Israel committed war crimes during its 2008-09 assault on the Gaza Strip in Palestine, including targeting civilians, a prominent Israeli policy critic told an audience Tuesday in the Oklahoma Memorial Union's Meacham Auditorium.
Norman Finkelstein, author of several books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and former DePaul University professor, spoke about the conflict in light of recent retractions made by the leader of a UN fact-finding mission April 1, which cleared Israel of targeting civilians.
Roughly 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the 22-day assault, most of whom were civilians, according to various reports. On the Israeli side, 13 were killed, three of whom were civilians and 10 were combatants. Finkelstein said four of the 10 combatants were killed from friendly fire.
Numerous independent investigations by human rights organizations contradicted the Israeli government's claim that the majority of deaths were civilians because Palestinian militants used them as human shields, Finkelstein said.
"For every 100 Palestinians killed, one Israeli was killed. For every 400 Palestinian civilians killed, one Israeli civilian was killed," Finkelstein said. "Does that sound like a war, or does that sound like a massacre?"
Finkelstein also disputed the claim a war had occurred because he said only one side was fighting. He cited public statements by Israeli ground soldiers who described their operations as boring because they didn't encounter any militant ground forces. The soldiers didn't encounter any ground forces because they said Israel had used an "insane" amount of force during air bombings, Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein said Israel instigated rocket attacks from the Gaza government, Hamas, in the days preceding the assault because Israel had intentionally failed to keep its promises after a June 2008 ceasefire agreement. Hamas agreed to stop firing rockets and mortars into Israel if Israel would gradually lift its blockade preventing aid from entering the Gaza Strip. Finkelstein said Hamas kept its promise but Israel had no intention of lifting the blockade, prompting strikes by Hamas militants.
In addition to the Gaza assault, Finkelstein challenged the Israeli government's version of events regarding the Israeli Defense Force's raid of a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip on May 31 that resulted in the deaths of nine passengers. The Israeli government produced a long report maintaining Israeli soldiers acted only in self-defense. Finkelstein said this was questionable because the Israeli government confiscated all images and videos of the incident and released records that only served its purposes.
Sooners for Peace in Palestine, a student organization committed to fostering understanding of the Middle East conflict, brought Finkelstein to OU.
Dalia Bayaa, vice president of Sooners for Peace in Palestine said students could benefit from hearing Finkelstein because he presents views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that aren't covered in mainstream media.
"I think [the conflict] needs to be more equally shown from both sides where people can judge based on both sides of the conflict," Bayaa said.