Denied Entry: Israel Blocks Noam Chomsky from Entering West Bank to Deliver Speech

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On Sunday afternoon, Noam Chomsky was stopped by Israeli border guards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan. After over three hours of questioning, Chomsky’s passport was stamped with "Denied Entry." He was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah and was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. No reason was initially given for the decision, but the Interior Ministry later told Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that officials were now trying to get clearance from the Israel Defense Forces. Noam Chomsky joins us now from Amman, Jordan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky has been denied entry into the West Bank by Israel. The world-renowned linguist and political thinker was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah and was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. On Sunday afternoon, he was stopped by Israeli border guards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan. After three hours of questioning, Chomsky’s passport was stamped with "Denied Entry." His daughter, Professor Aviva Chomsky — she teaches at Salem State College — was also denied entry.

No reason was initially given for the decision, but the Interior Ministry later told Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that officials were now trying to get clearance from the Israel Defense Forces. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told Ha’aretz, quote, "We are trying to contact the military to clear things up, and if they have no objection, we see no reason why he should not be allowed in."

Professor Noam Chomsky joins us now from Amman, Jordan. He’s the internationally celebrated professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for over half a century. He’s author of over a hundred books on linguistics, mass media, American imperialism, and US foreign policy. His latest is called Hopes and Prospects.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you explain exactly what happened on Sunday?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s very straightforward. The report that you just read from the Ministry is inaccurate. I have spoken — but the basic facts are as you described them. My daughter and I, along with two old friends, were going to Ramallah from Amman and were stopped at the border, waited several hours, several hours of interrogation, and finally my daughter and I were denied entry.

The reasons are quite straightforward. I’ve spoken at Bir Zeit University before, but in every prior occasion, it was a side trip, when I was visiting Israel and giving talks at Israeli universities. This time differs in one respect. I was — I had an invitation from Bir Zeit, and I accepted it gladly, as in many other cases, and I had no intention of going on to speak in Israel as well this time. That’s the only difference. So, essentially, what Israel is saying is that they insist on the right to determine who is allowed to just visit a Palestinian university at their invitation and talk.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the questions that they asked you? How long did they question you for, and how long were you held at the border?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The border, I guess, was about five hours or so. And the questioning, which was intermittent, was maybe two hours. The officer at the immigration post was essentially relaying the questions from the Ministry of Information. He was in telephone or computer contact with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, say again, who was he in contact with, the border guard?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The Ministry of Information.


NOAM CHOMSKY: Ministry of Interior, sorry. Ministry of Interior.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was he going back and forth with the Ministry of Interior about?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there were two questions, which kept repeating in various forms. One was that they don’t like the kinds of things I say about Israel. OK, as quoted on Al Jazeera, that puts them in the category of just about everyone else in the world, every other country. Furthermore, it can’t possibly have been the reason, since I’ve been invited by universities in Israel to give talks specifically about Israel, very critical ones, and the talks I was invited for here were primarily about the United States, US foreign and domestic policies.

The other question, which is the critical one and the one difference between this and other occasions, is that I was simply coming to visit Bir Zeit University and was not at the same time giving talks at Israeli universities, with the visit to Bir Zeit on the side, as has been the case previously. And they didn’t like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And why didn’t they like that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: They didn’t like that because I — well, I’m speculating, but I think the reason is clear. They don’t like the idea that a Palestinian university can be independent and pursue its own policies the same way that any other university in the world does. I mean, it’s almost unheard of, outside of totalitarian states, for a government to prevent someone from responding to an invitation at a university to give a talk.

AMY GOODMAN: At the risk of sounding like a border guard, Noam Chomsky, what were you planning to talk about at Bir Zeit University?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Two topics were announced. One was called "America and the World." It was about US foreign policy, including Middle East policies, as a special case. The other was "America at Home," and it was going to be a discussion of developments inside the United States, particularly in the last fifty years.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the first case, what was the speech? Could you elaborate on what you intended to say?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I was going to discuss — and will, in fact, by video conference discuss — some persistent themes in US international relations since the founding of the republic, but primarily in the past — since the Second World War, when the US became a major player on the world scene, and discuss how our policies have developed through the Cold War period, and since the Cold War period up to the present, including of course policies with regard to the crucial Middle East region, ever since it was recognized that oil was going to be a primary resource during World War I, but essentially after World War II, when the United States displaced Britain as the major actor in world affairs.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment right now of the situation with Israel and Palestine? And were you going to meet with the Palestinian prime minister?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I did — I was going to meet with the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. But his office called me here in Amman this morning, and we had a long discussion.

He is pursuing policies, which, in my view, are quite sensible, policies of essentially developing facts on the ground. It’s almost — I think it’s probably a conscious imitation of the early Zionist policies, establishing facts on the ground and hoping that the political forms that follow will be determined by them. And the policies sound to me like sensible and sound ones. The question, of course, is whether — the extent to which Israel and the United States, which is a determining factor — the extent to which they’ll permit them to be implemented. But if implemented, and if, of course, Israel and the United States would terminate their systematic effort to separate Gaza from the West Bank, which is quite illegal, if that continues, yes, it could turn into a viable Palestinian state.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, you said that what I said at the beginning was not actually accurate: no reason was initially given for the decision to bar you, but the Interior Ministry later told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that officials are now trying to get clearance from the Israeli Defense Forces; an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said, "We are trying to contact the military to clear things up, and if they have no objection, we see no reason why he should not be allowed in." What isn’t true about that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I have been — I have spoken in Bir Zeit a number of times. No one ever asked for clearance from the Israeli military. The one difference in this case is that, on those occasions, I was visiting Israel and giving talks at Israeli universities and meetings and so on, and went to Bir Zeit on a side trip, and in this case, I was going to Bir Zeit and not speaking at Israeli universities. And in fact, the interrogator, who was reading questions that were coming from the Ministry, repeatedly asked, "Well, why aren’t you also going to give talks in Israel?" That’s the one difference, and it has nothing to do with the IDF.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you know it has nothing to do with the military?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Because it was the — in either case, I was going to talk in the West Bank.


NOAM CHOMSKY: That part was the same. The one part that was different in this case is that I was talking in the West Bank and not in Israel. And that has nothing to do with the IDF.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they seem to know that you were going to be coming, that you were going to be crossing the border? Or were they surprised? Could you determine that?

NOAM CHOMSKY: If they were surprised, it shows a high level of incompetence, since it was public and announced.

AMY GOODMAN: If Israel were to say you would be allowed in, would you go?

NOAM CHOMSKY: If they will say that I can just go in in a normal fashion. I don’t want their authorization. If they can say that I can go in in a normal fashion, as when I visit Israel or any other country, yes, I’ll go.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Noam Chomsky, who’s been — well, what exactly did they stamp your passport?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Let’s see. What did they stamp it? Actually, my daughter is getting it so I can see it. Just one second. It says, "Allenby Border Control," the date, two red lines across it, and then it says "Entry" — and the same in Hebrew. And then another stamp says, "Entry denied," where my curiosity is that the word "entry" is misspelled, but it’s [inaudible] —-

AMY GOODMAN: And you say this was in constant consultation with the Ministry of the Interior.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, the interrogator, my impression was that he was sort of apologetic and just transmitting information he was receiving regularly. He was in direct contact with them. But he seemed [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you said you are going to deliver this lecture, but by video conference?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Tomorrow, it’s set up by video conference from Amman, where I am now.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you a question on Iran, this latest deal that has just been announced. I don’t know if you’ve been following the news as you have been there, but a deal on the whole issue of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Iran has agreed to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey in a nuclear fuel swap deal that could ease the international standoff over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. In exchange, Iran will receive low-level nuclear fuel to run a medical reactor — the deal reached with the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Brazil. And Iran said the swap will be under the supervision of the UN nuclear agency, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. What is your assessment of this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: If the reports are accurate, it’s hard to see why — on what grounds the United States would object. It’s basically US objections. But what’s significant about this are several things, first that it’s Iran, it’s Brazil and Turkey. Turkey is representative of the regional powers. Turkey, like the Arab League, has made it clear that it does not want sanctions. It wants a negotiation, a diplomatic settlement. Brazil is probably the most respected country in the — among the Non-Aligned countries, plays a very important role. In fact, that the two of them have outdone — and they happen to be on the Security Council, but that they’re openly calling for a peaceful diplomatic settlement and opposing the call to — the threat of any further actions, that’s significant.

Also significant is that this is, in a way, a side issue. I mean, there is a way to approach the whole issue of whatever threat there may be in the Middle East from nuclear weapons, and that’s to move towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. Now, back in 1995, the United States agreed to that. It was on the insistence of Egypt. This was the review conference, regular review conference, and Egypt and other Non-Aligned countries said that they would not continue with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unless the West, meaning the United States, agreed to move towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region, which would eliminate any threat there may be, or at least mitigate any threat there might be about nuclear weapons. And the US did formerly agree to that. Actually, the US is even more committed now than it was then, because when the US and Britain invaded Iraq, they did try to present a kind of a thin legal cover, as you recall. The claim was that Iraq was in violation of a Security Council resolution in 1991, calling on it to terminate its development of weapons of mass destruction. Well, we know what happened to the pretext.

But what’s important is that same resolution has a provision, an article, which commits the signers to establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. So the US and Britain have a special commitment to this beyond the general commitment of the nuclear review panel. Well, Egypt, which is now head of the Non-Aligned Movement, 118 countries, has pressed that very strongly in the last few weeks at meetings, preparatory meetings, at the review meetings, and the US has — in a position where it has formerly agreed, but it has evaded the agreement by saying clearly that no such resolution will apply to Israel and accepting the Israeli position that — explicitly, that while this might be a good idea, as Hillary Clinton put it, this is not the proper time, because first we have to have a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East. Well, you know, a comprehensive peace agreement is off indefinitely as long as the US and Israel reject the very broad international consensus on a two-state settlement. So that’s essentially saying, "Well, we’re not going to proceed with this." And if they’re not going to proceed with it, there can’t be a nuclear-weapons-free zone.

Those are much more central issues. And it’s also worth emphasizing that both the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency have explicitly called upon Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to open its facilities to inspection. And that happened last fall, and the Obama administration immediately informed Israel that they could disregard the international agency [inaudible] request. India, as well. The Security Council resolution would also have applied to India, but the Obama administration informed the Indians that they could ignore it. They’re developing nuclear weapons with indirect US assistance under an Anglo — an Indian-American treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we have to break for sixty seconds, and I wanted to come back to this discussion. Noam Chomsky, professor at MIT, has been banned, along with his daughter, Professor Aviva Chomsky, from entering the West Bank, where he going to deliver two lectures at Bir Zeit University. He was barred on the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan into the West Bank. This is Democracy Now!

We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Noam Chomsky. He was supposed to be today in the West Bank. Instead, he’s in Amman. He and his daughter, Aviva Chomsky, were denied entry at the border coming from Jordan into the West Bank. He was going to be delivering two lectures. Noam Chomsky, professor at MIT, author of over a hundred books, world-renowned linguist and political thinker and activist.

Noam, I wanted to ask you about the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, tentatively announcing plans to discuss Israel’s nuclear weapons program for the first time ever. Israel, the only nation in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, but the country has never officially acknowledged that it has them. Talk about the significance of this.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, I’m afraid I’ll have to be very brief; there’s another interview coming. But it’s quite significant. The — it must have been last September or October, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Israel to open its — to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to open its facilities, nuclear facilities, to international inspection. Now, the United States and Europe tried to block that resolution, but it passed anyway. And immediately afterwards, the Obama administration informed Israel that it could deny it.

This was not reported in the United States, as far as I know, in the press, with one exception, the Washington Times, in the second newspaper in Washington. Now that’s quite significant.

These are — if anyone is interested in nuclear nonproliferation, it’s very important to force — to compel countries to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There are three non-signers at the moment — India, Israel and Pakistan — all developing nuclear weapons with the assistance of the United States, and the US is protecting them from inspection.

It goes beyond this. There are nuclear-weapons-free zones in several parts of the world already, except that they’re not implemented fully, because the US won’t allow it. The most relevant one here is the African Union. It called for — it finally agreed on a nuclear-weapons-free zone, but that includes an island, the island of Diego Garcia, which the US uses for — first of all, for bombing — it’s one of the main bombing centers for the Middle East and Central Asia — but also for storing nuclear weapons and for nuclear submarines. And, in fact, it’s used for those purposes. It’s being beefed up by the Obama administration, as in new support systems for nuclear submarines. The US is now sending new — what are called bunker busters, huge bombs aimed at deep penetration. Of course, they’re aimed at Iran. They’ve just been sent to Diego Garcia. This is — these are all threats against Iran in violation of Security Council resolutions.

I’m afraid I’ll have to stop; I have another interview coming in two minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Noam Chomsky, MIT professor, again, denied entry into the West Bank to give his lectures at Bir Zeit. But the lectures will be given by video conference beginning tomorrow. Thanks, Noam, for being with us.

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