Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom, by Norman Finkelstein

Neve Gordon lauds a forensic examination of the Palestinian territory and its 2 million inhabitants

June 21, 2018
War damage in Gaza
Source: iStock

Given the slaying of unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip over the past few months, one would have thought that mainstream outlets would have been lining up to review Norman Finkelstein’s book. For some reason, it has been ignored. Yet it is probably his best to date.

After providing a concise history of Gaza (including some information about the West Bank and the 2006 Lebanon war), the author examines Israel’s siege of the Strip in detail. He appears to have read almost every English report written on the topic over the past decade as well as the vast majority of the academic literature, offering a nuanced historical account of what Israel has done to the estimated 2 million people living in this small scrap of land.

Zooming in on its 2008-09 military campaign, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, Finkelstein persuasively shows that the war was launched not due to Hamas attacks but rather as part of Israel’s deterrence strategy. He then analyses the United Nations’ Goldstone report, underscoring its general accuracy and objectivity in assessing the violations of international law carried out by Israel and Hamas. He does not know what led to Richard Goldstone’s recantation, but he does show that no new evidence had emerged, suggesting that the South African judge’s change of heart was due to outside pressure.

Next, Finkelstein turns his critical eye on the 2010 attack on the Mavi Marmara, excavating the available evidence regarding what happened on the ship. He convincingly argues that both the Israeli and international commissions whitewashed Israel’s illegal deployment of lethal violence, the killing of Turkish citizens and the violation of international law.

Finally, he dissects the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, analysing the lethal repertoires of violence Israel deployed against Gaza’s population and the deaths and destruction caused. At this point, Finkelstein takes an unexpected turn, directing his scrutiny towards Amnesty International’s legal analysis of the war. Probing five reports by the group, he exposes the gap between the evidence gathered in the reports and the legal conclusions reached. He then brings forth Amnesty’s response to his harsh criticism and offers a forceful rejoinder. This exchange should be studied in every human rights course since it exposes some of the lesser-known dimensions of rights work.

My only reservation is that Finkelstein ultimately places his faith in international law. He documents how those in charge of assessing Israel’s actions and enforcing the law have not merely abdicated their responsibility but taken an active part in covering up Israel’s war crimes. While I concur with his analysis and am in awe at the amount of evidence that he provides, the assumption that if state and non-state actors only followed international law things would be better seems rather naive.

Nonetheless, Gaza is a tour de force. Finkelstein unravels the facade that Israel and its allies aim to create, exposing the double standards of the US government, the UN and even human rights organisations. He highlights the plight of the Palestinians who have been humiliated, violated, killed and betrayed and shows how these courageous people have been pushed into martyrdom.

Neve Gordon is a Marie Curie fellow and professor of international law at Queen Mary University of London and author of Israel’s Occupation (2008) and The Human Right to Dominate (with Nicola Perugini, 2015).


Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom
By Norman Finkelstein
University of California Press, 440pp, £27.00
ISBN 9780520295711
Published 26 January 2018

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