Review of This Time We Went Too Far
Norman Finkelstein draws on reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Goldstone Report to document the war crimes committed by Israel in its December 2008 attack on Gaza. He begins with the recent history of Israeli policies, including the 1982 and 2006 invasions of Lebanon, the ongoing expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and the failed 2000 peace agreement (about which Ben-Ami, a lead Israeli negotiator at those talks later said “If I were a Palestinian, I would not have accepted the agreement, either”). He then talks about the conditions in Gaza, and the cynical withdrawal of the Israeli occupation in 2005 which was accompanied by a lock-down on commerce designed to further impoverish one of the poorest regions on earth.
He addresses the claim that Israel was forced to initiate the December attack because Hamas had violated the June 2008 cease fire agreement, and shows that in fact Hamas had abided by the agreement; that the very few rocket attacks were not authorized by the Hamas leadership, and that much of the rocket fire that did occur was in response to a deliberately provocative cross-border attack by the IDF in November.
In the aftermath of the December-January attack, nearly 1400 Palestinians were killed, approximately 80% of them civilians, including 300 children. 14 Israelis were killed, including 4 by friendly fire. This disparity was a result of a well-planned strategy of disproportionate force and collective punishment; a strategy that had been worked out well in advance of the attack, and that was explicitly communicated to the military commanders prior to the attack. Another part of the strategy, also well executed, was the targeted destruction of basic infrastructure. This included the utter destruction of the American International School (the best elementary school in Gaza), multiple buildings at the University, UN buildings, electrical generation plants, and so on.
In the aftermath Israel claimed that whatever slight civilian deaths had occurred were a result of Hamas using the civilian population as human shields and civilians being caught in the crossfire. None of the independent investigating agencies were able to find any credible evidence for this claim. On the contrary, both HRW and the Goldstone report found instances of the IDF using Palestinians as human shields, forcing Palestinians to remain in positions occupied by the IDF and therefore at risk of attack by Hamas forces.
Defenders of Israel immediately attacked the Goldstone report as biased on the day following its release. This is odd, because the report is nearly 600 pages long. It is hard to believe that those attacking the report could have read it in the interval between its publication and the time of their denunciations. And there was certainly no time to have conducted any research to provide evidence of bias. The most adamant defenders of Israel conducted ad hominem attacks on Goldstone himself, charging him with antisemitism. The charge would have been risible if the context were not so tragic. Goldstone, a Jew and self-proclaimed Zionist, has been a staunch supporter of Israel his entire life. And this made both the details and the conclusions of the Report a serious matter: his commission found at least 36 instances of probable war-crimes committed by the IDF, and the report lays the blame squarely on the Israeli political and military elite.