"[I]n a rational world the locution 'laws of war' would make as much sense as 'etiquette of cannibals.'" - Norman Finkelstein

too far book
Just over four years ago, in December of 2008, Israel invaded Gaza in an operation dubbed Operation Cast Lead, breaking the then-current ceasefire and killing 1400 Palestinians by the time all was said and done three weeks later. Most of the Palestinian dead were civilians, including 350 children; 13 Israelis died, 4 by friendly fire, including 3 civilians. That's a 100:1 ratio. The invasion, carried out by one of the most advanced militaries in the world against what was, by comparison, a defenseless 'enemy,' was overwhelmingly supported and defended by the Israeli populace.

Those are just the barest of facts included in Jewish-American activist and political scientist Norman Finkelstein's 2010 book 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. But even those facts were either disputed or spun by media pundits, government officials, and military personnel during and after the invasion, many going so far as to exonerate Israel of any wrongdoing whatsoever and fully defend its actions. Many justified the attacks because of the 'terror' under which Israelis were living from Hamas rocket attacks.

Keeping in mind the death statistics mentioned above, consider the fact that in any twenty-two-day period of 2008, an average of 148 Israelis died from diabetes. Even pneumonia killed more Israelis than died in the conflict: 60. (You can view the 2008 cause-of-death statistics for Israelis here.)

Finkelstein argues that the purpose of Operation Cast Lead (OCL) was both as a counter to the Palestinian 'peace offensive' and to re-establish Israel's 'deterrence capability', essentially a display of murderous 'strength' and ultraviolence, enough to instill fear into the hearts of Israel's 'enemies' and to deter the Palestinians from fighting back against the harsh oppression that hasn't let up for the last fifty-plus years, or from thinking they and other Arab states could get by simply without having to worry about Israeli interference in their affairs. As Ariel Sharon had put it, deterrence capability is "our [Israel's] main weapon - the fear of us" (p. 31). And as IDF Spokesperson Major Avital Leibowitz said, in reference to OCL: "It [should be] possible to destroy Gaza, so they will understand not to mess with us" (p. 35). Charming, huh?

If by 'mess with us,' Leibowitz meant 'work towards peace with us' (evidently war truly is peace, and vice versa, to Leibowitz and his ilk), he was right. In fact, Hamas was the one to push for a ceasefire in the first place (proposals which Israel had rejected for months before June 2008), enforce it, and accept a two-state settlement (a position previously taken by Arafat and the PLO). 'Peace offensive' indeed. Finkelstein writes: "In either case Israel needed to provoke Hamas into resuming its attacks, and then radicalize or destroy it, thereby eliminating it as a legitimate negotiating partner or as an obstacle to a settlement on Israel's terms" (p. 50). In December 2008, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that an extended truce with Hamas "harms the Israeli strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognizes the movement" (p. 51). Clearly, Israel does not want peace, at any cost.

Phrased differently, 'deterrence capability' makes more sense: as Duncan Kennedy put it, the casualties inflicted were "typical of a particular kind of 'police action' that Western colonial powers ... have historically undertaken to convince resisting native populations that unless they stop resisting they will suffer unbearable death and deprivation" (p. 81). In a word, it is nothing short of terrorism.

white phos
Israel rains down white phosphorus on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
Finkelstein proves conclusively in his book that Israel indeed used massive disproportionate force (by definition, a war crime), deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure (including 58,000 homes, 280 schools, 1,500 factories, 45 mosques, crops, livestock, water and sewage facilities) - a 'strategy of terror.' Total Palestinian economic losses came to some $3-3.5 billion. And despite claims to the contrary (strangely, even barring public statements like that of Leibowitz), this targeting was deliberate. Finkelstein quotes many of the soldiers themselves, with one saying, "they [IDF commanders] kept emphasizing that the object of the operation was to wreak destruction on the infrastructure" (p. 64). The American military pursued an identical strategy on the first night of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 when 800 cruise missiles rained down on Iraqi civilian infrastructure.

As for Palestinians civilian deaths, most were executed using long-range high-precision weapons. Civilians were targeted in their homes and bombed while they slept. Others, including women and children, were shot at short range (p. 91). And yet we have Israeli 'philosopher' (I use scare quotes because no true 'lover of wisdom' would stoop so low) Asa Kasher laud the "impeccable" values of the IDF, e.g., "protecting the human dignity of every human being, even the most vile terrorist" and the "uniquely Israeli value ... of the sanctity of human life" (p. 92). Excuse me while I throw up. If cold-blooded murder is how one honors human dignity and the sanctity of life, forgive me for pointing out the utterly psychopathic nature of 'Israeli values.'

Finkelstein's exposure of the true extent of the Israeli government and military's lies, hypocrisies and war crimes is staggering, and doesn't make for pleasant reading. Take the example of 'human shields.' Israel was (and is) vocal about Hamas using human shields, thus rationalizing Israel's killing of civilians - they are just 'in the way,' collateral damage, regrettable but unavoidable deaths. Hamas is at fault, for they are the cowards who cynically and heartlessly hide behind their own civilians so that their deaths can be exploited to the world, putting Israel in the position of looking like the bad guy when all it was trying to do was kill bad guys. What are they supposed to do, just let the terrorists get away?

Yet in all the human rights reports and investigations, there hasn't been any proof of this. (The same was found in the case of Lebanon and Hezbollah, with Israel telling the same lies.) In fact, just the opposite. It has been Israel that has used human shields, including children - time and again Palestinians are abducted and used as cover for IDF troops. It's that type of lie that crops up repeatedly - Israel accusing the Palestinians of the type of depravity of which they themselves are actually guilty; again, in typically psychopathic fashion.

Here's how it works - and if there's one takeaway lesson to be learned from this book, it's this: whatever the IDF says, you can be pretty sure it's the opposite of the truth - the equivalent of the pathocratic Nazi euphemism; 'shot while attempting to escape.' How many times have we heard that Hezbollah or Hamas fires on Israeli civilians in order to provoke 'retaliatory' strikes, for the purpose of inflaming other Arabs and the world at large? How many times have we been told that Palestinians put on fake displays of grief for the cameras (how can they feel grief when they are in fact unfeeling monsters?). But the thing is, it's almost always Israel that strikes first, after which retaliatory strikes are launched against Israel. It's like the bully who punches another kid, gets punched back, proceeds to beat the kid bloody, and then tells the teacher, "But Bobby hit me first! He's just crying to get attention and make me look bad, honest!" And it's the real bully of the Middle East - Israel - that proceeds to cry crocodile tears, wailing at their hardships and woeful fate at the hands their defenseless victim.

Again, to arrive at the truth, simply reverse everything the IDF says. Israel's very existence is threatened by Palestinian terror and yet it only seeks peace. Translation: Israel threatens the existence of Palestine with terror and peace with Palestinians is the real threat to Israel. Dehumanization and humiliation of Palestinians is not only the Israeli goal, but the reality on the ground. Israel would also have you believe that Hamas rejects Israel's right to exist, and this is a large stumbling block on the road to peace. Bullshit. There's a difference between denying Israel's right to exist and the fact of its existence. Hamas does deny its right to exist, but also fully acknowledges that its existence is a fait accompli, an "existing reality", and an "established fact" (p. 47). And they are still willing to work with Israel. It's Israel that denies Palestine's right to exist in a very practical and real way, and prevents that right from becoming an 'established fact.' And how can anyone reasonably acknowledge a 'Jewish state' when 25% of its population isn't Jewish?

Finkelstein proceeds to analyze and defend the infamous Goldstone report and its conclusion that OCL's "disproportionate destruction" and "maximum disruption in the lives of many people" was "a deliberate policy" (p. 132). The Obama administration toed the party line, apparently accepting Israel's talking point in Washington that the Report's recommendation to prosecute soldiers "should worry every country fighting terror" (p. 141). Revealing admission, no?

Another hypocrisy revealed by Finkelstein regards Goldstone, whom critics attacked for his judicial tenure under the apartheid regime in South Africa. Yet, Israel served as apartheid South Africa's "primary and most reliable arms supplier during a period of violent internal repression and external aggression," doing far more for apartheid than Goldstone.
During the peak of South Africa's repression Defense Minister Shimon Peres underscored that Israel's cooperation with the apartheid regime was "based not only on common interests, but also on the unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice," while Prim Minister Yitzhak Rabin toasted "the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence." (p. 149)
More to the point, when a delegation of South African leaders and ANC veterans visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in 2008, their conclusion was that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians was worse than apartheid. One member said "The daily indignity to which the Palestinian population is subjected far outstrips the apartheid regime."

One of the victims aboard the Mavi Marmara
Birds of a feather ... Based on the revelations in Finkelstein's book, I think we can agree that Israel and then-apartheid South Africa indeed share some common 'values' and views on 'injustice.'

The 2008/9 invasion deliberately exacerbated the already existing blockade on Gaza, which leads to Finkelstein's next event of focus: the illegal boarding of, and execution of civilians on, the Mavi Marmara.

Just as the Nazis "made moving pictures of such festive orgies to show the 'world' how well the Jews lived in the ghetto," Israel led similar propaganda efforts, circulating images of new and fancy malls, hotels, and restaurants in the Gaza Strip (in fact, pockets of prosperity fueled by black market activity) in an effort to downplay the humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade. Commenting on Palestine's right to armed resistance and the hypocrisy surrounding the issue, Finkelstein writes: "It is a curious conception of justice that would deny the victims the means to resist even as they support the legally mandated norms for achieving peace, but allow the perpetrators to replenish their arsenal of repression even as they reject these norms and ride roughshod over them" (p. 162).

Regarding the humanitarian workers aboard the Mavi Marmara, Finkelstein points out that, as passengers aboard an aid ship sailing in international waters, it was they who had the right to use force, and yet Israel again defended its soldiers' (who in fact botched their operation, how's that for PR?) right to 'defend themselves.' Only in Bizarro-Israel does the pirate, the thief, the aggressor, have the right to 'defend himself' against the self-defense of his victim, and to summarily execute said victim with no legal consequences. In Finkelstein's words:
Vilifying the passengers because their prime objective was to break the blockade, not deliver supplies ... was on par with vilifying protestors sitting in at segregated lunch counters in the South because their prime objective "was not really to get breakfast. It was to end segregation"; and for commandos to board a civilian vessel in international waters and then claim that they were attacked "without provocation" was on par with "a carjacker complaining to the police that the driver bashed him with a crowbar that was under the seat." (p. 179)
Finkelstein demonstrates that Israel planned for violence and thoroughly debunks the Turkel Commission Report on the massacre and the feeble attempts of patchwork propaganda to put the IDF commandos in a good light (keep in mind that several were disarmed by unarmed men, and their wounds treated). Just one of the Report's many absurdities concerns its analysis of casualties: it "cites the chilling testimony of Israeli commandos on every scratch they incurred, yet it includes not a single word on how, despite allegedly taking every possible precaution and exercising every conceivable restraint [Israel loves hyperbole], the commandos came to kill nine passengers, shooting nearly all of them multiple times ... It might finally be worth noting an odd paradox in the Report's central conclusion: the shaheeds plotted and armed themselves to kill Israelis but didn't even manage to kill those in their custody, whereas the Israelis took every precaution and exercised every restraint not to kill anyone but ended up killing nine persons" (pp. 228-29). Black is white and up is down in the mind of a psychopath.

This Time We Went Too Far is a treasure of facts, figures, and debunking of the endemic lies coming from media and government sources on the subject of Israel's conduct. It can be dry reading at times, and there are too many poll data info-dumps for my taste, but luckily Finkelstein inserts enough of his acerbic wit to keep things interesting. Just read the quotation that opens this article. He exposes Israel for the lying, psychopathic menace that it is; like a person with frontal lobe damage, Israel keeps trying the same tired course of action, with the same bungled results, blaming its blunders on 'operational errors' instead of the faults inherent in the very way it sees itself and the world. It utterly lacks the ability to see itself, and its hubris knows no bounds.

"War is not a means to an end, it is the end, whereas politics is merely the hiatus between wars." - Norman Finkelstein