Gaza: Israel’s war and the Goldstone Report (video)

[On May 2, 2011, the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University held a program on “Gaza: Israel’s War and the Goldstone Report.” The speakers included Norman Finkelstein, Peter Weiss, and Rashid Khalidi. Below are the opening remarks from moderator Bashir Abu-Manneh, followed by the video of the event.]

Bashir Abu Manneh

Welcome. Thank you all for coming.

We decided to hold this event today, just at the tip end of term, for two main reasons.

The first reason is Goldstone’s effective recantation of his UN fact-finding mission report about Israel’s war on Gaza in 2008-2009. Goldstone recently made the following statement: ‘If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document’.

This panel is dedicated to taking both the Goldstone Report and the Goldstone retraction very seriously. Our panelists will outline the main findings and recommendations of the Goldstone Report and ask if it is consistent with other human rights investigations and Israeli soldiers’ accounts that appeared since its publication. What do we know today about the Gaza War that we didn’t know before, and does it merit Goldstonian doubt and skepticism?

How we answer those questions matters tremendously. There are legal repercussions. Should we all now remove the specter of war crimes and ‘possibly crimes against humanity’ that haunts Israeli military and political leaders who executed a brutal war against a defenseless population in Gaza? The same population, it is worth remembering, which Israel has dispossessed and expelled for the last 63 years, occupied for the last 44, and intensively besieged for at least the last four years.

There are also political repercussions, relating to the public perception of Israel’s war. Should we now revert back to form and do what Simon Schama did two weeks ago when he wrote a glowing profile of Tzipi Livni for the Financial Times, never mentioning the Gaza War or Livni’s direct responsibility in helping design and defend it as Foreign Minister?

The Gaza War seems like a big issue to omit in a Livni profile. But then maybe we forget that Livni is an Israeli dove, and Israeli doves, it seems, have privileges. If Israeli hawks (or hardliners) are admired for their pluckiness, Israeli doves are simply loved. According to Schama, Livni (daughter of Irgun hawks responsible for blowing up the King David hotel in Jerusalem in 1946) is ‘merrily tough’. She is also ‘glamorously dangerous’, hard-at-work ‘breaking moulds’ and reaching out to Palestinians in her ‘revolutionary willingness to countenance the possibility of a shared Jerusalem’; and she is also a ‘great believer in the strength of principle’. The mind boggles.

Was it principle, one wonders, that led Livni to be in Israel’s Gaza Invasion government? The same government that spent its time delegitimizing and undermining Palestinian democracy, and punishing Palestinians for voting for Hamas? Was it principle that led Livni to contemplate a ‘stationary transfer’ of Palestinian citizens of Israel during her negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in so-called ‘land swaps’?

It may well have been. Just not a principle that Schama wants to recognize. In fact: a Colonial principle: of colonial dispossession and permanent occupation. This is why Livni and the Gaza War should be indelibly linked. Gaza 2008-2009 is in fact the true face of Livni: cruel towards the disempowered and weak. No glamour or shine here. Just Israeli elite rejection of real peace and justice, and an average colonial contempt for their victims.

Love it if you like. But don’t distort it.

If Goldstone is the first reason to talk about Gaza, Gaza itself is the second reason. We couldn’t at the Palestine Center complete our programming this year without at least beginning to understand the human situation in Gaza, the world’s most densely populated area where 1.5 million Palestinians live. The human injuries of massive impoverishment, collective punishment and blockade, and of living at the cusp of humanitarian disaster, are clear for all to see: All intended effects of Israeli policy. As Edward Said once put it, it’s the story of human lives reduced and shrunk. It’s the Palestinian story.

The moment will also come for us at CPS to discuss in more depth Hamas’s policies and tactics in Gaza, including their counter-productive forms of military resistance to closure and siege (like the home-made rockets shot at Israel), Hamas’ internally repressive measures (like curtailing free organizing and public demonstrating), and also some of the positive dimensions of their policies, such as ending lawlessness and security chaos in the Strip.

Our programming will not dodge self-questioning or self-critique. And that goes for the West Bank as well (to name another relevant area of focus), where PA security coordination with the Israeli occupation and PA collusion with the US against Palestinian democratic choice is blatant and rife.

Our panel today will initiate some of these conversations by focusing on Israel’s invasion of Gaza and by explaining the Goldstone moment.

We have 3 panelists, and it gives me great pleasure to introduce them.

Our first speaker is Norman Finkelstein, and his talk will focus on what actually happened during Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Norman Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University, and has taught political theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict for many years. He is currently an independent scholar, and author of six books which have been translated into more than 40 foreign editions: Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press, 2005; expanded paperback edition, 2008); The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering (Verso, 2000; expanded paperback edition, 2003); Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso, 1995; expanded paperback edition, 2003); A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen thesis and historical truth (with Ruth Bettina Birn) (Henry Holt, 1998); The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A personal account of the intifada years (University of Minnesota, 1996); and most recently, This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and consequences of the Gaza invasion (OR Books, 2010; expanded edition 2011).

Our second speaker is Peter Weiss, and he will examine the main findings and recommendations of the Goldstone Report and the significance of Goldstone’s recantation. Peter Weiss is Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and an advisor to the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He played major roles in the 1980 case which established the right of foreign victims to sue their torturers in the United States and the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice declaring the threat and use of nuclear weapons to be illegal. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Institute for Policy Studies, President of the American Committee on Africa, and a trustee of St. John’s College.

Our third and last speaker is Rashid Khalidi, who will focus on the broader implications of the Gaza war. Rashid Khalidi is co-director of the Palestine Center, and is Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies at Columbia. He is author of hundreds of articles and numerous books on Palestinian and Arab history, including: Sowing Crisis: American Dominance and the Cold War in the Middle East (2009); The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006); and Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1996).


Goldstone Report and Israel’s Gaza Attack
Part I: Norman Finkelstein, Peter Weiss

Goldstone Report and Israel’s Gaza Attack
Part II: Rashid Khalidi, and event Q & A

This event was organized by Columbia University’s
Center for Palestine Studies



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