Understanding the Israel/Palestine conflict and its history is not so complicated. The problem is that the conflict has been
shrouded in this kind of ideological mist. If we can sort of dispel the ideological clouds that are enveloping the conflict,
I think that we can probably reach most people on the justice of the struggle of the Palestinian people for their human
rights. And I think we probably could win…. One of the very striking things about the book that Alan Dershowitz claims to
have written is that if you go through his footnotesâ€”and a large part of the book is devoted to human rights questions, house
demolitions, tortureâ€”he never once cites any mainstream human rights organization as a source. Heâ€™s forced to cite Israel
Defense Force websites or things of that sort. But thatâ€™s very revealing. They have nothing to draw on anymore. They have no
cover for the crimes.
[Norman Finkelstein, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, is the author of four books: Image
and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, The Rise and Fall of Palestine, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen
Thesis and Historical Truth, and The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The
following remarks are from his presentation at a benefit for the International Solidarity Movement at Udi Aloni’s gallery in
New York City, on Saturday, 2003.10.04.]
Well thank you for having me and itâ€™s a humbling occasion. I have the deepest respect, and Iâ€™m not just saying that, I have
the deepest respect for the folks from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Iâ€™ve seen them in action and I wish Iâ€™d find before I
meet my maker the kind of courage that they display daily when theyâ€™re out there putting their lives on the line. Many of
them are quite young and I remember interviewing a few of them just after [ISM activist] Rachel Corrie was killed,
and one fellow in particular who was on his way to Oxford to study in their philosophy, economics, and politics program,
probably 21 years old I think. There was a lot of character there. It was a very impressive display and we all ought I think
to be humbled before those who have gone to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and who find the courage to do the right
thing under fire. So Iâ€™m very pleased to be here this evening.
I gave the sponsors as I walked in a choice of several things I could speak on and it was a choice between doing the history
of the Israel/Palestine conflict and talking about that hoodlum from Harvard, Alan Dershowitz [law professor and recent
author of The Case for Israel], and after a discussion with other people we decided to go through the history for those of
you who may be new to the topic.
Thereâ€™s no dispute at all about whatâ€™s going on
I was listening to Adam [Shapiro, founder of the ISM] and he said this was kind of a more mournful than celebratory occasion.
Thereâ€™s always grounds for mourning and thereâ€™s always grounds for sadness and for those of us whoâ€™ve been involved in the
conflict for, now in my case more than two decades, one doesnâ€™t see much progress registered and thatâ€™s of course grounds for
disappointment and sadness. But I think we shouldnâ€™t lose sight of the fact that there are also grounds for being
reasonablyâ€¦I donâ€™t want to use the word optimistic, but letâ€™s say reasonably hopeful about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
One of the things I think we can be reasonably hopeful about, and Iâ€™m not trying to be glib, one of the things I think we can
be reasonably hopeful about is that I donâ€™t think the conflict is all that complicated. The history is not so complicated and
actually there is pretty much a consensus among historians on most of the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict. There are
areas where there is dispute but on most of the history I think there is close to a consensus, and on the current situation
there really isnâ€™t that much dispute either among those who monitor what goes on there. So, for example, if you were to look
at the Human Rights Watch reports, the Amnesty International reports, the B’Tselemâ€”thatâ€™s the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights
in the Occupied Territoriesâ€”and they all put out mulitiple reports each year on the Israel/Palestine conflict. If you
look at the reports, they are remarkably similar in their analyses and their conclusions, so even in the current situation
there isnâ€™t that much dispute. In fact I would say in the current situation, say among human rights organizations, thereâ€™s no
dispute at all about whatâ€™s going on.
The history is not so complicated; understanding the current situation is not so complicated. The problem is that the
conflict has been shrouded in this kind of ideological mist and thatâ€™s what makes it complicated. If we can sort of dispel
the clouds, the ideological clouds that are enveloping the Israel/Palestine conflict, I think that we can probably reach most
people on the justice of the struggle of the Palestinian people for their human rights. And I think we probably could win.
So our job is basically to try to get the truth out, and thatâ€™s not a trivial fact because we do have on our side the truth.
And at the risk of sounding like, you know, a clichÃ©â€”but clichÃ©s are clichÃ©s because they are mostly true, so we shouldnâ€™t be
afraid of clichÃ©sâ€”at the risk of sounding like a clichÃ©, we do have on our side two very formidable weapons and we should
never, I think, trivialize the significance of that fact. We have truth on our side and we have justice on our side, and if
we could learn to use those weapons effectively I think we have grounds for being hopeful that we can win.
The other side to its account has power for sure and it has wealth for sure, and those are formidable weapons also. But in
the great scheme of things I do believe that, again I know it sounds clichÃ©-ish, but I think that truth and justice could
trump power and wealth if we learn how to do things the right way. And not wanting to anticipate my last remarks but just as
an anticipation of what Iâ€™ll say at he end: many people have been asking me, “How could Alan Dershowitz do something so
stupid? He is a Harvard law professor and you would think he wouldnâ€™t do something so clumsy.” And somebody actually e-mailed
me this morning and asked, “Why do you think he didnâ€™t use fact-checkers? He has the money and he could have checked the
facts before he put them in the book.” And I thought the obvious answer, which I sent to the correspondent, is that if he
actually used facts he wouldnâ€™t have a case. Thatâ€™s his problem. There are no facts to support their side. And thatâ€™s why
they have to fabricate facts and fabricate claims, because when you come down to the evidence there simply is no evidence for
the other side, or for the kinds of claims that the other side makes. That should, I think, give us some heart. We have the
facts on our side.
They have no cover for the crimes
We have the truth on our side, and we also have something else very important on our side and thatâ€™s a relatively recent
development. For those who go back, who have been involved in this since 1970s and 1980s, most of the human rights
organizationsâ€”Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Internationalâ€”they were very careful about offending Israeli sensibilities during
those years. And when we read their human rights reports they didnâ€™t want to talk about the issue of torture in Israel, even
though Israel had been using torture against Palestinian detainees from the 1970s on. They didnâ€™t want to touch the issue of
torture and most of itâ€”I know this sounds like a vulgar Marxist explanation, but sometimes vulgar explanations are also
accurateâ€”and the explanation basically was they were afraid. The organizations like Amnesty International were afraid of
losing money from liberal Jewish donors.
By 1990 things began to significantly change mostly for two reasons. First of all, because an Israeli Human Rights
organization was formedâ€”B’Tselemâ€”which was a mainstream organization. And they were the first ones, for example, to document
Israelâ€™s use of torture and ill treatment against Palestinian detainees. So once B’Tselem went on record, then the other
human rights organizations had their cover and they were able to more freely say what they wanted. The other thing was, by
1990 Israelâ€™s human rights violationsâ€”you have to keep in mind this was two years after the first Intifadaâ€”by 1990 it was no
longer possible to conceal what Israel was doing. The first human rights reports on torture, for example by B’Tselem, Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International, pointed out that virtually every Palestinian detainee either suffered torture or ill
treatment. Well, once it became so pervasive and so massive, it became impossible any longer for the human rights
organizations to turn a blind eye to or conceal.
The reason thatâ€™s important for us is there was a time when it was very difficult to find any kind of mainstream
corroboration of the claims being made about Israeli violations of human rights against the Palestinians. You had to rely on
people like Felicia Langerâ€”believe me I have the highest regard for her but she was a member of the Communist Partyâ€”there was
Lea Tsemel but she was a Trotskyist, there was Israel Shahak but they said he was a nut. There was really only a handful that
you could rely on. But nowadays thereâ€™s a vast number of resources out there. We donâ€™t even have to do that work any more. We
just go to the website and type in Human Rights Watch, type in Amnesty International, type in B’Tselem, and all the evidence
is there already.
One of the very striking things about the book that Alan Dershowitz claims to have written is heâ€™s a lawyer, heâ€™s from
Harvard, if you go through his footnotesâ€”and a large part of the book is devoted to human rights questions, house
demolitions, torture, and so forthâ€”if you go through his footnotes, itâ€™s very striking: he never once cites as a sourceâ€”for
the human rights situationâ€”he never once cites any mainstream human rights organization. Heâ€™s forced to cite Israel Defense
Force (IDF) websites or things of that sort. But thatâ€™s very revealing. They have nothing to draw on anymore. They have no
cover for the crimes.
Author: Norman Finkelstein
News Service: theExperiment