government. Even on the record of settlements, as Dr. Ben-Ami well knows, the record of Rabin was worse in terms of settlement expansion than the record of Yitzhak Shamir, and a fact he leaves out in the book, the record of Barak on housing startups in the Occupied Territories — "

AMY GOODMAN: Building more houses?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah — was worse than the record of Netanyahu. It's a paradox for, I'm sure, American listeners, but the record on human rights, an abysmal record in general, an abysmal record in general, and in particular, the worst record is the record of Labour, not Likud.


SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, he's — Dr. Finkelstein already said what needs to be said about the end of the practices or the legal status of tortures in 1999. . . ."

Entire debate here

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Jack said:

A long, rambling debate. What's the point?

Israel is the front line, so this discussion is important. Sometimes it is a little exasperating, though.

The Palestinians STARTED the intifada; they are the ones whose ideology allows for killing civilians. Israel has bent over backwards to try and solve the problem through concessions and the Palestinians continue to say "no dice."

I am far from an expert but the impression I have is Israel is playing by the rules of Western Civilization and the Palestinians play by the rules of no civilization at all.

Interesting that Labour has a spottier record than Likud on "human rights."

You have to admire the Israelis, after all they've been through, that human rights is still even a consideration.

zimzo said:

Gee, Joe maybe the Palestinians have a few grievances, too. And your idea that you should throw out human rights if you've been through too much, kinda sounds like what the U.S. is doing now so I guess you do have to admire the Israelis since they have been through a lot more than we have. But I guess we're just wimps.

Lovely, Zimzo, just lovely. The Palestinian grievances entitle them to massacre civilians. Give me a break. The Palestinians could have a secure country right now if they were not inundated with sick ideology.

And I thought you were a liberal! What gives? Let's try a thought-experiment: Imagine you have the opportunity to relocate to either Tel Aviv or Gaza. Which would you choose? I'm guessing Tel Aviv would be much more similar to a U.S. city.

So why don't you support the people who have managed to establish a tiny reflection of the West in the hellhole that is the Middle East?

For god's sake, if you have a shred of honesty you have to admit Israel is a bastion of civilization in one of the most uncivilized places on Earth.

zimzo said:

I see so every Palestinian is responsible for the massacre of Israeli citizens by terrorists. And because they are all responsible for the terrorist acts of some Palestinians I guess they're not entitled to any rights. But then following that logic I suppose every Israeli would be responsible for the Israelis who killed innocent Palestinians and all Americans are responsible for all of the bad things George Bush does. Which I guess is why our rights are being taken away. Because we don't deserve them. Brilliant understanding of the Middle East problem Joe!

Zimzo, that is not a bad point. I'll admit I do not have a huge amount of sympathy for the Palestinian people simply because their political reps are such murderous a-holes. But the celebrations on the Palestinian street on 9-11-01 also make me think the Palestinian people are suspect.

Maybe it's ok to dislike the Palestinians since they dislike us.

Not that I dislike them as a whole. I'm sure there is a solid constituency who think Yassar Arafat had robbed them blind and advocated needlessly for continual war against Israel.

But the Palestinians sure seem to be the bad guys in this conflict. If you want to argue otherwise be my guest. But the logic of your argument is not making a lot of sense so far.

Jack said:

The Palestinians elected those "murderous a-holes" to represent them.

Did you, Zimzo, do everything you legally could to prevent W's re-election? If not, you are partially responsible for his victory and subsequent actions.

zimzo said:

This, of course, is the same argument the terrorists use, that no innocent lives were lost on 9/11 because all Americans were collectively guilty of things that were done by the American government. Reducing the world into "good guys" and "bad guys" may help you not tax your brain too much but its not a particularly intelligent basis for a foreign policy.

I guess if Americans were dancing and passing out candy in the streets every time the Israeli military killed some Palestinian civilians your parallel argument would work.

zimzo said:

Americans don't need to dance in the streets. They have right-wing talk radio.

Jack said:

...and left-wing TV and newspapers.

Right wing talk radio? Who told you about that? That was supposed to be a secret.

Now we have to find somewhere else to celebrate Palestinian hardships.

Jack said:

Party at Zimzo's house!!

Kevin said:

One thing I will say here is that I'm not sure Joe and Jack actually read the whole thing. It is long, I could hardly blame one.

You should look into differing points of view on the subject and do a little perspective taking. Blowing people up on buses and in marketplaces is deplorable behavior. So are a lot of things you don't hear about on the other side unless you make a concerted effort to learn about the issue and about why the Palestinians are so angry and upset. Do you seriously think it's just because they are hot-headed, irrational people who are acting on a thrill to reach paradise? Or do you think there might be rational reasons they might be pissed off?

By the way, now that the current administration is pushing to redefine ONE WORD do you think our adversaries will see us any less antagonistically than they already do? Do not legalize torture, it's unamerican. And certainly not Christ-like.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

"Maybe it's ok to dislike the Palestinians since they dislike us."

this is true wisdom, and the path to a brighter future for all mankind

but seriously, Joe, your comment on, "where would you rather go, Gaza or Tel Aviv? Tel Aviv of course!" might be a clue in understanding the Palestinian point of view.

I think this has gone on so long that there's no "Good Side" and "Bad Side" Both sides have plenty of fodder for framing the other as a bunch of savage animals if they want to.

but look at this map:

sorry, it's a french map. ;) but I think you can interpret it. The green is Palestinian land, everything else is Israeli-controlled. It's a joke! On the other hand, when Israel gives them more land, that's more staging ground for the more extreme elements of the Palestinian population. so it's a complete stalemate, and the longer it continues, the more people sympathize with the more extreme points of view (on both sides), the more impossible it becomes to reach a solution.

on another note, it's un-Americans to put security above freedom.

Jack said:

Hezbolla and Hamas want Israel destroyed. The PLO was offered a homeland, and the offer was rejected.

Maybe they do have reason to be angry, but that does not justify terrorist attacks. Guerilla warfare is acceptable. Terrorism is not.

Two questions: What would Hamas and Hezbolla do if Israel disarmed? What would Israel do if Hezbolla and Hamas disarmed?

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

Hamas and Hezbolla are hungry for power and influence, and they're exploiting the situation of the Palestinian population to those ends. So Israel cannot disarm because these groups would probably compete against each other to get the props for being the ones who defeated the evil Israel.

It seems like these groups have created a nice little catch-22 for themselves. If Israel backs off, they gain influence by claiming victory over Israel, if Israel clamps down, they say, "join us in resisting the great satan" or whatever rhetoric.

There's also the problem that a lot of israelis are Europeans who moved there. No wonder Tel Aviv is so western-like; most Israelis are westerners. So it isn't hard to see why the indigenous population sees them as occupiers, and the extreme factions within the palestinians are able to rally the troops with talk of a modern day crusade.

There's also some weirdness with Israel having to be a Jewish state. This is kind of a unique situation in the world, and even though Israel is democratic, it's forced to sort of customize the constituency. A one-state solution wouldn't be a problem if an arab majority was acceptable to Israel.

So what can the solution be? Personally, I think the solution is economic. Someone needs to come up with a plan to make these two states economically dependant on each other. I don't know how. I also think it's important for the Palestinian state to be a continuous state (as opposed to the swiss cheese plan from the map in my previous post), otherwise they're always going to feel, and indeed BE, subordinate to Israel, and that's no way to foster peace and reconciliation

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

oh, if Hamas and Hezbollah disarmed, Israel would implement a 2-state plan based on the "swiss cheese map" Before long, the Palestinians would begin to recognize that they had the short end of the bargain, and we'd have another Intifada, followed by another Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, etc. etc. etc.

In biblical times, the Israelis would have slaughtered every last palestinian (in the name of God, of course) and that would be that. I don't think that's going to fly anymore...

...but here's a purely hypothetical question, based on your support for the Iraq war on the grounds that it will ultimatly save lives: what we knew for sure that the path to saving the most lives and restoring peace to a volatile region involved dismantling Israel, and the only outcome of Israel's continued existence was the endless cycle of violence and extremism that we have now. What path would you take?

Stay Puft, excellent points. Up to the last one. And it's a good point, I'll grant you.

After 9-11 someone suggested moving Israel to Baja California - if they could make something out of that arid section of the Levant they could probably turn Baja into a verdant paradise.

But in reality, Israel is what it is, and it's not going anywhere.

If we're going to engage in hypotheticals, let's think about what might be happening now if "Palestine" was still just Palestine. I submit the Middle East would still be a mess. Al Qaida did not mention the "Palestinians" until weeks after 9-11. The West would still be a huge problem for Islam, and vice versa.

Jack said:


We took out Hussein because he threatened us and our allies. Israel does not.

Jacob Ash said:

The statement "There's also some weirdness with Israel having to be a Jewish state", is akin to asking, "Must Japan be Japanese? What else should it be? The Jews were kicked out of their homeland by the Romans long ago and returned in the last century. Most of the land was either paid for (pre-1948), or won outright when the Arabs declared war in 1948 and attacked. Any other country that would be attacked by ALL its neighbors and beating them off would be celebrated.

The concept of "Palestinian Arabs" did not exist until the 1948 war, and most would have become part of the Syria, Jordan etc, but ALL of these states cynically did not allow them to apply for citizenship and kept them in camps for years. It is from this practise, coupled with some Russian funding and training, that the PLO was born. And the world has been soo much better for it.

So yes, Israel needs to be Jewish because it has a natural right to be, just as Switzerland has the right to be Swiss. The fact that the current Arab culture is rascist, bigoted and homicidal, only gives the Israelis even more cause to maintain a majority in their own country.

-JA the returning con

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

OK, I said it makes things weird, not that it should be different. Just because you can't remove the wrench from the gears doesn't change the fact that there is a wench in the gears.

I don't think Israel should be dismantled (I said nothing about Israel posing a threat to us), but you must admit that Israel's existence is the source of a lot of conflict in the region. You can't expect 6 million Palestinians to just roll over and play dead for the Israelis. Every time some radical spouts off about the West, Israel is included in that.

The idea that Jews were expelled by the Romans is kind of a contentious issue. Loads of them left the area at that time, but it's unclear that they were expelled. They were indeed exiled by the Babylonians, and also when 'they' were enslaved by Egypt. The trouble is, and the archaeological record shows this conclusively, every time the people were exiled, some of them stayed behind. Under the Babylonian exile, the big wigs in all the towns and cities were banished, but a lot of the common folk stayed behind. And every time the population in exile, or its descendants, returns to the land, there is conflict between them and the ones who stayed behind. My guess is that if this cycle continues as it has for the last 5 or 6 thousand years, at some point in the future, Palestinians living in exile will return to the land and claim it as theirs based on tradition and legend.

Jack said:


What are you doing with that wench, anyway?

Yes, Israel existence is a bone lodged in the gullet of the Palestinians. As far as I can tell, based on the words of their leaders, they will not be happy until Israel is destroyed. That is not a good starting point for negotiations.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man said:

well, leaders talk rhetorically, it's just what they do (ie. "they hate our freedom") the problem is that a lot of people feel like the Israeli's, with the aid of "the west" stole their land and put them in fenced-in camps with curfews and periodic raids with bulldozers and whatnot. It's not the sort of anger that just goes away in a day or a month.

Maybe they need something like the peace and reconciliation thing in South Africa. They need a Mandela or a Gandhi or something, I don't know...

The Second Coming might help. Or one of those workshops where you fall backward and trust the other person to catch you, traverse a rope bridge and go on scavenger hunts together.

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