Professor Norman Finkelstein, accused Israeli of perpetrating war crimes in the Gaza strip through the ongoing siege and January war. His accusation came within an International Conference titled, "UNRWA and Future of Palestinian Refugees", organized in London. Finkelstein started his speech by placing it in context with the one year commemoration of the siege on Gaza. The causes and effects of this siege are now coming to light, both in the Goldstone Report and in the recent arrest warrant issued by the UK for Tzipi Livni, who stated that she was "proud of everything she had done in Gaza".
Briefly assessing the history to the siege, Finkelstein noted that the ceasefire that was agreed between Israel and Hamas June 2008 was broken by Israel, not Hamas: whilst Hamas stopped its rocket attacks, Israel did not lift its illegal blockade on Gaza and launched a night raid on Gaza, whilst the eyes of the worlds were watching 4th November 2008 US elections. 6 Hamas militants were killed, provoking Hamas to respond, which it did by resuming rocket attacks. Finkelstein emphasised that this is not violence so much as symbolic resistance.
He quoted one Palestinian who referred to the rocket attacks as "Modest home made rockets are a cry of protest to the world". In particular, Finkelstein commented that if we are going to condemn Hamas for these rocket attacks, we must suggest how else they should resist the pressure placed on them by persistent Israeli attacks, subjugation and persistent blockades that drain the small area of land. If we cannot provide an alternative, we cannot criticise.
Discussing the siege on Gaza in detail, Finkelstein emphasised the disproportionate nature of the Israeli attacks. The ratios of death and destruction are striking: 100 Palestinians were killed to 1 Israeli; 600 Palestinian civilians were killed to 1 Israeli; and 6000 Palestinian homes were destroyed to 1 Israeli home. On this basis, the siege cannot be called a war as a minimum condition of war is that there are at least two sides firing at each other. Israeli soldiers themselves have stated that Israel used ‘insane amounts of firepower'.
Israel's claims that the extent of devastation and death was due to Hamas using human shields and purposely positioning themselves in dense civilian areas has been undermined by reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Dugard Committee and the Goldstone Report which have found no evidence to support this claim.
The Goldstone Report stated that the siege was a "Deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population". As a self-confessed Zionist and a supporter of Israel, Finkelstein notes that we can only assume that Goldstone would have no interest in criticising Israel unnecessarily. We must assume therefore that what Goldstone has reported is an accurate reflection of abuse and apportionment of responsibility for what happened in Gaza. The Goldstone Report, which for this very reason has attracted such attention, has, for the first time, put the assessment of human rights abuses first in this conflict, rather than the attention being persistently focussed on the ‘peace process'. The truth about the ongoing human rights abuses committed by Israelis against Palestinians must be at the forefront of our minds as we move forward.