Wake up call -Noam Chomsky on Lebanon-Israel (July 24, 2006)
(the audio archive is not available as of August 2008)
Q: Good morning, this is Wake-up Call. I’m Deepa Fernandes. The Israeli attacks on suburbs of Beirut and southern Lebanon have continued over the weekend as we’ve been hearing in the news headlines and throughout this program. The civilian death toll has passed 400. A photographer working for a Lebanese magazine was killed over the weekend when an Israeli strike hit her taxi in southern Lebanon. She’s the first journalist to die in Israel’s defensive. Meanwhile, the Lebanese security officials say an Israeli missile struck a mini bus carrying Lebanese fleeing a southern village killing 3 and wounding 13.
The United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said it’s going to take more than 100 million dollars to help the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have been hurt or displaced since Israel began bombing. Jan Egeland will today launch an international appeal for the next three months for contributions from the international community. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization raised its estimate of the number of people displaced in Lebanon to 600,000. The report by the UN health agency also raised its estimate of the number of people killed to more than 350.
We’re joined right now by Professor Noam Chomsky. He’s a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the MIT and his latest book is called “Failed States: the Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.” Back in May, Professor Chomsky traveled to Beirut where he met with, among others, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and we welcome to Wakeup call, Professor Chomsky. Good morning. (Chomsky: Good morning) Thank you so much for being with us.
I wonder first of all, Professor Chomsky, for your analysis, as we’re watching this attack only intensified by Israel. And now we’ve heard that the US is asking for a ceasefire. Can you put a little bit of context, first of all, onto Israel’s stepped-up incursion where some might be thinking they might be trying to wind this down?
Chomsky: Well, first of all, the incursion didn’t take place in a vacuum. It’s part of a strong sharp upsurge in violence since late June. Of course, there had been plenty before but it sharply escalated in late June. The first case, which is not discussed here, was on June 24th, when Israel kidnapped two civilians in Gaza, a doctor and his brother, abducted them to Israel, nothing more was known about them, presumably joined roughly ten thousand prisoners there, a thousand or so without charge.
The next day, June 25th, Hamas captured an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. That was well known and set off a very sharp increase in Israeli attacks in Gaza. On July 12th, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers at the border in the fighting, 8 others were killed. And that led to the invasion that we’re now seeing.
In fact of course, this goes back further, a major change took place last January, when there was a free election in the Palestinian territories and they elected Hamas. Israel and the United States immediately turned to severely punishing the Palestinian people for electing Hamas. That is part of the background, cutting off supplies and funds and so on. That’s-- still more far-reaching part of the background are the Israeli annexation programs called “convergence” that were announced, in I think May, to take over large areas of the West Bank permanently. That’s much of the “valuable land” and most of the resources including water and cantonize the rest and imprisonment essentially by taking over the Jordan Valley. We have to remember that Gaza and the West Bank are treated as a unit by the United States and Israel as well and certainly by Palestinians and the world. So that’s the general background.
Then comes the question why there’s this vast attack against Lebanon which is completely destroying southern Lebanon all way up to Beirut, destroying the infrastructure, hitting--just a couple days ago, they hit and destroyed the rather conservative television station in the Christian area in north Beirut-- hitting hospitals and all you can read much of the destruction in the press. What’s the point of all that? We don’t have documentary evidence from the United States and Israel to joint attack, Israel using US weapons, of course, which are being increased, there’s increase in shipments of weapons to allow escalate the attack. Up until now, the US has been alone in expediting the attack, not only expediting it but trying to prevent a ceasefire.
Maybe that’s going to change, their goal presumably is first of all to eliminate any conceivable deterrent from Lebanon. In case the US and Israel decide to attack Iran, there could have been a Lebanese deterrent for that. And it probably, as Condi Rice said, has to do with their conception of reshaping the Middle East. It doesn’t mean bringing democracy, it means imposing obedient client states as they’re subordinate to US power, with Israel being kind of a military offshoot to the United States.
And in the background are the threats, at least maybe plans to attack Iran. They’re kind of skirting Syria. A lot of charges about Syria, but presumably the US and Israel are reluctant to see any kind of regime change in Syria since the alternative, a very likely alternative would be an Islamic fundamentalist regime which is the last thing they want. Syria has maintained—has not reacted so far for many years, almost 40 years, to Israel’s takeover of the Syrian Golan Heights and annexation of them- in fact in violation of Security Council orders. As long as it maintains quiet and stability while the US and Israel go about the plans, there’s little incentive to overthrow the government of Syria. I think these are some of the background factors.
Q: I wonder if, while we are focusing so much right now on Lebanon, should we be separating Gaza and Lebanon and what do you make of – the calls in the press that actually Israel doesn’t want to be fighting in both Gaza and Lebanon at the same time?
Chomsky: Well, Israel would certainly prefer quiet in Gaza and the West Bank, which again, remember are a unit. While it persists in its programs of what they are calling convergence, the convergence programs have been described here as withdrawal, but that’s extremely misleading. I mean they are going to withdraw from some scattered settlements that are unviable and bring them and converge them into the area that they’re planning to annex. All in violation of any possible interpretation of international law, I’m quoting, including the World Court, that’s very serious.
What was called the Gaza disengagement plan was in fact a West Bank expansion plan. At the very same time that they announced withdrawal of about 8000 settlers from what has become a complete hellhole in Gaza, they also simultaneously announced a sharp expansion of the West Bank settlements. That’s significant. The West Bank settlement programs, as they said “take over valuable land” and most of the resources particularly water which is extremely valuable there, but also cantonize the rest. Look at the map, you’ll see they break up the shrinking territories remaining to Palestinians, they break them up into unviable cantons, virtually separated from one another –three, all three virtually separated from whatever a little corner of Jerusalem is supposed to be left to Palestinians. And they’re imprisoned, because they are going to take over the Jordan Valley, of course air space and any other access is controlled, this means any land, access to the outside is controlled.
This is essentially the murder of Palestine. There’s nothing left. That’s the core of the convergence plan, “hitkansut” plan, which is disguised as withdrawal because indeed yes, there are some scattered settlements being converged into the annexed area. So yes, we shouldn’t disassociate. In fact no one does, if you look at –.
I mean Hezbollah has official reasons for capturing soldiers which are pretty much accepted by most analysts, no matter how hostile they are to Hezbollah.
The two reasons were exchange of prisoners, there are unknown numbers of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. Israeli commentator in Haa'retz recently said at least 15 but we don’t know how many. So that’s one and the other was relieving the pressure on the--at least expressed solidarity with the sharp escalation of Israeli attacks on Gaza ever since the kidnapping of the two civilians on June 24.
Q: I wonder if we can focus for a moment then, Professor Noam Chomsky, on Hezbollah. You recently met with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader. It seems like we only really have two options within which we can understand Hezbollah, if we’re to focus on media reports, that’s on the one hand and either terrorist operation on the other hand, freedom fighters.
Chomky: That’s really a question for the Lebanese to decide. Hezbollah is a major political force inside Lebanon. Hezbollah and its close ally Amal are just approximately the same programs. They constitute the Shia bloc in the parliament. There’s confessional system in Lebanon, every so-called sect has a certain number of seats. And Hezbollah and its ally Amal have the Shiite seats, Hezbollah as agreed to be by far the most popular party in the south with some supports elsewhere as well.
Also, this is a controversial part, it maintains an armed faction. And the question is should it be permitted to maintain its arms. Well, the Lebanese government has –there is the UN resolution 1559, calling on disarming of militias, that would mean Hezbollah and also the Palestinians in the camps who have self-defense militias. That’s a hard problem for Lebanese to solve. The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, has said that 1559 doesn’t apply to Hezbollah and implicitly Palestinian’s militias, because they are not militias but rather are resistance forces. And that’s precisely the issue.
The basic question is whether Lebanon deserves to have a deterrent against another Israeli invasion-- this is prior to July 12 for now we’re discussing-- at that time. There was always threat of another Israeli invasion, Israel has invaded four times in the last 22 years. They have been bloody and murderous, the most recent was 1996...
Q: Israel and the United States would say that it should be the Lebanese army, not Hezbollah.
Chomsky: Right, except that no one takes that seriously that the Lebanese army is barely more than a large police force, it doesn’t have presence in southern Lebanon. No one believes the Lebanese army could be a deterrent to anything. There is a possibility, one of the possibilities discussed in Lebanon is that Hezbollah should be incorporated within the Lebanese army, but they argue and it’s not unpersuasive that the Lebanese army is so— elements of it are so corrupt and so easily penetrable by Israel that if that were the case, Israel would know everything about what the army is doing.
It’s a complicated system in Lebanon. There is a section, most Christian Maronite section, which is, not all of them course, but some, which have been closely allied to Israel. In fact Israel in 1982, when it invaded, its goal was to institute a Maronite state in Lebanon which would be subordinate to Israel. It did have forces there. The Phalangist forces that carried out the Sabra/Shatila massacre under Israeli supervision were Lebanese, of course. So yes, it’s an understandable concern, I mean exactly how it should be dealt with.
If there is to be a deterrent to Israeli invasion, it’s hard to imagine an alternative to the guerrilla warfare that drove them out in the first place in 2000, and that’s Hezbollah. So yes, that’s a hard problem for Lebanese to deal with as long as the constant threat of Israeli invasion persists. We should remember--first of all Israel controlled and occupied southern Lebanon in violation of the Security Council resolution for 22 years until they were driven out in 2000, but during that period, there were four further invasions. And they were very serious.
The 1982 invasion was much worse than this, it practically destroyed southern Lebanon including Beirut. The US supported it, finally when the atrocities became too severe after about two months, Reagan sort of instructed Israel to back down, pull, return its so-called “the security zone” in occupied southern Lebanon. There was another in 1993, which was very severe, another in 1996, also severe. None of them had any credible pretext. The 1982 invasion was pretty openly taken to try to prevent Palestinian pressure for negotiations for political settlement which the US and Israel didn’t want. In fact it was called a “war for the West Bank.”
And there could be another, no one knows. Israel is overwhelmingly powerful, it has a superpower backing, can do basically what it wants. And the only conceivable deterrent is the kind of guerrilla warfare which had driven them out in the first place. So, then it’s a Lebanese question whether it had to balance that against the serious threat of having an armed force inside a country that’s not controlled by the government.