“It’s important not to view history as a mere creature of geopolitical forces. Popular resistance has altered the course of history. The decolonization movement, the antiapartheid movement, the movements to free the peoples of Eastern Europe from Soviet domination are all examples of struggles that seemed to defy the geopolitical structures that existed.” –Richard Falk
In the course of a scholarly life that has spanned more than five decades and includes fifty-four books and dozens more articles, Richard Falk has received a great deal of criticism–from the right and from the left. Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton, is considered one of the world’s most prominent critics of US interventionism. This distinction alone would explain why he is disliked by many foreign policy hawks. But some of Falk’s positions in recent years–such as his support for the US invasion of Afghanistan and his call for an independent investigation of 9/11–have also drawn the ire of those on the left. More controversial than anything, perhaps, has been his criticism of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza. Our conversation addressed all of these issues, homing in on Falk’s appointment in March by the United Nations to be the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories.
Falk is the very model of a distinguished academic. He has a habit of carefully nodding his head as he talks. There is a measured cadence in his speech, which suggests a sense of calm. Falk knows that he won’t be The Decider in future peace negotiations, but he hopes that his investigation of Israel’s occupation policies will provide the international community, and the next administration, with information that will support those negotiations. Looking ahead, Falk remarked, “The new American President will be challenged by the legacy of the Bush approach to the Middle East but also presented with opportunities to move forward–but only if future policies are based on respect for international law.”
In addition to serving on a UN Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian Territories in 2001, Falk has been a visiting distinguished professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This past year he also held the Leo Block Professorship at the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies. I spoke with him after a series of lectures in Denver on academic freedom, global governance and the occupation of Iraq.
Last year you wrote a widely circulated article, “Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust.” Since the article’s publication you have been assailed for using “extraordinary language” in criticizing Israeli policy, most recently in a BBC interview.
The BBC interview as it was broadcast eliminated some things I said that were qualifications. The references to the Holocaust and to the Nazi policies were not meant to be literal comparisons but were intended to show that the policies being pursued, in Gaza in particular, had holocaustal implications if they were not changed. And the mind-set of holding an entire people responsible for opposition and resistance embodies a kind of collective punishment psychology that was very characteristic of the way the Nazis justified what they did to the Jewish people. But my intention was based on the feeling that you have to shout to be heard, and perhaps that was not the best way to make the argument. I would be quite prepared to abandon that terminology but not prepared to alter my concern about the character of the policies being pursued.