The Citizen Diplomat: How is the latest crisis in the Middle East different from ones before? In other words, is there a new dimension to the relationship between Israel-US and the Arab world, Arab-Muslim world?
Professor Noam Chomsky: First of all there are three crises going on involving the US, Israel and the Arab world. The central one, which is barely discussed, is the US-Israeli programs of essentially driving the last nail into the coffin of Palestinian national rights. That is going on both in Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank are a unit, everyone agrees to that. In the West Bank the program is called convergence. And in the US media it’s described as withdrawal. These are all euphemisms. In fact, it’s a program of annexation and cantonization.
I say US-Israel because they’re a unit essentially.
Israel is annexing valuable land and the major resources of the West Bank and taking over the Jordan Valley so what’s left is imprisoned. Of course it controls air space and so on. The rest is being broken up by infrastructure projects and settlement into pretty much separated cantons, which will be unviable, that’s the idea. They have little contact with one another and none with the outside world except through Israeli passages. They’re virtually separated from whatever small sector of Jerusalem would be left to Palestinians. Jerusalem is the center, has always been the center, of Palestinian commercial, educational, cultural life. So that essentially ends any hope for Palestinian national rights. All of this is totally illegal, in violation of Security Council orders, in violation of a unanimous World Court ruling, despite what is said even the US justice, who didn’t go along, but did agree with this part that it’s all illegal.
That’s happening right now. And that’s the core of the problem.
Gaza was devastated under Israeli rule. It’s now described accurately by Israeli human rights activists as the biggest prison in the world; totally encircled, no way in or out. And Israel freely carries out regular atrocities there. And of course after Palestinians voted the wrong way in a free election last January the US and Israel instantly determined that they would punish the population—punish the population because you didn’t vote the way we told you to. That’s a good indication of what Bush’s democracy promotion project that everyone talks about. It exists totally in rhetoric. In fact, there isn’t a particle of truth to it. And this is a good illustration of ‘you vote the wrong way, we punish you… with embargo, with cutting of funding, with any way we can’.
And the atrocities continued. Just to give you some examples: In June, forty people were killed by Israeli forces, 36 in Gaza, four in the West Bank where the killings aren’t as high, it’s just mostly takeover. That was June. On June 24, an incident took place which is nonexistent for Western opinion but is existent for people who pay attention to the world.
On June 24, Israeli forces kidnapped two civilians in Gaza city, the Muammar brothers. They claimed they’re militants, whatever that means, but they can claim anything they like. They kidnapped them, abducted them, and took them to Israel. They’re now off somewhere hidden in the Israeli prison system. It was barely mentioned in the west. Editors knew about it. No doubt they knew about it. Like there were 87 words in the Washington Post. So it was certainly known. It was in the Israeli press, IDF handouts, no question about the fact. But the West just doesn’t care about kidnapping; it’s fine, as long as our side does it. So no reaction, no comment, nothing.
June 25th, the next day, Hamas captured an Israeli soldier. You can’t kidnap soldiers, you can capture them. But by definition you can’t kidnap them as was pointed out a couple of days ago by a US military historian in the LA Times. So they captured an Israeli soldier. That led to a huge reaction in the West, a major atrocity. Israel quickly launched attacks, serious attacks. In June in Gaza, thirty-six people were killed. In July it was probably about 170 according to UN sources. And that was all approved in the West, in the United States particularly, because we can’t stand outrageous kidnapping.
The kidnapping of civilians is a much worse crime than capturing a solider, especially a soldier in an army that’s attacking your country, which is what is happening. But that doesn’t register in the West, particularly the United States, but the West in general. On July 12th, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, killed three, and five others were killed in Lebanon. That again led to huge outrage. A major US-Israeli invasion—of course it’s the US—destroyed half of Lebanon, killed over a thousand people, a large part of the country’s wiped out, all over the place.
That was fine. ‘Disproportionate’ is the most that anyone could say. Israel’s been kidnapping and abducting Lebanese for decades. We don’t know how many because no one looks. There was a secret prison discovered in Israel three years ago, worse than Guantanamo, totally secret. The secret prison was never even reported in the United States. It was in Israel and in Europe. And it was full of Lebanese.
Hezbollah’s official reason for the captured soldiers was prisoner exchange and show of solidarity with the Palestinians under attack. Nobody else in the world does anything for them, cares about them, certainly not the tyrants that run the Arab states. Populations want to but not the leadership; they’re clients of the US. So yes, a show of solidarity with the Palestinians and call for prisoner exchange. Well, that’s out. Then comes the destruction of Lebanon. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the fifth Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the last thirty years. The first one you can maybe claim was independent but the others were strictly backed by the United States and were devastating. And no credible pretext.
The worst one, 1982, the pretext was…if you read the US press, the New York Times, they’ll tell you that ‘Israel had to defend itself’ from rocketing from Palestinians or attacks from Palestinians. There was nothing. After the 1981 ceasefire, it was quiet from north to south. Israel kept bombing and killing people and attacking. But that’s okay; they were apparently trying to elicit a response that would give a pretext for the invasion. When they couldn’t elicit a response, they invaded anyway. The real reason, which was quite public in Israel at the highest level, was to put an end to the embarrassing PLO offers for negotiations. So you’ve got to kick them out of the country, make them stop bringing up these embarrassing efforts to negotiate a two-state settlement. That was their reason for the 1982 invasion which killed maybe 20,000 people and again wiped out a large part of Lebanon. But that’s all gone.
In 1993, 1996, I won’t go into the details but it’s kind of similar. Backed by the US. Sometimes the US called it off. Like in 1982, after two months of strong support, the Reagan administration finally ordered them to stop because the bombing of Beirut was harming US interests. It was becoming so horrible, even Thomas Friedman said it’s bad. At that point they figured they’d better tell them to stop. In 1996, Clinton again supported it. When they bombed the UN shelter in Qana, killing over 100 people, Clinton figured that’s harming US interests so he told them to pull back. So they pulled back.
That’s Lebanon. All the years, when Israel was kidnapping Lebanese, nobody ever proposed that that means there should be an invasion of Israel or that it justifies terror attacks in Israel. No sane person would’ve accepted that. I wouldn’t and I’m sure nobody else would. But when they capture Israeli soldiers, then you can wipe out the country. The reason is: Israel’s an appendage of the United States.
Now it’s bad enough here but it’s not very different in Europe. These are western attitudes. They’re rooted in centuries of imperial violence. We do things to you; you don’t do things to us. Actually if you think about 9-11, a horrible atrocity, in context it’s the same. You can imagine that worse could’ve happened on 9-11. Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose on 9-11 they had actually hit the White House and killed the President and carried out a military coup and immediately killed 50 – 100,000 people, tortured 700,000, set up a major torture center, an intelligence center which supported military coups all over the region, installing vicious murderous dictatorships, assassinating people all over the place, sent in a bunch of economists who drove the US economy into the worst depression in history. Suppose all that had happened. That would’ve been worse than 9-11.
That did happen on 9-11. That’s what’s called in Latin America the first 9-11: 9.11.1973. The only thing I’ve changed, I’ve changed absolute numbers to per capita numbers. Which is correct, that’s what you should do when you make a comparison. That was the Pinochet coup, which the US supported, probably participated in. But that’s not on the radar screen. If you ask people, what about the first 9-11, you get a blank stare. Because that’s the kind of thing we’re supposed to do to other people. They’re just not supposed to do it to us. That’s why 9-11 was such a shock. They don’t do that kind of thing to us; that’s what we do to them. And this generalizes. It’s happening right now in the Middle East.
Sure, the terrorists’ acts are atrocities. Like Hezbollah rocketing Haifa is a war crime. But let’s take a look at our own values. By our values it is fine, they should be doing it. They should be doing much worse.
And there are solutions to all these problems. They’re pretty straight forward. The solution to the core problem, i.e. Israel-Palestine, the solution’s been known for thirty years. There should be a two-state settlement on roughly the international border, maybe straighten out some lines, ‘minor and mutual adjustments’ it was called in official US terminology back in the 60s. And that’s supported by the whole world practically.
It’s supported by Iran for example. They won’t publish it here. What they like in the West is Ahmadinejad’s ravings. But he has a superior, what they call the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. He’s his superior. Probably in a reprimand to Ahmadinejad he stated, declared officially, that Iran accepts the Arab League proposal. The Arab League proposal is for full normalization of relations with Israel when it withdraws to international borders. It goes beyond the two-state settlement, full normalization. That’s Iran. Palestinians accepted it for decades.
It came to the Security Council in January 1976. Brought by the major Arab states, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, so-called confrontation states with the support of the others. The US vetoed it.
And so it continues. The US and Israel have almost unilaterally barred a diplomatic settlement for over thirty years. This current Bush administration happens to be sort of extreme but not that different from others. Take his father, George Bush, who is regarded as anti-Israel, too harsh on Israel. Just take a look at his program, his program was worse than this. In 1988, the Palestinian National Council, governing body for the Palestinians, formally—they had tacitly accepted before—but they formally accepted a two-state settlement, formally, in terms of the international consensus.
Israel reacted. It was a coalition government, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. They came out in May, 1989, with a program that said the following: It said first point: there can be no additional Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. Meaning, Jordan already is a Palestinian state, so there can’t be an additional state, so nothing for the Palestinians. Second, the status of the occupied territories will be settled in accord with the guidelines of the state of Israel. And third, Palestinians can have an election as long as the only topics discussed are these. And half the intellectual class was in prison under administrative detention. The only report on this in the United States is ‘look how forthcoming Israel is…they’re allowing a free election’.
James Baker, secretary of State, came out a couple of months later in December with the Baker plan, the Bush-Baker plan, which completely endorsed this. So the US position under Bush number one is ‘no additional Palestinian state, you’ve already got Jordan’. Two, everything will be settled by Israel. And third you can have an election as long as you keep to what we tell you to vote on. That’s Bush I, the one who is critical of Israel.
Go through the rest of them, it’s about the same. In fact, if you look at the whole thirty-year record, there’s literally one month which deviates, January 2001. In 2000, the Camp David negotiations took place. Clinton realized that what the US and Israel were offering Palestinians was totally unacceptable to anybody, including Abbas. So he came out in December with what he called his parameters which were sort of vague but some of them were forthcoming. And then there were negotiations, top level negotiations, Israel, Palestine, in Taba, Egypt, in January for a week. And they were actually making progress. They were moving towards some version of the two-state settlement which more or less conformed to the long-standing consensus. And in their final press conference they said if they had a little more time they thought they could work it out, both sides. But Israel called them off, called off the negotiations…so we don’t know what would’ve happened. Then come Bush and Sharon and of course throw it out the window. But that week in Taba is actually the only break in thirty years. Of course the US propaganda system doesn’t include any of this. Take a poll in the Harvard faculty and almost nobody would’ve even heard of it.
On the other hand, if you look at the victims, they know. It’s the same with the US and Iran and the big confrontation coming up that may blow up the world. We don’t know.
Iranians remember something that we’re not allowed to think about. For over half a century, the United States has been tormenting the people of Iran without a break. It started in 1953 when US and Britain overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, who they supported right through his rule, one of the leading human rights violators in the world. That’s just fine. Carter, when he visited Iran, December 1978 or so, praised the Shah because of the love that his people showed for him. As soon as they overthrew the government, a couple of months later, the United States tried to instigate a military coup, that didn’t work, then turned to supporting Saddam Hussein.
We’re under Reagan now.
Saddam invaded Iran. Iraq had been on the list of states supporting terrorism. In 1982, Reagan took them off that list so that the US could start supplying them with large scale aid, including military aid, including means to develop weapons of mass destruction. He sent Donald Rumsfeld there as his emissary to fix it up with their friend Saddam. And then they supported Iraq throughout this whole war, killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, many of them killed with chemical weapons, the means for which were supplied by the US, not only the US, others too, but the US in particular.
The fact that this was in 1982 is particularly interesting because Saddam Hussein is now on trial and will probably receive the death sentence for crimes that he committed in 1982, the year when the US took him off the list of terrorist states and openly supported him. Do a Google search on the western press and see if you can find anyone mentioning this. It can’t be that they don’t know it. There’s nothing secret about this, it’s all totally public. But it’s not the kind of thing you say if you’re a disciplined western intellectual who is subordinated to state power. It’s not conscious, it’s instinctive. You just don’t say things like that, just like you don’t say what I said before. If you know them, the words can’t come out of your mouth.
So that’s Iran. The US finally won the war for Iraq. They loved Saddam with such a passion that he was given authority to do something that no other state in the world can do, except Israel, namely Saddam attacked a US ship, destroyer I think, in the Gulf with missiles, killed 37 American sailors, and got away with an apology.
Can you imagine anyone else doing that? The only other state that’s ever done that is Israel when they attacked the Liberty. And there it was sort of ambiguous and there was a protest at least. This time there wasn’t even a protest. That’s fine. Our friend Saddam, he’s massacring Kurds, he’s carrying out torture—all the things they now accuse him of are true. But it was all done with strong American support. At that point, the US began preventing Iran from blocking oil shipments to Iraq. They controlled the gulf, so the US patrolled it, made sure the oil tankers got through. It got to the point where a US missile cruiser had downed an Iranian commercial airliner—killing 290 people—in a commercial airspace, nobody doubts that, over Iranian territory. Just shot it down and killed the people.
George Bush was President. He was asked about it and he said I will never apologize for anything the Americans do. Ship came home, heroes welcomed, metals of honor for the guy on the flight deck. At that point, Iran realized ‘look, we can’t fight the United States’ so they essentially capitulated. You think they’ve forgotten any of this? No.
Then right after that comes the embargo, the strict embargo against Iran, to make sure they never recover from the US-backed war of aggression. Then we go up to today. The Iran government…it’s a terrible government; there are plenty of harsh things you can say about it, which I do in fact. But they have tried to deal with this. In 2003 we now know, this is under the sort of moderate Khatami government, they approached the United States with negotiation offers on every issue: two-state settlement, Palestine-Israel, nuclear issues, and so on. The Bush administration didn’t even both rejecting it. It censured the Swiss diplomat who had brought the offer, for having brought the offer.
And it so continues. They did make an agreement with the European Union about a year later to suspend uranium enrichment which they’re legally entitled to do, they’re a signer of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But they agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in return for promises from EU. EU promised to provide, the words were ‘firm security guarantees’. What does that mean? That means guarantees against the threat of invasion by the United States and Israel. Well those threats themselves are serious violations of international law. Read Article II of the UN Charter. In the West of course that’s acceptable, you’re allowed to do anything. But they wanted guarantees from the European Union against attack. Well they lived up to their side of the bargain but Europe didn’t live up to its side of the bargain, did not make any effort to provide security guarantees. You don’t step on the toes of the master. So finally Iran returned to uranium enrichment.
How’s that described in the west? Iran broke the agreement. Nobody in their right mind wants Iran to have nuclear weapons that’s for sure. And maybe they’re developing them. Are they developing them? I don’t know. One of Israel’s leading historians, Martin van Creveld, wrote in the International Herald Tribune that he didn’t know if they’re developing nuclear weapons but if they’re not, they’re crazy. He said after the US invasion of Iraq that the US was basically telling the world, we’ll attack anybody we want as long as they’re defenseless. By now they’re surrounded by aggressive US forces on two of their borders. He said if they’re not developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent they’re crazy.
In fact it was known, it was understood by intelligence agencies and everyone else, that the invasion of Iraq would spur proliferation and terror. Because you’re telling countries you better have a deterrent. And what deterrents are there? Nobody is going to fight the US on the battlefield. It has half the military expenditures of the world. It’s an outlaw state that pays no attention to international law. Ask John Bolton, he says that international law doesn’t apply to us. It applies to other countries but for us it’s just a contractual arrangement which we keep to when it’s in our interest. Outlaw state, half the military expenditures in the world, technologically far more advanced than any other military, how do you deter it? Well, two ways: terror, nuclear weapons. So yes, that’s exactly what you’re escalating when you invade Iraq.
The current invasion of Lebanon is doing the same. I don’t think that any expert doubts that we’re creating new generations of Jihadi terrorists. And in fact, there’s a background to this too. One of the leading, maybe the leading, journalists in the Middle East, in the Arab Middle East, is Rami Khouri, an editor of the Daily Star. Intelligent guy. He wrote about the background, sensibly. He said look, the Arab states for years have found no way to deter Israeli aggression. He said that one consequence of that has been the growth of paramilitary organizations to try to defend the population from regular aggression and oppression and stealing of lands. Hamas, Hezbollah, they grow out of that situation. It leads to a very dangerous and hazardous situation. You don’t want to have paramilitary armies running around, out of control of the weak states. But he said yes, that’s the consequence of an inability to stop Israeli aggression and occupation and the robbery of lands and so on. And he was too polite to say US-Israeli aggression, which is what it is of course.
They can understand it in the Arab world. And what else are you going to do? That is a part of the reason why by the end of July, after just two weeks of the Israeli invasion the polls in Lebanon were showing 87 percent support for Hezbollah resistance. It’s known here; leads to interesting reactions. For example, some maniac at Harvard Law School named Allen Dershowitz, I don’t know if you could even find it in the Nazi archives, he said, okay, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hezbollah resistance that means they’re all legitimate targets.
Therefore if Israel’s attacking any of them, no matter who they’re attacking, that’s fine. Look, 87 percent of them support resistance against Israel. Try to find an analog to that. Now that’s an extreme, that’s not the normal reaction, that’s a reaction out of the paranoid extreme but it is there and it gets published. But it’s not that far from the general prevailing assumption, not only in the United States, but in the West. Because that’s the kind of thing we do to them. We’ve been doing it for centuries so it must be right.
TCD: In your writings, you’ve always been explicit about the US-Israeli relationship, particularly at the UN, the votes, the history of the votes. In the past couple months, Senate voted 100-0 in support of Israel, House voted 410-8, and most remarkably, Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi as part of 20 Democrats shamed Maliki for speaking out against Israel. Is there a negative fallout for this kind of polarization on the Hill and its clear support for Israel?
Chomsky: First of all notice that this has virtually nothing to do with an Israeli lobby. Pelosi doesn’t face any re-election problem. Most of them don’t. Sure it’s going to have a fallout. Again, people outside the west can read this and they know what it means. It means any atrocity Israel carries out, the US will support. And they don’t even need to look at the votes, they can just look at the missiles, and the jet planes and the helicopters and the bombs and ask where they come from. Where do they come from? Israel doesn’t manufacture F-16s and helicopters.
TCD: So why did Pelosi do it, to look tough on security?
Chomsky: You’d have to ask her but it’s consistent over a long period. It’s been true ever since the US-Israeli alliance was firmed up. And it was firmed up, you know when it was firmed up, it was in 1967. In 1967, Israel performed an enormous service for the United States, for the tyrannies that run the oil producers, for the energy corporations, a major service. They destroyed secular Arab nationalism. Now secular Arab nationalism was a terrible danger because it was threatening to use the resources in the region for its own people. And that is completely unacceptable. We see that right now in Bolivia and Venezuela on a smaller scale. You cannot do that. As George Kennan once put it, we have to protect “our resources,” doesn’t matter where they are. They’re our resources and we have to protect them.
Well, Israel wiped out secular Arab nationalism, Nasser was the symbol. Remember, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were at war at the time. It was a great achievement. It won enormous praise in the United States. It won over most of the intellectual community. They are actually an influential lobby. They’re the ones who write the articles and frame the newspaper reports and so on, so yes they’re important. That started a love affair with Israel. I don’t think it had much to do with Israel. It’s my world, I see what’s happening.
I think it had mostly to do with Vietnam and with the new Left and with the women’s movement. What was happening at that time, what was happening in this country…the United States was failing to crush South Vietnamese resistance, was failing, which was a bitter blow because whatever people say now, now they have another story, but at the time they overwhelmingly supported the war—not the population but the educated sectors; some mild criticism that it was costing too much but little serious criticism. And Israel showed how to treat Third World people properly. You just kick them in the face. They won a lot of points for that.
Another thing that was happening here was a threat to authority. Young people were not following orders. Women were calling for rights. All kinds of intolerable things were happening. And here is somebody who shows how you handle it: with a mailed fist. They earned a lot of points for that. You can see it very clearly in the writings right after that. I reviewed a lot them at the time, in print.
So the Israeli victory was used as a weapon against the new Left, against the blacks who aren’t following the orders, and so on and so forth. This whole amalgam created both a strategic alliance and a cultural climate which meant Israel can do what it wants. That was strengthened at the strategic level in 1970. In 1970, Jordan was massacring Palestinians—Black September—and it looked at first as if the Syrians might intervene to protect the Palestinians.
US didn’t want that, in the worst way, it was considered a threat to the oil-producing monarchies which are the main interest of the United States of course. The United States at that time was really bogged down in Indochina. They had just invaded Cambodia, the country was blowing up, and they couldn’t send troops or anything. But they got Israel to mobilize and to effectively warn Syria that if they moved they would be attacked. And Israel by far is the most powerful country there. So Syria backed off and Jordan was able to kill plenty of Palestinians.
And that was considered a major gift to the United States. In fact, US aid to Israel went up; I think it quadrupled in the following year. And things like that continued. By the late 70s and the 1980s, Israel was also performing a surrogate function. So for example, in Central America there were major atrocities going on and Congress did pass constraints preventing the US from arming the Guatemalan military, sending too much aid to the contras and so on. So Israel moved in. This was even true under Carter. Carter wanted to send the jet planes to Indonesia, which was then carrying out virtual genocide in East Timor. Well Congress didn’t allow it, so they got Israel to send US jet planes to Indonesia. They were training the Guatemalan military, training contras, involved all over the place.
There was a kind of a framework for control of the Middle East: the Arab tyrannies controlled the states. It’s worth remembering that the US has been the stronger supporter of Islamic fundamentalism for fifty years. Saudi Arabia is the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world. Iran is a vibrant democracy by comparison. Of course they created the jihadis, didn’t totally create them, but they certainly made them a major force. Same in Israel: Israel essentially created Hamas and Hezbollah.
That’s what happens. You destroy secular nationalist movements, something replaces them. What replaces them is pretty ugly often. The framework for controlling the Middle East was essentially taken over from the British. The British, who were the previous dominant force, their official position was, back in the First World War, that Britain should create an Arab façade of theoretically independent states, but a façade which Britain would effectively rule behind various constitutional, I forget the exact word, but behind a thin cover of independence which Britain would rule.
The US took that over and added a layer of control, what were called peripheral states, non-Arab states around the periphery, which would protect the Arab tyrants from their own populations. Turkey, Iran under the Shah, Israel joined in after 1967, which had been predicted. Ten years earlier, in 1958, US intelligence suggested that a logical corollary to US opposition to Arab nationalism would be support for Israel as the one reliable US base right in the middle of the region. Didn’t do much about it after that, but in 1967, they won that position. In 1970, it was intensified. It continued through the 70s. 1979 the Shah is overthrown.
The Shah fell. Basically there had been an alliance, tacit, between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Saudi Arabia is where the oil is. Iran and Israel were the protectors. Theoretically they were all at war but it didn’t mean anything. They had very close relations. The Shah fell, that’s one of the pillars gone. Turkey’s still there. And in fact, Turkey and Israel had very close relations. From 1958, Turkey probably is, after the United States, probably the closest ally of Israel, military relations and so on. Shah was gone. Israel’s role became even more important. And then as I say, secondary services were coming along and so it continues.
By now, Israel has become, chosen to become, pretty much an offshore US military base and high-tech center. This has almost nothing to do with security, we know that. Again you can’t talk about it in the West, but we know it. It became very clear in 1971, in February 1971. President Sadat of Egypt, who had just taken over, offered Israel a full peace treaty, full, almost word by word in accord with official US policy, in return for withdrawal. Full peace in return for withdrawal. He didn’t mention the Palestinians which wasn’t an issue then. It was an issue for them but not for anyone else. By withdrawal he meant from the Sinai. He didn’t care much about the rest. Israel was expelling thousands of farmers from the northeastern Sinai, pretty brutally, driving them into the desert, destroying the towns and villages and so on. And they were preparing the area for an all-Jewish city and other settlements.
The Israeli cabinet considered it. They recognized it to be a genuine peace offer. But they decided to reject it. It was a clear case of preferring expansion over security. The important question is ‘what’s the US going to do’, because that determines what happens. There was internal debate; Kissinger won out. He insisted on the policy that he called stalemate: no negotiations just force. And at that time it looked as if Israel had such overwhelming force that it doesn’t matter. So yes, for Israel that was a fateful decision. It meant that they were choosing expansion over security; they were going to have to rely on the US to protect them. They had no other choice if there’s an international conflict. A year later, Jordan came out with essentially the same offer. They didn’t even bother responding. And that’s the way it’s been since then. And more and more they then just become an offshoot. It follows almost inevitably. They can’t do anything that US tells them not to do.
For example, many cases, but just last year…Israel’s economy is high-tech military, it’s a caricature of the United States and the big market for them is China. But the US doesn’t want them to send sophisticated armaments to China. They’ve tried a couple of times and they’ve been shot down every time by the US administration. Last year they tried again and the Bush administration vetoed and insisted on humiliating them. The Pentagon would not permit the Israeli Defense Minister to visit. They passed legislation to ensure that they don’t do that anymore and furthermore they had to write a letter of apology to the United States. So they really dragged them through the mud. That shows who’s boss when anything matters, as if it was a question. But basically they’re okay as long as they’re doing what the US government wants them to do. That’s the way it stands.
What about the people who write editorials? Is it any different? For example, take just one case: June 24. Did anybody care that Israel kidnapped two Palestinians? No. As I say, there are a few mentions…
TCD: You mentioned earlier that the United States is supporter of Islamic terrorism. And so in the United States, how do we counteract then the anti-Islamic or anti-Muslim sentiment or the sentiment where most people believe that all Muslims are terrorists and that the Middle East is a breeding ground for terrorism?
Chomsky: The same way you have to counter the idea that everybody in the world is a Communist if they don’t follow our orders. That’s what activism and organizing and educational programs are about. You have to counter a very powerful propaganda apparatus. And it’s not State propaganda. This is voluntary propaganda of the intellectual classes. That’s what Hans Morgenthau once called our conformist subservience to those in power. And that’s the key to it. It’s interesting that it comes from him, the founder of realist international relations theory. But yeah, he had it correct.
Take a look at the present. Take a look at the way they compare the destruction of Lebanon to the crimes in Israel. They’re real crimes but how do they compare with the destruction of Lebanon? How do they describe what’s going on in the West Bank? It’s almost universally described as a courageous program of withdrawal. Now they’re going to withdraw some scattered settlements and converge them into the area they’re annexing. It’s a program of annexation and cantonization and the destruction of Palestinian nationalism. But it’s courageous withdrawal as described here. In Gaza, Israel’s defending itself when it killed 36 people in June and 170 in July, because of the capture of an Israeli solider. And we know that the US doesn’t care about that and the editors don’t care about it. Take a look at the way they reacted to the kidnapping a day before, or to many others in the past. That’s what the population is presented with. To overcome that is not easy.
The same with terrorism. Yes, terrorism is terrible. Where did it come from? You’re supposed to just stand up and scream Islamic fascism. If you want to stir up more terrorism, that’s the way to do it. If you care about terrorism you’re not going to do that. There’s no terrorism specialist that does that, no intelligence agency does. What you try to do is find out what its roots are. They’re not that obscure, you can find them. Again, just take the invasion of Iraq. It was anticipated that it would increase the threat of terrorism. It did beyond what was anticipated. The number of terrorist incidences I think tripled the next year. That’s exactly what was anticipated. This invasion is almost certainly going to have the same effect. We can find the roots. Destroy secular nationalism and you’re going to get Islamic terrorism.
Something similar is happening in the United States. The US is going through the perhaps the worst period of its economic history. It’s called the golden age, and it is for my income level but for the majority of the population it’s a disaster. For the majority of the population real wages have stagnated for twenty-five years. That’s never happened before. It’s a growing economy, no major recessions or wars or anything. And there’s growth, but it all goes into a very few pockets. For a majority it stagnates. Meanwhile benefits are declining, work hours are going up, services are collapsing…it’s not the kind of suffering in a Palestinian refugee camp but it’s unpleasant. And what’s happening is what usually happens: an upsurge in religious fundamentalism. People are going to turn somewhere. If the secular systems don’t work for them they’re going to turn somewhere else.
So yes, a different scale and so on, but you can see the similar dynamics right here. Yes, it’s going to happen and we know how to deal with it. Deal with the problems, there are grievances. You don’t support the terrorism of course but you can understand the grievances.
Take 9-11. We now know from very good scholarship, Fawwaz Gerges for example, he’s the main scholar of the Jihadi movements, that jihadis strongly opposed 9-11. The radical clerics were issuing fatwas denouncing Al-Qaeda for carrying out 9-11. Well, the Bush Administration took care of that, it mobilized them in support of Al-Qaeda. That’s what the attack on Afghanistan did. They didn’t attack Afghanistan to get rid of terrorism; in fact it increased terrorism as they expected. And then comes Iraq and everything else. And they continue to take over Palestinian lands. After a couple of years, the Jihadis are now not opposing Al-Qaeda they’re supporting it.
It’s what happens. That’s why leading specialists here, from the government, say that Osama bin Laden’s best ally is George Bush. It’s as if he’s following a script. Bush probably isn’t making policy but Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest are just following a script that comes from Osama bin Laden. And the people who stand up and scream Islamic fascism are just helping out. It’s not the way you deal with terrorism by screaming and shrieking, having tantrums. And we know that. There are plenty of examples. Take the British and Northern Ireland. IRA terrorism was pretty serious. As long as the British responded with violence, it got worse. It’s a gift to the hard-line elements of the IRA; it’s just what they want. Finally, Britain started paying some attention to the grievances. And they were real. Soon as Britain started paying attention to them, the situation started to improve.
I was in Belfast in 1993, it was a war zone. If you go now, it’s not utopia but it’s not very different from Boston. It’s settling down. There are problems. But it’s a major improvement. And the reason traces right back to the willingness to pay some attention to the real grievances. These acts grow out of something, they don’t come from nowhere. And it’s pretty well understood what they come from.
In fact the United States has understood this for forty years. George W. Bush asked ‘why do they hate us’. He wasn’t the first President to ask that. In fact Eisenhower, we now know from the classified documents, raised with his staff the question why is there a campaign of hatred against us among the people of the Arab world? Not the rulers, they think we’re fine, but among the populations. And the answer, in fact, had been given by the National Security Council, the planning bureau. They said there’s a perception in the Arab world that the United States supports oppressive and brutal regimes and blocks democracy and development and that we do it because of our interest in gaining control of their oil. They went on to say that the perceptions were accurate and furthermore that’s what we should do. So you have a campaign of hatred.
Right after 9-11, the Wall Street Journal, to its credit it’s the only paper I know who did it, did an actual survey among Arabs. Not all Arabs only the Arabs they care about, the ones they called ‘moneyed Muslims’ like directors of banks, heads of local affiliates of multi-national corporations—people that are embedded in the whole US, neo-liberal global project that think America is great. So they did a survey among them: same hatred, same reasons. You’re supporting oppressive and brutal regimes; you’re blocking democracy and development; and by then there were further grievances like what the US is doing to the Palestinians. They understand it’s the US. And at that time, the sanctions against Iraq which were killing hundreds of thousands of people and they were pretty bitter about that. So those are the reasons.
Now we’ve added new reasons. You keep adding reasons and you’re going to get more hatred. The dynamics are very clear.
TCD: You write a lot on media control and media spin. This fall Al Jazeera is going to open their station. Al Arabiya has a presence in Washington. What do you think the American response will be to Al Jazeera and furthermore, what is the opportunity for additional media sources—print, television, otherwise—to have an impact here in counteracting stereotypes?
Chomsky: There are opportunities but we should look at the record. And it’s a very interesting record. In the 1970s, after decolonization, there was a brief period when the UN sort of represented the concerns of the vast majority of the populations of the world instead of just western elites. That’s when the US turned against the UN very passionately. Not the population, but the elites. One of the things they proposed was a new international information order that would give the Third World some access to the international information system, breaking the western monopoly. That led to hysteria in the United States, across the board. This was coming out of UNESCO. The government essentially destroyed UNESCO. The media bitterly condemned this proposal with a flood of lies, including the liberals, claiming they were trying to oppose freedom of speech, they were going to register journalists….It was all fabrication. And they finally beat it down and destroyed it. UNESCO was gone for years.
There’s a very good book about this, published by University of Minnesota press, by leading media specialists William Preston, Edward Herman and Herbert Schiller. I don’t think it got a single review. They went through the record, the lies. The New York Times refused to allow responses. It was real passionate hysteria that something might break the Western media monopoly. And the one example of academic revelation, oh that can’t even be mentioned. You can check and see, the book is probably still in print. It’s worth reading: Hope and Folly it’s called.
Let’s take Al Jazeera. The US has tried in every possible way to destroy Al Jazeera. They bombed its headquarters—they claim it’s an accident but nobody believes them—in Kabul and then bombed them again in Baghdad. They’ve been pressuring the Emir of Qatar heavily to get him to stop it. And Powell, a great liberal, went after him and told him to cancel Al Jazeera. He actually came to Washington, the Emir, and they put him under tremendous pressure here. He ran the greatest press conference that Washington ever had—I don’t think it got reported—in which he was describing the pressure from Powell and others in the Administration. He gave the press a kind of a tongue-and-cheek lecture about this thing called freedom of press which we believe in. I think they were too embarrassed to report it. Finally after the pressure got really severe, the Qatar government, the Emir, agreed to let it be privatized. The Bush Administration refused. They said it doesn’t matter if it’s private or public, you cannot have it because it’s an independent voice and it’s reaching the Arab world. When they ran the so-called free election in Iraq they made sure to run Al Jazeera out first. Because you cannot have a free election if there’s an independent press, that’s obvious.
That’s the record right up to the present. Now, how they’re going to stop this I don’t know. You can be pretty sure they’re going to pull out the stops. And this is again across the board. The Bush guys are an extreme but it’s across the board.