'Goliath' Author Max Blumenthal On Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

'Goliath' Author Max Blumenthal On Israeli-Palestinian Crisis
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, on July 10, 2014. The United Arab Emirates pledged $25 million in humanitarian aid to 'support the steadfastness' of Palestinians in Gaza where Israeli strikes have killed more than 70 people in three days. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows smoke billowing from buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, on July 10, 2014. The United Arab Emirates pledged $25 million in humanitarian aid to 'support the steadfastness' of Palestinians in Gaza where Israeli strikes have killed more than 70 people in three days. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories are bad and getting worse. An Israeli air offensive on Gaza has hit 750 targets, killing 80 Palestinians. Militants in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, with no reported serious injuries thus far.

The current crisis was sparked in June by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, allegedly by Hamas activists. The murder of a Palestinian teen in a revenge killing increased the tension.

But the roots of the situation lie deeper in the past, with the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, author Max Blumenthal argues. His hotly-debated 2013 book Goliath, on the rise of the Israeli right, made him prominent in the "boycott, divestment and sanctions" movement and a villain among those who consider him an Israel-basher. A "massive societal transition" emboldening the Israeli right, he claims, has made stepping back from the precipice in the current crisis nearly impossible.

Tell me about your book and why you wrote it.

I noticed in 2009 that Israel had undergone a massive societal transition, and that new voices were moving into the mainstream from the extreme right. That the peace process had completely collapsed and failed to accomplish what it supposedly set out to do, and that the most right-wing government in Israel's history had been elected by a comprehensively indoctrinated and militarized public, whose youngest members were its most extreme, and that this was going to spell serious trouble on the ground.

Why has the government become so right-wing?

The government and the Israeli public have become steadily more right-wing since the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000 and the second intifada, when Ehud Barak said there was no Palestinian partner, basically delegitimizing negotiations with Palestinians.

His successor Ariel Sharon built the separation wall ... to basically eliminate the presence of as many Palestinians as possible form Israeli life. This led to a direct rise in racist elements in the Israeli public.

The people who grew up in this atmosphere of separation, or you could even call it hard segregation, are the future leaders of Israel -- they are Naftali Bennett, who's boasted that he's killed a lot of Arabs and there's nothing wrong with that.

How much of the current rising tensions lie in the changes you describe in your book?

They're the direct result of an education system that promotes militarization, that seeks to delegitimize the other in the minds of Israelis, and to cultivate Israelis as good soldiers, not good citizens.

To help them accomplish the psychological feat, which is not normal, of joining an occupation army at age 18, they have to be processed through a prolonged program of indoctrination which convinces them that they are in existential peril at all times, and that Palestinians could throw them off their land if they don't join the army.

(Abu Khdeir's killers) are a common product of Israel's education system and its comprehensively militarized culture.

What about the murder of the three Israeli teens?

Those kidnappings appear to have been carried out by a rogue Hamas cell without knowledge of Hamas leadership. Carried out by two Hamas members who had been involved in violent activity for much of their adult lives, who had been in and out of Israeli prisons, had been tortured in Israeli prisons.

They had political goals. The kidnapping was botched and they killed the teens without a second thought. So that's where they were coming from -- but Hamas had very little interest in a hostage exchange after forming a unity government with Fatah.

This kind of kidnapping is fairly rare, and if you consider how much violence is enacted on Palestinians, and how occupied people who have been subjected to settler colonialism throughout history and have responded with violence, I consider the Palestinian position to be one of general restraint.

It's now become a much wider conflict. Why?

It's a wider conflict for a variety of reasons. The political atmosphere was highly charged after the collapse of the peace process, with Netanyahu determined to reverse the damage that had been done to him and shatter the unity agreement.

Israeli snipers had executed two teens on camera on May 15, almost a month before the kidnapping, and the international damage was enormous because a CNN cameraman had actually filmed the killing.

In the phone call (from a kidnapped teen to the police), you can hear gunshots, you can hear the killers shouting "we got three of them." The Israeli government military apparatus hid this information from the Israeli public in order to justify its campaign across the entire West Bank. They also knew who the suspects were within 24 hours.

The parents of the teens were even lied to by the Israeli police and Shin Bet. They were told that the sound of the gunshots were actually blanks, and that there was no blood found in the car.

Israeli society had been set up for a really furious reaction to their government's manipulation to the flow of information.

Netanyahu in his statement explicitly called for revenge. He said, "Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created. Neither has vengeance for the blood of 3 pure youths who were on their way home to their parents who will not see them anymore. Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay."

Israeli society was just braying to destroy any form of Palestinian resistance. Gaza is the epicenter of evil in their minds, so the Israeli air force starts pounding the Gaza strip with drones. Now Hamas was there, and they have imposed pretty strict control over armed resistance, and they have elements that they're trying to manage, you could say to their right, like Islamic Jihad.

Hamas authorizes right away a massive response, because of the bombing which has been going on since June. They have rockets which can reach near Tel Aviv, near Jerusalem. … The situation deteriorates from there.

The overall point is that there is a political backdrop to this violence, and much of it originates from these right-wing trends in Israeli society and the kind of mainstreaming of extremism -- inflexible eliminationist extremism -- all of this occurring against the backdrop of the collapse of the peace process and the attempt of the two main Palestinian factions to reconcile.

How will this resonate internationally?

I think that this current round of violence is more significant for its international political implications than for the implications from the ground in Israel-Palestine. As we speak, there are demonstrations around the world and outside of Israeli consulates, and I haven't seen this happen since 2009, where my book begins with Operation Cast Lead, and that's where the BDS movement got its big lift.

What should the U.S. do?

I think the US has lost so much credibility in the region that there isn't much it can do. It's ridiculous to ask me what should be done, not to talk about what's being done, but the U.S. could extract enormous concessions from Israel just by not shipping spare parts for its F-16s. That's how dependent Israel is on U.S. support.

Finally, I think that it's up to progressive activists within the Democratic Party who are disgusted with the status quo and want to take concrete action against a system that is clearly based on apartheid to start cultivating candidates.

I think we're going to see that play out in the 2016 elections and to some extent in the midterms because BDS activism is not limited to just the radical left. People within the Democratic Party I've noticed, progressive groups are taking an interest in it -- because it's really the only game in town. It's the only way of applying pressure to Israel.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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