Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gaza One Year Later (December, 2009)

[and today, Al Aqsa intifada, ten years later]

Watertown, Massachusetts, December 6, 2009

(transcript I contributed for Democracy Now!)
Noam Chomsky: Well, let me begin with two caveats, pitfalls that I think we should be careful to avoid. It’s very important to have this meeting about Gaza, one of the most disgraceful situations in the world. But we should remember that it’s only in US and Israeli policy that Gaza is separated from the West Bank. They are unity. One unit, what’s left of Palestine: 22 percent of the original Mandate. Now, it’s very important for the US and Israel to separate the two and isolate them. For one thing, that means if there ever is some kind of political settlement, the West Bank will be deprived of any access to the outside world; it will be imprisoned. It won’t have the seaport. It’ll essentially be contained by two enemies. So, there is a strategic reason for the longstanding and intense effort to distinguish Gaza and the West Bank to keep them apart, to ban transport and also kind of ideologically to make them seem as if there were two different places. They aren’t, outside of US and Israeli ideology. And we should be careful not to—[it's important] to resist that, I think.

Another division that I think is important to resist is between US and Israel. We constantly talk rightly about Israeli crimes but that’s highly misleading, because they are US-Israeli crimes. There’s nothing that Israel does that goes beyond what the United States authorizes and in fact, directly supports with economic, diplomatic, military and also ideological support that is by framing issues. So, that, there’s this First Amendment exception that Nancy [Murray] mentioned.

So, these are US-Israeli crimes. If we talk about Israel, we should remember we’re talking about ourselves. It’s not like talking about crimes of China. These are very important to keep in mind.

Now, turning to Gaza and the West Bank, the separation of Gaza and the West Bank is part of a much more general policy: policy of fragmentation of the residue of Palestine, so they cannot hope to emerge as a viable entity. Separating Gaza from the West Bank is one part of it. Gaza, as Nancy pointed out, has been converted into a prison. The screws are being steadily tightened so that it becomes a maximum security prison, something like Guantanamo. It’s kind of a little odd on the side that there has been so much horror in the United States about Guantanamo. It’s not very different from the maximum security prisons that the United States runs. And we’re unique in the world, in the western world in having incarceration system of this kind.

So, it’s not just becoming a prison. It’s becoming something like a maximum security prison, which is basically a torture chamber. It’s under constant siege, very harsh and brutal siege. And siege is an act of war. Of all countries in the world, Israel surely is unusual in recognizing that. It twice launched the war in 1956 and 1967 on the grounds that its access to the outside world was very partially restricted. That was considered a crime. And total siege is, of course, a much greater crime.

So, it’s a major war crime that we’re carrying out. Supplies that you just heard are restricted so that you have bare survival. And there’s constant and systematic attacks on all the borders including the coast line to drive the population inland. On the borders, that takes away limited arable land. On the sea, what it is done is drive fishing fleet to a couple of kilometers from the shore, where fishing is impossible because of the conditions that Nancy described. After the destruction of the sewage systems, the power systems and other infrastructure, fish can’t survive and people can’t survive near the sea so that that destroys the fishing industry and it contains Gaza even more narrowly. Again, part of the policy of imprisonment. It sounds like sadism and it is. But it’s kind of rational sadism. It’s achieving well-understood and carefully planned end of US and Israeli policy.

There are also regular atrocities, special atrocities just to keep showing who’s boss. So, at the end of September, Israeli troops entered northern Gaza and kidnapped five children and brought them over to Israel and they disappeared into the Israeli prison system. Nobody knows too much about it. It includes secret prisons which occasionally surface. It’s estimated that roughly a thousand people are there, often for years, without any charge at all, just hidden away somewhere. So these kids probably joined that.

All of this happen with total impunity, happens regularly with complete impunity. That’s part of our ideological contribution to ensuring the crushing of Palestinians. That’s been going on for decades, in fact, in Lebanon and in the high seas. Israel has been hijacking boats on the way from Cyprus to Lebanon. Capturing or sometimes killing, passengers are taken to Israel, some keeping them in prisons, sometimes for decades, sometimes as hostages for eventual release, no charges. Often, we only barely know where they are by occasional surfacing of stories about secret prisons which aren’t published in the United States as they are in Europe and Israel.

And this is, again, in complete impunity because we permit it. We say we’re not going to talk about it so therefore, impunity. This is worth remembering when you read about what’s considered now one of the primary barriers to negotiations: the fate of an Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit, who was captured at the border on June 25th, 2006. Well, capture of a soldier of an attacking army is some sort of a crime, I suppose. It doesn’t rank very high among crimes. And against the background of constant, hijacking boats, kidnapping of civilians, killing of civilians on the high seas in Lebanon, it doesn’t rank very high. And the situation was made even more dramatic by the fact that one day before corporate Shalit was captured on the border, Israeli troops entered Gaza City, kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, spirited them across the border, and the two disappeared into the US-backed Israeli secret prison system. And nobody is talking about negotiations to get them out. They are Arabs, so they have no human existence. So, we don’t talk about them. And in fact, it was barely reported here because it’s insignificant. Shalit ought to be returned in prisoner exchange but that’s a toothpick on the mountain—but the one that we talk about.

And other crimes just go on regularly. Like a few days ago, you may have read that Israel banned the shipment of cooking gas into Gaza. Just an act of gratuitous cruelty. It means that—it is used for almost everything. So, that’s gone. The water system is under very severe attack. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Environmental Protection Agency which work there estimate that, by now, only maybe 5 to 10 percent of the water, very limited water in the Strip, is usable.

Israel has constantly attacked the water system. The last invasion, US-backed Israeli invasion a year ago, destroyed around 30 kilometers of pipes and other equipment. Nothing is allowed back in to repair them. So, by now, as Nancy said, children are dying of diseases from poisoned water. And that is going to continue. The Red Cross estimates that if this continues, it would—at the best of circumstances, unless something is done about it—it may take centuries before this region becomes viable, before it’s possible for life to exist there.

Well, this is more rational savagery. A couple of months ago, I was out in California, giving a fund-raising talk for Middle East Children’s Alliance—it’s a marvelous organization. It’s been working in Gaza and other places for years, Barbara Lubin, its director, who had just come back from Gaza, a very heroic woman. And she described, she talked, as Nancy did, about what they found. One of the things they did, the delegation, was to go around the schools and just asked children, if you had one request, what could it be? And they thought they might direct their funding to that. And overwhelmingly, what children said in the schools was that what they would like is a drink of water in the morning. Well. That’s Gaza. And they did manage to find mechanics in the Strip who were able to construct small water purification devices and they’re trying now to fund enough water purification made with local materials, so that maybe children can have a drink of water in the morning. Their fondest wish. Well, that’s what we are doing. We’re doing. And we should remember that.

There’s a purpose. The purpose was explained right at the beginning of the occupation by Moshe Dayan, who was the Minister of Defense in charge of the occupied territories. In late 1967, he informed his colleagues that we should tell the Palestinians in the territories that we have nothing to offer them:“They will live like dogs. And those who will leave, will leave. We’ll see where this ends up.” And that’s the policy. It’s quite rational. “Live like dogs. And we’ll see what happens.” So, yes, sadism, but rational sadism.

And things are not dramatically different in the West Bank. Somewhat, but not much. First of all, everything turning the West Bank, just about everything that’s going on there is in a violation of international law. Gross violation. There’s a lot of talk here about expansion of the settlements. That’s completely diversionary. That has almost nothing to do with the issues. I mean, even if there was no further expansion of the settlements, they already destroyed the possibilities of viable Palestinian existence. Every one of them is illegal and known to be. There isn’t any controversy about it.

In late 1967, Israel was informed by its highest legal authorities—the main one, Theodor Meron, is a very respected international lawyer, a judge in the International Tribunals—he informed the government of what, in fact, is transparent that: “transferring population to occupied territories is in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions.” It’s the foundations of international humanitarian law. The Attorney General affirmed his conclusion. A couple of years ago, as you know, it was reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice. Moshe Dayan, who was in charge, recognized that. In late 1967, he said yes, it’s true, everything we’re doing is in violation of international law, but that’s often done, and so we’ll dismiss it. And he’s right. As long as the Godfather says it’s fine, you can dismiss it. So, yes, we’ll go on carrying out criminal acts. And we’ll debate some minor crime. You know, like debate of expanding settlements to allow natural growth. That’ll divert attention from the real issue, and we’ll be able to believe that our government is somehow acting humanly in an effort to achieve peace.

That, expansion of settlements, which is the big issue that we’re supposed to be excited about, even a ten-month alleged suspension which Hillary Clinton praised as “unprecedented generosity,”—all of that, even that little toothpick is a fraud. When Obama announced that he wanted termination of expansion of settlements, he was just quoting George W. Bush, who had said exactly the same thing. In fact it’s in the so-called Road Map, officially agreed framework for policy. When that’s ever mentioned, it’s rarely pointed out that Israel did accept the Road Map formally, but immediately added 14 reservations which completely eviscerated it.

So, it rejected the Road Map with US acquiescence, so therefore, as Dayan said, yes, fine, we’ll dismiss it. But that’s in the Road Map and Obama repeated it just as Bush did. But he repeated it with a usual wink. When asked, his spokesperson said that: US opposition to the expansion was purely symbolic. He would not go even as far as Bush No.1, who imposed very mild sanctions for expansion of settlements. But Obama made it clear that we’re not going to do it; these are just symbolic statements, so this minor diversionary operation can continue with effective US support.

Well, so it’s all illegal. We permit it, so therefore, it’s fine. It’s authorized. And it expands the principle of fragmentation, which is the core of US-Israeli strategic policy. So, separate Gaza from the West Bank. In the West Bank itself, the program is, for Israel, to take wherever is valuable and break up the rest in two unviable cantons. What’s valuable is, first of all, water resources. It’s a pretty arid region but there is an aquifer. There’s water that runs on the West Bank and Palestinian side of the international border. So, Israel has to annex that. And that’s also some of the most arable land and it’s also the nice suburbs. It’s the pleasant suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, kind of like Lexington where I live, relatively to Boston, a nice place to live. So that all happens to be in the West Bank, so we have to annex that.

And there’s the wall, as you know, snaking through the West Bank. It should properly be called an “annexation wall,” because the plan is to annex everything that is inside it, incorporated within Israel and that’s with a polite smile from the Godfather, so therefore that’s OK.

It’s interesting, in a commemoration of November 9th, the fall of Berlin Wall, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor made an impassioned speech about how we have to bring down all the walls that divide us. But not the one cutting through the West Bank, which is about twice as high as the Berlin Wall and far longer and simply stealing land from defenseless people, thanks to the leader of the free world and us, because we’re allowing it.

So, take over everything that’s valuable, kind of near the border. Take over the Jordan Valley on the other side, it’s about a third of the West Bank. And Palestinians are being kept out of it by one means or another or driven out, that’s being settled. That imprisons what’s left. And what’s left is divided by carefully planned settlement salients which cut through to break it up into parts. So, there's one going east of what’s called Jerusalem, greatly expanded region, “Greater Jerusalem,” expands almost all the way to Jericho. And that essentially bisects the West Bank. There’s another to the north including the town of Ariel. Another one, north to that, goes to Kedumim. So it essentially breaks the region up. There’s technically contiguity where over—through the desert to the east, but that’s essentially unviable.

And what remains is broken up by hundreds of checkpoints which are there primarily for harassment. They move, so nobody knows where they exactly are going to be. But it means, for example, that if you want to visit your cousin two miles away, it may take you five hours to get there if you ever manage. And an ambulance may take two hours to get from one spot to a hospital a couple of miles away because it has to go through checkpoints and a patient has to be carried over, you know, a big barrier, put him on another one on the other side, and so on. These are essentially techniques for harassment. They have no security purpose, even a remote one. But they are perfectly rational to ensure that the population will “live like dogs and if they want to leave, that’s fine, they’ll leave.”

That’s aside from the actions in what’s called Jerusalem, a vastly expanded region around what used to be Jerusalem. There, the actions are doubly illegal. They are not only in violation of international law but they are also in violation of explicit Security Council resolutions barring any modification of the status of Jerusalem. Actually, the US signed and joined those resolutions back in the late 1960’s and for several years afterwards.

So, they are doubly illegal and they continue. I mean, that’s--there's what you read every day in the papers about new buildings, taking over Palestinian homes. And there’s now, just reported that last year Israel radically accelerated its withdrawal of resident status for inhabitants of Jerusalem for whom the courts decided that the center of their life was somewhere else. In that case, you can have your residents removed if you’re Palestinian. There’s no case on record that I know of of an Israeli who had citizenship reduced because the center of their life is in Los Angeles or in New York, for example. So, it’s just another racist law designed to rid the region of sort of “rubble and vermin” that are in the way.

We’re kind of familiar with that in American history. It resonates. That’s why we’re here, basically. Yes, that’s what we did in the conquest of national territory except that the US was much more violent and exterminated the indigenous population. But it’s a familiar pattern. And I suspect that it’s part of the reason for the residual sympathy for Israel’s activities, strikes kind of a cord in our own national history. Maybe one we don’t like to look at very much.

Expropriation continues steadily. By now, rough estimates, about a third of the West Bank has been expropriated, converted into state land. Yossi Sarid mentioned recently that this means Israel can continue settlement for a hundred years without expropriating anything any further. Well, that’s what continues.

Senator Kerry has an interesting stand on this. He’s very close to Obama. He’s become more or less as a foreign policy—a kind of emissary. He gave a most important speech[O1]  on the Obama administration’s policies; policies with a speech to the Brookings Institution a couple of months ago. Obama—that took a standard position. The party line is that the United States is an honest broker, trying desperately to bring peace to these two difficult antagonists. So he repeated that, that’s normal. But then he added that, for a long time, Israel has been seeking a legitimate partner for peace and it’s never had one. So it’s kind of devastated—who can we negotiate with? But Kerry said that, now, finally, Israel may have a legitimate partner for peace. [the audience pointed out a PA problem]....I was talking about Senator Kerry and his formulation of the Obama administration’s position. He gave a talk a few months ago, in which he said that the US has, of course, always been an honest broker seeking peace. That’s true by definition, you know. You don’t need any factual evidence relating to that. And now, Israel has always been desperately seeking a legitimate partner and finally may have had one. What was interesting is that he gave his evidence. His evidence was that during the US-Israeli attack on Gaza, which he didn’t, of course, described it that way, there were no protests on the West Bank. It was quiet. Of course, that’s the other half of Palestine but they didn’t do anything about it. And he explained why. He said the reason is that the US has established an army, mercenary army headed by US General Dayton, trained with the assistance of Jordan and Israel and the army is able to suppress any sign of resistance to what the US and Israel were doing in Gaza. So, this, things are really looking up. There’s a possibility that there might be a legitimate partner controlled by a paramilitary force that is under our command. I should mention that the Dayton Army is under State Department control, meaning at least some guns of weak restrictions on human rights and other conditionalities. But people in the West Bank say that is much more a savage force which is under CIA control, General intelligence, and that’s subject to nothing. That’s standard all over the world.

So, we have a military force so that we can keep the population quiet. There’s collaborationist elite. And living in Ramallah, it’s kind of like, Tel Aviv, Paris, New York—a lot of money flowing in from European Union, cultural life, people live pretty well. A few miles away in villages, life is entirely different. But this is the model. That perfect model of a neo-colonial society. That’s what the US is—and the US has a plenty of experience with this. This is the model that was crafted in the Philippines a century ago after the US conquered the Philippines to uplift them and Christianize them and so on. Although most of the noble motives were killing a couple of hundred thousand, there was a problem with what to do with them. So, a new model of control was developed, which was a real break from European imperial pattern and it’s pretty much what I described.

There’s a military force, the Philippine constabulary, but it has to have collaborationist elite. The nationalist movement was broken up by various devices, subversion, spreading rumors and all sorts of other things. And the population was put under a very tight surveillance and control, using the highest technology of the day. This is a century ago, so that meant telephone, radio and so on. And they had extremely tight surveillance of the population, knew where everybody was and so on. Those techniques were later developed and applied in other US domains in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua and so on. And they blew back to the United States very quickly. In fact, Woodrow Wilson applied them in the United States during the First World War. And we’re familiar with them today and even more so elsewhere like Britain.

In the West Bank, which is, as Nancy pointed out, an experimental region. The biometric controls are extremely sophisticated. So, there’s identification of every person by any kind of measure you can think of, all in their identity cards. Pretty soon, they’ll be in chips put into their brains or something. There’s a talk of extending these measures to Israel. There, there’s arousing protests, but in the West Bank, no protest. We just do that. So, this is a familiar technique and it works. The Philippines are still under that control. It’s 100 years. And that’s one of the reasons why the Philippines, the one American colony in Southeast Asia hasn’t joined the exciting economic development of the past 20 years. It’s not one of the East Asian tigers.

So, that’s a model which can be followed and which might work if we allow it. There are of course pretexts for all of this. Whatever a state does, there’s a pretext: security. Whatever you do, it’s in self-defense, kind of by definition. As usual, in this case, the pretext doesn’t stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. So, take, say, the annexation wall. I mean the reason that was offered is defense. Security. I mean if they were concerned with security, we know exactly what would be done. The wall would be built on the international border. It could be made impregnable, patrolled on both sides, a mile-high, totally secure. And that would give security. But, of course, if the purpose is what it actually is, namely to steal land and resources, then it can’t be built on the international border, where it might, furthermore, inconvenience [inaudible], instead of just inconveniencing and in fact, stealing from Palestinians.

And the same is true with the attack on Gaza. It’s almost universally accepted here, and in the West generally, that Israel had a right of self defense, and therefore was justified in attacking Gaza even though the attack was maybe disproportionate. That’s accepted, for example, by the Goldstone report. The Goldstone report is very valuable account of the atrocities that were carried out in the course of the war, but they are regarded as disproportionate actions in a legitimate war of self-defense.

OK, think about it for a minute. There is indeed the right of self-defense. Sure. Everyone agrees to that. But there is no right to self-defense by force. That has to be argued. And there is extensive international law and just common sense on this. You do not have the right to use force in self-defense unless you have exhausted peaceful means. Well, in this case, there definitely were peaceful means and the US and Israel knew it. And they chose not to, even attempt them because they wanted a war. They wanted to attack.

Peaceful means are obvious, again, not controversial. There had been a ceasefire initiated and proceeding in June, 2008. Israel concedes officially that during the ceasefire, there was not a single Hamas rocket fire. Sderot was quiet. The ceasefire was broken on November 4th, when using the cover of the US election, Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and killed half a dozen Hamas activists. And yeah, then rockets started firing. And in the following month, Hamas offered repeatedly to reinstate the ceasefire. Israel acknowledged it, the cabinet discussed it and decided not to accept it. OK. No right to use force in self-defense. It’s quite apart from conditions of international law, which I won’t go into, which is pretty explicit on this, are all violated.

So, the attack itself was a criminal act. The US and Israel are guilty of outright aggression. And if they fire one bullet, it was a crime. And if they carried out the atrocities as they did, it was a crime. And if you look, case by case, they’re just—there’s virtually no justification for the claim of security. And in fact that, I won’t go into the history here, but it goes back—at the very least until February, 1971. This has kind of been washed out from history because it doesn’t look nice for us.

But in February 1971, President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty. Nothing for the Palestinians, just mentioned as refugees, on condition that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories. And all he cared about was withdrawal from the Egyptian territory. So, in effect, it was an offer of a full peace treaty with all the property guarantees and so on, in return for withdrawal from conquered Egyptian territory. One year later, Jordan made the same offer with regard to the West Bank, a full peace treaty if Israel withdraws from the West Bank.

Well, at that point, security problem was over, if Israel wanted it to be over. If Israel had accepted those peace treaties, the major Arab state, Egypt, would be out of the conflict. And Jordan, the minor Arab state on the southern border, would be out of the conflict. OK. End of security problems. There was no Palestinian security problems to speak of at the time. You know, if such [inaudible] could have easily been controlled. But Israel made a decision, a fateful decision to choose expansion over security. At that time, expansion was into northeastern Sinai, where they were planning to build a huge city Yamit and a lot of settlements.

The real question is: what’s the Godfather going to say? Well, there was a debate in Washington. It was internal controversy. Henry Kissinger won out. His position, as he says, was what he calls “stalemate”: we should have no negotiations. Just force. And so, Israel was able to reject the peace offer. I won’t go into the consequences but it meant an awful world, a lot of suffering and constant security problems.

And if you look, from then through now, it’s pretty much the same. I mean Israel could have security right now. The Arab League has long endorsed the international consensus on a two-state settlement. In fact, they initiated it. The major Arab states in January 1976, when they introduced a resolution at the Security Council, calling for a full peace treaty on the international border. It was vetoed by the United States. And US vetoes are double vetoe. It doesn’t happen and it’s out of history. So we don’t talk about that.

So, it continues. The Arab states have reiterated in a more developed form of peace agreement, a full peace agreement. The organization of Islamic states—they should include Iran—has accepted it. Hamas accepted it. In fact, anybody relevant accepted it with exception of the United States and Israel. So, yes, there are real security problems but not justifiable ones.

Among all the reports—there were a number of reports that came out of Gaza, the Goldstone report, an extensive one. Amnesty International published several, Human Rights Watch, they are very revealing. In my opinion, the most revealing of all of them is—at least the most important for us—is Amnesty International report, which really broke new ground for human rights reports. It went through the weaponry that had been used in the assault against Gaza. A lot of high-tech, destructive, murderous weaponry. It traced it to its source, which is mostly back to us. And it called for an arms embargo. Amnesty international called for an arms embargo on both sides, which means essentially on Israel. That’s talking to us. That’s saying we ought to join in an arms embargo and stop sending arms in violation of international law and indeed in violation of US law. We should stop violating US law and sending arms to a country that’s using them for aggression and violence and destruction.

Well, you know, that’s a policy that Americans ought to follow. Let’s follow US law. Let’s try that for change. And stop sending arms to Israel. Well, I think adhering to the Amnesty international’s plea would make a lot of sense. There have been occasional reports from Human Rights Watch and others saying, you know, some arms shouldn’t be sent to a country that has used, that is carrying out regular tortures and so on. But this is the first call that I know of by a human rights group for a total arms embargo to an aggressive and violent state. 

And the call is directed to us. We are the one providing the overwhelming bulk of the arm and continuing to do it. And I think we should listen to the call. That also suggests something about tactics. If we want to act in ways which is going to change policy, not just to make us feel good but change policy, the tactic should be directed to Washington. Unless Washington changes its position, there isn’t going to be any peaceful settlement.

And there are good, historical analogies that we can use to sharpen up or thinking about this. It’s pretty common to make analogies between Israel and South Africa. Most of those analogies are pretty dubious. There are some similarities but enormous differences. One fundamental difference is that the white nationalists in South Africa needed the black population. That was the source of their labor and sustenance, so they didn’t want them to live like dogs and flee the country. They wanted them to stay there and be a subordinate population. That’s quite different from the case of Israel; they don’t want the Palestinians. They want them out away somewhere. Like the US attitude toward the indigenous population here: “Just either die or disappear.” That’s a serious disanalogy. But there are some—even though the analogies are weak, we can learn something from history. And histories are worth thinking about.

By the early 1960s, South Africa was becoming a pariah state. There was a talk of sanctions, and boycotts but they hadn’t been implemented yet. There were negative votes in the United Nations, there were sharp attacks. South Africans were aware of it. They did pretty much the kind of things that Israel is doing today.

South Africa was reacting at that time very much the way that Israel is doing now: the whole world hates us. You know, they’re just racist. They don’t understand how wonderful we are. We have to have better information and educational campaigns to explain to them how what we’re doing is exactly right and to the benefit of the black population and so on. They were doing all those things but they knew pretty well that they were not going to work. Just as Israel ought to understand that comparable effort is not going to work. They are going to continue being--turning into a pariah state. But South African foreign minister, about fifty years ago, spoke to the US ambassador and he said something quite perceptive and relevant. He told the US ambassador that yes, overwhelmingly they’re voting against us in the United Nations and so on. But in the United Nations, there is only one vote: yours. And as long as you’re backing us, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world says. That’s a pretty accurate perception. That’s what it means to have overwhelming global dominance of a kind that has never existed in history. And he was right. And if you look at the history what followed, it demonstrated it.

Through the 60s and 70s, South Africa became more and more a pariah nation. The United States and Britain kept supporting it. By 1980 or so, boycott, sanctions and so on were beginning; US corporations were beginning to refuse to invest; Congress began passing legislation. But the US continued to violate. The Reagan administration violated congressional legislation and overwhelming global opinion to continue supporting South African apartheid. And that’s one of the most violent and brutal periods.

In the 1980s with US support, South Africa was able to go kill an estimated a million and a half people and caused about $60 billion of damage just in neighboring countries, putting aside what it was doing inside South Africa with constant US support, went on through the 1980s.

In 1988, at that time, you couldn’t find anybody defending apartheid. You know, mayors, corporations, Congress, whatever. In 1988, the US formally identified the African National Congress, Mandela’s ANC, as one of “the more notorious terrorist groups in the world.” That was in 1988. You’ll be pleased to know, if you don’t already, that Mandela was taken off the terrorist list a couple of months ago. So we know how long we have to be terrified of him. Around 1989, for reasons which are not entirely known—we don’t have internal documents for that period—US policy shifted. And it moved towards ending apartheid and instituting a regime which sort of maintains the social and economical structure of the apartheid regime, but without total exclusion of the blacks. So, if you go to Cape Town or Johannesburg, you can see black faces in limousines. Even though for—and other signs of improvement, that was a major achievement getting rid of apartheid. But the fundamental structure was maintained. However, apartheid wad ended. Mandela was let out of prison, he was given a couple years of instruction and democracy and freedom and so on. And then he was allowed to appear. And the US, their Godfather changed its position and it ended. If you go back to 1988, it looked like one of the worst periods in South African history. People were desperate, giving up.

And that has happened elsewhere. So, South African minister was correct. And it happens in other cases too. I have no time to go through them but there are other cases where just a slight shift in US policy terminated violent, murderous aggression, in fact, near genocidal aggression. And it could happen in this case too. But something is going to have to press it and that’s going to have to come from inside. It’s not going to come from the rest of the world. And I think that is lessons we ought to keep in mind when we think about, first of all, our own responsibilities and also the kinds of tactical moves that would be appropriate. Thanks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reparations for the Palestinians (Edward Said 1999)

[In remembrance of Professor Edward Said, I contributed this transcript for Democracy Now!]

Amy Goodman: Well, as we come to the end of the century, we’re going to take a look at reparations movements around the world. The historic agreement between the organizations that represent slave laborers—the German government, German corporations—follows on the heels of settlements with Swiss banks and the Swiss government, also, which held the money of victims of the Holocaust. Well, we’re going to take a look at reparations movements in other parts of the world and for other populations. Later in the show, we’ll look at the fight for reparations in the Native American community in this country as well as the fight for reparations for African Americans, descendants of slaves. 

But we’re going to start on the issue of Palestinians in a movement to compensate a people displaced by the formation of the State of Israel in the 1940s. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he’s unhappy with the progress of current talks with Israel and will declare an independent state next year, possibly even before the September 13 deadline for a final peace agreement with Israel. According to Arafat, the main dispute with Israel is still the issue of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians hope to establish a state. Negotiations over a framework agreement are deadlocked over the Palestinian demand that Israel freeze all settlement construction, a demand Prime Minister Barak of Israel has so far refused. The two leaders are to meet this week to try to resolve the issue.

But these do not go to the overall issues of reparations. And right now, we’re joined by Professor Edward Said. He’s university professor at Columbia University, teaches comparative literature, and among his other books are Peace and Its Discontents, Culture and Imperialism and his own memoir Out of Place. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Edward Said.

Edward Said: Thank you very much, Amy.

Amy Goodman: Well, Professor Said, let’s begin on this issue of reparations. You’ve, I’m sure, been watching as the Jewish organizations have been negotiating with the German government, this, against the backdrop of the US government supporting these negotiations for reparations for Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. What about Palestinians? Where does the reparations movement stand today?

Edward Said: Well, let me just say first that I support the reparations movements around the world. I mean I think it’s the least that can be done to mitigate the enormous amount of suffering that went into, whether it was imperialism or colonial outposts or genocide or mass displacement of people, occurring in the name of progress or ethnic cleansing or whatever you want to call it. And I think, you know, it shouldn’t be invidious. I think there should be a broad principled work that people who have suffered at the hands of identifiable oppressors ought to be entitled and are entitled to recompense.

Just one word about the Jewish reparations, because they are very important for Americans, I think, to understand. According to Norman Finkelstein and Alex Cockburn and CounterPunch, a recent issue of it, the problem isn’t settled by simply going after Swiss Banks and German corporations, because it’s estimated that a good half of the money that was smuggled out of Germany by Jews who were—out of Europe, by Jews who were targeted—came to this country. And I would certainly support a movement for the investigation of US banks holding holocaust victims’ accounts and have yet not been investigated. So, I think, across the board, it’s an important thing.

 Now, in the case of Palestinians, there has been no appreciable momentum or movement of any sort officially by either the PLO or the Israeli government or the US to go over what, in fact, the UN has ruled since 1948 Palestinians are entitled to. Namely, compensation and/or repatriation. The PLO, to my knowledge, has no serious accounting on its own of what was lost in 1948. 

There have been independent Palestinian researchers, beginning with Sami Hadawi in the 50s, who has all the village statistics and compiled an impressive record of several billion dollars of losses, now amounting to probably 90 to 100 billion dollars in 1948. These have yet to be acknowledged by Israel, which declared them all alien property in 1949 and 1950, and simply took them over in the name of the Jewish people.

Others—a Palestinian researcher, Salman Abu Sitta, has also done similar work on his own. But the impetus for all this comes—it has to be noted—not from the PLO, which is now, in my opinion, a victim of the bipolar or tripartite negotiations with Israel, the United States and the PLO and it’s committed to the terms of that agreement—but rather from refugee communities. And it’s important to know that most Palestinians today are refugees, in other words. The demography of the situation is that more people live outside Palestine—refugees or descendants of refugee—than inside.

The last point, tragically, and in my opinion unforgivably, the Oslo agreements make quite clear that the PLO and Israel have agreed to ignore another form of oppression to Palestinians. Namely the expense to Palestinians of occupation: the houses destroyed, the villages annexed, the lands taken over. You know, the huge amount of suffering imposed on the population. There was a kind of blank check, sort of forgiven to the Israelis by Yasser Arafat. In my opinion, it’s impossible to understand it. But Israel has, takes no responsibility for what it has done, for example, in the total destruction of the economy of Gaza in the years since 1967. So, things, I think, are in a very bad moment for the Palestinian reparations movement.

Amy Goodman: Professor Edward Said is a leading Palestinian, he is a university professor at Columbia University in New York, where he teaches comparative literature, has written numerous books about the Middle East. Can you talk more about what you think are the strategies that the Jewish groups have successfully used, that the Palestinians have not been able to employ?

Edward Said: Well, I think the most important is making of inventories: the compilation of lists that are done with a systematic modern attitude that leaves no stone unturned. Now, that drives to a certain degree from political power. I mean it’s impossible to imagine the Jewish reparations achievements without looking carefully and admiring in many ways the power of individual Jewish communities, whether in Israel or the United States and elsewhere in Western Europe.

So, I think that’s the first step: to be able to sit down and authoritatively claim, not just attention which is very important, which we haven’t done, but also claim specific properties. And the PLO, which is the only official body that represents or is supposed to represent Palestinians, has never done that. It has never said, “We have a list which we are going to put at the center of the negotiations because our society was entirely destroyed." 780,000 people in 1948 were ethnically cleansed. I mean even Israelis agree to that. And “here’s the bill. And you have to fork up the amount of money that was lost, the interest accrued in the fifty years since that time.” I think that’s what..I mean that’s the first step that has to be done.

Secondly, of course, it has to become a central agenda item. In your own broadcast, you pointed to the fact that Yasser Arafat, a principal goal which he is threatening to execute, you know, to implement any day now, is to declare a Palestinian state. He doesn’t care about the enormous amount…even if he got a Palestinian state in what’s left of Gaza and the roughly 22 % of the West Bank that he’s going to get, that would still amount to less than about 18 or 19 percent of historical Palestine, which we all lost in 1948. So, it’s quite clear that a clearly stated goal and a central negotiating posture around the issue of reparations is the first step that both the American Jewish community did and what Palestinians need to. And we haven’t done it.

Amy: Do you see any coming together of the two communities over this issue? I mean certainly the Jewish organizations have learned a lot (Said: Yeah.) in their organizing and strategizing. Later in the show, we’re going to talk about Native Americans reparations and then with John Conyers, the Congress member, about reparations for descendants of slaves.

Edward Said: Well, you bring up something very important. I take it what you mean by two communities, you mean Israeli or Jewish and Palestinian. But of course, what I thought of immediately is Palestinians inside Palestine and the refugees outside, who are really two communities also. But you raise a very important point and that is, it seems to me more effort has to be spent, expended on persuading Jews and Israeli Jews—I mean Jews in Diaspora and Israeli Jews—what profoundly direct and perhaps tragic, if you want to call it, responsibility Israel bears for the depredations that were visited upon the Palestinians.

In other words, unless there is a worldwide awakening to consciousness and conscience and some sense of responsibility for what happened, we’re not going to get anywhere because in the first place, you have to get a public and official acknowledgment, from wrung out of Israel, that it was responsible for the dispossession of Palestinians.

And, as I say, one of the major negotiating flaws in the PLO and Arafatian strategy has been not to concentrate on that but rather to concentrate on winning some elusory little statelet that has simply no sense. I mean it will have no sovereignty to speak of. It will be discontinuous and it will be totally dominated by all that is feeding the fantasy of Arafat that he wants to become a leader instead of thinking about the well-being and the history of his people which is totally saturated in dispossession, tragedy and fantastic loss.

So, I mean one has to give credit to Jewish leaders for sensing their responsibility and transacting it, so to speak, in negotiations. The Palestinians leadership is not up to the task. And that’s why I think, whatever movement is going to come, it’s going to come from the refugee groups, Diaspora, which is now forming itself, girding its loins so to speak, organizing itself to press the claims whether at the International Court, at the UN, etc.

Amy: Well, Professor Said, I want to thank you very much for joining us.

Said: Thank you.

Amy: Professor Edward Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. Among his books, Peace and Its Discontents, Culture and Imperialism and his memoir Out of Place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Edward Said on 9.11 and others (Sep 25, 2001)

[in remembrance of Professor Edward Said and Sabra and Shatila] 


[rush transcript I contributed for Democracy Now!]

 Amy Goodman: Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, political commentators have flooded the mainstream media with superficial commentary about the nature of Islam, its relation to the Taliban and the challenges the US faces in being understood and appreciated in the Muslim and Arab world. 

The Bush administration is continuing in its efforts to convince Arab and Muslim states to support its plans for wide-ranging military action against the Taliban, using a combination of threats, diplomacy and the lure of military and economic aid. But there’s still little reflection on the social, political and economic basis of the resentment that US power has engendered, not just in the Middle East and Central Asia but around the world. There’s been even less discussion of what a just relationship with Arab and Muslim states might look like, or how the US might get there, ideas that seem lost in the Bush administration’s single-minded preparation for a war we still know almost nothing about. 

We’re joined on the telephone right now by Edward Said. He’s a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and author of many books including Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism and his memoir Out Of Place. He’s also considered a leading voice for Palestinian self-determination. Welcome to the War and Peace Report, Professor Said.

Edward Said: Thank you, Amy.

Amy: Thomas Friedman writes in his column in today’s New York Times: “I understand that this particular act of terrorism we just experienced is something so much more frightening than what Beirut’s residents had to deal with.” He ends his column with the reflection, “I went to the ballgame Friday night, took in Dvorak's New World symphony at the Kennedy Centre on Saturday, took my girls out to breakfast in Washington Sunday morning, then flew to the University of Michigan. Heck, I even went out yesterday and bought some stock. What a great country. I wonder what Osama bin Laden did in his cave in Afghanistan yesterday?” Professor Said, can you comment and help us unpack some of the assumptions in these words? 

Edward Said: Well, I think in the first place, you know, speaking as a New Yorker, and somebody who has lived here, really the major part of his life, I mean I feel I’m second to none in feelings of horror and sorrow and disorientation as a result of what happened. But there’s no need, I think, to take this out of history and out of time and turn the agony of New York into sort of a unique event of all time. I mean I’m a man of two worlds, really. I mean my entire family went through the siege of Beirut by the Israeli army, when in the course of three months, 20,000 people in a country of roughly two and a half million people were killed by the Israeli army--basically people living with no protection, no anti-aircraft, [no] guns, no missiles, nothing to protect the onslaught of Israeli F15s and helicopter gunships and missiles and rockets and all the rest of it. 

So, you know, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I mean, suffering under such horror is equal, it seems to me, in every part of the world. And what is implicit in a lot of what Friedman writes is that the Arabs and Muslims are to be talked down to, that somehow their experiences are not as valid or somehow not as valuable as those of the so-called West. I mean I say “so-called,” because the West is really a very nebulous idea. Most Lebanese think of themselves perhaps as part of the West. So, it’s typical to make, to draw distinction of that sort.

The other is that the experiences, much as one hates them and despises them. The  experiences that produce the kind of mad mindset of which Osama Bin Laden has become the embodiment with are the tip of the iceberg. You know, I mean I myself don’t understand what would drive a person to suicide and to the kind of mass murder that these bombers did on September the 11th, but certainly the feeling of resentment and human dismissal which a lot of people in the Arab and Islamic world feel is very, very real, not because of some fantasy about America; most of them, in fact, are very interested and fascinated and indeed like America. Their children come here--I’m talking about the intellectuals of whom, of course, Osama and his people are examples, and not The Wretched of the Earth. They’re not people who live in refugee camps, either educated or the middle class people, who have gone bananas as a result of the tremendous pressure on them..on their minds of what they perceive as American contempt and dismissal of them as human beings, their religion and their culture. 

It’s very difficult for a Muslim today in Pakistan or in Saudi Arabia or in Egypt not to make connections between the agonies of Chechnya, the agonies of the Palestinians, the contempt with which Islam is regularly discussed and treated in the media, the way in which the United States has, for the last ten years, more or less single-handedly, been inflicting a regime of horrendous, genocidal sanctions against the people of Iraq, and [not] to see all of this as a product of one power which can get away with it. And when the disaster strikes as it did last week horribly and maleficently in the worst and most barbaric way, of course—to see this as a kind of a retribution and to see it as a kind of, you know, sort of just desserts and not feel the kind of compassion and self-suffering that most people would ordinarily feel, partly, they think, because none of that compassion and fellow-feeling and fellow-suffering has been manifested toward them.

They’ve been treated as the enemy. The United States supports regimes like that of Saudi Arabia, for example, or the Israeli government, because it suits them; not because it’s a humane support or support for humane purposes. 

And in this mind, which we have no inkling of, there’s very little interchange on any level at all, really. Connections are made and the descriptions are made for which there’s very little contradiction, but simply because the Arab and Islamic world are treated with the kind of contempt and inferiority that we feel they deserve. It’s mostly ignorance, I think. Terrible, terrible ignorance as a result of poor education in our part of the world and poor education in their part of the world. 

Amy: We’re talking to Professor Edward Said of Columbia University. Others as well as Friedman of the New York Times write of the Taliban, in particular, and the Muslim world, in general, as being anti-modern, jealous of American technology and attacking the United States for its freedom. 

Edward Said: Well, this is one of the most monstrous ideological fictions I’ve ever heard. It was originally started around the time, I mean it gained currency around the time of [Samuel] Huntington’s article on the Clash of Civilizations. And it comes from the work of several, very, very reactionary in my opinion and mischievously inclined, politically inclined orientalists who have argued exactly that:that the world of Islam is a basically medieval world, that it is a world that resents modernity and above all, the symbol of modernity, the United States, so on and so forth. 

I mean that’s complete nonsense. In the first place, modernity in the sense of McDonald's and computers and air lines and shopping centers in the mall, etc, has come to the entire world, certainly to the Islamic world as well. And you know, it’s quite clear that on the level of culture, there’s an exchange that goes on despite the ideologues who say that the East is the East and the West is the West on both sides. I mean it’s very difficult to distinguish between the everyday life of one over the other. 

But it is also the case that people in the Islamic world feel that they, for the most part, live in polities and states, in countries, ruled by unpopular regimes all of whom without any exception that I can think of in one way or another—of course, Iraq is an exception—but are supported by the United States. 

I mean one mustn’t forget, in the first place, that the Mujahedeen, who preceded the Taliban, sort of the previous incarnation of the Taliban, were supported by the United States as fighters on the side of Islam against the godless communists in the Soviet Union in 1980s. And when their leaders came to Washington—I’ll never forget this as long as I live—and these beared people, to my mind, being a secular person from a part of the world that produces monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, I was horrified that Reagan greeted these people as, in fact, the moral equivalent of the founding fathers, our founding fathers. 

You know, it suited the United States to coddle these people, as it has all these years, the government of Saudi Arabia because of its oil, not because of its enlightened policies. And in many people in these countries, there is a healthy secular opposition. There’s women’s movement, there’s human rights movement. So, in all respects, I think one can find not only the elements but the wide currents of modernity inside contemporary Islamic societies. 

The question is that they are engaged in a political struggle with people who want to take Islam back to some earlier state. Just as in this country, we have people who want to return—well, we have [Jerry] Falwell and [Pat] Robertson and all the hundreds of thousands, millions even, of fundamentalist Christians in this country who want to return us to a puritanical and simpler society. 

So that’s the war. It’s not between Islam and the West. It’s between ideas of the past that exist in the West and ideas of the past and of the correct tradition that exists in the Islamic world and indeed everywhere. 

Jewish world, look at the struggle within Israel between different interpretations of Judaism. So, I would say it’s really the struggle of interpretations and not the struggle between modernity of the West and the success of America, which most people in the Arab world that I know find very attractive and somewhat at odds with America’s behavior internationally, as a major, as the only superpower on one hand. And people want to, who want to return society to its earlier, pure, less sinful state, I mean that exists everywhere. 

Amy: We’re talking to Professor Edward Said and we’ll be back with him in a minute after we have a break for stations to identify themselves. Then we’re going to Peshawar and Islamabad to talk about the humanitarian disaster that is brewing right now in Afghanistan. Up to one million Afghans face starvation as Bush officials plan to bomb them. Stay with us.


Amy Goodman: We’re talking with Professor Edward Said, a comparative literature institute professor at Columbia University, who has recently written a piece about the latest that has taken place in the United States: the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. A piece called “Collective passion Can the voice of rationality be heard over the war drums?” This appeared in Al Ahram Weekly online based in Cairo. You were just talking about understanding the Muslim and the Arab world and also comparing fundamentalisms, whether it’s Muslim fundamentalism or Christian or Jewish fundamentalism. Would you like to continue on that point? 

Edward Said: Yes, I mean I think they—the mix of religion with politics that I found rather chilling in some of the President’s statements is a very unhealthy one, because you know, if you think you have the vision and you’re in touch with the divine that speaks through you, then, you know, there’s certainly no stopping what you do. 

I mean I think that’s certainly true of Muslim fundamentalism, it’s true of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists and [it] produces the most skewed and immoral and pathological—I think that’s a right word for it—pathological politics. Whereas it would seem to me that as a great country, I mean with enormous power, it would seem to me that the United States ought to be setting the standard for universalistic norms that apply across religions and across cultures, if you like, that should govern human behavior. 

There is no reason for example, why a man who was responsible, like Sharon was for the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, should not be included in the war against terrorism and why only Muslim terrorists are singled out and, of course in this case, they should be.

But you know, the idea is that there should be universal norm set by the United Nations obviously, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by which human behavior and state behavior is governed. And [there should] not these religious justifications with which you can’t argue. If you are possessed to the truth, there’s nothing that can be said to you. That’s clearly the mindset of people who believe that God has given them excellent and they should take it and drive out these inferior others who happened to be there, this sort of thing. So, I think monotheistic fundamentalism is really the same across the board. And if we want to single out one, we ought to be choosing including, not invidiously, but we ought to be including inclusively all the others as well. 

Amy: Professor Said, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister is going to meet with the Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw following a 15-minute phone call between Sharon and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Sharon had earlier called off the meeting because of the remarks Straw made in an article in an Iranian newspaper, the passage which caused defense said: “One of the factors that helps breed terror is the anger that many people in the region feel at events over the years in the Palestinian territories.” Well, Downing Street said the phone call took place this morning at the request of Sharon. Straw is visiting Tehran as part of US-British effort to form international coalition that would include Iran. What do you think of this latest—well, what Straw said and also the meeting with Sharon?

Edward Said: Well, I think Straw, for the first time, you know, British official at a high level that told the truth. I mean there’s no question. There’s absolutely no question. I mean, don’t forget we live in an age of television and satellite television which has brought the Arab world together to watch the daily sufferings of Palestinians during the Intifada. I mean, in my opinion, I haven’t been there, [I have been] watching it now from the distance, there’s no question that Israel’s behavior includes the worst collective punishment that ought to qualify for terrorism, state terrorism imaginable.

I mean the idea of locking people in their house, making it impossible for them to travel, demolishing their houses, taking their land, uprooting—you know they’ve uprooted two hundred thousand trees! I mean that’s sheer sadistic cruelty, to say nothing of endless killings and what they call “targeted killings” which are, in fact, assassination of political leaders. I mean, you know, and the settlements go on and the humiliation of Palestinians at the checkpoints where they can’t move without being –without going through Israelis. I mean this has been fantastically galvanizing, I would even say polarizing, awareness amongst the Arabs everywhere who watch this every day, powerless to do anything about it. 

And with the United States, more or less, continuously supply Israel with arms. I mean that, of course, doesn’t anyway justify horrendous acts, heinous acts of criminal violence, senseless destructiveness of the kind that hit our city. But it goes a long way to explaining a mood in which the United States and Israel are perceived as a malevolent and not the kind of pure and innocent creatures that perhaps they want to pretend they are. 

So, I think what I’m really pleading for is a kind of secular, open and rational understanding of human behavior and not to condemn it to the realms of supernatural, say, this is, you know, evil we don’t un—you know, that comes from the devil and all. No, no, these are human beings who are acting in an unacceptable way. Their degrees, one ought to be able to analyze without, of course, condoning what to ought to be able to explain and at the same time make judgments. 

But I think unless one does that and uses one’s mind and try to get past the collective passion, whether it’s in the Arab world and in the Islamic world against the Unites States or in our country, against, you know you’re just wanting to go to war without some understanding what the ground is like. I don’t mean just the geography but the moral and political and historical ground is like in the minds of others. I mean we live in one world, we don’t live in twenty seven different worlds. And once this campaign is over, we will have to go back to a world very much altered, in which I think the exchange between people becomes, I think, paramount. 

Amy: And what do you think of bringing Iran into the coalition?

Edward Said: Well, I doubt that Iran will be in the coalition. In properly speaking, I think the Iranians are ..who are the sworn enemies of the Taliban..you know, there’s no love that’s lost at all between them. You know, every country acts according to its interest. And Tehran is not quite in the same position as being pressured as Saudi Arabia and emirates are who have in fact been supporting these Taliban and the Mujahidin, but originally because the US made them do it. But there’s lots of private contribution from these countries to Afghanistan. The Iranians, I think, are in quite a different position. And they may think of this as a way perhaps of improving their position with the United States. But I think entirely on their terms. I don’t think there’ll be any military actions from Iran. I think there’ll be an attempt to somehow soften the atmosphere and make possible normal relationship. 

Amy: The House of Representatives voted yesterday to release half a billion dollars that the United States owes in back dues to the United Nations, ending a long running squabble at a time when the Bush administration says international cooperation is needed. What do you make of this right?

Edward Said: Well, I mean it’s obviously too little too late. I mean I’m glad they did it but we still owe, the United States still owes, we still owe a billion in back dues to the UN. Some members of the Senate and the House have made no secret of their contempt for the United Nations. They feel, I suppose many Americans, but not all, feel that we, the United States should go it alone and why should we be bound by protocols and bind the rest of humanity? 

You know, maybe this is the beginning of change. And certainly the efforts on the part of the Bush administration to make this coalition to give it some kind of international, perhaps even the United Nations legitimacy is a sign of that we’re beginning to understand this, even with our great power and distance we are from the rest of the world. We are not invulnerable, we suffer as much as, we will and can suffer as much as anyone and have suffered in the case of this terrible atrocity on September the 11th. 

But I think there is no hope, in my opinion, for the human community unless we rest our faith, I think, in communal organizations of which the only international, I mean the only universal one is the United Nations. And [I think] that we should be bound by the declarations and resolutions which, in many ways, we ourselves have formulated. But I mean the behavior of the United States in the United Nations has also been scandalous. Promiscuous use of veto whenever something goes against whenever, for example, Israel is criticized, to use the United Nations as we did in the case of Iraq to enter this long period of just slow genocidal torture of the Iraqi people in which you know half a million children have died needlessly.

You know, those are shown in the end, I think, a kind of contempt for the rest of the world that ill suits us as the great power with, I think, an extremely compassionate population. I think most Americans are given a chance, I think the media has not been good about this, but given a chance. We’re trying to understand what the US means in the world and what has been done in its name abroad and that most Americans are open to the suffering and miseries of others. 

Amy: Finally, Saddam Hussein, where this puts Iraq? You have people like Paul Wolfowitz pushing for the bombing of Iraq, where do you think Iraq will fit in here? And the vision that you have of what actually is going to happen since that has not been made very clear at this point, how the US will conduct this so-called war?

Edward Said: Well, I think there has been a profound misunderstanding of what Iraq represents in the Arab world. [noise] I don’t think there is much love lost among Arabs [noise] for Saddam, for his regime which is known to be cruel and murderous. And I don’t know many people who were in favor of this annexation and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But you know, it’s one thing to be opposed to Saddam and another to want to destroy the country even further. I mean that seems to me be sadism. You know, there was an opportunity, as no one is tired of remembering or repeating, during the war to enter Baghdad. If that was the goal, you know, to get rid of them, get rid of them in that way rather than to starve the Iraqi people. 

I think there’s a struggle going on inside the administration as to what to do about Iraq, who [which] to people, I think, like Wolfowitz, seems to be important, only because it might be at one point a threat to Israel. I see them—I mean Iraq is, by any standard, there’s not a threat to anyone now. I mean Saddam obviously is, but the country has been, you know, its infrastructure destroyed, its people are in terrible shape after years of these sanctions. So, I think wanting to destroy Iraq yet again seems to be just gratuitous violence and cruelty for no particular reason. And I doubt that it will occur, but I may be wrong. 

Amy: Professor Said, I want to say thank you very much for being with us and I hope you are feeling well. Professor Said is institute professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, author of many books, among them, Orientalism and his memoir Out of Place.