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Noam Chomsky on Gaza, and the 2 Positives of Election 2012: The Worst Didn’t Happen — and It’s Over

StoryNovember 14, 2012
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World-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor Noam Chomsky joins us to discuss his recent trip to the Gaza Strip, where he publicly called on Israel to put an end to the blockade on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. “[Gaza] is a lesson for people from the West,” Chomsky says. “If they can struggle on under really harsh and brutal conditions, [it] tells us we ought to be doing a lot more.” Chomsky also comments on President Obama’s re-election, saying: “There are two good things about it. One is, the worst didn’t happen, and it might have. The second is, it’s over. So we can put it behind us and get back to work.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we wrap up today with Noam Chomsky. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Israel and Palestinian leaders in Gaza have agreed to a tacit truce following days of violence in the Gaza Strip. At least seven Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since Saturday. Eight Israeli civilians have also been wounded by Palestinian rockets. The temporary ceasefire was brokered by the Egyptian government, but both sides say they’re prepared to resume attacks if it fails.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Sunday, I spoke about the situation in Gaza with the world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. He was speaking in Princeton at the 32nd anniversary of the Coalition of Peace Action. Noam Chomsky recently returned from his first visit to Gaza, which he entered from the Egyptian side of the Rafah Crossing as a member of an academic delegation attending a conference at Gaza’s Islamic University. This is Noam Chomsky talking about his experience there.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s kind of amazing and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive in—as essentially caged animals and subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment only to humiliate them, no pretext. They’re—Israel and the United States keep them alive, basically. They don’t want them to starve to death. But the life is set up so that you can’t have a dignified, decent life. In fact, one of the words you hear most often is “dignity.” They would like to have dignified lives. And the standard Israeli position is they shouldn’t raise their heads. And it’s a pressure cooker, could blow up. You know, people can’t live like that forever.

AMY GOODMAN: You described it in a piece you wrote as an “open-air prison.”

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s an open-air prison. As soon as you—you know, we’ve all been in jail for civil disobedience and so on. The overwhelming feeling everyone gets is somebody else is in total control of you. There’s an arbitrary authority who can control anything you do. Stand up, sit down, you know, find something to eat, go to the bathroom—whatever it may be, they all determine it; you can’t do anything. Now that’s basically what it’s like living there. And, you know, there’s—people find ways to adapt, but it’s just a constant—it’s constant subjugation to an external force, which has no purpose except to humiliate you. Of course, they have pretexts—everybody has pretexts—but they don’t make any sense.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the first time you were there, though you’ve written about this for decades.

NOAM CHOMSKY: I’ve written about it forever, and I’ve tried to get in a couple of times from the Israeli side, but couldn’t—it was always closed. So this is the first time I made it, and came through Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: And how hard was it to get through from Egypt?

NOAM CHOMSKY: There’s a lot of bureaucratic hassles, and the border is still apparently controlled by the Mukhabarat, you know, the old security services who were close to—I mean, they were under Mubarak. They’re close to the Mossad, close to Israeli—to the CIA. And a lot of it—it’s hard to know how much is just bureaucrats trying to make life difficult for you and how much is planned harassment. I mean, for people like us, you know, what does it matter? So we wasted two days. But for the Gazans, it’s no joke. I mean, any—if you want to go through something like passport control, you sit for three hours, while they—doing pointless things. That’s just more humiliation.

AMY GOODMAN: While you were there, the Freedom—another Freedom Flotilla ship tried to get in through from Scandinavia. What was the response on land?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The Estelle. Yeah, we had a—there was a lot of excitement. The people like to—you know, obviously are very happy to know that somebody knows they’re there, and that people are actually willing to risk something, because it’s not a joke, you know, to try to break through. And we had a press conference at the port. And to my amazement, it was actually covered in the most reactionary newspaper in Israel, Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper, Israel Hayom. Look it up. They had a fair report of it, quoted the press conference, even had a clip of it. But for the people there, it’s just a sign: You haven’t forgotten us, you know? Maybe we’ll get out somehow.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re speaking for the first time after President Obama was just re-elected. Your thoughts?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there are two good things about it. One is, the worst didn’t happen, and it might have. The second is, it’s over. So we can put it behind us and get back to work, exactly what you said today. I mean, the whole electoral extravaganza, in my view, ought to take maybe five minutes of the time of an activist, because it’s a farce. I mean, there are some differences; it’s not zero impact, you know. So you decide, OK, I’m going to deal with it this way—five minutes, finish—now I go back to what matters: the changing of the circumstances so we don’t have to endure things like this every four years.

AMY GOODMAN: And with something like Gaza, what you’ve covered, as you said, forever, what gives you hope?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s the usual thing that you see everywhere, that you’ve seen everywhere a lot more than I have: people’s resilience. They just don’t give up. Under the worst conditions, horrendous conditions, people still, you know, fight for their rights and don’t just succumb. And, you know, it’s a lesson for people from the West. I mean, you know, we talk about repression, but, you know, undetectable by comparison with what most people in the world face. And if they can struggle on under really harsh and brutal conditions, tells us we ought to be doing a lot more.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky, just back from his first trip to Gaza. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our previous best, Glenn Greenwald, will be speaking at Bard College tonight at 7:30 at Bito Auditorium.

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