Gaza Interview

20 Aug

(Prefatory Note: I have had several requests to post an interview published in CounterPunch on the Gaza crisis; it covers a wide range of issues, but is not up to date in relation to a rapidly changing situation in which adversaries are engaged in a misleading blame game while the bodies and rubble continue to pile up on the Gaza side of the border)


An Interview with Richard Falk on the Crisis in Gaza



Richard Falk is an American professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. He just completed a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He was appointed to this role by the UN Human Rights Council, in 2008.

Ken Klippenstein: Could you describe Sisi’s [Egypt’s new leader] relationship with Hamas?

Richard Falk: The [Sisi] government is determined to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood and they view Hamas as an extension of the Brotherhood. So they’re, in a certain way, on the same side as Israel on this particular confrontation.

KK: Has the aerial bombardment campaign adopted by Israel done anything to decrease the rocket fire coming from Gaza?

RF: There’s no evidence that it has. It certainly has caused some damage and some deaths to those involved in either making or deploying and firing the rockets. But there’s no discernable effect in stopping Hamas’ and other militias’—it’s not only Hamas, there are other militias, some of which Hamas doesn’t control—that have engaged in this kind of rocket fire. The only alternative to using these rockets for defenseless people like those living in Gaza is to absolutely do nothing—to be completely passive. They have no military capability to resist Israel on the ground or in the air or from the sea. So it’s a very one-sided war; and one-sided wars are, in my view, by their very nature unlawful and constitute crimes against humanity.

KK: Since Palestine lacks statehood, does that deny them recourse to the protections afforded by international law?

RF: The UN General Assembly on Nov. 29, 2012 passed a resolution recognizing the statehood of Palestine as a non-member observer state of the UN. That has been interpreted as giving Palestine the status of being a state in international society for most purposes. They have joined UNESCO, for instance, as a member state, and they’ve adhered to more than 15 international treaties open only to states. They’re recognized by, I think, 130 governments as a state. They could at this point seek redress at the International Criminal Court, a step that Israel and the United States have declared would be very provocative from their point of view and would lead to adverse consequences.

In effect, the United States and Israel are saying it’s not acceptable to use international criminal law to uphold your legal rights.

KK: What is the US role in the aerial bombardment campaign?

RF: The US is definitely complicit and legally accountable, at least in theory, in that this weaponry is not supposed to be used except in accordance with international law; and if the whole undertaking is a violation of international law, then the United States is responsible, and should diplomatically have been seeking to restrain and censure Israel, rather than to lend its support.

Beyond that, there is the sense that Congress itself—again at least theoretically—restricts military assistance to foreign countries in a way that is supposed to be compatible with international law and the UN Charter. So by the guidelines that are embedded in American law itself, this is an unlawful and unacceptable policy that the US government has been pursuing.

KK: Could you talk about the legality of the siege of Gaza?

RF: The siege of Gaza is clearly a form of collective punishment that is prohibited by Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention, which unconditionally prohibits any recourse to collective punishment. A blockade that has been maintained since the middle of 2007 is directed at the entire civilian population of Gaza. It includes many items that are needed for health, subsistence, and minimum requirements of a decent life. So in my view, Israel—as the occupying power (under international law) of Gaza—is supposed to protect the civilian population, rather than subject it to a punitive blockade of the sort that’s been in existence these past 7 years.

KK: Israel sometimes phones warnings ahead of time before bombing buildings. Do you believe that this constitutes a serious effort to minimize civilian deaths?

RF: One would have to look carefully at each context. My impression is that Gaza is a place where there’s no real opportunity to escape from impending attacks. There may have been some lives saved as a result of these warnings. My impression is they’re not given consistently and comprehensively; and furthermore, that in the wider context of Gaza, there’s no opportunity for people to become refugees or to even move from points of danger to points of relative safety. It’s unusual in a wartime situation where almost always there is an option of crossing borders during a period of combat and finding some sort of sanctuary. Israel again, as the occupying power, has an obligation to see to it that the civilian population [of Gaza] is protected. They deny any kind of exit right to Palestinians living in Gaza, except those holding foreign passports (there are about 800 Palestinians with dual passports who have been allowed to cross the border into Israel). 150 of those have American citizenship and the US consulate has been facilitating their departure if those people want to.

But in general, for the 1,700,000 Gazans, they are denied the option of becoming refugees or even of becoming internally displaced persons. And therefore they cannot escape from the fire zone that Israel has created. And even if they’re not direct casualties being killed or injured, they are living under the cloud of state terrorism maintained day and night over this period, in a way that psychiatrists and psychologists and mental health experts say is inducing mass trauma on the part of the Palestinian people, particularly among the children.

Even before this attack there exists a highly anxious atmosphere because there are Israeli planes flying over all the time; and it’s never clear when they will do something that is hostile. People of Gaza, as I’ve been saying, are completely vulnerable. They have no way of fighting back. They are at the mercy of the Israelis. And the Israelis show very little mercy.

KK: What is Israel’s legal rationale for denying Gazans the displaced persons status that you mentioned before?

RF: As far as I know, they haven’t articulated any justification for this policy. They just close the borders and the international community has by and large been scandalously silent; and has remained so up to this time.

KK: What is the US role in blocking a UN resolution condemning Israeli violence in Gaza?

RF: As I understand it, the US did indicate its readiness to veto any resolution that blamed Israel, and there was support for such a resolution on the part of the majority of the members of the Security Council. What the UN ended up doing was issuing a statement that called for a ceasefire but it is a statement that has no binding legal effect and did not in any way censure Israel for its role.

KK: Do you believe the Security Council should be reformed in any way, given the US’ propensity for vetoing otherwise unanimous Security Council resolutions?

RF: I think it would be a helpful move from the perspective of global justice and the implementation of international law; but as matters now stand, it’s a very impractical step because no amendment to the UN charter can be made without the consensus of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council, each of whom has a veto. The United States and probably Russia and maybe China would veto any effort to deprive them of their veto rights. So it’s more or less gridlocked with respect to reform.

KK: Would you support a call for an arms embargo on Israel?

RF: Yes I would. I think it would be an appropriate move at this point. Israel has consistently defied international law in many different ways. It shows no sign of respecting the wishes of the international community, at this time, for an immediate ceasefire. So I think that the only way the world can show that it’s at all serious about protecting vulnerable peoples—in this case the Palestinians—would be to impose an arms embargo.

Of course Israel has a very robust arms industry itself. It’s one of the ten leading exporters of arms. And it’s of course inconceivable that, at this stage, the US and several of the West European countries would respect such an embargo. Nevertheless, it would be an important symbolic step in the direction of delegitimizing the kind of behavior that Israel has been engaged in.

KK: In the case of Israeli kidnappings and murder of Palestinians in Palestinian territory, can the perpetrators be brought before a Palestinian court or must Palestinians simply accept an Israeli court? 

RF: At this point they would have to accept the formal authority of the Israeli courts because the crime was committed in an area under Israeli legal administration. And the accused are in the possession of the Israelis and therefore they have the authority under international law to prosecute.

If there’s not a serious assessment of the crime, it could be questioned as an evasion of the obligation to prosecute; and if found guilty, punish those that engage in this kind of behavior. Remembering that, as far as we know, this was purely private criminal activity. It was not something that the government can be shown to have authorized—although the background of incitement after the kidnapping of the 3 Israeli teenagers on Jun 12th is part of the broader context in which this crime occurred.

KK: Are allegations of Hamas using human shields credible?

RF: There hasn’t been, as far as I know, serious evidence that this has taken place. In fact there is evidence that the Israelis used Palestinians as human shields when they mounted the ground offensive back in 2008-2009. And even if the Palestinians did do this, it would still not vindicate Israelis shooting directly at civilians, unless there was some kind of argument of absolute military necessity, which is pretty remote from this situation.

KK: Do you believe that Israel has been committing war crimes in Gaza?

RF: Yeah. I think certainly there’s the basis for alleging war crimes. It requires a formal legal judgment to reach the conclusion that there have been war crimes committed. There is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty—that’s important to maintain. But certainly the evidence that I’m aware of suggests the commission of serious crimes against humanity and war crimes in the course of this operation.

KK: Could you discuss the background of the crisis? Western media’s accounts usually begin with the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli boys, omitting important contexts: the siege of Gaza, for instance.

RF: The timeline for these justifications that are made by Israel is very self-serving and not very convincing. Of course, you have a complex pattern of interaction. On the other hand, Israel is the occupying power, and has the international responsibility to protect the civilian population [of Gaza]. And in the case of the kidnapping on Jun 12, they had the opportunity to limit the response to an enforcement action that was done in a reasonable way. Instead they used it as a pretext for seeking to destroy Hamas as a political actor present in the West Bank; and then extending that anti-Hamas policy to the attack on Gaza. So it was clearly a way of using this initial criminal act as a means to pursue a much wider political agenda that focuses on Israel’s national ambition to control the West Bank—at least most of the West Bank, where the settlements are—and to eliminate from that reality the only viable Palestinian opposition force (because the Palestinian Authority that is nominally in control on behalf of the Palestinians of the West Bank, is in a semi-collaborationist relationship with Israel). So the attempt to get rid of Hamas as a political influence on the West Bank particularly, and to punish it severely in Gaza where it’s in control of the governing process, is a crime.

KK: Why did Netanyahu not take Abbas up on his offer to cooperate with the investigation into the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli boys?

RF: I think it’s part of Netanyahu’s political escalation of the Israeli approach at this point. They repudiated the direct negotiations—which didn’t make much sense in the first place—but they repudiated them as a way of stating that they would no longer seriously engage in diplomacy but would impose their own solution on the conflict. And that solution involves consolidating control over the whole of Jerusalem and taking all or the most valuable parts of the West Bank and in effect annexing them to Israel.

KK: Under the Arms Control Act of 1976, governments that receive weapons from the US are required to use them for legitimate self-defense. Does the US’ arms aid to Israel violate that law?

RF: Yes, definitely. From everything I’ve been saying, there’s no legal, political or moral argument that would uphold the claim that Israel is acting in legitimate self-defense. There’s been no armed attack by Hamas or Gaza; in any event, Gaza from an international law point of view, is not a foreign state but an occupied territory. It’s not clear that you can exercise self-defense in relation to a territory that you are responsible for administering in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Ken Klippenstein is a journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. He can be reached via twitter @kenklippenstein or email:





21 Responses to “Gaza Interview”

  1. Gene Schulman August 20, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    Glad to see this on your blog, Richard. Had already read it at CP, but am sure many of your readers have not.

  2. A6er August 20, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    Thank you for posting this.

  3. rehmat1 August 20, 2014 at 6:36 am #

    Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the outgoing chief of US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), on July 26, 2014, told his “Friends of Israel” audience at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that if Israel destroyed Hamas, the Zionist entity could be facing more deadly enemies in the occupied Palestine.

    • Kata Fisher August 20, 2014 at 7:46 am #

      rehmat1: I cant believe you are going about that…

      He (Flynn) does not know what he is talking about. His military strategy / reasoning (way of thinking) are irrational, at best. He is relying on destruction & space vacuum instance taking place in Holy Land.

      Hamas and Israel are in no destruction / vacuum agreement, and it should not be. No one is talking about destruction of Hamas, except Netanyahu and folks such as Flynn are giving reference to that? Both of these fellows are irrational, at their best. Any more issues just like that?

      The only destruction applicable is way of Hamas Charter and the way of that colonial- Zionism in application (military force) by acquiring of the Holy Land and /or restricting Jews or Muslims from the Holy Land.

      Any instance of Hamas Charter and colonial-Zionism in application acts as a rotten tooth to the Holy Land, and we see as we have seen the consequences of both with the recent armed conflict.

      Hamas is a legitimate government/part of a legitimate government in Gaza/Palestine, and they need to be held accountable for their actions – they do not fall under attempts of destruction, legitimately. Flynn must have had too much to drink on top of his irrational thoughts and prayers—or perhaps even else what.

      In general, the spirit in pentagon is so that the folks there can’t help themselves with ongoing scandals.

      Also, down their chain of commands their wife’s craft-up and do all kind of evil stuff—you name it they do it…then the guys become more effective on the beach in their underpants—so they may well be only sent there – or to the Holy Land.

      • rehmat1 August 20, 2014 at 8:54 am #

        Fisher: Did you ever read Hamas charter from some OBJECTIVE source than Israel MEMRI, which distorted Ahmadinejad’s “a Middle East without Zionist regime” in Persian to “wipe Israel off the map” in English and Hebrew?

        The Hamas charter calls for the recovery of the historic Palestine stolen from native Palestinians by the European Jewish terrorist organizations since 1930s. And if you dare to consult International Law or your Bible, Hamas and all the other resistance groups have the divine rights to pursue.

        If you get hold a 1947 World Map, I bet you would not see some country named “Israel”, but it would certainly show the 5,000-year-old Palestine. So, whose charter says the “elimination” of Muslims and Christians in the Holy Land?

        There has never been shortage of Rabbis inside and outside Israel who have called for the blood of Palestinians – and even the blood of fellow Jewish intellectuals who dare to criticize the Zionist regime. No, I’m not talking about Dr. Richard Falk or Richard Goldstone – but professor William Robinson.

      • Gene Schulman August 20, 2014 at 9:24 am #

        You’re not wrong, rehmat1. But don’t be too hard on Kata. She has a spiritual sensibility, and she is only expressing what she feels. I don’t always agree with her, but am glad to have her around. She offers a humorous touch to these comments compared to the nastiness of some the others who are here only to denigrate Prof. Falk and anyone who might agree with him. And don’t forget, though they are the only ones trying to help Palestine in its fight for self-determination, Hamas are not saints, and some of their methods are not much better than those used by the Stern Gang/Irgun when they were seeking self-determination from the British. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

      • rehmat1 August 20, 2014 at 10:20 am #

        Gene Schulman – I’m afraid your comparison of Hamas with Stern Gang/Irgun shows your ignorance of European Jewish terrorism. The Stern Gang/Irgun members were not Palestinian natives but Hamas members are. Stern Gang/Irgun Jews collaborated with Nazis aka Frankist Jews.

      • Kata Fisher August 20, 2014 at 11:41 am #

        This is what I perceive about Holy Land: US and Russia cold war issues wrapping up over the Holy Land and all over the Middle East.

        I just remembered something that I read in one of the books that I had to read while @ LU:

        Does anyone remember confrontation @UCLA when John MacArthur was there with other folks and students? There was something like Campus Crusades for Christ. Apparently after that the dean wrote a warning article about violated university constitution– that there should be no instance of use the campus for religious conversions, and that was humorously reported in Daily Bruin along with the mascot bear cartoon.

        I remember laughing about that.

        John MacArthur wrote very funny things about that.

      • Kata Fisher August 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

        I have a reflection about this:

        “The Hamas charter calls for the recovery of the historic Palestine stolen from native Palestinians by the European Jewish terrorist organizations since 1930s. And if you dare to consult International Law or your Bible, Hamas and all the other resistance groups have the divine rights to pursue.”

        “International Law or your Bible, Hamas and all the other resistance groups have the divine rights to pursue” ?


  4. Fred Skolnik August 20, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    I have no idea what you are, rehmet, but one thing you don’t know is Arab history. The Philistines were an Aegean Sea People who arrived off the coast of Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt from the West in around 1200 B.C. and occupied the so-called Lands of the Philistines (the biblical Peleshet or Philistia) between Gaza and Ashdod. The Jews established the Kingdom of Israel in around 1000 B.C. and later the Kingdoms of Judah (Judea), the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) and Herod. When the Romans conquered the Jews they changed the name Judea to Palestine (derived from Philistia) to obliterate the connection to the Jews. The British revived the name under their Mandate. The Arabs came out of the Arabian Desert in the 7th century and conquered the Land of Israel along with the rest of the Middle East. They have absolutely nothing to do with the Philistines, Philistia, Palestine or Palestinians.

    I think, Ira, that this site will atrophy without us. Ray will congratulate Gene and Gene will congratulate Rehmet and that will be it. I’m signing off and I hope all rational people do the same.

    • rehmat1 August 20, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Moshe, like you, I’m also a human-being. Some Jewish bloggers have even called me “self-hating Jew”. As for Arab history is concerned – you may like to study Professor Philip Khuri Hitti’s (Princeton University) book, ‘History of the Arabs’.

    • Fred Skolnik August 20, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      Note the “Moshe” comment from your admirer. In case you missed it again, or have no problem with it, you might remind him that you’re supposed to call all Jewish men Abraham and all Jewish women Sarah. That’s how the Nazis did it.

      • rehmat1 August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am #

        Fred Skolnik – Correction, Abraham was not Jewish nor was Sarah. The 12 Israelite Tribes are the extension of prophet Yaqub (Jacob aka Israel). As Israeli historian Dr. Shlomo Sand claimed that “Jews were invented only a century ago”.

      • ariadnatheo August 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

        I find the comments more interesting than Falk’s interview, although I cannot say I agree with any single one.

        — rehmat is wrong, obviously: anyone wishing to know the history of the land and its people would not be well served by reading any history book because none is dependable — look, for example, at what revisionist historians are doing denying the first-person accounts of Holocaust survivors. Look at what some deranged Israeli historian — or whatever Shlomo Sand is– do by claiming Jewish people were ‘invented. No, thank you, rehmat. History as eternally inscribed in the Torah is rock solid.

        — Kate makes the revolting claim that only Netanyahu and his bunch wish to destroy Hamas (as if that was a bad thing), thus spitting in the face not only the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews terrorized by Hamas’ lethal bombardments, not only the brave Israeli soldiers who die in droves defending the Jewish land but also the highest and wisest rabbis in Israel and abroad. Why is she doing that? She doesn’t explain, only mentions cryptically some Pentagon wives who cavort on the beach in underpants.

        –Schulman attempts to excuse Hamas by equating it with the trail-blazing Jewish revolutionaries who fought for Israel’s independence — Irgun and Stern — the cadre that gave Israel its future PMs (Begin, Shamir) and politicians and whom it is fashionable nowadays for some leftist Jews to slander, focusing not on their patriotism for the land soon to be conquered but on the few instances when they simply had to say ‘no more Mr Nice Guy’ and take some drastic measures.

        –Skolnic shamefully alludes to the Holocaust indirectly in an aside comment about Nazi slurs, as if the Holocaust were some second thought rather than the central icon of the Jews’ never ending suffering. This in effect minimizes the Holocaust, which is not something to wink conspiratorially about but shout from the rooftops every time Israel is mentioned.

        Question: after 6 millions of Jews were choked in gas chambers or burned alive in crematoria, all killed — unlike all other victims of the Holocaust — only for being Jews, after the millions of survivors who escaped against all odds later raised children who were traumatized for life by their parents’ accounts, in turn raising a third generation of traumatized Jews, after the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi death camps that only a deeply psychotic imagination could conjure up — the soap from Jews’ fat, the lampshades from Jews’ skin — after all this, is there ANYTHING, ANYTHING AT ALL, that Israeli Jews, or any Jews, can do to assuage their anxiety of the eternal existential threat that anyone has the right to question? Ever? I don’t think so, so let’s put a bag over this nambi-pambi, pussyfooting, claptrap of Israel’s ‘guilt.’

      • Kata Fisher August 20, 2014 at 10:50 pm #


        Oh, gosh! Discerning of your thoughts is like a cleaning up a very soiled baby diaper! I’ll refuse to do it whenever I can.

        So it is that you are lay-people and have no clue what is discussed here — so mind your own business. You must be pentagon and chain of command associated? OK—then learn when you can. I do not care.

        Your interpretation of what I have said is in a dead-end. Meaning, you are misinterpreting, and misrepresenting things that I have said. What I was saying is, and it is no spiritual / religious jokes that are not humorous—so that one can and also can not laugh about it, and apparently you do not get the context.

        I am not ordained so to play foolishness.

        If you really want-so-want and do not have accurate interpretation of that what Church Charismatic Catholic ordained is saying — go to Rome and Pope and ask them.

        And as for you– you sound like a spite-filled woman – who can interpret you?

    • Gene Schulman August 21, 2014 at 3:14 am #

      Fred, before you and Ira “sign off”, maybe you’ll appreciate a video, since you don’t seem to be able to read English text:

      • Kata Fisher August 21, 2014 at 9:11 am #

        I have had a reflection about this:

        This was misplaced in time & space/place:

        David Singer says:
        April 8, 2014 12:58 am at 12:58 am

        “Kerry needs to get Israel and Jordan negotiating on the allocation of sovereignty in the West Bank between Arabs and Jews as a matter of urgency.
        Maybe those negotiations will turn out like those between Israel and the PLO over the last 20 years – a total waste of time.
        But no one will know until they are attempted.
        Jordan is the best credentialed of all Arab States to negotiate with Israel. The sooner Jordan sits down with Israel the better.”

        Israel = (– Netanyahu) & /or (-/+ Palestine/Gaza) @ negotiations.

        Netanyahu needs a legal counsel of many—Netanyahu is powerless to make any decisions without independent oversight.

        I have another reflection:

        Alternatively, add Egypt in order to represent and oversee the interest of people in Gaza and Palestine.With that, Egypt, Israel and Jordan option.

        I believe that after that; it will be no effort wasted to get Palestine/Gaza and Israel on the peace path.

      • rehmat1 August 21, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

        Kata Fisher – Netanyahu is no different than the other Israeli Zionists leaders who never stop showing acute symptoms of mental disorder.

        A few months ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, former Israeli concentration camp guard, turned into an American journalist and author, interviewed Benjamin Netanyahu. The interview was published, entitled ‘Netanyahu: No body to negotiate at Ramallah’, was published at Jewish Bloomberg. In the interview, Netanyahu blamed Mahmoud Abbas’ team for the failure of John Kerry’s “offer no Palestinian can refuse”.

      • Kata Fisher August 21, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

        Then, none of leaders in Israel are left in a sane conscience? Is that what are you saying? All the other – and not Netanyahu, then? Perhaps then Netanyahu is just in a bad environment? Not so! If so, then environment has to change — or Netanyahu will just have to change. His will is adaptable; he will get legal council/advisors…that would be inflexible. He and Israel have too much going on–they can’t handle it all…



  1. UN Jewish envoy: ‘Israel needs to talk with Hamas’ | Rehmat's World - August 20, 2014

    […] “The US is definitely complicit and legally accountable, at least in theory, in that this weaponry is not supposed to be used except in accordance with international law; and if the whole undertaking is a violation of international law, then the United States is responsible, and should diplomatically have been seeking to restrain and censure Israel, rather than to lend its support,” said Falk. Read the rest of the interview here. […]

  2. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » An Interview with Richard Falk on the Crisis in Gaza - August 25, 2014

    […] Go to Original – […]

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