Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Noam Chomsky: ME Questions

20 November 2009

Noam Chomsky BBC HARDtalk Interview:
Middle East Questions – 3 Nov 2009

Noam Chomsky is one of the world’s most prominent and controversial public intellectuals. He is an internationally renowned professor of linguistics, but he is also a longstanding critic of US foreign policy and the influence of big business over the American government.

Noam Chomsky told HARDtalk the war in Afghanistan is “immoral”

He spoke to Stephen Sackur in a HARDtalk interview recorded on 3rd November 2009.  HARDtalk gave viewers the chance to submit their own questions before the interview, and received over 100 emails. A few of these were put to him in the interview, and Professor Chomsky has answered a small selection of the rest by email.  [Below are questions and answers related to the Middle East.  View BBC HARDtalk pages for other subjects.]


Q: In recent times, there is some international recognition and academic consensus of the horrors such as Black slavery, Jewish holocaust, Armenian genocide, Ethnic cleansing in Darfur, etc. Why isn’t there such a consensus on the roots of the Palestinian refugee crisis, either with academicians or politicians? Udhay, US

A: To say that the US government supports Israel’s policies would be an understatement. It directly participates in them in all relevant dimensions: diplomatic, military, economic, ideological. That includes the barbaric attack on Gaza in December-January, the current undermining of the ‘road map’, and much else.

Europe follows along obediently. A striking illustration is the reaction to the one free election in the Arab world: in Palestine, in January 2006. It came out “the wrong way.” The US instantly, and quite publicly, turned to punishing the population for this terrible crime, and Europe went along.

Meanwhile, the chorus of self-congratulation about our fervent dedication to “democracy promotion” didn’t skip a beat. Without continuing, as long as these policies persist there will be only limited free and honest discussion of Palestinian issues, apart from popular movements, some elements of scholarship and media, and scattered political figures.

Q: As a philosopher and scholar who has been a critic of the Israeli government’s policies towards the Palestine issue, who happens to be Jewish, and who was also already a bright young man during the years leading to the creation of Israel, I have the following questions: 1) How did your current views about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict evolve; 2) From a pragmatic standpoint, what is the best solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict – a solution that gives justice to the Palestinian who lost his home and country in 1948 and a solution that gives justice to the Israeli, who now lives in Israel but knew nothing about the injustices that happened as a result of its creation; and 3) How and why do you think such a gigantic conflict was allowed to happen and persists to this day without any real and serious possibility of a good ending? Caterina Lorenzo-Molo, Philippines

A: Perhaps this should be a matter for self-criticism, but my views are much as they were when I was a Zionist youth leader in the 1940s, opposed to a Jewish state and in favour of a bi-national (socialist/anarchist) Palestine – a point of view that fell within the Zionist framework at that time.

After 1948, that position could only remain as a long-term goal. From 1967 to 1975, it became a realistic short-term possibility, in some respects, and I wrote and spoke about it extensively, eliciting mostly hysteria. After Palestinian nationalism reached the international agenda, in the mid-1970s, the only meaningful short-term solution has been the very broad international consensus on a two-state political settlement on the international (pre-June 1967) border, with “minor and mutual modifications,” to adopt the official US formulation when it was still part of the world from 1967 to 1971.

Since that time the US has blocked a political settlement (along with Israel of course), and still does: quite explicitly under Obama. There have been rare and temporary deviations, most notably in January 2001, Clinton’s last month in office. I cannot review the history here once again, but these are the basic relevant outlines. The international consensus can be implemented, if US policy shifts and if Europe decides to follow an independent role, as it can.

My own feeling is that such a settlement should be only a first stage towards moving on to a bi-nationalist settlement, and beyond that, to a further breakdown of borders – what we might call a ‘no-state settlement’, by no means utopian, either there or in other parts of the world. But that’s for the populations to decide. Would this be ‘just’? No, but realistic solutions rarely are, though they can be ‘more just’.

Q: Quite simply, what needs to be done to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict? Phil Baker, UK

A: The primary task is to bring the US into the international consensus, and to induce the European Union to play an independent role instead of subordinating itself meekly to Washington. All quite feasible.

Q: Following the Goldstone Report into the Gaza conflict and the subsequent Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/S-12/L.1 which was adopted with 25 to 5 with 11 abstentions and is at present with the UN General Assembly, what are your views on what effects if any this Resolution may have on the future of the Middle East. Is it a step forward or a big step back form realisation of a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel? Philip Mutio, UK

A: The Goldstone Report has already been denounced, ignorantly, by Obama and Clinton, and Congress. It’s highly unlikely that Europe would allow it to be considered seriously, and certainly the US will not. Its fate will therefore be left to the general public. Its contents should be considered seriously, but also with recognition that it is seriously flawed, both morally and legally.

It presupposes that Israel had a right of self-defence, which is true, but irrelevant, and mere evasion. The issue is whether Israel – more accurately, the US-Israel, acting as usual in tandem – had a right to use force in self-defence.

That right cannot be claimed unless the attacker has exhausted peaceful means. The US-Israel refused even to contemplate peaceful means, even though – or perhaps because – there was every reason to expect that peaceful means would work.

Keeping to the narrowest option, Israel concedes that before it broke the cease-fire on November 4 2008, Hamas had not fired a single rocket; and though Israel considered repeated Hamas offers to renew the cease-fire, it rejected them, preferring invasion.

It follows that even if the IDF fired a single bullet it was a crime. Unless these crucial facts are highlighted, the debate, such as it is, is likely to degenerate into argument about details. Forty years ago I wrote that by even entering into the arena of debate with those who deny Nazi crimes, we lose our humanity – though sometimes it is necessary to do so, however reluctantly. The same principles apply over and over, here as well.

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