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It Is Time to Indict Israel: Norman Finkelstein on Growing Push for ICC to File War Crimes Charges

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Israeli forces have killed 183 Palestinians since weekly Great March of Return demonstrations began in Gaza nearly a year ago targeting Israel’s heavily militarized separation barrier. That’s according to a new United Nations inquiry that found Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting unarmed children, journalists and the disabled in Gaza. The report was released by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday. We speak with Norman Finkelstein, scholar and author of “Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom,” and Sara Hossain, a member of the U.N. independent commission that led the Gaza investigation.

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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the acting Israeli foreign minister, Yisrael Katz, responding to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s report.

YISRAEL KATZ: [translated] This report is another chapter in the theater of the absurd produced occasionally by the United Nations Human Rights Council, another hostile, mendacious and slanted report against the state of Israel. It’s a report based on distorted information, in which the facts were not at all checked, whose only purpose is to slander the only democracy in the Middle East and harm our right to self-defense in the face of the terrorism of a murderous organization. The state of Israel outright rejects this report.

AMY GOODMAN: Norm Finkelstein, the significance of Israel saying it rejects the report?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, Israel has always rejected the reports, whether they come from the United Nations or, more often than not, they come from reputable human rights organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch or the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. So it’s not as if—to use the words of the person you just had on, it’s not as if it’s a typically mendacious U.N. report. It’s a report that falls in line with the findings of every reputable human rights organization.

AMY GOODMAN: What most struck you about this report?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: What most struck me about the report was it was remarkably honest. It was very forthright in its conclusions. And it didn’t fake this kind of balance, which most human rights organizations, even reputable ones, attempt between Israel and the United States. So, just to take a couple of examples, it forthrightly stated that Israel targets intentionally children during these demonstrations. It targets reporters. It targets medical personnel. And that’s unusual. Allow me just two examples, which you would be familiar with. So, when there was the killings during Operation Protective Edge of the four children who were playing hide-and-seek—

AMY GOODMAN: This was back in 2014.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: 2014. Recently, The Intercept had an article on those four—killings of the four kids, and had this story that they weren’t really intentionally killed, it was an accident, it was a mistake. And same thing with The New York Times when it had the big story on Razan al-Najjar, which was quoted everywhere. The essence of the story was, there was an Israeli sniper’s bullet, it hit the ground, ricocheted and then accidentally hit three Israeli medical personnel. It was a magic bullet, because there was a huge crowd of people, but this magic bullet only hit three medical personnel.

But this human rights report by the Human Rights Council, it’s very straightforward. It says intentionally targets children, intentionally targets even disabled persons. And that, to me, was a credit to them that there was no fake balance. If you look at the proportions, when it looks at the damages done to the people of Gaza, they devote 10 full pages. And then there’s a section called “Impact on Israel.” It’s three paragraphs. And that’s exactly what the reality shows, that overwhelmingly—in fact, virtually entirely—all the infliction of death and destruction is on the Palestinian side. For the period they covered, during the demonstrations, there were no fatalities during the demonstrations, and four Israeli soldiers were lightly injured. These are massacres. They’re not conflicts. They’re not engagements. They’re just outright massacres of overwhelmingly unarmed, nonviolent demonstrators.

AMY GOODMAN: This report comes out as the attorney general of Israel says he’s going to indict the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The significance of this?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, the Israelis ignore the reports. So, in that context, it’s not significant. However, there is a critical significance. Namely, the International Criminal Court has had now two cases referred to it on the situation among the Palestinians. One case is on the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla in 2010 that came under Israeli attack. And the second case is on Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, mostly the settlements, and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Now, the chief of staff during Operation Protective Edge during July, August 2014—the Israeli chief of staff is—was Gantz—I guess his first name is Benny, but I could be mistaken—Gantz. And the fact of the matter is, if Netanyahu is out, Gantz will probably be the prime minister, and he will be up for indictment by the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is desperately trying not to investigate Israeli war crimes. But within the International Criminal Court, there has been an unprecedented pushback. There are large numbers of members—large numbers of members of the ICC who say it’s time to indict Israel. And the pressure—because of this report, the pressure on Bensouda, chief prosecutor Bensouda, is going to be enormous. It’s time to indict Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if indicted, as the attorney general says, is not being indicted for this, but for corruption.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: That’s correct. It’s sort of—like I said, it’s sort of like Al Capone being indicted for tax evasion. In the great scheme of things, that was the least of Capone’s crimes. But that’s the way the judicial system works.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the U.S. responded to the report?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: To my knowledge, the U.S. has not. This is a preliminary report. The full report will come out on March 18th, I think. So this is sort of the—what they call like an executive summary. It was 22 pages. I imagine the full report will be considerably larger.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Sara Hossain, what do you want to see come out of this report?

SARA HOSSAIN: I think we’d definitely like to see some action, action by Israel, action by the Palestinian Authority also and action by the international community.

I just want to mention one thing, though, in terms of the findings. We did also make findings that on two—in two of the incidents we looked at, on the 14th of May and on the 12th of October, there may have been some justification for the shootings. On the 14th of May, we found an incident in which 21 people were killed, but we think there may have been an issue of direct participation in hostilities, possibly justifying the shootings. And that requires further investigation, as well.

But we think that all the findings, we have, and so we’re going to take them forward. We think it’s critical that with the 30th of March in front of us, the anniversary of the start of the so-called Great March of Return, it’s very important that the international community take action to ensure that this death toll and this injuries toll doesn’t continue. We’re calling for protective monitoring to be put in place. We’re calling for action to end—end this terrible death toll and injury toll that has been continuing over the last year and continuing even now.

AMY GOODMAN: Sara Hossain, I want to thank you for being with us, member of the U.N. independent commission that led the Gaza investigation. Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar; his most recent book, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. We’ll be back in 30 seconds.

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