At a talk last night about the current situation in Gaza, Professor of Linguistics Noam A. Chomsky came down hard on Israel for its frequent violence against Palestinian civilians and chastised the United States for enabling the Jewish state to carry out these actions with impunity. He also used the opportunity to touch upon broader issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The talk, which took place at Sloan’s Wong Auditorium, was part of the Center of International Studies’ Starr Forum lecture series
Chomsky, who first made a name for himself in the fields of linguistics and psychology, is well-known in the political community for his strong criticism of Israel and its supporters. Word of a lecture by Chomsky always spreads fast, so it was no surprise that when he took the podium just after 4 p.m., the room’s nearly three hundred chairs were all occupied — with more watching a video feed in the lobby.
His antipathy toward Israeli actions was immediately clear as he opened his remarks by referring to Dec. 27, 2008 as the first day of the “U.S.-Israel attack on helpless Palestinians” in the Gaza Strip. Calling the military and media campaigns meticulously planned, he likened current Israeli actions in Gaza to its attacks in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. Both actions have come under fire for large numbers of civilian causalities and with allegations of disproportionate use of force, while Israel has maintained that its actions have always been aimed at militant targets.
Chomsky, however, stated that the months of planning behind the ongoing incursion mean that one can be confident that all Israeli actions have been done purposefully. He claimed that the Israelis intentionally scheduled the initial bombardment at a time when children would be returning from school and adults would be milling about the streets.
He then proceeded to recall two incidents in which ships with humanitarian aid were prevented from reaching the Gaza Strip. Chomsky noted that the ships “intended to violate Israel’s criminal blockade” around the Gaza Strip, and that the Israeli government “provided routine lines,” saying, among other things, one of the ships encroached on its waters without establishing proper communication.
“Even though ramming a boat in international waters is worse than piracy off the coast of Somalia,” said Chomsky, “the event was hardly reported.”
Later stating that the U.S. media, just like any other media, is frequently a reflection of the norms established by its government, he ultimately concluded that the Israeli actions — and the underreporting of them — were nothing new.
“At most they should be greeted with a yawn,” he said.
Chomsky grasped for an appropriate word to describe the magnitude of Israeli actions. Dismissing the words “terrorism” and “aggression” as insufficient, he recounted past Israeli incursions into Lebanon and called the current attacks “familiar” in capturing the magnitude of the Israeli offensive. He also flashed back to the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, when Israel removed its settlements from the area.
“Ariel Sharon, the patron-saint of the disengagement,” he said, “thought it had made more sense to convert Gaza into the world’s largest prison.”
At the same time, Chomsky criticized Israel for setting its sights on the West Bank, where he believes it hopes to annex land carved out by settlements and a barrier currently under construction. He added that, on top of that, Israel hopes to acquire land in the Jordan River Valley on the eastern edge of the West Bank and fragment Palestinian land through settlements and checkpoints which “make life impossible.”
Meanwhile, Chomsky said that Israel continued to kill and harass the inhabitants of Gaza, with U.S. support, even after the disengagement. After Hamas was elected to a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, Israel instituted a blockade on Gaza.
“This was the cost of disobeying the demands of the master,” Chomsky said.
Chomsky’s harshest criticism was reserved for the unwavering relationship between Israel and the United States, which he frequently termed “outlaw states.” At many points throughout his speech, Chomsky recalled elements of the U.S.-Israel relationship, including occasions on which the United States has used its veto power to block U.N. Security Council resolutions condemnatory of Israel.
Noting the hundreds of Palestinian civilian casualties in the ongoing attacks, he criticized the United States for initially declining to back a U.N. ceasefire. He was also unhappy that Barack Obama sympathized with the Israelis. He blamed the United States and Israel for breaking the Hamas-Israel ceasefire agreement established in June, as well as thwarting multiple peace plans that have surfaced over the past decade.
Still, while Chomsky argued that Israel has preferred expansion to security, he declined to say Israel does not aim to make peace.
“It’s not that Israel doesn’t want peace”, said Chomsky. “Of course, it wants peace. Everyone wants peace. Even Hitler wanted peace.”
Chomsky’s solution to the decades-long conflict requires the United States to join the rest of the international community in condemning Israel for its actions against civilians. Indeed, he stated that although Hamas rocket attacks have been criminal, the Israeli use of force in the ongoing conflict has not been justified because there are alternative options.
“Israel has a straightforward route to defending itself: end criminal actions in the occupied territories”, he said. Among other things, Chomsky hopes Israel will end the blockade on Gaza and accept offers by Arab neighbors to establish a Palestinian state on borders close to the Green Line. Concluding, he said a Israeli military victory in Gaza would leave Israel with an image as a “blood-stained monster.”
“Supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration,” he said.
Video of the lecture should be posted online at http://web.mit.edu/cis/starr.html