An interview with John Pilger

By Graeme Greene

09/05/06 "Metro" -- -

How do you feel looking back at the films you’ve made? Exhausted?
I suppose so [laughs]. Exhausted? Yes. I’ve enjoyed making them all, though.

What’s the main danger you face making these films?
I never really worry about personal danger much, except when I’m flying on dodgy airlines. I’ve done a number of undercover projects, though, where the danger has been getting the film out. In Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, for example, when there was a Stalinist dictatorship, I went in with a film crew disguised as Austrian campers. On the way out, the border guards decided to give our camper van a thorough going over. They didn’t find our equipment under the floor because we’d made the van such an appalling mess that it scared them off. We also scattered copies of Playboy and Penthouse all over. They made off with the magazines and we got away.

What are your views on what’s happening in Lebanon?
Israel’s attack on Lebanon was clearly a precursor to an attack on Iran or Syria or both. That’s been stopped for now. I think Israel will try again to subdue Lebanon and Hezbollah. But, of course, nothing will ever be resolved in the region until Palestinians are given their homeland and have the same freedoms as the Israelis.

You’ve made two films, 28 years apart, with the same title: Palestine Is Still The Issue. What changes did you see in Palestine?
No change - that’s why I used the same title. Palestinians are still denied basic justice and Israelis still suffer the insecurity that comes from running an illegal occupation. The Palestinians want only 25 per cent - if that - of historic Palestine. That should have been theirs a long time ago and the result would have been peace for them and peace for Israel.

Is there any connection between what’s happening in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq?
Iraq presents a different situation in that it has the world’s second-biggest oil reserves, so there were other incentives for invasion. But as far as the Arab people are concerned, Palestine is an open sore in the Middle East and, until that’s sorted, there’s always going to be uncertainty, insecurity and almost certainly violence.

There’s been worldwide criticism of Israel’s actions in the Middle East for many years. Why hasn’t it had more of an effect?
The criticism is many years late. It should have begun a long time ago. What was done in another age to the Jewish people is the reason why this has only arisen now. Europe has a bad conscience over Israel, and the Palestinians have been designated to suffer. It’s arisen now because what Israel is doing in Lebanon is so blatant. You can say there are two types of terrorism. There’s the small, rather dislocated terrorism that is always associated with al-Qaeda. That has undoubtedly been strengthened by the invasion of Iraq and everything Bush has done. Then there’s state terrorism, which is almost never talked about. We’ve just seen it in Lebanon. That was a terror war where they deliberately bombed civilians. That’s the terrorism that should be worrying us.

Do you think people’s belief in the War On Terror is dwindling?
It’s a pity people believed in it from the start. There isn’t a war on terror. It’s impossible for the world’s greatest terrorist organisation - the United States - to conduct a war on terror. It’s absurd. Since 1946, they’ve overthrown some 50 governments, many of them by terrorist means - that’s terrorism. One of the biggest issues today is understanding the complicity of ‘our side’ in all these events around the world. Looking at the polls, I think British people understand that. In a poll the other day, they found that about 70 per cent of Britons are highly sceptical of this alleged terror plot at Heathrow. I don’t know how much of this current alleged plot is true or not, and neither do most of the people in this country. An overwhelming majority also regard the Prime Minister as deceiving them and are opposed to the war on Iraq. Popular awareness and understanding of the lies people are being fed and the implications of them are pretty widespread.

What do you think the War On Terror is really about?
It’s presented as something new but it isn’t. The only way I can make sense of what’s happening in the world is in terms of empire and imperial ambitions. This situation in Lebanon is a classic example. The United States was complicit with Israel in trying to get to a point where it could attack a country it sees as its main enemy: Iran. It’s not just about the oil but about control of strategic resources and keeping other great powers away from these areas. What troubles the United States is China - it has a booming economy that needs oil.

How much is the Project For The New American Century that you’ve written about part of this?
The blueprints for the project were laid down in the 1990s by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell and William Kristol. It was based on paranoia that the United States was losing its world domination. They had to be, they said: ‘The cavalry on the new American frontier.’ War was essential to this project. And 9/11 really gave these so-called neoconservatives the excuse they’d been looking for.

What’s your latest film about?
It’s called The War On Democracy and it’s set in Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile. It’s about how some of the poorest countries have been able to construct their own independence and democracies.

You met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. What’s he like?
Very interesting. I’d never spoken to a politician before who actually answers your questions - that was quite a new experience.

What has caused the rise in terrorist attacks in Britain?
It’s happening because Britain has sided with Bush and enthusiastically taken part in the invasion of Iraq.

What could be done to make Britain safer?
Withdraw from Iraq tomorrow - that’s number one. And for this government to support international law in Palestine and international law generally - that’s all. But, in the short term, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that would have a huge effect. It would send a message to the rest of humanity that Britain has joined it again.

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