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Norman Finkelstein: Palestinians Have the Right to Break Free of the "Unlivable" Cage That Is Gaza

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This spring's mass nonviolent protests in Gaza come as the human rights conditions in the "open-air prison" have even further deteriorated. Last year, the United Nations issued a report warning Gaza is already "unlivable." The majority of its water is contaminated, and electricity is limited to only a few hours a day. About half the population is children. Almost all are refugees who are prevented from ever leaving the tiny Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on Earth. For more, we speak with Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar whose most recent book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, speaking on Tuesday.

HEATHER NAUERT: But let's go back to something that we have covered extensively here, and let's go back to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. We have had many Gazans who have suffered at the -- from the loss of medical care, not being able to have access to enough medical care, not having access to consistent electricity, food, jobs and many other things, as well. The misery that is faced by people in Gaza is because of a result of Hamas. That is something that we come back to. People want to blame Israel for all of this that is going on over the past few weeks. Let's take a look at the dire situation that people in Gaza are facing, and that is a result of Hamas's governing.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the State Department spokesperson. Norm, this whole -- people forget that the blockade, how the -- the origins of the existing blockade around Gaza as a result of Israel's reaction to a democratic election that occurred in the Palestinian territories. Could you refresh the viewers' minds about this? And who is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. First of all, as Amira Hass, the respected journalist from Haaretz, pointed out today in the newspaper, the blockade of Gaza, in its milder form, but still severe form, it goes back 27 years. It started in 1991 during the first intifada. The blockade was then significantly, qualitatively intensified after the Hamas won the parliamentary elections -- what Jimmy Carter, who was an observer, called a completely and honest -- completely honest and fair elections, in January 2006. The immediate reaction of Israel, followed by the United States and then the EU, was to impose this brutal blockade on Gaza, which at a certain point even blockaded, prohibited chips, potato chips, baby chicks, chocolate from entering Gaza. And then, after Hamas preempted a coup, orchestrated by the United States, Israel and elements of the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Israel ratcheted up the blockade of Gaza.

Now, who is responsible for the current crisis in Gaza? First of all, we have to be clear about -- OK, let me start with who's responsible. As you are no doubt aware, there's been a -- there's a proliferation of reports, from the World Bank, from various U.N. agencies, UNCTAD, the IMF. They put out report after report after report after report. And there's a complete -- there's a consensus. There's a consensus that the proximate cause of the horror in Gaza, the proximate cause, is the Israeli blockade. It's not Hamas. There might be some Hamas responsibility, but it's so marginal, so minimal, as compared to that blockade.

Now, we have to be clear, and I don't want to get too dramatic about it, too emotive about it, but we have to be clear about that blockade. Number one, it's a flagrant violation of international law, because it constitutes a form of collective punishment. Number two, since 2012, the United Nations -- and these are very staid, conservative bureaucrats, who don't use -- they don't use poetic language. They start, in 2012, by saying -- issuing a report in the interrogative: Will Gaza be livable in 2020? In 2015, UNCTAD issued a report. It then used the declarative. It said, on its present trajectory, Gaza will be unlivable in 2020. Now, bear in mind, literally unlivable. These are U.N. reports by professional economists. By 2017, the U.N., Robert Piper, he said, "We were too optimistic. Gaza passed the unlivability threshold years ago. Gaza, as we speak, it's unlivable."

Now, what does that mean concretely? Ninety-seven percent of Gaza's drinking water is contaminated. Now, bear in mind, of the 2 million people in Gaza, 1 million or more, 51 percent, are children. One million or more are children. Sara Roy, who's the world's leading authority on Gaza's economy -- she's at the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies -- in the latest edition of her standard work on Gaza's economy, she says, "Innocent people, most of them young, are slowly being poisoned by the water they drink." Now, Sara is a very respected, cautious economist, or political economist, as she calls herself. "Innocent people, most of them children, are slowly being poisoned." That's what Gaza is today.

Now, to get back to Nikki Keddie -- Haley, excuse me -- to get back to Nikki Haley, she said, "What country in the world would do anything different to protect their border?" Let's be clear: That is not a border, and that is not a border fence. Baruch Kimmerling, the sociologist in Hebrew University, the late sociologist, he said Gaza is the biggest "concentration camp" ever to exist. David Cameron, the conservative British prime minister, he said Gaza is an "open-air prison." Haaretz, the most respected of Israel's newspapers, referred to the "Palestinian ghetto." Israel's snipers are poised not on a border. They're poised on the perimeter -- call it a concentration camp, call it a ghetto, call it an open-air prison.

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And the people of Gaza -- it's unusual in the world today. As the United Nations Relief and Works Agency pointed out, they said Gaza is different than all the other humanitarian crises. Why? If there is a natural disaster, like a drought, people move. If there's a human-made disaster, like Syria, people move. Gaza is the only place on Earth where the place is unlivable and the people can't move. They can't leave. They're trapped.

And then that raises, for me, what's the fundamental question. Even the human rights organizations which haven't been bad, even they refer to Israel's use of excessive force. They refer to Israel's use of disproportionate force. Implicit in that language is, Israel has the right to use proportionate force. Israel has the right to use moderate force. In fact, leaving aside the legalities and the technicalities, let's just look at the picture raw. Israel doesn't have the right to use any force. Two million people, half of whom are children, are trapped, caged in an unlivable space where they are, to quote Sara Roy, "slowly being poisoned." Unless you believe that Israel has the right to poison 1 million children, it has no right to use any force against the people of Gaza. They have the right to break free from the cage Israel has created for them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Norm Finkelstein, as we begin to wrap up, what do you think is the solution?

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