September 21, 2005
Editor’s note: Finkelstein’s comment & readers’ letters to the Tribune below the op-ed.
Judge Deeds, Not Words
By Norman G. Finkelstein
On the night of August 24, 2005, Israeli troops shot dead three teenage boys and
two adults in a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp. An army communiqué
claimed the five were terrorists, killed after opening fire on the soldiers.
An investigation by Israel’s leading human rights organization, B’Tselem, and
its leading newspaper, Haaretz, found, however, that the teenagers were unarmed
and had no connection with any terrorist organizations, while neither of the
two adults was armed or wanted by the Israelis.
In Israel, as elsewhere, it’s prudent to treat official pronouncements with skepticism.
This is especially so when it comes to the “peace process.”
Israel’s announcement that it would withdraw from the Gaza Strip won high praise in the American media as a major step toward ending the occupation of Palestinian land. Human rights organizations and academic specialists were less sanguine, however.
In a recent study entitled One Big Prison, B’Tselem observes that the crippling economic arrangements Israel has imposed on Gaza will remain in effect. In addition, Israel will continue to maintain absolute control over Gaza’s land borders, coastline and airspace, and the Israeli army will continue to operate in Gaza. “So long as these methods of control remain in Israeli hands,” it concludes, “Israel’s claim of an ‘end of the occupation’ is questionable.”
The respected organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) is yet more emphatic that evacuating troops and Jewish settlements from inside Gaza will not end the occupation: “Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery, and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in control.”
The world’s leading authority on the Gaza Strip, Sara Roy of Harvard University, predicts that Gaza will remain “an imprisoned enclave,” while its economy, still totally dependent on Israel after disengagement and in shambles after decades of deliberately ruinous policies by Israel, will actually deteriorate. This conclusion is echoed by the World Bank, which forecasts that, if Israel seals Gaza’s borders or curtails its utilities, the disengagement plan will “create worse hardship than is seen today.”
Matters are scarcely better in the West Bank. Although Israel has announced its intention to dismantle four of the 120 settlements there, this decision pales beside its relentless annexation of wide swaths of the West Bank.
A recent UN report finds that the wall Israel is constructing encroaches deeply into Palestinian territory, resulting in the isolation of tens of thousands of Palestinians and the confiscation of fully ten percent of West Bank land, “including the most fertile areas in the West Bank.”
According to Roy, Palestinians will have access to only half the West Bank once the wall is complete, “deepening the dispossession and isolation of Palestinian communities.”
Israel proclaims that it is building the wall for “security” reasons, but human rights organizations disagree. Its real purpose, they suggest, is “to make contiguous with Israel illegal civilian settlements” (HRW) and “to facilitate their future annexation into Israel” (B’Tselem).
In a landmark July 2004 decision on the wall, the International Court of Justice unanimously agreed that establishment of these Jewish settlements “violates” (U.S. Judge Buergenthal) the Geneva Convention, and overwhelmingly ruled that construction of the wall was “contrary to international law.”
Yet, nowhere have official Israeli words about peace been more dramatically belied by bitter deeds than in Jerusalem.
In a recent report entitled The Jerusalem Powder Keg, the authoritative International Crisis Group finds that Prime Minister Sharon “risks choking off Arab East Jerusalem by further fragmenting it and surrounding it with Jewish neighborhoods/settlements.” Hundreds of thousands of Arab Jerusalemites will be isolated from the West Bank and placed under stricter Israeli control inside the city’s new borders, while tens of thousands of Arab Jerusalemites will be stranded on the outside and cut off from their city.
In the meantime Israeli plans, well underway, to incorporate far-flung illegal Jewish settlements into Jerusalem “would go close to cutting the West Bank into two.”
Israeli annexationist policies in and around Jerusalem, according to Crisis Group, will have “arguably devastating consequences,” not least because “it remains virtually impossible to conceive of a Palestinian state without its capital in Jerusalem.”
Although Prime Minister Sharon gives lip-service to a two-state settlement, the actions of the Israeli government, Crisis Group concludes, “are at war with any viable two-state solution and will not bolster Israel’s security; in fact, they will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists,… and sowing the seeds of growing radicalization.”
Those committed to a just and lasting peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict would do well to pay closer attention to Israeli deeds than to the official words accompanying them.
Norman G. Finkelstein teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history.
These references are for fact-checking only.
1. Arnon Regular, “IDF chief to probe Tul Karm raid that killed five Palestinians,” Haaretz (7 September 2005).
2. B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), One Big Prison: Freedom of movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the eve of the Disengagement Plan (March 2005).
3. Human Rights Watch, “‘Disengagement’ Will Not End Gaza Occupation” (19 August 2005).
4. Sara Roy, “Praying with Their Eyes Closed: Reflections on the Disengagement from Gaza,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Summer 2005).
5. World Bank, Disengagement, the Palestinian Economy and the Settlements (23 June 2004).
6. Report on UNCTAD’s Assistance to the Palestinian People, prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat (21 July 2005).
7. Op. cit.
8. Human Rights Watch, Israel’s “Separation Barrier” in the Occupied Territories: Human rights and international humanitarian law consequences (February 2004); B’Tselem, Behind the Barrier: Human rights violations as a result of Israel’s separation barrier (2003).
9. Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (July 2004).
10. International Crisis Group, The Jerusalem Powder Keg (2 August 2005).
It is a convention that the author of a newly-published book on a topical issue receives special consideration from the op-ed page editor. I submitted this op-ed to the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. They all rejected it. I then followed up on the rejection from the Chicago Tribune, since Chicago is where I teach and the Tribune had earlier published an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz on this topic. The op-ed page editor, Marcia Lythcott (firstname.lastname@example.org) just kept repeating, “I will not publish that op-ed.” Readers might want to ask her and her editor, R. Bruce Dold (email@example.com), why the Tribune is so vehement about not publishing an alternative viewpoint based on mainstream human rights sources.
Readers’ letters to the Tribune”
Dear Ms. Lythcott:
I was distressed to learn via Professor Norman Finkelstein’s
website that you refused to publish an op-ed piece submitted to the
Tribune recently on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As a lifelong
Chicago-area resident and Tribune reader, I feel I must voice my
objection to your decision to suppress Mr. Finkelstein’s
Mr. Finkelstein, although known as a “controversial” figure, is
without doubt, one of the most thoughtful and, more importantly,
thorough academics working today. His work on the
Israel-Palestine conflict is an important and powerful antidote to the usual
commentary offered in the so-called American mainstream of
Quite frankly, I feel that the Tribune is like most other major
news outlets in the country and does not inform its readers very well on most subjects, and this is no exception. The Tribune is one of
the most important newspapers in America and probably the world. Its
circulation as well as the prestige and awards garnered by the
paper have given the Tribune this prestige. But as we all know, with
privilege comes responsibility. It is my belief that the Tribune [must]
give fair voice to all points of view on a subject, particularly
one with as much validity as Mr. Finkelstein’s, and also in the face
of your recently having given space in your op-ed page to Alan
Dershowitz, whose views Mr. Finkelstein’s have come in conflict
with directly. It is obvously your wish not to publish the op-ed
piece; however, if you choose not to do so, I would reccomend that you
abandon all pretense of representing freedom of speech and freedom
of the press. This is not a problem exclusive to the Tribune, but
I think that the press should not consider itself a bulwark of
indepenence or an opposition to those in power if it does not
care to share all points of view. Furthermore, I think that if you do
not choose to publish the op-ed, you should at least give Mr.
Finkelstein a valid reason as to why you will not do so. He is a
serious individual and should be taken seriously. Once again, I
would not be abnormanlly offended if you refused to publish his
op-ed on the grounds that you don’t want to share all points of
view on a subject; I have come to expect that from the mainstream
But he deserves an explanation.
From: martin white
Subject: Your piece Judge Deeds Not Words
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2005 17:49:40 +0100 (BST)
Dear Norman Finkelstein
I read your op-ed piece which was rejected by so many papers in the States. I was so livid that I wrote the enclosed to the Chicago Tribune.
I greatly admire your huge courage in stating the truth of the great crime which Israel has committed towards the Palestinian people. Thank you.
I am a lawyer in my fifties living in London. I am also Jewish.
I have read Norman G Finkelstein’s op-ed piece which your newspaper and others in the USA refused to publish. The piece is circulating in this country.
I simply have to ask you – why did you refuse to publish?
For those of us in Europe (and the rest of the world except the USA) who read daily of the horrors inflicted on nearly four million unarmed Palestinians by the world’s fourth military power financed and armed by the world’s superpower, the contents of Finkelstein’s piece are hardly news. We are familiar with it all and at last popular revulsion at Israel’s behaviour is becoming widespread.
But I don’t suppose you declined to publish because it contained nothing your readers didn’t know already.
Is the real truth that you and the soit disant “free press” are so craven in the face of the pro-Israel lobby and fearful of loss of advertising revenues that you are prepared to sacrifice your independence and join those who hear no evil and see no evil? Do you not feel the slightest shame at such complicity?
So much for freedom and democracy.
[Sent to the Chicago Tribune]
I go back to the 1960’s and early 1970’s when I went to University at Illinois and when I used to read the Tribune regularly.
I write from London England to express my concern at the recent news that the Tribune has opted not to exercise one of the Constitution’s greatest declarations: Freedom of Speech, by choosing not to publish an op-ed by Norman Finkelstein.
Is the Tribune a partisan paper or is it the outlet I admired in the days when America was going through the toughest tests in its modern history: Vietnam and the Race issue? Without the use of our rights to free speech and freedom of _expression at the time, we and all that young generation of ours, supported by papers like yours, would not have mattered and would not have changed the political landscape, for the better, I must add.
So, why did the Tribune choose to discriminate against Norman Finkelstein. I sincerely hope that you are able to respond honestly.