NOAM CHOMSKY: "Gaza: One Year Later"
On December 27, 2008, Israel began one of the bloodiest attacks on Gaza since 1948. The three-week assault killed some 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis. One year later, little to no rebuilding has taken place, and the siege continues. Speaking in Watertown, Massachusetts, on December 6, 2009, linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky delivered a talk entitled "Gaza: One Year Later." [includes rush transcript]
On December 27, 2008, Israel began one of the bloodiest attacks on Gaza since 1948. The three-week assault killed some 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis. One year later, little to no rebuilding has taken place, and the siege in Gaza continues.
Speaking in Watertown, Massachusetts, on December 6, 2009, linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky delivered a talk entitled "Gaza: One Year Later."
Thanks to Robbie Leppzer for filming this event.
Watertown, Massachusetts, December 6, 2009
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, let me begin with two caveats, pitfalls that I think we should be careful to avoid. It’s very important to have this meeting about Gaza, one of the most disgraceful situations in the world. But we should remember that it’s only in US and Israeli policy that Gaza is separated from the West Bank. They are a unity, one unit, what’s left of Palestine, 22 percent of the original mandate. Now, it’s very important for the US and Israel to separate the two and isolate them. For one thing, that means if there ever is some kind of a political settlement, the West Bank will be deprived of any access to the outside world. It will be imprisoned. It won’t have the sea port. It’ll essentially be contained by two enemies. So there is a strategic reason for the longstanding and intense effort to distinguish Gaza and the West Bank, to keep them apart, to ban transport, and also kind of ideologically to make them seem as if they’re two different places. They aren’t, outside of US-Israeli ideology. And we should be careful not to — to resist that, I think.
Another division that I think it’s important to resist is between US and Israel. So there’s a lot of — we constantly talk, rightly, about Israeli crimes, but that’s highly misleading, because they are US-Israeli crimes. There’s nothing that Israel does that goes beyond what the United States authorizes and, in fact, directly supports with economic, diplomatic, military and also ideological support — that is, by framing issues so that there is this First Amendment exception that Nancy [Murray] mentioned. So these are US-Israeli crimes. If we talk about Israel, we should remember we’re talking about ourselves. It’s not like talking about crimes of China. These are very important to keep in mind.
Now, turning to Gaza and the West Bank, the separation of Gaza and the West Bank is part of a much more general policy: a policy of fragmentation of the residue of Palestine, so that it cannot hope to emerge as a viable entity. Separating Gaza from the West Bank is one part of it. Gaza, as Nancy pointed out, has been converted into a prison. The screws are being steadily tightened so that it becomes a maximum-security prison, something like Guantánamo. It’s kind of a little odd, on the side, that there’s been so much horror in the United States about Guantánamo. It’s not very different from the maximum-security prisons that the United States runs. And we’re unique in the world, in the Western world, in having an incarceration system of this kind. So, it’s not just becoming a prison. It’s becoming something like a maximum-security prison, which is basically a torture chamber. It’s under constant siege, a very harsh and brutal siege. A siege is an act of war. Of all countries in the world, Israel surely is unusual in recognizing that. It twice launched a war on the grounds that — ’56 and ’67, on the grounds that its access to the outside world was very partially restricted. That was considered a crime. And a total siege is, of course, a much greater crime. So it’s a major war crime that we’re carrying out.
Supplies, as you just heard, are restricted so that you have bare survival. There’s constant and systematic attacks on all the borders, including the coastline, to drive the population inland. On the borders, that takes away the limited arable land. On the sea, what it has done is drive the fishing fleet to a couple of kilometers from the shore, where fishing is impossible because of the conditions that Nancy described. After the destruction of the sewage systems, the power systems, the other infrastructure, fish can’t survive, and people can’t survive near the sea, so that destroys the fishing industry, and it contains Gaza even more narrowly. Again, part of the policy of imprisonment. It sounds like sadism, and it is. But it’s kind of rational sadism. It’s achieving a well-understood and carefully planned end of US and Israeli policy.
There are also regular atrocities, special atrocities, just to keep showing who’s boss. So, end of September, Israeli troops entered northern Gaza and kidnapped five children, brought them over to Israel, and they disappeared into the Israeli prison system. Nobody knows too much about it. It includes secret prisons, which occasionally surface. It’s estimated that roughly a thousand people are without — they’re, often for years, without any charge at all, just hidden away somewhere. So these kids probably joined that.
All of this happens with total impunity, happens regularly with complete impunity. That’s part of our ideological contribution to ensuring the crushing of Palestinians. That’s been going on for decades, in fact, in Lebanon and in the high seas. Israel has been kidnapping — hijacking boats on the way from Cyprus to Lebanon, capturing or sometimes killing passengers, taking them to Israel, keeping them in prisons, sometimes for decades, sometimes as hostages for eventual release, no charges. Often, we only barely know where they are by occasional surfacing of stories about secret prisons, which aren’t published in the United States, though they are in Europe and in Israel.
And this is, again, done with complete impunity, because we permit it. We say we’re not going to talk about it, so therefore impunity. This is worth remembering when you read about what’s considered now one of the primary barriers to negotiations: the fate of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured at the border on June 24th — 25th, 2006. Well, capture of a soldier of an attacking army is some sort of a crime, I suppose. Doesn’t rank very high among crimes. And against the background of constant hijacking of boats, kidnapping of civilians, killing of civilians on the high seas in Lebanon, it doesn’t rank very high. And the situation was made even more dramatic by the fact that one day before Corporal Shalit was captured on the border, Israeli troops entered Gaza City, kidnapped two civilians — a doctor and his brother — spirited them across the border, and they, too, disappeared into the US-backed Israeli secret prison system. And nobody is talking about negotiations to get them out. They’re Arabs, so they have no human existence. So we don’t talk about them. And, in fact, it was barely reported here, because it’s insignificant. But that’s worth — Shalit ought to be returned in a prisoner exchange. But that’s a toothpick on a mountain, but the one that we talk about.
And other crimes just go on regularly. Like a few days ago, you may have read that Israel banned the shipment of cooking gas into Gaza. Just an act of gratuitous cruelty. It means that — it’s used for almost everything. So that’s gone. The water system is under very severe attack. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Environmental Protection Agency, which work there, estimate that, by now, only maybe five to ten percent of the water, the very limited water in the Strip, is usable. The last — Israel has constantly attacked the water system. The last invasion, US-backed Israeli invasion a year ago, destroyed around thirty kilometers of pipes, other equipment. Nothing is allowed back in to repair them. So, by now, as Nancy said, children are dying of diseases from poisoned water. And that’s going to continue. The Red Cross estimates that if this continues, it would — in the best of circumstances, unless something is done about it, it may take centuries before this region becomes viable, you know, before it’s possible for life to exist there. Well, this is more rational savagery.
A couple of months ago, I was out in California, giving a fundraising talk for the Middle East Children’s Alliance. It’s a marvelous organization that’s been working in Gaza and other places for years. Barbara Lubin, its director, had just come back from Gaza, a very heroic woman. And she described — she talked, as Nancy did, about what they found. One of the things they did, the delegation, was to go around the schools and just ask children, "If you had one request, what could it be — would it be?" And they thought they might direct their funding to that. And overwhelmingly, what children said in the schools is that they would like — is a drink of water in the morning. Well, that’s Gaza. And they did manage to find mechanics in the Strip who were able to construct small water purification devices, and they’re trying now to fund enough water purification made with local materials so that maybe children can have a drink of water in the morning — their fondest wish. Well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing. And we should remember that.
There’s a purpose. The purpose was explained right at the beginning of the occupation by Moshe Dayan, who was the Minister of Defense in charge of the Occupied Territories. In late 1967, he informed his colleagues that we should tell the Palestinians in the territories that we have nothing to offer them, they will "live like dogs," and those who will leave will leave, we’ll see where this ends up. And that’s the policy. It’s quite rational. “Live like dogs," and we’ll see what happens. So, yes, sadism, but rational sadism.
And things are not dramatically different in the West Bank. Somewhat, but not much. First of all, everything turning the West Bank — just about everything that’s going on there is in violation of international law. Gross violation. There’s a lot of talk here about expansion of the settlements. That’s completely diversionary. It has almost nothing to do with the issues. I mean, even if there was no further expansion of the settlements, they already destroyed the possibilities of a viable Palestinian existence. Every one of them is illegal, and known to be. There isn’t any controversy about it.
In late 1967, Israel was informed by its highest legal authorities. The main one, Theodor Meron, is a very respected international lawyer, a judge in the criminal courts, the International Criminal — International Tribunals, and he informed the government of what, in fact, is transparent, that transferring population to occupied territories is in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions. It’s the foundations of international humanitarian law. The attorney general affirmed his conclusion. A couple of years ago, as you know, it was reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice. Moshe Dayan, who was in charge, recognized that. In late 1967, he said, "Yes, it’s true. Everything we’re doing is in violation of international law, but that’s often done, so we’ll dismiss it." And he’s right. As long as the godfather says it’s fine, you can dismiss it. So, yes, we’ll go on carrying out criminal acts, and we’ll debate some minor crime. You know, like maybe expanding — we’ll debate expanding settlements to allow natural growth. That’ll divert attention from the real issue, and we’ll be able to believe that our government is somehow acting humanely in an effort to achieve peace.
That expansion of the settlements, which is the big issue that we’re supposed to be excited about, even a ten-month alleged suspension, which Hillary Clinton praised as “unprecedented generosity,” all of that — even that little toothpick is a fraud. When Obama announced that he wanted a termination of expansion of the settlements, he was just quoting George W. Bush — that’s in the — who had said exactly the same thing. And, in fact, it’s in the so-called Road Map, the official — the officially agreed framework for policy. When that’s ever mentioned, it’s rarely pointed out that Israel did accept the Road Map formally, but immediately added fourteen reservations, which completely eviscerated it. So it rejected the Road Map, with US acquiescence, so therefore, as Dayan said, well, yes, fine, we’ll just dismiss it. But that’s in the Road Map. Obama repeated it, just as Bush did. But he repeated it with the usual wink. When asked, his spokesperson said that the US opposition to the expansion was purely symbolic. He would not go even as far as Bush No.1, who imposed very mild sanctions for expansion of settlements. But Obama made clear, no, we’re not going to do that; these are just symbolic statements, so this minor diversionary operation can continue with effective US support. Well, so it’s all illegal. We permit it, so therefore it’s fine. It’s authorized.
And it expands the principle of fragmentation, which is the core of US-Israeli strategic policy. So, separate Gaza from the West Bank. In the West Bank itself, the program is for Israel to take wherever is valuable and break up the rest into unviable cantons. What’s valuable is, first of all, the water resources. It’s a pretty arid region, but there is an aquifer. There’s water, and it runs on the West Bank, on the Palestinian side of the international border. So, Israel has to annex that. And that’s also some of the most arable land, and it’s also the nice suburbs. It’s the pleasant suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, kind of like Lexington, where I live, relative to Boston. Nice place to live. So that all happens to be in the West Bank, so we have to annex that.
And there’s a wall, as you know, snaking through the West Bank. It should properly be called the “annexation wall,” because the plan is to annex everything that’s inside it, incorporate it within Israel, and that’s with a polite smile from the godfather, so therefore that’s OK. It’s interesting, in the commemorations of November 9th, the fall of Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, made an impassioned speech about how we have to bring down all the walls that divide us. But not the one cutting through the West Bank, which is about twice as high as the Berlin Wall and far longer and simply stealing land from defenseless people, thanks to the leader of the free world, and us, because we’re allowing it.
So, take over everything that’s valuable, kind of near the border. Take over the Jordan Valley on the other side. That’s about a third of the West Bank. And the Palestinians are being kept out of it by one means or another, or driven out. It’s being settled. That imprisons what’s left. And what’s left is divided by carefully planned settlement salients, which cut through to break it up into parts. So, there’s one going east of what’s called Jerusalem, greatly expanded region, “Greater Jerusalem,” expands almost all the way to Jericho. There’s another — essentially bisects the West Bank. There’s another to the north, including the town of Ari’el. Another one north of that goes to Kedumim. And so, it essentially breaks the region up. There’s technically contiguity way over through the desert to the east, but it’s essentially unviable.
And what remains is broken up by hundreds of checkpoints, which are there primarily for harassment. They’re moved, so you never know exactly where they’re going to be. But it means, for example, that if you want to visit your cousin two miles away, you know, may take you five hours to get there, if you ever manage. And an ambulance may take, say, two hours to get from one spot to a hospital a couple of miles away, because it has to go through checkpoints, and the patient has to be carried over, you know, a big barrier, put in another one on the other side, and so on. These are essentially techniques of harassment. They have no security purpose, even a remote one. But they are perfectly rational to ensure that the population will “live like dogs," and if they want to leave, that’s fine, they’ll leave.
That’s aside from the actions in what’s called Jerusalem, the vastly expanded region around what used to be Jerusalem. There, the actions are doubly illegal. They’re not only in violation of international law, they’re also in violation of explicit Security Council resolutions barring any modification of the status of Jerusalem. Actually, the US signed those, joined in those resolutions back in the late '60s and for several years afterwards. So, they're doubly illegal, and they continue. I mean, that’s — there’s — you read every day in the papers about new buildings taking over Palestinian homes.
There’s now — it was just reported that the last year Israel radically accelerated its withdrawal of resident status for inhabitants of Jerusalem for whom the courts decided that the center of their life was somewhere else. In that case, you can have your residents removed, if you’re a Palestinian. There’s no case on record that I know of of an Israeli who had citizenship reduced because the center of their life is in Los Angeles or in New York, for example. So, it’s just another racist law designed to rid the region of the sort of rabble, vermin, that are in the way. We’re kind of familiar with that in American history. It resonates. That’s why we’re here, basically, because, yeah, it’s what we did while in the conquest of the national territory, except that the US was much more violent, exterminated the indigenous population. But it’s a familiar pattern. I suspect it’s part of the reason for the residual sympathy for Israel’s activities, strikes a kind of a chord in our own national history, maybe one we don’t like to look at much.
Expropriation continues steadily. By now, rough estimates, about a third of the West Bank has been expropriated, converted into state land. Yossi Sarid mentioned recently that this means that Israel can continue settlement for a hundred years without expropriating anything any further. Well, that’s what continues.
Senator Kerry has an interesting stand on this. He’s very close to Obama. He’s become more or less his foreign policy kind of emissary. He gave the most important speech in the administration, of the Obama administration’s policy — policies. It was a speech to the Brookings Institution a couple months ago. Obama — it took the standard position. Party line is the United States is an honest broker, trying desperately to bring peace to these two difficult antagonists. But he said that — so he repeated that. That’s normal. But then he added that for a long time Israel has been seeking a legitimate partner for peace, and it’s never had one. So it’s kind of, you know, devastated. Who are we going to — who can we negotiate with? But Kerry said that now, finally, Israel may have a legitimate partner for peace. And he gave his evidence.
audience member reports audio problem Can’t hear you. You can’t hear me? Oh, OK, should have told me a little earlier. How’s this? Is it any better? No? Any better? No? Yes or no? Can you hear what they’re saying? How about that? Oh, OK. Trouble is you can’t speak close to a mic, because you get feedback. Well, I’ll try. Sorry you missed all those words of wisdom. But I’ll have to leave it to you to make them up.
I was talking about Senator Kerry and his formulation of the Obama administration position. He gave a talk a few months ago in which he said that the US, of course, has always been an honest broker seeking peace. That’s true by definition, you don’t need any factual evidence relating to that. And now — and Israel has always been desperately seeking a legitimate partner, and finally it may have had one. What was interesting is he gave — may have one. He gave his evidence. His evidence was that during the US-Israeli attack on Gaza — which he didn’t, of course, describe it that way — during the US-Israeli attack on Gaza, there were no protests on the West Bank. It was quiet. Of course, that’s the other half of Palestine, but they didn’t do anything about it. And he explained why. He said the reason is that the US has established an army, a mercenary army, headed by US General Dayton, trained with the assistance of Jordan and Israel, and the army is able to suppress any sign of resistance to what the US and Israel are doing in Gaza. So, this — things are really looking up. There’s a possibility that there might be a legitimate partner, controlled by a paramilitary force that is under our command. I should mention that the Dayton Army is under State Department control, meaning at least some kinds of weak restrictions on human rights and other conditionalities. But people in the West — who know the West Bank say that there’s a much more a savage force which is under CIA control, general intelligence, and that’s subject to nothing. That’s standard all over the world.
So we have military forces that can keep the population quiet. There’s a collaborationist elite living in Ramallah. It’s kind of like, you know, Tel Aviv, Paris, New York, a lot of money flowing in from the European Union, a cultural life, people live pretty well. A few miles away in the villages, life’s entirely different. But this is the model, the perfect model of a neocolonial society. That’s what the US — and the US has a plenty of experience with this. This is the model that was crafted in the Philippines a century ago, after the US conquered the Philippines, you know, to uplift them and Christianize them and so on, all the most noble motives, killing a couple hundred thousand. There was a problem what you do with them. So, a new model of control was developed, which was a real break from the European imperial pattern, and it’s pretty much what I describe.
There’s a military force, the Philippine constabulary, but it has to have a collaborationist elite. The nationalist movement was broken up by various devices, subversion, spreading of rumors, all sorts of other things. And the population was put under very tight surveillance and control, using the highest technology of the day. This is a century ago, so that meant telephone, radio and so on. And they had extremely tight surveillance of the population, knew where everybody was and so on. Those techniques were later developed, applied in other US domains, in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and so on. And they blew back to the United States very quickly. In fact, Woodrow Wilson applied them in the United States in his — during the First World War. And we’re familiar with them today, and even more so elsewhere, like Britain.
In the West Bank, which is, as Nancy pointed out, an experimental region, the biometric controls are extremely sophisticated. So there’s identification of every person by any kind of measure you can think of, all on their identity cards. Pretty soon they’ll be in chips put into their brains or something. There’s talk of extending these measures to Israel. And there, it’s arousing a lot of protest, but in the West Bank, no, no protest. We just do that. So this is a familiar technique, and it works. The Philippines are still under that control. It’s a hundred years. And that’s one of the reasons why the Philippines, the one American colony in Southeast Asia, hasn’t joined the exciting economic developments of the past twenty years. It’s not one of the Southeast Asian — East Asian tigers. So, that’s a model, which can be followed and which might work, if we allow it.
During the — there are, of course, pretexts for all of this. Whatever a state does, there’s a pretext: security. Whatever you do, it’s in self-defense, kind of by definition. And as usual, in this case, the pretext doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. So, take, say, the annexation wall. I mean, the reason that’s offered is defense, you know, security. I mean, if the concern were security, we know exactly what would be done. The wall would be built on the international border. It could be made impregnable, you know, patrolled on both sides, a mile high, totally secure, and that would give security. But, of course, if the purpose is what it actually is, namely to steal land and resources, then it can’t be built on the international border, where it might furthermore inconvenience Israelis, instead of just inconveniencing and, in fact, stealing from Palestinians.
And the same is true of the attack on Gaza. It’s almost universally accepted here, and in the West, generally, that Israel had a right of self-defense and therefore was justified in attacking Gaza, even though the attack was maybe disproportionate. That’s accepted, for example, by the Goldstone report. The Goldstone report is very valuable account of the atrocities that were carried out in the course of the war, but they’re regarded as disproportionate actions in a legitimate war of self-defense.
Well, if you think about it for a minute, there is indeed a right of self-defense. Sure, everyone agrees to that. But there is no right of self-defense by force. That has to be argued. And there is extensive international law and just common sense on this. You do not have the right to use force in self-defense, unless you have exhausted peaceful means. Well, in this case, there definitely were peaceful means. The US and Israel knew it. And they chose not to even attempt them, because they wanted a war. They wanted to attack.
The peaceful means were obvious, and not controversial. There had been a ceasefire initiated the preceding June, June 2008. Israel concedes, officially, that during the ceasefire, there was not a single Hamas rocket fired. Sderot was quiet. The ceasefire was broken on November 4th, when, using the cover of the US election, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, killed half-a-dozen Hamas activists. And yeah, then rockets started firing. In the following month, Hamas offered repeatedly to reinstate the ceasefire. Israel acknowledged it. Cabinet discussed it, decided not to accept it. OK. No right of use of force in self-defense. It evaporates. That’s quite apart from the conditions of international law, which I won’t even go into, which are pretty explicit on this, all violated. So, the attack itself was a criminal act. The US and Israel are guilty of outright aggression. And if they fired one bullet, it was a crime. And if they carried out the atrocities as they did, it was a crime. And if you look, case by case, they’re just — there’s virtually no justification for the claim of security.
And, in fact, that — I won’t go into the history here, but it goes back, at the very least, until February 1971. This has kind of been washed out of history, because it doesn’t look nice for us. But in February 1971, President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty, nothing for the Palestinians — just mentioned as refugees — on condition that Israel withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Now, all that he cared about was withdrawal from Egyptian territory. So, in effect, it was an offer of a full peace treaty with all the appropriate guarantees and so on, in return for withdrawal from conquered Egyptian territory. One year later, Jordan made the same offer with regard to the West Bank: full peace treaty if Israel withdraws from the West Bank.
Well, at that point, the security problem was over, if Israel wanted it to be over. If they had accepted those peace treaties, the major Arab state, Egypt, would be out of the conflict, and Jordan, minor Arab state on its other border, would be out of the conflict. OK, end of security problems. There was no Palestinian security problems to speak of at the time, and such as there were, could easily have been controlled. But Israel made a decision, fateful decision, to choose expansion over security, at that time expansion into northeast Sinai, where they were planning to build a huge city, Yamit, and a lot of settlements.
The real question is, what’s the godfather going to say? Well, there was debate in Washington. There was an internal controversy. Henry Kissinger won out. His position, as he says, was what he called “stalemate”: we should have no negotiations, just force. And so, Israel was able to reject the peace offer. I won’t go into the consequences, but it meant an awful war, a lot of suffering and constant security problems.
And if you look from then through now, it’s pretty much the same. I mean, Israel could have security right now. The Arab League has long endorsed the international consensus on a two-state settlement. In fact, they initiated it, the major Arab states in January 1976, when they introduced a resolution at the Security Council calling for a full peace treaty on the international border. It was vetoed by the United States. And a US veto is a double veto. It doesn’t happen, and it’s out of history. So we don’t talk about that. And so it continues. The Arab states have reiterated, in more developed form, a peace agreement, full peace agreement. The Organization of Islamic States, which includes Iran, has accepted it. Hamas has accepted it. In fact, anybody relevant has accepted it, with the exception of the United States and Israel. So, yes, there are real security problems, but not justifiable ones.
Well, that’s — among all the reports — audio problem_] yeah, hope this is a little better. Among all the reports — there were a number of reports that came out about Gaza. The Goldstone report is an extensive one. Amnesty International published several, Human Rights Watch. They are very revealing. In my opinion, the most revealing of all of them is an — at least the most important for us, is an Amnesty International report, which really broke new ground for human rights reports. It went through the weaponry that had been used in the assault against Gaza, you know, a lot of high-tech, destructive, murderous weaponry. It traced it to its source, which was mostly back to us. And it called for an arms embargo. Amnesty International called for an arms embargo on both sides, which means essentially on Israel. That’s talking to us. That’s saying we ought to join in an arms embargo and stop sending arms in violation of international law and indeed in violation of US law. We should stop violating US law and sending arms to a country that’s using them for aggression and violence and destruction. Well, you know, that’s a policy that Americans ought to follow. Let’s follow US law. Let’s try that for a change and stop sending arms to Israel. Well, I think adhering to the Amnesty international plea would be — make a lot of sense. I believe this is the — there have been occasional remarks saying that — [_audio problem no good? Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll try to talk —
There have been occasional reports from Human Rights Watch and others saying, you know, some arms shouldn’t be sent to a country that’s used — carrying out regular torture and so on. But this is the first call that I know of by a human rights group for a total arms embargo to an aggressive and violent state. And the call is directed to us. We’re the ones providing the overwhelming bulk of the arms, and are continuing to do it. And I think we should listen to that call. That also suggests something about tactics. If we want to act in ways which are going to change policy, not just make us feel good, but change policy, the tactics should be directed through Washington. Unless Washington changes its position, there isn’t going to be any peaceful settlement.
And there are good historical analogies that we can use to kind of sharpen up our thinking about this. It’s pretty common to make analogies between Israel and South Africa. Most of those analogies are pretty dubious. There are some similarities, but enormous differences. One fundamental difference is that the white nationalists in South Africa needed the black population. That was the source of their labor and sustenance, so they didn’t want them to "live like dogs" and flee the country. They wanted them to stay there and be a subordinate population. That’s quite different in the case of Israel. They don’t want the Palestinians. They want them out, away somewhere, like the US attitude toward the indigenous population here — just either die or disappear. And that’s a serious disanalogy. But there are some — even though the analogies are weak, we can learn something from the history. And the history is worth thinking about.
By the early 1960s, South Africa was becoming a pariah state. There were talk of sanctions, and boycotts hadn’t been implemented yet. There were negative votes in the United Nations. There were sharp attacks. And the South Africans were aware of it. They did pretty much the kind of thing that Israel is doing today. audio problem No good? Their action — why don’t I just hold it, OK? This going to work? I’ve been a technophobe all my life, and the more experience I have, the more I hate it. OK.
South Africa was reacting at that time very much the way Israel is doing now. The whole world hates us. They’re, you know, just racist. They don’t understand how wonderful we are. We have to have better information and educational campaigns to explain to them how what we’re doing is exactly right and to the benefit of the black population and so on. They were doing all those things, but they knew pretty well they’re not going to work, just as Israel ought to understand that the comparable efforts are not going to work. They’re going to continue being — turning into a pariah state. But the South African foreign minister, about fifty years ago, spoke to his — to the US ambassador, and he said something quite perceptive and relevant. He told the US ambassador that, "Yes, overwhelmingly they’re voting against us in the United Nations and so on. But in the United Nations, there’s only one vote: yours. And as long as you’re backing us, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world says." Now that’s a pretty accurate perception. That’s what it means to have overwhelming global dominance of a kind that’s never existed in history. And he was right. And if you look at the history of what followed, it demonstrated it.
Through the ’60s and the ’70s, South Africa became more and more a pariah nation. The United States and Britain kept supporting it. By 1980 or so, boycott, sanctions and so on were beginning. US corporations were beginning to refuse to invest. Congress began passing legislation. But the US continued to violate it. The Reagan administration violated congressional legislation, and overwhelming global opinion, to continue supporting South African apartheid. And that was one of the most violent and brutal periods. In the 1980s, with US support, South Africa was able to kill an estimated million-and-a-half people and cause about $60 billion of damage just in neighboring countries, putting aside what it was doing inside South Africa, with constant US support. Went on through the ’80s.
In 1988, at that time, you couldn’t find anybody defending apartheid — you know, mayors, corporations, Congress, whatever. In 1988, the US formally identified the African National Congress, Mandela’s ANC, as one of the "more notorious terrorist groups" in the world. That was 1988. You’ll be pleased to know, if you don’t already, that Mandela was taken off the terrorist list a couple of months ago, so we no longer have to be terrified of him.
Around 1989, for reasons which are not entirely known — we don’t have internal documents for that period — US policy shifted, and it moved towards ending apartheid and instituting a regime which sort of maintains the social and economic structure of the apartheid regime, but without total exclusion of blacks. So, if you go to, say, Cape Town and Johannesburg, you can see black faces in the limousines, even though for — and other signs of improvement. That was a major achievement, getting rid of apartheid. But the fundamental structure was maintained. However, apartheid was ended. Mandela was let out of prison. He was given a couple of years of instruction in democracy and freedom and so on. And then he was allowed to appear. And the US, the godfather, changed its position, and it ended. If you go back to 1988, it looked like one of the worst periods in South African history. People were desperate, giving up.
And that’s happened elsewhere. So, the South African minister was correct. And it’s happened in other cases, too. I have no time to go through them, but there are other cases where just a slight shift in US policy terminated violent, murderous aggression, in fact near-genocidal aggression. And it could happen in this case, too. But something is going to have to press it, and that’s going to have to come from inside. It’s not going to come from the rest of the world. And I think that’s — these are lessons that we ought to keep in mind when we think about, first of all, our own responsibilities and also the kinds of tactical moves that would be appropriate.
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