Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years.
Hideous. Sadistic. Vicious. Murderous. That is how Noam Chomsky describes Israel’s 29-day offensive in Gaza that killed nearly 1,900 people and left almost 10,000 people injured. Chomsky has written extensively about the Israel/Palestine conflict for decades. After Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Chomsky co-authored the book "Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians" with Israeli scholar Ilan Pappé. His other books on the Israel/Palestine conflict include "Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on Justice and Nationhood" and "The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians." Chomsky is a world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: To talk more about the crisis in Gaza, we go now to Boston, where we are joined by Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years. He has written extensively about the Israel-Palestine conflict for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Forty years ago this month, Noam Chomsky published Peace in the Middle East?: Reflections on Justice and Nationhood. His 1983 book, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, is known as one of the definitive works on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Professor Chomsky joins us from Boston.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Noam. Please first just comment, since we haven’t spoken to you throughout the Israeli assault on Gaza. Your comments on what has just taken place?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them, after which you go to a period of what’s called "ceasefire," which means that Hamas observes the ceasefire, as Israel concedes, while Israel continues to violate it. Then it’s broken by an Israeli escalation, Hamas reaction. Then you have period of "mowing the lawn." This one is, in many ways, more sadistic and vicious even than the earlier ones.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what of the pretext that Israel used to launch these attacks? Could you talk about that and to what degree you feel it had any validity?
NOAM CHOMSKY: As high Israeli officials concede, Hamas had observed the previous ceasefire for 19 months. The previous episode of "mowing the lawn" was in November 2012. There was a ceasefire. The ceasefire terms were that Hamas would not fire rockets—what they call rockets—and Israel would move to end the blockade and stop attacking what they call militants in Gaza. Hamas lived up to it. Israel concedes that.
In April of this year, an event took place which horrified the Israeli government: A unity agreement was formed between Gaza and the West Bank, between Hamas and Fatah. Israel has been desperately trying to prevent that for a long time. There’s a background we could talk about, but it’s important. Anyhow, the unity agreement came. Israel was furious. They got even more upset when the U.S. more or less endorsed it, which is a big blow to them. They launched a rampage in the West Bank.
What was used as a pretext was the brutal murder of three settler teenagers. There was a pretense that they were alive, though they knew they were dead. That allowed a huge—and, of course, they blamed it right away on Hamas. They have yet to produce a particle of evidence, and in fact their own highest leading authorities pointed out right away that the killers were probably from a kind of a rogue clan in Hebron, the Qawasmeh clan, which turns out apparently to be true. They’ve been a thorn in the sides of Hamas for years. They don’t follow their orders.
But anyway, that gave the opportunity for a rampage in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of people, re-arresting many who had been released, mostly targeted on Hamas. Killings increased. Finally, there was a Hamas response: the so-called rocket attacks. And that gave the opportunity for "mowing the lawn" again.
AMY GOODMAN: You said that Israel does this periodically, Noam Chomsky. Why do they do this periodically?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Because they want to maintain a certain situation. There’s a background. For over 20 years, Israel has been dedicated, with U.S. support, to separating Gaza from the West Bank. That’s in direct violation of the terms of the Oslo Accord 20 years ago, which declared that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity whose integrity must be preserved. But for rogue states, solemn agreements are just an invitation to do whatever you want. So Israel, with U.S. backing, has been committed to keeping them separate.
And there’s a good reason for that. Just look at the map. If Gaza is the only outlet to the outside world for any eventual Palestinian entity, whatever it might be, the West Bank—if separated from Gaza, the West Bank is essentially imprisoned—Israel on one side, the Jordanian dictatorship on the other. Furthermore, Israel is systematically driving Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley, sinking wells, building settlements. They first call them military zones, then put in settlements—the usual story. That would mean that whatever cantons are left for Palestinians in the West Bank, after Israel takes what it wants and integrates it into Israel, they would be completely imprisoned. Gaza would be an outlet to the outside world, so therefore keeping them separate from one another is a high goal of policy, U.S. and Israeli policy.
And the unity agreement threatened that. Threatened something else Israel has been claiming for years. One of its arguments for kind of evading negotiations is: How can they negotiate with the Palestinians when they’re divided? Well, OK, so if they’re not divided, you lose that argument. But the more significant one is simply the geostrategic one, which is what I described. So the unity government was a real threat, along with the tepid, but real, endorsement of it by the United States, and they immediately reacted.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noam, what do you make of the—as you say, Israel seeks to maintain the status quo, while at the same time continuing to create a new reality on the ground of expanded settlements. What do you make of the continued refusal of one administration after another here in the United States, which officially is opposed to the settlement expansion, to refuse to call Israel to the table on this attempt to create its own reality on the ground?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, your phrase "officially opposed" is quite correct. But we can look at—you know, you have to distinguish the rhetoric of a government from its actions, and the rhetoric of political leaders from their actions. That should be obvious. So we can see how committed the U.S. is to this policy, easily. For example, in February 2011, the U.N. Security Council considered a resolution which called for—which called on Israel to terminate its expansion of settlements. Notice that the expansion of settlements is not really the issue. It’s the settlements. The settlements, the infrastructure development, all of this is in gross violation of international law. That’s been determined by the Security Council, the International Court of Justice. Practically every country in the world, outside of Israel, recognizes this. But this was a resolution calling for an end to expansion of settlements—official U.S. policy. What happened? Obama vetoed the resolution. That tells you something.
Furthermore, the official statement to Israel about the settlement expansion is accompanied by what in diplomatic language is called a wink—a quiet indication that we don’t really mean it. So, for example, Obama’s latest condemnation of the recent, as he puts it, violence on all sides was accompanied by sending more military aid to Israel. Well, they can understand that. And that’s been true all along. In fact, when Obama came into office, he made the usual statements against settlement expansion. And his administration was—spokespersons were asked in press conferences whether Obama would do anything about it, the way the first George Bush did something—mild sanctions—to block settlement expansions. And the answer was, "No, this is just symbolic." Well, that tells the Israeli government exactly what’s happening. And, in fact, if you look step by step, the military aid continues, the economic aid continues, the diplomatic protection continues, the ideological protection continues. By that, I mean framing the issues in ways that conform to Israeli demand. All of that continues, along with a kind of clucking of the tongue, saying, "Well, we really don’t like it, and it’s not helpful to peace." Any government can understand that.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke to foreign journalists yesterday.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel accepted and Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal of July 15th. And I want you to know that at that time the conflict had claimed some 185 lives. Only on Monday night did Hamas finally agree to that very same proposal, which went into effect yesterday morning. That means that 90 percent, a full 90 percent, of the fatalities in this conflict could have been avoided had Hamas not rejected then the ceasefire that it accepts now. Hamas must be held accountable for the tragic loss of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, can you respond to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu?
NOAM CHOMSKY: [inaudible] narrow response and a broad response. The narrow response is that, of course, as Netanyahu knows, that ceasefire proposal was arranged between the Egyptian military dictatorship and Israel, both of them very hostile to Hamas. It was not even communicated to Hamas. They learned about it through social media, and they were angered by that, naturally. They said they won’t accept it on those terms. Now, that’s the narrow response.
The broad response is that 100 percent of the casualties and the destruction and the devastation and so on could have been avoided if Israel had lived up to the ceasefire agreement after the—from November 2012, instead of violating it constantly and then escalating the violation in the manner that I described, in order to block the unity government and to persist in their policy of—the policies of taking over what they want in the West Bank and keeping—separating it from Gaza, and keeping Gaza on what they’ve called a "diet," Dov Weissglas’s famous comment. The man who negotiated the so-called withdrawal in 2005 pointed out that the purpose of the withdrawal is to end the discussion of any political settlement and to block any possibility of a Palestinian state, and meanwhile the Gazans will be kept on a diet, meaning just enough calories allowed so they don’t all die—because that wouldn’t look good for Israel’s fading reputation—but nothing more than that. And with its vaunted technical capacity, Israel, Israeli experts calculated precisely how many calories would be needed to keep the Gazans on their diet, under siege, blocked from export, blocked from import. Fishermen can’t go out to fish. The naval vessels drive them back to shore. A large part, probably over a third and maybe more, of Gaza’s arable land is barred from entry to Palestinians. It’s called a "barrier." That’s the norm. That’s the diet. They want to keep them on that, meanwhile separated from the West Bank, and continue the ongoing project of taking over—I can describe the details, but it’s not obscure—taking over the parts of the West Bank that Israel intends—is integrating into Israel, and presumably will ultimately annex in some fashion, as long as the United States continues to support it and block international efforts to lead to a political settlement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noam, as this whole month has unfolded and these images of the carnage in Gaza have spread around the world, what’s your assessment of the impact on the already abysmal relationship that exists between the United States government and the Arab and Muslim world? I’m thinking especially of all the young Muslims and Arabs around the world who maybe had not been exposed to prior atrocities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, we have to distinguish between the Muslim and Arab populations and their governments—striking difference. The governments are mostly dictatorships. And when you read in the press that the Arabs support us on so-and-so, what is meant is the dictators support us, not the populations. The dictatorships are moderately supportive of what the U.S. and Israel are doing. That includes the military dictatorship in Egypt, a very brutal one; Saudi Arabian dictatorship. Saudi Arabia is the closest U.S. ally in the region, and it’s the most radical fundamentalist Islamic state in the world. It’s also spreading its Salafi-Wahhabi doctrines throughout the world, extremist fundamentalist doctrines. It’s been the leading ally of the United States for years, just as it was for Britain before it. They’ve both tended to prefer radical Islam to the danger of secular nationalism and democracy. And they are fairly supportive of—they don’t like—they hate Hamas. They have no interest in the Palestinians. They have to say things to kind of mollify their own populations, but again, rhetoric and action are different. So the dictatorships are not appalled by what’s happening. They probably are quietly cheering it.
The populations, of course, are quite different, but that’s always been true. So, for example, on the eve of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt, which overthrew the Mubarak dictatorship, there were international polls taken in the United States by the leading polling agencies, and they showed very clearly that I think about 80 percent of Egyptians regarded the main threats to them as being Israel and the United States. And, in fact, condemnation of the United States and its policies were so extreme that even though they don’t like Iran, a majority felt that the region might be safer if Iran had nuclear weapons. Well, if you look over the whole polling story over the years, it kind of varies around something like that. But that’s the populations. And, of course, the Muslim populations elsewhere don’t like it, either. But it’s not just the Muslim populations. So, for example, there was a demonstration in London recently, which probably had hundreds of thousands of people—it was quite a huge demonstration—protesting the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. And that’s happening elsewhere in the world, too. It’s worth remembering that—you go back a couple decades, Israel was one of the most admired countries in the world. Now it’s one of the most feared and despised countries in the world. Israeli propagandists like to say, well, this is just anti-Semitism. But to the extent that there’s an anti-Semitic element, which is slight, it’s because of Israeli actions. The reaction is to the policies. And as long as Israel persists in these policies, that’s what’s going to happen.
Actually, this has been pretty clear since the early 1970s. Actually, I’ve been writing about it since then, but it’s so obvious, that I don’t take any credit for that. In 1971, Israel made a fateful decision, the most fateful in its history, I think. President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty, in return for withdrawal of Israel from the Egyptian Sinai. That was the Labor government, the so-called moderate Labor government at the time. They considered the offer and rejected it. They were planning to carry out extensive development programs in the Sinai, build a huge, big city on the Mediterranean, dozens of settlements, kibbutzim, others, big infrastructure, driving tens of thousands of Bedouins off the land, destroying the villages and so on. Those were the plans, beginning to implement them. And Israel made a decision to choose expansion over security. A treaty with Egypt would have meant security. That’s the only significant military force in the Arab world. And that’s been the policy ever since.
When you pursue a policy of repression and expansion over security, there are things that are going to happen. There will be moral degeneration within the country. There will be increasing opposition and anger and hostility among populations outside the country. You may continue to get support from dictatorships and from, you know, the U.S. administration, but you’re going to lose the populations. And that has a consequence. You could predict—in fact, I and others did predict back in the '70s—that, just to quote myself, "those who call themselves supporters of Israel are actually supporters of its moral degeneration, international isolation, and very possibly ultimate destruction." That's what’s—that’s the course that’s happening.
It’s not the only example in history. There are many analogies drawn to South Africa, most of them pretty dubious, in my mind. But there’s one analogy which I think is pretty realistic, which isn’t discussed very much. It should be. In 1958, the South African Nationalist government, which was imposing the harsh apartheid regime, recognized that they were becoming internationally isolated. We know from declassified documents that in 1958 the South African foreign minister called in the American ambassador. And we have the conversation. He essentially told him, "Look, we’re becoming a pariah state. We’re losing all the—everyone is voting against us in the United Nations. We’re becoming isolated. But it really doesn’t matter, because you’re the only voice that counts. And as long as you support us, doesn’t really matter what the world thinks." That wasn’t a bad prediction. If you look at what happened over the years, opposition to South African apartheid grew and developed. There was a U.N. arms embargo. Sanctions began. Boycotts began. It was so extreme by the 1980s that even the U.S. Congress was passing sanctions, which President Reagan had to veto. He was the last supporter of the apartheid regime. Congress actually reinstated the sanctions over his veto, and he then violated them. As late as 1988, Reagan, the last holdout, his administration declared the African National Congress, Mandela’s African National Congress, to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world. So the U.S. had to keep supporting South Africa. It was supporting terrorist group UNITA in Angola. Finally, even the United States joined the rest of the world, and very quickly the apartheid regime collapsed.
Now that’s not fully analogous to the Israel case by any means. There were other reasons for the collapse of apartheid, two crucial reasons. One of them was that there was a settlement that was acceptable to South African and international business, simple settlement: keep the socioeconomic system and allow—put it metaphorically—allow blacks some black faces in the limousines. That was the settlement, and that’s pretty much what’s been implemented, not totally. There’s no comparable settlement in Israel-Palestine. But a crucial element, not discussed here, is Cuba. Cuba sent military forces and tens of thousands of technical workers, doctors and teachers and others, and they drove the South African aggressors out of Angola, and they compelled them to abandon illegally held Namibia. And more than that, as in fact Nelson Mandela pointed out as soon as he got out of prison, the Cuban soldiers, who incidentally were black soldiers, shattered the myth of invincibility of the white supermen. That had a very significant effect on both black Africa and the white South Africa. It indicated to the South African government and population that they’re not going to be able to impose their hope of a regional support system, at least quiet system, that would allow them to pursue their operations inside South Africa and their terrorist activities beyond. And that was a major factor in the liberation of black Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we have to break, and we’re going to come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Professor Chomsky in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Professor Noam Chomsky. I want to turn to President Obama speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity, jobs, economic growth for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is. We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama yesterday. Noam Chomsky, can you respond?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, as always, for all states and all political leaderships, we have to distinguish rhetoric from action. Any political leader can produce lovely rhetoric, even Hitler, Stalin, whoever you want. What we ask is: What are they doing? So exactly what does Obama suggest or carry out as a means to achieve the goal of ending the U.S.-backed Israeli siege, blockade of Gaza, which is creating this situation? What has it done in the past? What does it propose to do in the future? There are things that the U.S. could do very easily. Again, don’t want to draw the South African analogy too closely, but it is indicative. And it’s not the only case. The same happened, as you remember, in the Indonesia-East Timor case. When the United States, Clinton, finally told the Indonesian generals, "The game’s over," they pulled out immediately. U.S. power is substantial. And in the case of Israel, it’s critical, because Israel relies on virtually unilateral U.S. support. There are plenty of things the U.S. can do to implement what Obama talked about. And the question is—and, in fact, when the U.S. gives orders, Israel obeys. That’s happened over and over again. That’s completely obvious why, given the power relationships. So things can be done. They were done by Bush two, by Clinton, by Reagan, and the U.S. could do them again. Then we’ll know whether those words were anything other than the usual pleasant rhetoric.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Talking about separating rhetoric from actions, Israel has always claimed that it no longer occupies Gaza. Democracy Now! recently spoke to Joshua Hantman, who’s a senior adviser to the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a former spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Ministry. And Hantman said, quote, "Israel actually left the Gaza Strip in 2005. We removed all of our settlements. We removed the IDF forces. We took out 10,000 Jews from their houses as a step for peace, because Israel wants peace and it extended its hand for peace." Your response?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, several points. First of all, the United Nations, every country in the world, even the United States, regards Israel as the occupying power in Gaza—for a very simple reason: They control everything there. They control the borders, the land, sea, air. They determine what goes into Gaza, what comes out. They determine how many calories Gazan children need to stay alive, but not to flourish. That’s occupation, under international law, and no one questions it, outside of Israel. Even the U.S. agrees, their usual backer. That puts—with that, we end the discussion of whether they’re an occupying power or not.
As for wanting peace, look back at that so-called withdrawal. Notice that it left Israel as the occupying power. By 2005, Israeli hawks, led by Ariel Sharon, pragmatic hawk, recognized that it just makes no sense for Israel to keep a few thousand settlers in devastated Gaza and devote a large part of the IDF, the Israeli military, to protecting them, and many expenses breaking up Gaza into separate parts and so on. Made no sense to do that. Made a lot more sense to take those settlers from their subsidized settlements in Gaza, where they were illegally residing, and send them off to subsidized settlements in the West Bank, in areas that Israel intends to keep—illegally, of course. That just made pragmatic sense.
And there was a very easy way to do it. They could have simply informed the settlers in Gaza that on August 1st the IDF is going to withdrawal, and at that point they would have climbed into the lorries that are provided to them and gone off to their illegal settlements in the West Bank and, incidentally, the Golan Heights. But it was decided to construct what’s sometimes called a "national trauma." So a trauma was constructed, a theater. It was just ridiculed by leading specialists in Israel, like the leading sociologist—Baruch Kimmerling just made fun of it. And trauma was created so you could have little boys, pictures of them pleading with the Israeli soldiers, "Don’t destroy my home!" and then background calls of "Never again." That means "Never again make us leave anything," referring to the West Bank primarily. And a staged national trauma. What made it particularly farcical was that it was a repetition of what even the Israeli press called "National Trauma ’82," when they staged a trauma when they had to withdraw from Yamit, the city they illegally built in the Sinai. But they kept the occupation. They moved on.
And I’ll repeat what Weissglas said. Recall, he was the negotiator with the United States, Sharon’s confidant. He said the purpose of the withdrawal is to end negotiations on a Palestinian state and Palestinian rights. This will end it. This will freeze it, with U.S. support. And then comes imposition of the diet on Gaza to keep them barely alive, but not flourishing, and the siege. Within weeks after the so-called withdrawal, Israel escalated the attacks on Gaza and imposed very harsh sanctions, backed by the United States. The reason was that a free election took place in Palestine, and it came out the wrong way. Well, Israel and the United States, of course, love democracy, but only if it comes out the way they want. So, the U.S. and Israel instantly imposed harsh sanctions. Israeli attacks, which really never ended, escalated. Europe, to its shame, went along. Then Israel and the United States immediately began planning for a military coup to overthrow the government. When Hamas pre-empted that coup, there was fury in both countries. The sanctions and military attacks increased. And then we’re on to what we discussed before: periodic episodes of "mowing the lawn."
AMY GOODMAN: We only—Noam, we only have a minute.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, at this point, a lot of the U.S. media is saying the U.S. had been sidelined, it’s now all about Egypt doing this negotiation. What needs to happen right now? The ceasefire will end in a matter of hours, if it isn’t extended. What kind of truce needs to be accomplished here?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, for Israel, with U.S. backing, the current situation is a kind of a win-win situation. If Hamas agrees to extend the ceasefire, Israel can continue with its regular policies, which I described before: taking over what they want in the West Bank, separating it from Gaza, keeping the diet and so on. If Hamas doesn’t accept the ceasefire, Netanyahu can make another speech like the one you—the cynical speech you quoted earlier. The only thing that can break this is if the U.S. changes its policies, as has happened in other cases. I mentioned two: South Africa, Timor. There’s others. And that’s decisive. If there’s going to be a change, it will crucially depend on a change in U.S. policy here. For 40 years, the United States has been almost unilaterally backing Israeli rejectionism, refusal to entertain the overwhelming international consensus on a two-state settlement.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue our conversation post-show, and we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org. Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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