Following intellectuals' letter, Prof. Noam Chomsky explains his
doctrine, discusses danger of Israel's nukes compared to 'Iranian
threat,' global media's role in escalating Mideast conflict and US's
place in picture
By Merav Yudilovitch
08/09/06 "Ynet" -- --
Last week, a group of
renowned intellectuals published an open letter blaming Israel
for escalating the conflict in the Middle East. The letter,
which mainly referred to the alignment of forces between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority, caused a lot of anger among Ynet
and Ynetnews readers, particularly due to its claim that the
Israeli policy's political aim is to eliminate the Palestinian
The letter was formulated by art critic and author John
Berger and among its signatories were Nobel Prize winner,
playwright Harold Pinter, linguist and theoretician Noam Chomsly,
Nobel Prize laureate Jos é Saramago, Booker Prize laureate
Arundhati Roy, American author Russell Banks, author and
playwright Gore Vidal, and historian Howard Zinn.
you claimed that the provocation and counter-provocation all
serve as a distraction from the real issue. What does it mean?
"I assume you are referring to John Berger’s letter (which I
signed, among others). The “real issue” that is being ignored is
the systematic destruction of any prospects for a viable
Palestinian existence as Israel annexes valuable land and major
resources, leaving the shrinking territories assigned to
Palestinians as unviable cantons, largely separated from one
another and from whatever little bit of Jerusalem is to be left
to Palestinians, and completely imprisoned as Israel takes over
the Jordan valley.
"This program of realignment cynically disguised as
“withdrawal,” is of course completely illegal, in violation of
Security Council resolutions and the unanimous decision of the
World Court (including the dissenting statement of US Justice
Buergenthal). If it is implemented as planned, it spells the end
of the very broad international consensus on a two-state
settlement that the US and Israel have unilaterally blocked for
30 years – matters that are so well documented that I do not
have to review them here.
"To turn to your specific question, even a casual look at the
Western press reveals that the crucial developments in the
occupied territories are marginalized even more by the war in
Lebanon. The ongoing destruction in Gaza – which was rarely
seriously reported in the first place - has largely faded into
the background, and the systematic takeover of the West Bank has
"However, I would not go as far as the implication in your
question that this was a purpose of the war, though it clearly
is the effect. We should recall that Gaza and the West Bank are
recognized to be a unit, so that if resistance to Israel’s
destructive and illegal programs is legitimate within the West
Bank (and it would be interesting to see a rational argument to
the contrary), then it is legitimate in Gaza as well."
that the world media refuses to link between what's going on in
the occupied territories and in Lebanon?
"Yes, but that is the least of the charges that should be
leveled against the world media, and the intellectual
communities generally. One of many far more severe charges is
brought up in the opening paragraph of the Berger letter.
"Recall the facts. On June 25, Cpl. Gilad Shalit was
captured, eliciting huge cries of outrage worldwide, continuing
daily at a high pitch, and a sharp escalation in Israeli attacks
in Gaza, supported on the grounds that capture of a soldier is a
grave crime for which the population must be punished.
"One day before, on June 24, Israeli forces kidnapped two
Gaza civilians, Osama and Mustafa Muamar, by any standards a far
more severe crime than capture of a soldier. The Muamar
kidnappings were certainly known to the major world media. They
were reported at once in the English-language Israeli press,
basically IDF handouts. And there were a few brief, scattered
and dismissive reports in several newspapers around the US.
"Very revealingly, there was no comment, no follow-up, and no
call for military or terrorist attacks against Israel. A Google
search will quickly reveal the relative significance in the West
of the kidnapping of civilians by the IDF and the capture of an
Israeli soldier a day later.
"The paired events, a day apart, demonstrate with harsh clarity
that the show of outrage over the Shalit kidnapping was cynical
fraud. They reveal that by Western moral standards, kidnapping
of civilians is just fine if it is done by “our side,” but
capture of a soldier on “our side” a day later is a despicable
crime that requires severe punishment of the population.
"As Gideon Levy accurately wrote in Ha’aretz, the IDF
kidnapping of civilians the day before the capture of Cpl.
Shalit strips away any “legitimate basis for the IDF's
operation,” and, we may add, any legitimate basis for support
for these operations.
"The same elementary moral principles carry over to the July
12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers near the Lebanon border,
heightened, in this case, by the regular Israeli practice for
many years of abducting Lebanese and holding many as hostages
for long periods.
"Over the many years in which Israel carried out these practices
regularly, even kidnapping on the high seas, no one ever argued
that these crimes justified bombing and shelling of Israel,
invasion and destruction of much of the country, or terrorist
actions within it. The conclusions are stark, clear, and
entirely unambiguous – hence suppressed.
"All of this is, obviously, of extraordinary importance in
the present case, particularly given the dramatic timing. That
is, I suppose, why the major media chose to avoid the crucial
facts, apart from a very few scattered and dismissive phrases,
revealing that they consider kidnapping a matter of no
significance when carried by US-supported Israeli forces.
"Apologists for state crimes claim that the kidnapping of the
Gaza civilians is justified by IDF claims that they are 'Hamas
militants' or were planning crimes. By their logic, they should
therefore be lauding the capture of Gilad Shalit, a soldier in
an army that was shelling and bombing Gaza. These performances
are truly disgraceful."
talking first and foremost about acknowledging the Palestinian
nation, but will it solve the "Iranian threat"? Will it push
Hizbullah from the Israeli border?
"Virtually all informed observers agree that a fair and
equitable resolution of the plight of the Palestinians would
considerably weaken the anger and hatred of Israel and the US in
the Arab and Muslim worlds – and far beyond, as international
polls reveal. Such an agreement is surely within reach, if the
US and Israel depart from their long-standing rejectionism.
"On Iran and Hizbullah, there is, of course, much more to
say, and I can only mention a few central points here.
"Let us begin with Iran. In 2003, Iran offered to negotiate all
outstanding issues with the US, including nuclear issues and a
two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The offer
was made by the moderate Khatami government, with the support of
the hard-line “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei. The Bush
administration response was to censure the Swiss diplomat who
brought the offer.
"In June 2006, Ayatollah Khamenei issued an official
declaration stating that Iran agrees with the Arab countries on
the issue of Palestine, meaning that it accepts the 2002 Arab
League call for full normalization of relations with Israel in a
two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus.
The timing suggests that this might have been a reprimand to his
subordinate Ahmadenijad, whose inflammatory statements are given
wide publicity in the West, unlike the far more important
declaration by his superior Khamenei.
"Of course, the PLO has officially backed a two-state solution
for many years, and backed the 2002 Arab League proposal. Hamas
has also indicated its willingness to negotiate a two-state
settlement, as is surely well-known in Israel. Kharazzi is
reported to be the author of the 2003 proposal of Khatami and
"The US and Israel do not want to hear any of this. They also
do not want to hear that Iran appears to be the only country to
have accepted the proposal by IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei
that all weapons-usable fissile materials be placed under
international control, a step towards a verifiable Fissile
Materials Cutoff Treaty.
"ElBaradei’s proposal, if implemented, would not only end the
Iranian nuclear crisis but would also deal with a vastly more
serious crisis: The growing threat of nuclear war, which leads
prominent strategic analysts to warn of 'apocalypse soon'
(Robert McNamara) if policies continue on their current course.
"The US strongly opposes a verifiable FMCT, but over US
objections, the treaty came to a vote at the United Nations,
where it passed 147-1, with two abstentions: Israel, which
cannot oppose its patron, and more interestingly, Blair’s
Britain, which retains a degree of sovereignty. The British
ambassador stated that Britain supports the treaty, but it
“divides the international community”. These again are matters
that are virtually suppressed outside of specialist circles, and
are matters of literal survival of the species, extending far
"It is commonly said that the 'international community' has
called on Iran to abandon its legal right to enrich uranium.
That is true, if we define the “international community” as
Washington and whoever happens to go along with it. It is surely
not true of the world. The non-aligned countries have forcefully
endorsed Iran’s “inalienable right” to enrich uranium. And,
rather remarkably, in Turkey, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, a
majority of the population favor accepting a nuclear-armed Iran
over any American military action, international polls reveal.
"The non-aligned countries also called for a nuclear-free
Middle East, a longstanding demand of the authentic
international community, again blocked by the US and Israel. It
should be recognized that the threat of Israeli nuclear weapons
is taken very seriously in the world.
"As explained by the former Commander-in-Chief of the US
Strategic Command, General Lee Butler, “it is dangerous in the
extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the
Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with
stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the
hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do so.” Israel is
doing itself no favors if it ignores these concerns.
"It is also of some interest that when Iran was ruled by the
tyrant installed by a US-UK military coup, the United States –
including Rumsfeld, Cheney, Kissinger, Wolfowitz and others -
strongly supported the Iranian nuclear programs they now condemn
and helped provide Iran with the means to pursue them. These
facts are surely not lost on the Iranians, just as they have not
forgotten the very strong support of the US and its allies for
Saddam Hussein during his murderous aggression, including help
in developing the chemical weapons that killed hundreds of
thousands of Iranians.
"There is a great deal more to say, but it appears that the
“Iranian threat” to which you refer can be approached by
peaceful means, if the US and Israel would agree. We cannot know
whether the Iranian proposals are serious, unless they are
explored. The US-Israel refusal to explore them, and the silence
of the US (and, to my knowledge, European) media, suggests that
the governments fear that they may be serious.
"I should add that to the outside world, it sounds a bit odd,
to put it mildly, for the US and Israel to be warning of the
“Iranian threat” when they and they alone are issuing threats to
launch an attack, threats that are immediate and credible, and
in serious violation of international law, and are preparing
very openly for such an attack. Whatever one thinks of Iran, no
such charge can be made in their case. It is also apparent to
the world, if not to the US and Israel, that Iran has not
invaded any other countries, something that the US and Israel do
"On Hizbullah too, there are hard and serious questions. As
well-known, Hizbullah was formed in reaction to the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its harsh and brutal occupation
in violation of Security Council orders. It won considerable
prestige by playing the leading role in driving out the
"The 1982 invasion was carried out after a year in which
Israel regularly bombed Lebanon, trying desperately to elicit
some PLO violation of the 1981 truce, and when it failed,
attacked anyway, on the ludicrous pretext that Ambassador Argov
had been wounded (by Abu Nidal, who was at war with the PLO).
The invasion was clearly intended, as virtually conceded, to end
the embarrassing PLO initiatives for negotiation, a “veritable
catastrophe” for Israel as Yehoshua Porat pointed out.
"It was, as described at the time, a “war for the West Bank.”
The later invasions also had shameful pretexts. In 1993,
Hizbullah had violated “the rules of the game,” Yitzhak Rabin
announced: these Israeli rules permitted Israel to carry out
terrorist attacks north of its illegally-held “security zone,”
but did not permit retaliation within Israel. Peres’s 1996
invasion had similar pretexts. It is convenient to forget all of
this, or to concoct tales about shelling of the Galilee in 1981,
but it is not an attractive practice, nor a wise one.
The problem of Hezbollah’s arms is quite
serious, no doubt. Resolution 1559 calls for disarming of all
Lebanese militias, but Lebanon has not enacted that provision.
Sunni Prime Minister Fuad Siniora describes Hizbullah’s military
wing as “resistance rather than as a militia, and thus exempt
from” Resolution 1559.
"A National Dialogue in June 2006 failed to resolve the problem.
Its main purpose was to formulate a “national defense strategy”
(vis-à-vis Israel), but it remained deadlocked over Hizbullah’s
call for “a defense strategy that allowed the Islamic Resistance
to keep its weapons as a deterrent to possible Israeli
aggression,” in the absence of any credible alternative. The US
could, if it chose, provide a credible guarantee against an
invasion by its client state, but that would require a sharp
change in long-standing policy.
"In the background are crucial facts emphasized by several
veteran Middle East correspondents. Rami Khouri, now an editor
of Lebanon’s Daily Star, writes that “the Lebanese and
Palestinians have responded to Israel’s persistent and
increasingly savage attacks against entire civilian populations
by creating parallel or alternative leaderships that can protect
them and deliver essential services.”
Apocalypse near (Part two)
You are not
referring in your letter to the Israeli casualties. Is there
differentiation in your opinion between Israeli civic casualties
of war and Lebanese or Palestinian casualties?
"That is not accurate. John Berger’s letter is very explicit
about making no distinction between Israeli and other
casualties. As his letter states: “Both categories of missile
rip bodies apart horribly - who but field commanders can forget
this for a moment.”
"You claimed that the world is cooperating with the Israeli
invasion to Lebanon and is not interfering in the events Gaza
and Jenin. What purpose does this silence serve?
"The great majority of the world can do nothing but protest,
though it is fully expected that the intense anger and
resentment caused by US-Israeli violence will – as in the past –
prove to be a gift for the most extremist and violent elements,
mobilizing new recruits to their cause.
"The US-backed Arab tyrannies did condemn Hizbullah, but are
being forced to back down out of fear of their own populations.
Even King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Washington’s most loyal (and
most important) ally, was compelled to say that "If the peace
option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance, then only the
war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling
the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one,
including those whose military power is now tempting them to
play with fire."
"As for Europe, it is unwilling to take a stand against the
US administration, which has made it clear that it supports the
destruction of Palestine and Israeli violence. With regard to
Palestine, while Bush’s stand is extreme, it has its roots in
earlier policies. The week in Taba in January 2001 is the only
real break in US rejectionism in 30 years.
"The US also strongly supported earlier Israeli invasions of
Lebanon, though in 1982 and 1996, it compelled Israel to
terminate its aggression when atrocities were reaching a point
that harmed US interests.
"Unfortunately, one can generalize a comment of Uri Avnery’s
about Dan Halutz, who “views the world below through a
bombsight.” Much the same is true of Rumsfeld-Cheney-Rice, and
other top Bush administration planners, despite occasional
soothing rhetoric. As history reveals, that view of the world is
not uncommon among those who hold a virtual monopoly of the
means of violence, with consequences that we need not review."
What is the
next chapter in this middle-eastern conflict as you see it?
"I do not know of anyone foolhardy enough to predict. The US
and Israel are stirring up popular forces that are very ominous,
and which will only gain in power and become more extremist if
the US and Israel persist in demolishing any hope of realization
of Palestinian national rights, and destroying Lebanon. It
should also be recognized that Washington’s primary concern, as
in the past, is not Israel and Lebanon, but the vast energy
resources of the Middle East, recognized 60 years ago to be a
“stupendous source of strategic power” and “one of the greatest
material prizes in world history.”
"We can expect with confidence that the US will continue to do
what it can to control this unparalleled source of strategic
power. That may not be easy. The remarkable incompetence of Bush
planners has created a catastrophe in Iraq, for their own
interests as well. They are even facing the possibility of the
ultimate nightmare: a loose Shi’a alliance controlling the
world’s major energy supplies, and independent of Washington –
or even worse, establishing closer links with the China-based
Asian Energy Security Grid and Shanghai Cooperation Council.
"The results could be truly apocalyptic. And even in tiny
Lebanon, the leading Lebanese academic scholar of Hizbullah, and
a harsh critic of the organization, describes the current
conflict in “apocalyptic terms,” warning that possibly “All hell
would be let loose” if the outcome of the US-Israel campaign
leaves a situation in which “the Shiite community is seething
with resentment at Israel, the United States and the government
that it perceives as its betrayer.
"It is no secret that in past years, Israel has helped to
destroy secular Arab nationalism and to create Hizbullah and
Hamas, just as US violence has expedited the rise of extremist
Islamic fundamentalism and jihad terror. The reasons are
understood. There are constant warnings about it by Western
intelligence agencies, and by the leading specialists on these
"One can bury one’s head in the sand and take comfort in a
“wall-to-wall consensus” that what we do is “just and moral” (Maoz),
ignoring the lessons of recent history, or simple rationality.
Or one can face the facts, and approach dilemmas which are very
serious by peaceful means. They are available. Their success can
never be guaranteed. But we can be reasonably confident that
viewing the world through a bombsight will bring further misery
and suffering, perhaps even 'apocalypse soon.'"
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