Transcribed by Scott Senn
"Assessing the Role of US Foreign Policy, Israeli Security, & Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" part 5
7 April 2009 Madison, WI
Well, let's go back to Kerry, and his expression of his views in his explanation, outlining of the positions of the Obama administration. He talks about the invasion of Gaza – different than Obama, who omitted it. But his position is the standard one, in fact universal position. He said that – . (Incidentally the invasion was of course in violation of international law, but also in violation of US law. US law very explicitly bars the use of US weapons for anything but strictly defensive purposes. And [we] can't even pretend that in this case, but that's kind of overlooked. We don't care about US law any more than about international law.) But he justified the invasion in the universally accepted terms: He said that (I'll quote him) "if terrorists in Quincy, Massachusetts, were launching rocket attacks into Boston…we'd have to put a stop to it, just as the Israelis were forced to respond" in Gaza. And, again, that's Obama's statement about "what I would do if my daughters were being attacked by missiles". And that's pretty near universal. You have to look pretty far to – There is debate about whether the Israeli attack was "disproportionate", but there's no debate about the fact that it was "necessary, justified, in self-defense".
Well, that's not only false, but it's transparently false. It's false in an unarguable fashion. The issue which is constantly evaded is not whether Israel had a right to defend itself. Sure, everyone has a right to defend themself. The issue was: did they have a right to defend themselves by force? That's a totally different question. Nobody, in Washington or anywhere else, accepts the principle that every state has the right to defend itself by force. So when, for example, Vladimir Putin invaded Chechnya, practically destroyed the place, he claimed correctly that it was a reaction to Chechen terror, which was pretty awful. But it wasn't praised here, or anywhere. In fact, it was bitterly condemned, because he had a way to resolve – to eliminate the terror without force: namely, withdraw from Chechnya. When the British army was in the United States in the 1770's, they had a right to defend themselves from the terror of George Washington's army, which was incidentally very real. But they didn't have a right to defend themselves by force, because there was a way to settle it without force: leave the country, you know. And you can give case after case. The question is: did Israel have a right to defend itself by force? Had they exhausted peaceful means? That's the crucial question. And the reason the issue is evaded is because the answer to that question is transparent: they had not even tried peaceful means, because they didn't want them. There are peaceful means, which are narrow, which would have sufficed: namely, to accept a ceasefire. Hamas repeatedly offered a ceasefire right up to the invasion. And in fact there had been a ceasefire in June 2008, one of many. And, like every other one, Israel didn't live up to it. So, in the ceasefire of June 2008, there was an agreement: Israel would put an end to siege, open the borders; and Hamas would put an end to rockets. Well, Hamas lived up to it. Israel did invade in November 2008, killed half a dozen Palestinians. But up until that invasion, the Israeli government concedes that there wasn't a single rocket. Okay, so [Hamas] lived up to it totally, while Israel didn't live up to it at all; it maintained the siege. A siege is an act of war, and a very brutal act of war in this case. Nevertheless, Hamas lived up to it. Well, after Israel broke the partial ceasefire – the unilateral ceasefire – again there were repeated offers of ceasefire and Israel rejected them; they went up to right before the invasion. So there was a very narrow way for Israel to put an end to rocket-firing if it cared about it.
But there's also a broader and more important way, which is similar to Putin in Chechnya and the British in the colonies: Israel could stop the criminal activities in the West Bank and in Gaza, for that matter. And that they are criminal activities is not in doubt, as I mentioned. So they could put an end to the criminal activities, and that presumably would put an end to the resistance to them. It's pretty hard to argue that people don't have a right to resistance to constant, ongoing, criminal attacks on them. So, okay, that's a broader way to defend themselves against rocket-fire.
The conclusion is that there was no justification whatsoever for Israel to invade Gaza. And the reasons are really not debatable; I mean, they are transparent. They are based on a principle that everyone accepts – and we not only accept but insist upon in the case of our enemies: namely, the use of force is not legitimate unless peaceful means have been exhausted. If they have, you can then debate whether the use of violence is legitimate. You need still [to face] a burden of proof. But you can't raise the question if peaceful means have been rejected. So the universal assent – near universal assent to the idea that Israel had a right to invade Gaza is just pure hypocrisy; it's just a reflection of the depth of imperial mentality.
Well, let's return to Kerry's thesis that now at last there's a "legitimate" Palestinian "partner for peace"; there wasn't one before, but he goes on to say, "Now there is one." And he gives a very interesting argument for that. The "legitimate partner for peace", he said, for the first time is now Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. Let's review a few facts about them and the rest of Palestine. In January 2006 there was an election – a free election – a lot observers ratified it as a free election – in fact the only one in the Arab world. It came out the wrong way: the United States and Israel didn't like the outcome of the election. And so therefore they reacted in a standard fashion by punishing the population for the crime of voting the wrong way in a free election, and punishing very harshly. The punishment was extreme: in the case of Israel, you know, assassinations and so on. But it also went even as far as cutting off the flow of clean water to the arid Gaza strip where sewage and everthing else has destroyed the aquifer; it's very hard to get any water. They cut off the water.
(to part 6)