Professor Noam Chomsky is visiting Gaza, his first trip to this “open air prison.” A few days ago he was in NYC speaking, along with Anna Baltzer and Norman Finkelstein, about The Jewish-American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads. I wonder how this 83-year old manages this schedule!
An American Jew traveling in Palestine might raise the eyebrows of some people who believe the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is a hotbed of anti-semitic barbarism, but clearly Chomsky has been receiving the royal treatment here. Quite the contrast to the reception he received two years ago when Israel denied him entry to the West Bank where he was scheduled to lecture at Birzeit, a Palestinian university.
Professor Chomsky’s visit to Gaza was sponsored by TIDA, a new homegrown institution founded by Dr. Eyad Sarraj. I first met Dr. Sarraj in 2004 when Israel would not allow him to leave Gaza to travel abroad to accept an international award for his work as a psychologist. A friend and I brought the award to Gaza and presented it to Dr. Sarraj at his Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. Tonight Dr. Sarraj was sitting next to Professor Chomsky — two intellectual and moral giants. I felt honored to be in the same room with them.
Chomsky spoke for more than 2 hours with simultaneous translation. He started by drawing parallels between the Western Sahara, the last official colony under oversight by the United Nations, and Palestine. Both are occupied. In November 2010, the Sahrawi in Western Sahara rose up and resisted the occupation, perhaps the true beginning of the Arab Spring, but the French intervened to stop the UN from implementing a resolution calling for a referendum. Sound familiar?
Chomsky discussed the West’s response to the Arab Spring, and the historical support for dictators in the region. “Secular nationalism is considered dangerous by Western governments” whose agenda is to secure the region’s resources for the West.
Polls show that the country most feared in the world is Israel, and the US is the second most feared. Some people think that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons, Chomsky said.
Chomsky turned to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and drew a sharp distinction between proposals “which are easy” and “sketching a way to get there” which requires serious advocacy. There is only one alternative — the two-state solution — which is supported by the entire world except Israel and the United States. He acknowledged the challenges presented by the “facts on the ground” and the settlement expansion. In February 2011, Obama vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council calling for an end to Israel’s settlement expansion, which also happens to be the official policy of the US. That took some explaining.
When asked if the two-state solution is still a realistic alternative, Chomsky replied that there is no other proposal. The one-state solution requires that Israel take the keys and implement civil rights for all equally. There is no discussion about how to get there. “Israel will not take the keys.”
We have to distinguish between proposals and advocacy. People who say they support one state will undermine the two state solution, he said. There’s only one proposal to get to a solution. Supporting one state plays right into Israel’s hands, “an illusion that intellectuals often fall into.”
This is not an anti-Apartheid struggle in Palestine, which is very different from South Africa. South Africa needed the blacks, Israel doesn’t need the Palestinians. Israel just wants the Palestinians to leave. “Palestinians need to deal with the world as it is, not as they want it.”
Chomsky said he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) but noted that BDS is just a tactic, not a principle, and it is important to ask how the tactic impacts the victim. Amnesty International is calling for an arms embargo. Human Rights Watch is calling for the end of all aid that supports settlements. Both are strong examples of BDS, he says, even if they’re not called BDS.
Can the Arab Spring help Gaza? Chomsky said it depends in what direction the Arab Spring goes. Too soon to tell, but Egypt could be a big help.
What about the current U.S. elections? Chomsky said that both parties are the same, but it would be disastrous if Romney is elected. Chomsky doesn’t see any changes in the U.S. position regarding Israel whomever is elected. 70% of the American public has no political influence, they are disenfranchised. The top fraction of the 1% get what they want. However, Chomsky noted that there has been a “diffusion of power” around the world and what could change in the United States is a rise in popular pressure.
He mentioned the PLO and a meeting in NYC many years ago when he and other Palestinian supporters met with Arafat. Chomsky was very critical of the PLO at the time, and believes the Palestinians suffered as a result from the PLO who had a different idea of politics. Chomsky and others were urging them to build a grassroots movement to support the Palestinians, but the PLO thought politics was having coffee at the White House with Kissinger.
Chomsky was asked tonight about Kissinger’s recent statement that “Israel will cease to exist in 10 years”. Chomsky said people misunderstood that statement. What Kissinger meant was that Israel should not accept the keys (the one-state proposal) because if it did, it would not exist.
On a positive note, Chomsky thinks young Palestinian intellectuals will have many opportunities to collaborate with others around the world to advance the Palestinian issues and agenda. Now the most engaged groups on US university campuses are those that support Palestine, a big difference from 20 years ago.
Any advice to Abbas? Chomsky said he thinks getting recognition at the UN General Assembly could change things for the better, but Abbas and Hamas need to find a way to work together. At that point, Chomsky received a big applause and the evening ended.
I wish I could hand both Abbas and Haniyeh an olive branch. I helped a family this morning pick olives from their trees, the beginning of this special season in Palestine. That family and all Palestinians need Abbas and Hamas to rise above their personal agendas and show new leadership for a very troubled part of the world.