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Gaza Ceasefire: After 1,800+ Dead, What Led Israel to Stop the Assault — and What Comes Next?

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After a nearly month-long assault that left at least 1,865 Palestinians dead, Israel has pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip under the 72-hour ceasefire that went into effect earlier today. Israeli and Palestinian factions have agreed to attend talks in Cairo on a longer-term agreement. Gaza officials say the vast majority of Palestinian victims were civilians in the Israeli offensive that began on July 8. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed. Palestinians are returning to homes and neighborhoods that have seen a massive amount of destruction. Nearly a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents were displaced during the fighting which destroyed more than 3,000 homes. The ceasefire was reached after international outrage over Palestinian civilian deaths peaked, with even Israel’s chief backer, the United States, criticizing recent Israeli shelling of United Nations shelters that killed scores of displaced Palestinians. To discuss the lead-up to the ceasefire and what to expect from the talks in Cairo, we are joined by author and scholar Norman Finkelstein.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Israel has pulled its ground forces from the Gaza Strip as a 72-hour ceasefire takes hold. In addition, Israeli and Palestinian factions have agreed to attend talks in Cairo on a longer-term agreement. Gaza officials say at least 1,865 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died during Israel’s offensive, which began on July 8th. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed. Nearly a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million resident were displaced during the assault, which destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

Earlier today, the Israeli military sent out a message reading, quote: “Mission accomplished: We have destroyed Hamas’ tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel. All of Israel is now safer.” Palestinians coming home to their neighborhoods report massive amounts of destruction.

GAZA RESIDENT: [translated] I am destroyed. I’m shocked. I have heart problems, and then I saw our house. We were all shocked. We don’t know what to do. Look at our houses and our children. Everything is destroyed, four apartments. All my children are stranded in the schools. Where are we supposed to go?

AMY GOODMAN: In other developments, a prominent Foreign Office minister in Britain, Sayeeda Warsi, has resigned, saying Britain’s policy on the crisis in Gaza is, quote, “morally indefensible.” In an interview with The Huffington Post, Warsi criticized Britain for pressuring Palestinian leadership not to seek justice at the International Criminal Court. On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to seek ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed on and from Palestinian territory. The group detailed multiple examples of Israeli soldiers shooting and killing fleeing civilians in Gaza.

To talk more about Gaza, we’re joined now by Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar. His most recent books, Old Wine, Broken Bottle: Ari Shavit’s Promised Land and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

So, Norm, the ceasefire has been announced. It’s holding, well, just hours into it. And there is, if it holds, going to be negotiations taking place. Talk about what has happened.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, the first thing is to have clarity about why there is a ceasefire. The last time I was on the program, I mentioned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, he basically operates under two constraints: the international constraint—namely, there are limits to the kinds of death and destruction he can inflict on Gaza—and then there’s the domestic constraint, which is Israeli society doesn’t tolerate a large number of combatant deaths.

He launched the ground invasion for reasons which—no point in going into now—and inflicted massive death and destruction on Gaza, where the main enabler was, of course, President Obama. Each day he came out, he or one of his spokespersons, and said, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Each time he said that, it was the green light to Israel that it can continue with its terror bombing of Gaza. That went on for day after day after day, schools, mosques, hospitals targeted. But then you reached a limit. The limit was when Israel started to target the U.N. shelters—targeted one shelter, there was outrage; targeted a second shelter, there was outrage. And now the pressure began to build up in the United Nations. This is a United Nations—these are U.N. shelters. And the pressure began to build up. It reached a boiling point with the third shelter. And then Ban Ki-moon, the comatose secretary-general of the United Nations and a U.S. puppet, even he was finally forced to say something, saying these are criminal acts. Obama was now cornered. He was looking ridiculous in the world. It was a scandal. Even the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was now calling it a criminal act. So finally Obama, the State Department said “unacceptable,” “deplorable.” And frankly, it’s exactly what happened in 1999 in Timor: The limits had been reached, Clinton said to the Indonesian army, “Time to end the massacre.” And exactly happened now: Obama signaled to Netanyahu the terror bombing has to stop. So, Obama—excuse me, Netanyahu had reached the limit of international tolerance, which basically means the United States.

And then there was the domestic issue. Israel had launched a ground invasion ostensibly to stop the so-called rocket attacks, but then it turned into something different: the tunnels. Now, the tunnels had nothing to do with Israel. That’s totally ridiculous. Israel claims there were 12 tunnels that had passed through its border. There were many more tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. The first thing Sisi did when he came into power in Egypt was seal the tunnels. Did he have to destroy all of Gaza to seal the tunnels? Israel couldn’t have done the same thing—seal the tunnels on its side of the border, exactly what Sisi did in Egypt? What did the Hamas have? It had spoons. It had shovels. You’re telling me that Israel didn’t have the earth-moving equipment to build a wall that went deeper than the tunnels? It had nothing to do with the tunnels entering Israel.

The problem was, the tunnels in Gaza, it turned out, they had created a fairly sophisticated network of tunnels, incidentally—I know we’re not allowed to make these comparisons—not unlike the bunkers that were built in the Warsaw Ghetto—primitive, but effective—and the Hamas fighters were able to come out of the tunnels, and they inflicted a significant number of casualties on Israel. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008, '09, 10 Israeli combatants were killed, of which four were from friendly fire. This time it was about 65. Now, during the Lebanon War in 2006, about 120 Israeli combatants were killed, but that was against the Hezbollah, which is a formidable guerrilla army. So, half and more were killed in Gaza this time. So, Israel's aim was not to destroy the tunnels going into Israel. That’s ridiculous. What they wanted to do was destroy the tunnel system inside Gaza, because now an effective—not very effective, but effective—guerrilla force had been created. And Israel, every few years, has to—or less than few years, has to mow the lawn in Gaza. And so, they wanted to make sure the next time they mow the lawn—

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you say “mow the lawn”?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, that’s the Israeli expression. You go in, and you kill a thousand people, destroy everything in sight, and Israel calls that “mowing the lawn.” So every few years they have to go into Gaza and mow the lawn. They want to make sure next time they mow the lawn—because if you read the Israeli commentators, who are really a sick bunch of people, all of them are talking now about the next war. Every single commentator is talking about the next war. This one isn’t even over yet. But they want to make sure the next time they go in, there won’t be tunnels. So that was the real aim of the mission.

The problem was, they had reached a certain point in Gaza, and now, if they went further, they would have to enter what are called the built-up areas. And those are very densely populated. Remember, Gaza is six times as densely populated as Manhattan. So if they went into the densely populated areas, we would be talking about thousands and thousands of casualties. And Netanyahu knew the international community wouldn’t accept it, because when Israel goes into a place, it doesn’t want combatant casualties, so it blasts everything in sight. You go into densely populated areas and you blast everything in sight, well, then you’re talking about thousands and thousands of casualties.

The other problem was, these tunnels were actually not vulnerable to aerial bombing and artillery shells. So even if they destroyed everything in sight, the tunnels are still there, Hamas comes out, and significant Israeli casualties. So Netanyahu realized ground invasion is over. There’s no further they can go, because of the domestic Israeli constraint: They don’t tolerate combatant casualties. The international constraint kicked in when Obama said, “It’s over, folks. Have to stop. Killed too many U.N. people this time.” And then the ceasefire was signed.

AARON MATÉ: So now we have these talks. The call for Israel is for Hamas to disarm. Hamas’s goal has been for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza. And, of course, they’re being held in Egypt. What do you expect to play out in these talks?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen. And as a matter of fact, already in mid-July I posted something on my website predicting what would happen, exactly what did happen. What’s going to happen now is, for domestic reasons, Netanyahu has to end the projectile attacks on Israel. Hamas says it won’t stop firing its projectiles, quote-unquote, “rockets,” until and unless Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza. So what’s going to happen—and it’s exactly what I said, as I said, three weeks ago—what’s going to happen is they’re going to bring in the Palestinian Authority to control the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, lift the blockade partially because of that crossing; then, on the Israeli side, they’re already talking about huge amounts of international donor aid to rebuild Gaza. It’s really a kind of weird conflict. I mean, there are so many weirdnesses about this conflict. Israel blows everything up. Nobody even talks about Israel paying reparations. It’s just taken as a matter of fact that the international community rebuilds after Israel destroys. It’s just a schnorrer state, “schnorrer” being the Yiddish for a sponger. We destroy, they pay. Nobody even discusses the possibility maybe Israel should pay reparations for its death and destruction in Gaza. In any case—

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Israel would say it was the thousands of Hamas rockets that were shot into Israel that they now feel that they have succeeded in preventing.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Look, there were no Hamas rockets fired into Israel. There were Hamas primitive projectiles fired into Israel. Anybody with a moment’s common sense knows it was impossible—and it’s already been documented by people like Mark Perry. Everyone with a moment’s common sense knows they couldn’t have been firing, quote-unquote, “rockets” into Israel, for an obvious reason. After July 2013 there was a coup in Egypt. The tunnels were sealed after 2013. On the Israeli side, there was a blockade. What could get into Gaza? No military equipment can get into Gaza. No ammunition can get into Gaza. They were firing—as somebody put it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, they had a guidance system, what they were firing, said it was the equivalent of upgraded fireworks. Now, OK, you could say upgraded—it had no guidance system, but you could say, well, they had a payload, an explosive payload on the fireworks. Where is the evidence for it? Now, I—

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we’re going to talk with physicist Ted Postol about the Iron Dome system and the rockets.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, look, I have a high regard for Theodore Postol. However, I don’t accept part of his analysis, because he says that what protected Israel from the Hamas projectiles was not Iron Dome, but, he says, a sophisticated bunker—a sophisticated shelter system and a warning system. But that doesn’t explain another fact: Then why hasn’t there been significant damage to civilian infrastructure? How many schools were destroyed by these rockets? How many hospitals were destroyed? How many government buildings? That can’t be explained by the civilian shelter system.

AMY GOODMAN: Norm Finkelstein, do you think the ceasefire will hold? Do you think talks will take place?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, because at this point, basically what’s going to happen is it’s over. Obama said it’s over. The ground invasion had reached its limit. And now Netanyahu has the problem that he has to end the rocket—the projectile attacks on Israel. And the only way he can do that is he’s going to have to agree to some lifting of the blockade. So, at this point there’s nothing left that Netanyahu can do. He inflicted the death, the destruction—he mowed the lawn. And now what’s probably going to happen is they’re going to bring in the Palestinian Authority, there will be rebuilding of Gaza, they’ll attempt to disarm Hamas. And I think the finale, the last stage, the coup de grâce, is going to be that Kerry is going to dust off his peace initiative—namely, imposing on the Palestinians a surrender. With Hamas now neutered, Hamas disarmed, they’ll try to impose the Kerry peace initiative on the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority will happily agree. And then there will be, again, a September 1993, a big peace agreement signed, and all the people will celebrate peace.

AARON MATÉ: But someone could say, “Well, that’s great. The blockade’s lifted, so people in Gaza stop suffering. We have peace, and the rocket attacks from Gaza are over.”

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, except for one thing: You didn’t have to kill 1,800 people. You didn’t have to level Gaza and reduce it to rubble to lift the blockade. The blockade is illegal. It’s immoral. Why did you have to wait ’til after to do what was demanded under international law before?

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Norm Finkelstein, I want to thank you for being with us, author and scholar. His most books, Old Wine, Broken Bottle: Ari Shavit’s Promised Land and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, physicist Ted Postol on the Iron Dome. President Obama has just signed off on a bill giving an additional $225 million in emergency funding for Israel to expand its arsenal of interceptor missiles. Stay with us.

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