How Chomsky came to Gaza: a statement by eight who accompanied him

How Chomsky came to Gaza: a statement by eight who accompanied him

Noam Chomsky in Gaza with other tour members - Oct 2012

Noam Chomsky in Gaza with other tour members – Oct 2012

Mondoweiss – 23 Oct 2012

The eight signatories of this letter are members of the group that traveled with Noam Chomsky to Gaza. We have spent three and a half days here in Gaza with Chomsky, who departed yesterday. We would like to clarify the circumstances surrounding Chomsky’s visit.

Last spring, a couple of us noticed a general call on Linguist List for an academic conference on linguistics at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG). It is only possible to enter Gaza with an official invitation and hence this provided us with a unique opportunity to visit Gaza, a place that some of us had attempted (unsuccessfully) to visit before. Hagit Borer wrote the organizers in March 2012 to inform them of our interest. Among other inquiries, she requested assurances that the IUG has no official ties with the government of Gaza:

“At least American academics are prevented by law from having any contact with the government in Gaza […] and so the non-governmental nature of the conference is crucial.”

Quoting from the reply, “We would be very delighted to your participation as well as the participation of colleagues around the world. Your coming to Gaza represents your show of support to academics in Gaza and an important step in breaking this inhumane siege. The Islamic University of Gaza is a non-governmental academic institution, and this academic conference is sponsored by the Islamic University of Gaza.”

Upon receiving this response, Hagit asked Noam Chomsky if he would like to join us. He considered the idea and eventually agreed to come.

We arrived in Gaza in the late afternoon of October 18th and were met by an IUG delegation. Over the next three days, the university organized a series of events and visits for all of us, including a visit to the city of Khan Younis (city council, hospital, refugee camp, water treatment facility), a meeting with families of detainees in Israeli prisons, etc. Additional events were organized solely for Noam Chomsky: question and answer sessions, press conferences, meetings with Palestinian politicians (including the elected prime minister), and meetings with academics from other departments. In addition, meetings were organized for Chomsky by other sectors of the Palestinian civil society, including a press conference organized upon the seizure of the Estelle, a meeting organized by the Gaza Mental Health Center, as well as dinners with left-leaning Palestinian intellectuals.

While we are aware of the fact that at least some of the IUG organized events involved some government sponsorship, this does not amount to our or Chomsky’s endorsement of the (elected) government in Gaza. The schedule of events was heavy and at times conflicting, which was neither our choice nor Chomsky’s, and in fact required some intervention on our part to reconcile contradictory—and persistent—claims on Chomsky’s time which came from different sectors of the civil society with distinct agendas. In the end, the fact that there are just so many hours in one day, and that Chomsky is 83 years old, meant that, although regrettable, not every sector of the Palestinian society could have “a piece of him,” despite his characteristic generosity in accepting impromptu questions and unscheduled interviews, and his willingness to accommodate even the most unreasonable of demands.

As is also characteristic of Chomsky, his remarks included unambiguous criticism of political leadership everywhere, including the local one. Repeatedly, he said that Israel did the U.S. a great service by destroying secular Arab nationalism and that, in his view, political Islam is a much easier “enemy” to coopt.

We are issuing, together, the eight of us still in Gaza, this statement in the hope of lifting any potential misunderstandings about the circumstances surrounding our and Chomsky’s visit to Gaza.

Hagit Borer, linguist, Queen Mary University of London (UK)
Antoine Bustros, composer and writer, Montreal (Canada)
David Heap, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Stephanie Kelly, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Máire Noonan, linguist, McGill University (Canada)
Philippe Prévost, linguist, University of Tours (France)
Verena Stresing, biochemist, University of Nantes (France)
Laurie Tuller, linguist, University of Tours (France)


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