Left Field (KCAA radio.com August 20, 2006)
The interview starts at 7:07.
Barry Gordon: First, we have one of the extraordinary minds of the 20th and 21st centuries. And he has agreed to give us some time to discuss what is going on right now in the Middle East. He was one of the signatories to a letter along with Harold Pinter and John Berger, Jose Saramago and others. There was a letter that was printed about the Israeli-Lebanese conflict. And it says, one of the paragraphs says that “Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over. But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.”
I want to warmly welcome MIT’s professor of linguistics and philosophy, Noam Chomsky to Left Field. Dr. Chomsky, thank you for joining us.
Chomsky: Glad to be with you.
Barry: You signed this letter and also you have a wonderful chapter in your book “Failed States” dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, in the letter and also in an interview that you gave, your position is actually that the provocation, the most recent provocation was not Hezbullah’s attack on the two military humvees that killed three soldiers in which two were captured, but was actually on June 24th, the Israeli capture of two Gaza civilians, Osama and Mustafa Muamar. Was that the beginning of this conflict in your mind?
Chomsky: No. The current escalation of violence began a day later, after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit right at the border of Gaza, Israel border. That elicited huge outrage and which in support for a major escalation of Israeli attack on Gaza, you can see it just in the casualty figures, 36 Palestinians were killed in June, and that more than quadrupled over 170 in July but that was the beginning. The current upsurge of violence started then after June 25th. What’s striking and dramatic and teaches us quite a lot about ourselves, which is an important topic, is that there was no reaction to the capture of the two civilians the day before. Now, kidnapping of civilians is a far more serious crime than capture of a soldier by any criteria. Nevertheless, when that crime is committed by our side, there’s no reaction. And that’s standard.
Now let’s go to Lebanon as far as back, you know last February, months before this war, about 70% of Lebanese supported—you know, they’re not the supporters of Hezbullah, they supported capture of Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchange. Kidnapping of Lebanese has been a regular Israeli practice for decades, many of them held literally for decades, some as hostages. The Lebanese are not happy about that, there is no reaction in the West, we don’t make a fuss about it. Certainly, no one has ever suggested that Israel should be invaded and partially destroyed in response to this regular practice or in response to the kidnapping on June 24th. On the other hand, the West, the United States particularly and of course Israel, and the most of the West, regard capture of Israeli soldiers is a major atrocity which justifies the invasion and killing thousands of people destroying half of Lebanon and so on. While we may prefer not to see the cynicism and hypocrisy but you can be sure that other people will see.
Barry: Dr. Chomsky, you’re a professor of linguistics. I guess I want to ask you a question about language. What is a terrorist, how would you define a terrorist?
Chomsky: I have been writing about this for 25 years ever since the Reagan administration came to office declaring that war on terror would be a centerpiece of its foreign policy. What I’ve been using consistently and still do is the official US government definition of terror, which I think is perfectly fine, it’s a good definition. In brief, it’s “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence” primarily against civilians in order to intimidate, coerce, affect on policy so on and so forth. That’s spelled out in more detail. That’s a good definition.
And one of the top counterterrorist specialists of the Reagan administration, Edward Peck, recently revealed that an internal discussion, they were having problems in the Reagan administration with this official definition because if you follow it, if you accept it, it follows almost at once that the United States is a leading terrorist state. And you can’t have that conclusion so they were having problems with this definition. And there have been similar problems for the last 25 years, efforts to revise that definition so it doesn’t lead to obviously an unacceptable conclusion. That’s impossible but the only way you can do is to say terrorism is terrorism that they carry out against us, but not terrorism that we and our clients carry out against them. You can’t be that honest so therefore there’s no definition to replace the official US government definition, which is very similar to the official British definition. But I use them consistently and I think they are pretty accurate definitions.
Barry: But it seems to me that the way we are treating all of this, as if you wear uniform you are not a terrorist, if you don’t wear uniform, you are.
Chomsky: No, that’s not the way we use it. So for example we don’t call, we are perfectly happy to call Iran a terrorist state. (Barry: That’s true.) We call Russia a terrorist state. I mean Cuba is on the list of terrorist states although its relation to terrorism primarily is that it’s the target of US terrorism starting 47 years ago. It’s not a distinction between states and civilians either as victims or perpetrators. The United States is the only state that’s been condemned by the World Court for what amounts to terrorism, unlawful use of force as the technical term. That’s either aggression or terrorism, giving Reagan the benefit of the doubt, it’s just terrorism. And we have no— in fact the Reagan war was against what they called “state-directed international terrorism,” terrorism by terrorist states. That’s why we have a list of states supporting terrorism.
Barry: Do we make a distinction, I don’t make a distinction, but do we make a kind of a fine distinction between terrorism in the sense that targets are generally civilians versus collateral damage in which the target is something else but a whole lot of civilians may get killed in the process?
Chomsky: Every aggressor makes that distinction. (Barry: Exactly.) And of course it’s meaningless. I mean if you bomb a city, who you’re going to hit?
In fact in this case, if you just take the case of Lebanon, there was a rather surprisingly strong a Human Rights Watch report, and an even stronger statement by its leading investigator International Herald Tribune, describing what he called just purposeful, conscious, attacks on, murderous attacks on civilians of a kind that he said he’d never seen in covering other wars, gave a whole list of other horrible wars. He also pointed out that they investigated carefully the pretense that Hezbullah was hiding its weapons in civilian areas, and couldn’t find anything except in a sense that the US and Israel actually accept namely that, since Hezbullah is deeply integrated into the population and had an enormous support among the population, then we’re all terrorists. So there are no innocent victims.
Barry: According to your book, we came very, very close to peace, not at Oslo but at Taba. (Chomsky: Right.) And of course there is the 2002 Arab League Declaration, which in essence, accepts a two-state solution, doesn’t it?
Chomsky: It does and in fact that the Palestinians said who agreed to that one had accepted it formally long before although it isn’t reported here. Iran accepts it. What they call “the Supreme Leader” Ayatolla Khamenei, who is Ahmadinejad’s superior, he’s the one in charge. He reaffirmed recently Iran’s support for the Arab League provision which you referred to, which is for full normalization of relations with Israel, if they agree with the two-state settlement.
Actually I had an interview with Nasralla, head of Hezbullah when I was in Lebanon a couple of months ago among a number of others. And he reaffirmed, I asked him specifically, he reaffirmed what he had said before that there were a couple of other people with me, elite scholars who can affirm this, he reaffirmed that Hezbullah doesn’t regard Israel as a legitimate state but if Palestinians accept two-state settlement, Hezbullah won’t disrupt it.
Hamas has indicated for a couple of years now its willingness to negotiate for a two-state settlement if the hostilities can stop. In fact it held to for a year and a half, it kept a ceasefire despite regular Israeli attacks. The only barrier to this, a serious barrier to this is the United States and Israel. It’s correct that you said that it came close to a settlement in Taba in January 2001. And in their final press conference, the two sides, Israel and Palestine, in the final press conference they said if they had a little more time they thought they could settle it. But Israel called off the negotiations four days early, and we don’t know whether there could have been an outcome.
B: Is there an Israeli peace movement? I mean I do read Gideon Levy and I’ve read Uri Avnery, there seem to be figures who are writing about the peace movement. But is it in fact active, because my understanding is that the army, the IDF basically has control of the minds and hearts of the Israeli people?
Chomsky: The two people you mentioned, Gideon Levy and Uri Avnery are fantastic. Gideon Levy is a regular reporter for Haaretz, major newspapers. My opinion of Gideon Levy is an outstanding reporter in the world, marvelous reporter and a person. And Uri Avnery has been an active, dedicated peace activist for decades. And there are others. Gush Shalom, which is sort of a peace group of.. however you translate, it is a substantial group not huge in numbers, but it’s an important group inside this society.
And there are others around them, I mean there’s women’s groups for example, very courageous and actively joining trying to protect Palestinians engaging in nonviolent resistance against the wall that’s cutting through the West Bank and provide food and so on. There are other groups like that. But numerically there -- in fact it varies with the times. You know for example, at the time of Taba, there’s probably a majority of the population who would have accepted the peace settlement in accord with international consensus. And that continues like a year later, after the Taba negotiation ended, the informal negotiations continued with pretty high level negotiators though not formal. And they reached a detailed agreement.
The Geneva Accord was released in December in 2002, which was, at least in my opinion, basis for real agreement, very close. It was ( ) a little… but it was very close. So that probably would have had the majority support in Israel. It was rejected officially by Israel and in the United States just dismissed. There were barely any comment on it.
Barry: My colleague on the show, Ellen Snortland has a question.
Ellen: Mr. Chomsky, just curious, the press in the United States, the mainstream press frequently leaves out important movements including women’s movements and peace. I’m just wondering the Israeli press, are they more open to exposing different points of view than the US press?
Chomsky: Oh yeah, no question about it. I mean for example, a couple of days ago I had a long interview in a very critical interview in the mass-circular, the most read mass circulation journal, pretty right-wing journal “The Yediot Ahronot “ and I had long interviews in the other mass circulation journal Maarive, even longer than Haaretz, That’s you know almost inconceivable here. And just an illustration, take someone like Gideon Levy. What he writes, try to take his articles and submit them to US journal.
Barry: I really want to thank you so much for spending some time with us here. It’s a critical, critical subject, I think it’s particularly a critical subject for the Jewish people. And I’ve taken part in a couple of rallies out here for a small group unfortunately, called LA Jews for Peace. I hope it expands, I know that they are great admirers of yours. And I really want to thank you and I hope you’ll join us again. We have a little more time because we have so much wisdom to draw from you.
Chomsky: I hope we can work it out.