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Just World Podcasts
Richard Falk on the lasting legacies of Operation Cast Lead
December 30, 2018 Helena Cobban

This episode of our podcast is the second in a special mini-series we’re releasing as part of our “Cast Lead Plus Ten” project. In this episode of our mini-series you can hear the second half of the conversation Helena Cobban had about Cast Lead, with the distinguished international jurist Richard Falk. In the previous episode, Cobban and Falk had discussed mainly what happened during the Cast Lead assault, ending with the ceasefire that Israel and Hamas reached on January 17, 2009. In this episode, they  discuss the broader strategic impact and lasting legacy of “Operation Cast Lead”, including the whole saga of the UN Fact-finding Commission which was headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, and the role Cast Lead and the fate of the Goldstone Commission both had in galvanizing new generations and new forms of activism in the worldwide Palestinian-rights movement.

Stay tuned for the next episode in this mini-series, to be released January 3!

(The automatically generated transcript that follows has not yet been cleaned up and should not be disseminated elsewhere until it has been.)

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:01Hello again listeners, I'm Helena carbon, the president of just world educational nonprofit organization that works to expand the discourse here in the United States and worldwide on vital issues of peace and justice, especially in the long troubled Middle East. This episode of our podcast is the second in a special miniseries we're releasing as part of our cost lead plus 10 project, which is running for 22 days, starting December 27th, 2018 to mark the anniversary of Israel's operation cast lead assault against Gaza exactly 10 years ago. If you are on social media, we're using the Hashtag Hash cost lead plus 10 with the 10 in numerals to draw together. The many activities were running on our twitter and facebook accounts to follow us on both those platforms. We also have lots of campaign material on our website@wwwdotjustworldeducational.org, so do check back there for regular updates to in this episode of our miniseries, you can hear the second half of the conversation I had about costs led recently with the distinguished international jurist, Richard Folk in the previous episode. Professor folk and I had discussed mainly what happened during the cost lead assault ending with the ceasefire that Israel and Hamas reached on January 17th, 2009. In this episode, Falcon, I discussed the broader strategic impact and lasting legacy of operation cast lead. I had started by asking him about the Goldstone Commission, the very controversial fact finding mission headed by judge Richard Goldstone, so the UN setup soon after the cease fire to investigate allegations of possible war crimes by both sides during the fighting. He is how the conversation went from there.

Speaker 2:2:09Did you originally have much hope in the judge Goldstone and his colleagues on that? It was, what, three or four member commission?

Speaker 3:2:19A four member commission? Well, I didn't know. I thought I thought it was. I thought it was a mistake to select goes because I knew I knew him rather well and knew he was a, a lifelong, a sign with family relations in Israel. And I also knew that he was, I had worked with him, uh, particularly in the commission of which he was the chair and I was a member and although I liked him personally and were quite friendly with him, I felt he was a person of character and strong ambition and that's a very bad combination for a sensitive, uh, undertaking of this sort. So I, from the beginning, I feel uncomfortable with his having that role. The same time I knew a couple of the other people on the commissioner who I had a lot of confidence and then I think they did the bulk of the intellectual work that produced the report. Particularly Christine Chicken who's a professor of international law, the London School of Economics, and one of the really leading people in this field anywhere. And the other two members of the commission are very, very respected. A conscientious, a internationally known figures. So it was a very good commission except for its chairman and its name

Speaker 2:4:10came out with their report. It took them a bit of time. I think it was 2011. I came up with a report,

Speaker 3:4:17but no, I think the report came in. Um, uh, the goldstone retraction came in 2011. The report came toward the end of the, of 2009 and it was a long report because they've put a lot of factual material and then there were so many separate under operations and a controversial tactics and weapons and so on that it, uh, it took, uh, I think the report is something like 570 pages. It's a very long, long document. So you get the gist of it from its executive summary and go stone in April of 2011 after having been put in under undergrade personal pressure of a is a synagogue back in South Africa had threatened to bar him from the Bar Mitzvah of his grandchild. His daughter who lived in Israel apparently refused to speak with him and he was attacked at the highest level of by Israelis. Like Shimon Peres and others as having committed a blood libel against the Israeli people.

Speaker 3:5:46And so his retraction, of course, he didn't acknowledge it in this way, seem to me to be a consequence of that kind of, particularly since it was a, none of the other members of the commission would join with him in questioning it in any way the findings or the recommendations of the report. So it, it, it was a peculiar undertaking. And it also, the other important thing is illustrated what the UN can do and what it can do. It can, uh, investigate allegations of criminality of this or even when the target of that investigation is a protected geo politically as Israel has been by the US and some extent by the, uh, western European countries. But what it can't do is implement. It's a findings, no matter how compelling the evidence is in support of those fundings. And so, uh, it, it shifts the burden and the opportunity to civil society to take seriously and do what it can to promote the recommendations that the UN itself is unable to carry out. And that's really what happened with the ghost zone report. It was very important, I think, in a legitimating nonviolent initiatives to exert pressure on Israel, including the bds campaign. It gave much wider sense that what Israel was doing to the Palestinian people was unreasonable and that, uh, the UN and the governments of the world, we're not going to do anything to protect the Palestinian people and their rights. And so if there was to be protection, it had to come from society itself.

Speaker 2:8:16Yes. That's an interesting point. That's really, I think can lead galvanized a lot of non state individually and non nongovernmental leaders. And even some government. I'm thinking particularly of the, the Turkish government. Was that when there was the incident at Davos when other one you walked out when he was supposed to be sitting with, uh, with Shimon Peres or maybe that was after the incident that he did that.

Speaker 3:8:55No, you're right, it was

Speaker 2:8:56a, it was in early 2009. It was before the incident was 2010 and it was over Gaza and cast lead. And it was at the end of a panel in which the chair tried to cut them off in a limiting it to one minute or something or something of that sort. And he became very emotional and was very upset by the Shimon Peres. His defense of Israel and cast laughed and made a strong pro Palestinian state. They were particularly upset. Turkey. Turkey was particularly upset because prior they had been trying to promote a peace peace negotiations between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights. And they had a series of secret meetings that were held in Istanbul and, and Israel never informed the Turkish government about their intentions to launch a cash lead, which both for Syria and Turkey made the, uh, this effort at diplomacy. Unacceptable. Yes. I suppose it must have looked like it's sort of a cover for what should see Israeli military was already planning.

Speaker 3:10:35Yes. So they were quite apt at one point, they were very optimistic with these Syria in negotiations and thought they would really achieve the Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. But I'm suspicious that that ever was. I think you're closer to the truth that this was a cover for something much more sinister.

Speaker 2:11:01I mean, another product is the antecedent of cost lead was the fact that two years earlier, the Israeli military had received a very bloody nose in Lebanon.

Speaker 3:11:17No, you're quite right to bring that up. And I think that was clearly one of the ids motivations and uh, sources of pressure that they exert it because they wanted to restore their reputation as a formidable military actor and gain not only with respect to adversaries but within Israeli society to restore confidence in their capabilities to defend Israeli security, defend

Speaker 2:11:59being being one, one way of describing what they were doing.

Speaker 3:12:02Yeah. Well, of course I meant what they were trying to communicate to the Israeli population was defended by imposing a overwhelming, uh, losses on any adversary that would in any way threaten or displease the Israeli leadership.

Speaker 2:12:29I guess that's what they call restoring the credibility of the Israeli, which, which had been badly damaged in 2006 in Lebanon. And, and so I guess then they used the overwhelming force against Gaza and also gave their ground forces a little bit of ground force, um, exercise. Um, and, and I don't think they hold me succeeded in restoring the deterrent that time and then they had to try again in 2012 and again in 2014. But there is a kind of a standoff between Israel and Hamas that neither side seemed capable of resolving. I think this would be a good, a good place for well meaning international mediators to say, well, let's try and do this. And in a way that doesn't involve for.

Speaker 3:13:41Yes, I mean there's no question that a video is the, that the inability of Israel to eliminate a Hamas is a political actor has caused big tensions on the Israeli domestic front, on the, uh, among right wing, uh, political tendencies. And it underlies the current crisis. A political crisis in Israel where Sonya, who was not willing to go as far as the extreme right, wanted him to go in relation to the see the border security challenges that Israel has faced as a result of the great parts of return and in recent months. So there is that issue. I don't fully agree that uh, Israel's goals were to restore deterrence. I think they were more a matter of trying to subjugate Gaza in ways that would contribute to their broader political agenda, which seems to me to be to coerce a Palestinian surrender of political surrender. And that's sort of the direction that trump diplomacy has been pushing in a since he was elected two years ago.

Speaker 2:15:29Well that's, that's right. I think when they talk about restoring the credibility of the deterrent, but sort of mainly on the international security affairs conference circuits, that's the way they talk.

Speaker 3:15:42Yes. It's, it's a kind of acceptable language for doing unacceptable thing

Speaker 2:15:50as opposed to saying, you know, well, we just really want to act like a colonial aggressive power and subjugate the natives.

Speaker 3:15:57Yeah. And we, we need to terrorize them to keep them from challenging are unlawful domination.

Speaker 2:16:08Well that's good. So one of the other things that came out of, uh, out of cost was really this big civil society mobilization worldwide that you referred to a little bit, but we had not only the monomer and all that flotilla in 2010, but then repeated attempts at flotillas since then, none of which has, you know, made as much of a, a remark as the Mabee Mama incident in which one, actually Turkish American citizen was killed by the Israelis

Speaker 3:16:52and nine

Speaker 2:16:54and, and nine to Turkish.

Speaker 3:16:58Yes. Turkish nationals. So, no, I think that then is quite correct. That and it, as I tried to say earlier, uh, what a resulted from the rejection of the Goldstone recommendations was this understanding that you can't look to the international system to bring a solution to the underlying problems that the Palestinian people have been facing for decades. And the, if there is to be a meaningful support for their struggle, it has to be based. It has to arise from pressures by mobilized civil society, perhaps acting in conjunction with governments such as Turkey and South Africa that are very much seeking to find a way to protect Palestinian rights. Organized international system, can't manage this kind of conflict when the Geo political forces block its efforts to do anything that would really exert pressure on Israel to live up to international law.

Speaker 2:18:32So are you in general fairly hopeful that this might happen or that it is happening a little bit? Um, how do you read this kind of. It's an a morphous thing to look at global civil society, but if we narrow it down, for example, to the situation here in the United States, do you see more mobilization for Palestinian rights as having grown up over the past 10 years?

Speaker 3:19:01Yes, definitely. And there's a decline in enthusiasm and Jewish adherence to sign as many, many fewer. A younger generation Jews are attracted to the Zionist narrative and have been drawn to sympathize with the Palestinian plight at the same time. What that does is to make the Israelis nervous about, uh, this kind of development. So they've poured lots of money and effort into creating a, a, a kind of counter movement around accusations that this kind of activity is essentially antisemitic, is what's called the new anti Semitism and they've had some impact of course on the trump presidency and on some of the consumer

Speaker 2:20:14in some state houses in this.

Speaker 3:20:16Yes, I was just going to say that in some of the conservative leadership of several of the states and in many cases they've also attacked people's academic freedom. I've been some high profile cases. One just recently involving a African American, a professor at Temple University who made a speech at the UN in November, was dismissed. He had been a consultant to CNN and they dismissed him summarily and temple university's president and chair of the board, uh, denounced him in very a ugly language. And if you read the speech, it was a very humane, a appeal to find a peaceful solution that would be beneficial to both people's and produce a sustained peace. But it's part of this atmosphere of trying to destroy the messengers so you don't have to deal with the message.

Speaker 2:21:33But we do have now also some younger members of Congress coming in who seems,

Speaker 3:21:42huh

Speaker 2:21:43to be sort of bright lights of people who are not cowed by the Zionist discourse suppression industry in this country. I'm like the two new Muslim American women members of Congress and then possibly some of the other incoming members, which makes me think about the, the kind of, the high hopes we all had for Obama 10 years ago when he was just coming in and, you know, it seemed to be what he'd been a critic of the, as the invasion of Iraq. And he had earlier had a friendship with Rashid Haladi that he had already disavowed when he was running for Senate. But, you know, there was, there was a sense of hope at that time of cost lead. And those hopes sadly came to nothing because before we knew it, he had appointed Mohsen index to be in charge of large portions of his, uh, of his Middle East policy. And, um, in general, just reverse it to the kind of the pro Zionist policies that people have seen from Clinton and George W Bush. So do you think this time around we should be more hopeful that that can be changed even if it's only in some small corners of Congress?

Speaker 3:23:11Well, I've sort of learned over the years to be neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the too many uncertainties in the regional context in the American setting and in the way in which Israel and Palestine interact. So I think that because of that uncertainty, when needs to strive to strengthen what elements are that are seeking a just outcome and these new congress people are flickers of hope, but I think they know more than that. I don't have much. I didn't, I wouldn't place a much a hope. I'm the official institutions of the US government, uh, unless there was a powerful, a social movement, which I don't see happening without other things happening first. Uh, so I think the best hope is that this accelerated a global solidarity movement, which has you suggested, has the support of a increasing number of governments as well, uh, will lead a Israeli elite to do what happened in South Africa, namely to recalculate their own interests in ways that lead to a more peaceful path to the future. Uh, I, I have that as my sense of how change could come of, it doesn't look likely or even possible at the moment.

Speaker 2:25:12Right? I mean, we could spend a long time looking for the Israeli declare who would be that kind of a transformational figure from the existing elite. But I guess

Speaker 3:25:24yes, but I don't know if you had been. I was in South Africa not long before the release of Mandela from prison and no one their anticipated that the clerk would be declared that it was, came as a complete surprise to a host. I was the observer of a political trial and the whole spectrum of South African opinion, even if the anti most hardened anti apartheid people that were still at large as well as the pro of partake people. None of them anticipated any future other than one that was going to descend into an armed struggle at some point.

Speaker 2:26:12So if we just ended up like coming back to Gaza, what should we, in the west in particular here in the United States, citizens of a country that is the greatest supporter of everything that Israel has done for the past 50 years. What, what should we be doing here in the United States to try to ensure that the right, not just of Palestinians in Gaza, but um, Palestinians everywhere to ensure that those rates to get respected?

Speaker 3:26:52Well, I think from a civilian perspective is, has been the most effective recently is to portray Israel as an apartheid state that is relying on these kinds of structures to victimize the Palestinian people as a whole and most vividly those who are in a Gaza and the 2 million or so people in Gaza are very, uh, related to this Israeli push to have a one state solution whereby they would like to not have to deal with the 2 million people in Gaza and would have been pressing to persuade either Jordan or Egypt or some combination, uh, to take responsibility for the administration of so they wouldn't have the problem of being a Jewish state, uh, with a majority non Jew Jewish population. They also have themselves sort of given credibility to this partaty assessment by the recent law of the, uh, the Basic Law of the Jewish people, which denies Arabic, isn't an official language and makes it clear that, uh, choose, have a superior status within Palestine to that enjoyed by non Jews.

Speaker 3:28:46And they just rejected the Knesset. As you probably know, uh, recently, uh, rejected a law that said all people living within Israel are entitled to equal treatment. So the argument has almost, except for the word has been endorsed by Israel. It's a formal institutions of Israel itself and of course from an international law point of view, or it is an international crime. The apartheid convention makes that clear and it is listed among the crimes against humanity in the statute of the International Criminal Court. And it's also made clear that apartheid is a form of discriminatory, a victimization of a people in order to maintain a certain kind of a political structure in a state. And it doesn't have to resemble in any way what the South Africans did.

Speaker 2:29:54So do you see that the calling out Israeli practices as being practices of apartheid, that, that is an argument that is, is gaining strength here in the United States?

Speaker 3:30:08Oh yes. I think it's gaining strength around the world and it's become almost a, a mainstream, a critical discourse at this point. And as I say, the Israelis have themselves lent a measure of credibility to it because it's very hard for a even zone this to ignore.

Speaker 2:30:36So it seems as if the sort of ideological struggle between those of us who want to call out Israeli at crimes against humanity and humanity, the ideological struggle between our side and between the ultra Zionist side, the kind of people and organizations that you referred to earlier that I had been working to criminalize. I'm boycotting. And to suppress this course. That sort of ideological struggle seems to be. I mean we've kind of. We've joined it now and there's no longer really the kind of wishy washy whitewashing Zionist. The last in narrative seems to have had kind of disappeared almost.

Speaker 3:31:32No, except that I think among liberals who are very strongly represented in Jewish middle class a context, they still hold the illusion that the problem isn't this on. Yeah. And if he passes from the scene, they can still envision some kind of solution. It's a, what I call a some the geopolitics because it has. The two state solution is long been superseded by the settlement dynamic. And the annexation of Jerusalem and so on, so that, but it, but liberal science continue to hold that. A kind of fig leaf. No,

Speaker 2:32:31no, I agree with you that there are many liberals in this country, that kind of thing to the old verities that they, they have clung to for a long time. But right now there's no note liberal Zionism in Israel itself. I mean there's

Speaker 3:32:50no. I mean there's this whole thing is what, because of the inability to really, uh, except the truth about what Israel has become is they're prepared. They, they accept a rationalization that shifts the focus of criticism to the present Israeli leadership and have this sense that the two state solution is still the only solution and that a post on yahoo leader can bring that back into the political arena. I think that's completely false and a highly misleading, but as sincerely held by a lot of people still.

Speaker 2:33:49Interesting. Well listen, I think we've probably covered just about everything we can cover for now. Costs lead and its effect on world politics 10 years later. So thank you very much for giving me the time and hope.

Speaker 3:34:08No, I'm glad we did it.

Speaker 1:34:10Hey Dad, I want to remind you that on January third we'll be releasing the next episode in this mini series conversation I had recently with the veteran social justice activist Joe Kate Chon, who recently joined just world educational as our director of outreach in it. Joe Talks about how costs lead was a big factor that galvanized his interest in Palestine and also about the three plus years he spent in Gaza from 2011 through fall 2014 at a time when he directly witnessed to further Israeli assaults on Gaza. Those assaults, by the way, would almost certainly have been prevented if Israel had been held accountable for the crimes committed. In the 2008, 2009 assault. This mini series on just world podcast is part of our border cast lead plus 10 campaign. You can find more information about the campaign on our website@wwwdotjustworldeducational.org. If you click on the donate tab on the website, you can learn about how you can help support our cost lead plus 10 campaign and all the rest of our community education programs. We really appreciate any financial or volunteering help you can give us. Thanks and stay well.

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