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Noam Chomsky: Palestinian Hunger Strike a Protest Against “Violations of Elementary Human Rights”

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We begin our hour-long interview with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky by discussing the Palestinian hunger strike. A tentative deal has reportedly been reached to end a landmark action that’s seen an estimated 2,000 jailed Palestinians go without food to pressure Israeli prison authorities to end the use of solitary confinement and ease a wide range of restrictions. “The hunger strikes are a protest against … violations of the elementary human rights,” Chomsky says. He is Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of dozens of books, most recently, “Occupy.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, Noam Chomsky. I interviewed him last week here in New York at the 45th anniversary celebration of NACLA, the North American Congress on Latin America. Chomsky was this year’s winner of the Latin America Peace and Justice Award. NACLA said they gave him the honor because, quote, “Chomsky’s work has influenced generations of concerned citizens who are committed to social justice in the Americas.” Also honored was the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who founded the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity after his son was murdered last year in the drug war in Mexico. Visit for our two-part interview with the renowned Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia.

Noam Chomsky is author of more than a hundred books, most recently, Occupy. He is Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century.

I began our interview by asking Noam Chomsky about the approximately 2,000 Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike since April 17th. Representatives of the prisoners have reportedly reached a tentative agreement with Israel that could end the strike. Many of the Palestinian prisoners are being held by Israel without charge under a procedure known as “administrative detention.” The strike is intended to pressure Israeli prison authorities to end the use of solitary confinement and ease a wide range of restrictions. We did the interview in a courtyard outside a building at New York University. I asked Professor Chomsky to comment on the Palestinian hunger strike.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Among the many atrocities going on in the Occupied Territories, one of them is administrative detention, and another is very harsh, punitive prison conditions. Israel acknowledges several hundred prisoners under administrative detention. There’s basically no inspection, so we don’t know. Some of them have been there for years. That means no charges, just suspected of something and locked up, some of them over and over again. And the hunger strikes are a protest against these violations of elementary human rights and of law, in fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Overall, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Gaza remains a prison. It’s completely under siege. I mean, Egypt has opened up a little of the borders, so there’s some entry up and back, but basically it’s the same as it’s been for years. They can’t export their produce. They can’t have a live economy. The Israeli navy pretty much bars fishing. The place is—nothing can be reconstructed, because you can’t bring any construction material. I mean, there is in fact wealth, through the tunnel system, but which has enriched, you know, kind of entrepreneurs, if you want to call them that. It’s a small sector of the population. But most of them are living under kind of a forced hunger strike. The way the Israeli officials put it a couple years ago is pretty accurate: we don’t want to kill them all, as it won’t look good, but we’ll keep them on a diet, so just at a survival level. A very young population, no future, can’t get out. It’s, in a way, not unlike the refugee camps in Lebanon, which are—they’re not torture chambers, but the hopelessness and the—when you go through them, you see kids playing in the dirt, and you know they’re going to be there all their lives, and their children are going to be there all their lives. They’ll never get out. That’s what Gaza is like.

The West Bank is being—the U.S. and Israel have a plan. They’re slowly implementing it: systematically take over whatever is of value in the West Bank. And it’s clear what it is; it’s never been a secret. The structure has been entirely obvious. Just go step by step. So you take over everything within the means, annex ultimately, the illegal annexation—they call it a separation wall; actually, an annexation wall—that includes much of the arable land, water resources, the pleasant suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and so on. So, take that over. Take over the Jordan Valley, where Palestinians are being slowly driven out and Israeli settlements are being built and, you know, hundreds of wells are being sunk and so on, more arable land. That basically imprisons what’s left. And in the region that’s left, about over half is essentially Israeli territory area C, and the Palestinians virtually no access to it. And there are salients cut through—first of all, Jerusalem itself is far larger than Jerusalem ever was, and it’s been annexed—illegally, of course, even in violation of Security Council orders. So there’s this vastly expanded greater Jerusalem, which includes East Jerusalem.

To the east of that is a salient going to a town founded in the '70s, but mainly constructed under Clinton in the ’90s, Ma'ale Adumim. Its borders reach virtually Jericho, kind of bisects the West Bank. And if you go further north, there are a couple of other salients, which cut what’s left into unviable cantons, what Ariel Sharon, the architect of the policy, he honestly—he called them “bantustans,” which is not quite accurate, because South Africa relied on the black labor, so they took care of the bantustans, just kind of the way slave owners took care of slaves—they’re your kind of capital; you’ve got to keep them going, let them reproduce and so on—and they also hoped that the bantustans would be recognized by other countries, so they sort of, more or less, kept them viable. But Israel has absolutely no interest in the Palestinians. They can—you know, if they disappear, that’s just fine. So, they’re kind of left in these cantons. There’s major infrastructure developments. I mean, an Israeli or an American tourist can go from, say, Ma’ale Adumim to Tel Aviv on superhighways. No Palestinians, of course. Maybe you see a man with a goat up in the distance, a kind of biblical landscape. But that’s the direction it’s moving.

AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think needs to happen?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, what needs to happen is very straightforward. I mean, there are a lot of complex problems in the world where it’s hard to think of the solution, like, say, Kashmir or eastern Congo—try to figure out a solution, it’s not so easy. But Israel-Palestine, it’s transparent. There’s been an overwhelming international consensus, for about 35 years, on the basic structure of a settlement, a two-state settlement, international border, means pre-June '67 border, maybe some—to use official U.S. terminology, when the U.S. was still part of the world back in the early ’70s, “with minor and mutual adjustments,” so straighten out the ceasefire line, and then various arrangements made for other issues. That's the basic structure. Actually, that came to the U.N. Security Council in 1976. It was brought by the major Arab states. It was vetoed by the United States, vetoed again in 1980. I won’t run through the rest of the story, but there’s been consistent barring of a political settlement by U.S. rejectionism. And until that changes, nothing much is going to change.

AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think of the BDS movement, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think BDS is a very valuable tactic. I’d be a little cautious when it comes to be a movement. So, for example, if you go back to South Africa, BDS was used, and used effectively, but there was never a BDS movement. A movement begins to mean, you know, we’ve got a plan and a commitment, principles you have to adhere to, we apply the tactics without considering the consequences, and so on. Now, BDS, as a tactic, can be very effective. And in the case of South Africa, if you take a look, it was effective and targeted. So, for example, there was no boycott of universities, but there were boycotts insofar as they had racial hiring practices. There were boycotts of sports teams for the same reason. Also, it’s important to remember that boycott, divestment, sanctions began significantly, in the case of South Africa, after decades of preparation. By the time these tactics began, there was no support for apartheid anywhere in the world. Congress was passing sanctions legislation. The U.N. had imposed an arms embargo. And in fact, if you look through the ’80s—this is when the tactics were used—the Reagan administration had to violate congressional sanctions in order to keep supporting South Africa as it did.

And it’s interesting to remember why the United States supported South Africa: it was part of the war on terror. George Bush didn’t start the war—declare the war on terror, he re-declared it. Reagan declared it in 1981, very frankly and openly. Nobody likes to talk about it because of the horrors that emerged, but it’s true. And in 1988, for example, the African National Congress, Mandela’s ANC, was declared to be one of the more notorious terrorist groups in the world, so we naturally had to support white nationalists against this horrible terrorist force. It was 1988. By that time, overwhelming opposition to apartheid. And in fact, U.S. policy did change in the next couple of years. And when U.S. policy changed, the system collapsed. What came out of it is not very beautiful, by any means, but at least apartheid collapsed. But—and that could happen in this case, too. In fact, as I’m sure you know, Mandela himself was just removed from the terrorist list about two years ago. He can now come to the United States without special dispensation.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky. We’ll continue the discussion with him, as he addresses WikiLeaks, the militarization of police in the United States, and the historical significance of Occupy Wall Street, but he’ll begin by talking about President Obama, in a moment.

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