Book review: Gaza: An inquest into its martyrdom

Book review: Gaza: An inquest into its martyrdom
Book review: Norman Finkelstein's work is an incisive guide to Gaza's destruction, offering crucial analysis rarely found in the western media, writes Usaid Siddiqui.
6 min read
28 Feb, 2018
Finkelstein mounts a scathing criticism of human rights organisations in Gaza [AFP]
A July 2017 Amnesty International report raised the alarm over Gaza, calling attention to the deteriorating conditions in the besieged territory, which was witnessing the rapid collapse of its health system, and what it described as "crisis point". 

In unambiguous terms, the report singled out Israel's "brutal land, sea and air blockade" responsible for the mass suffering of Gaza's residents.

"As the occupying power, Israel has ultimate responsibility to ensure the well-being of the occupied population residing in the Gaza Strip" it stated. "It is Israel's unlawful blockade…that has placed ordinary Gazans… at the mercy of a politicised bureaucracy in order to access medical treatment that many would take for granted as a basic right".

In what is clearly an unflinching critique of the Israeli state, prominent American scholar Norman Finkelstein argues that in recent years, groups such as Amnesty have failed - and deliberately so - to hold Israel to task for their inhumane treatment of Gaza. 

In his latest book, "Gaza: an inquest into its martyrdom", the renowned academic and long-time critic of Israel is at his incisive best in detailing the unbearable suffering brought upon Palestinians in Gaza. He describes his book as not about Gaza, but one exposing what has been done to Gaza.

In addition to his scathing criticism of human rights organisations, Finkelstein's book relies heavily on several key events in Gaza's recent history to explain its current situation, with chief focus on the Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

One would be hard pressed to find such crucial analysis in the US press, or the wider western media for that matter

Finkelstein paints an expectedly tragic, yet scrupulous and footnote intensive picture of Gaza after Cast Lead and Protective Edge. These wars brought enormous hardship to Gaza's residents and resulted in numerous economic, social and material losses, which have prompted international institutions such as the UN to predict that the coastal strip will be unliveable in a few years. 

Arguably Finkelstein's most important insight into the wars, is his recounting of the events preceding each conflict. He does away with much of the accepted narrative - often touted carelessly in the mainstream western media - that Hamas' provocations led to Israel's inhumane bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Read more: Gaza strikes after Israel kills fisherman, imposes Purim lockdown

In fact, according to Finkelstein, Hamas' pragmatism and willingness to chart a path for peaceful resolution had been Israel's impetus to prompt the conflict.

Hamas, since its ascent to electoral power in 2005, has been seen to consistently moderate its views vis-a-vis Israel, something even former President Jimmy Carter has publicly acknowledged. 

For Finkelstein, this positive rapprochement of Hamas towards resolving the conflict is what Israel fears the most. 

Prior to the events of Cast Lead, Finkelstein writes that for nearly a year, there had been a pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas, something even members of the Israeli government were forced to acknowledge. However, this, Finkelstein emphasises, presented Israel with an entirely different dilemma.

Quoting then foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who said the extended truce, "harms the Israeli strategic goal, empowers Hamas, and gives the impression that Israel recognises the movement", Finkelstein argues that "a protracted ceasefire that spotlighted Hamas' pragmatism in word and deed… would undercut Israel's strategic goal of entrenching the occupation". 

Protective Edge, Finkelstein writes, was conducted under similar political machinations, where relative calm had preceded the 51-day war. Months of reconciliation work between Hamas and Fatah, tacitly supported by the US, raised the alarms in the Israeli camp, pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thwart any Palestinian effort to show a united front to its 50-year long occupation. 

One would be hard pressed to find such crucial analysis in the US press, or the wider western media for that matter. Instead, a moral equivalence is drawn between the actions of the two sides, who remain unwilling to compromise, making peace ever more unlikely.

Yet as Finkelstein's comprehensive research makes abundantly clear, much of the angst around making concessions to achieve peace, is on the Israeli side rather than the Palestinian one.

But Finkelstein's most unique insight, is the contempt he heaps on human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, which he asserts betrayed Gaza and the Palestinians at a time when they are most vulnerable. 

Comparing notes on Cast Lead and Protective Edge, Finkelstein observes that while over 300 reports were produced after Cast Lead, only a handful were released in the aftermath of Protective Edge, with HRW only publishing one major study, despite it being a more prolonged and destructive conflict. 

In the case of Amnesty International, he asserts "instead of falling silent over Israeli crimes during Protective Edge, they whitewashed them".

In the annals of western mainstream press, Palestinian suffering is repeatedly downplayed over Israeli apprehensions

To the logical follow up question of why this was the case, Finkelstein can only speculate; that increased Israeli pressure and lobbying after the landmark Goldstone report - which excoriated Israeli war tactics after Cast Lead, and which was successfully undermined by Israel and the United States - all future reports would be "consigned to oblivion", so therefore, why bother?  

In reading Gaza, Finkelstein's critics might point out his largely glossing over of atrocities committed against Israeli citizens. While this may be a valid concern, the sheer one-sided brutality sustained by Palestinians living in Gaza, diligently recorded in the book, deserves to be tackled and scrutinised without the need to delve into 'whataboutism'.  

Gaza is a must read; a serious commitment to revealing hard truths in their rawest form

No one life, Israeli or Palestinian, takes precedence over another. But it is worth remembering that in the annals of western mainstream press, Palestinian suffering is repeatedly downplayed over Israeli apprehensions.

Israeli children and occupying soldiers will often have their names read out loud on broadcast television, while grieving Palestinian parents would be lucky to see the loss of their teenage sons and daughters make the ticker.

Considering this reality, Finkelstein's book, is a testament to his steadfastness in exposing Israeli crimes, despite having to make numerous personal and material sacrifices throughout his career. 

For both seasoned and newer readers of the conflict, Gaza is a must read; a serious commitment to revealing hard truths in their rawest form, offering something substantive for everyone. 

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. 

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.