Thursday, August 07, 2014

Noam Chomsky on the Israeli assault on Gaza

AMY GOODMAN [Democracy Now]: Your comments on what has just taken place?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a hideous atrocity, sadistic, vicious, murderous, totally without any credible pretext. It’s another one of the periodic Israeli exercises in what they delicately call "mowing the lawn." That means shooting fish in the pond, to make sure that the animals stay quiet in the cage that you’ve constructed for them, after which you go to a period of what’s called "ceasefire," which means that Hamas observes the ceasefire, as Israel concedes, while Israel continues to violate it. Then it’s broken by an Israeli escalation, Hamas reaction. Then you have a period of "mowing the lawn." This one is, in many ways, more sadistic and vicious even than the earlier ones.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what of the pretext that Israel used to launch these attacks? Could you talk about that and to what degree you feel it had any validity?

NOAM CHOMSKY: As high Israeli officials concede, Hamas had observed the previous ceasefire for 19 months. The previous episode of "mowing the lawn" was in November 2012. There was a ceasefire. The ceasefire terms were that Hamas would not fire rockets — what they call rockets — and Israel would move to end the blockade and stop attacking what they call militants in Gaza. Hamas lived up to it. Israel concedes that.

In April of this year, an event took place which horrified the Israeli government: A unity agreement was formed between Gaza and the West Bank, between Hamas and Fatah. Israel has been desperately trying to prevent that for a long time. … Israel was furious. They got even more upset when the U.S. more or less endorsed it, which is a big blow to them. They launched a rampage in the West Bank.

What was used as a pretext was the brutal murder of three settler teenagers. There was a pretense that they were alive, though they knew they were dead. [A]nd, of course, they blamed it right away on Hamas. They have yet to produce a particle of evidence, and in fact their own highest leading authorities pointed out right away that the killers were probably from a kind of a rogue clan in Hebron, the Qawasmeh clan, which turns out apparently to be true. They’ve been a thorn in the sides of Hamas for years. They don’t follow their orders.

But anyway, that gave the opportunity for a rampage in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of people, re-arresting many who had been released, mostly targeted on Hamas. Killings increased. Finally, there was a Hamas response: the so-called rocket attacks. And that gave the opportunity for "mowing the lawn" again.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that Israel does this periodically, Noam Chomsky. Why do they do this periodically?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Because they want to maintain a certain situation. There’s a background. For over 20 years, Israel has been dedicated, with U.S. support, to separating Gaza from the West Bank. That’s in direct violation of the terms of the Oslo Accord 20 years ago, which declared that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity whose integrity must be preserved. But for rogue states, solemn agreements are just an invitation to do whatever you want. So Israel, with U.S. backing, has been committed to keeping them separate.

And there’s a good reason for that. Just look at the map. If Gaza is the only outlet to the outside world for any eventual Palestinian entity, whatever it might be, the West Bank, if separated from Gaza, the West Bank is essentially imprisoned: Israel on one side, the Jordanian dictatorship on the other. Furthermore, Israel is systematically driving Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley, sinking wells, building settlements. They first call them military zones, then put in settlements — the usual story. That would mean that whatever cantons are left for Palestinians in the West Bank, after Israel takes what it wants and integrates it into Israel, they would be completely imprisoned. Gaza would be an outlet to the outside world, so therefore keeping them separate from one another is a high goal of policy, U.S. and Israeli policy.

And the unity agreement threatened that. Threatened something else Israel has been claiming for years. One of its arguments for kind of evading negotiations is: How can they negotiate with the Palestinians when they’re divided? Well, OK, so if they’re not divided, you lose that argument. …

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noam, what do you make of the … continued refusal of one administration after another here in the United States, which officially is opposed to the settlement expansion, to refuse to call Israel to the table on this attempt to create its own reality on the ground?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, your phrase "officially opposed" is quite correct. But we can look at — you know, you have to distinguish the rhetoric of a government from its actions, and the rhetoric of political leaders from their actions. That should be obvious. So we can see how committed the U.S. is to this policy, easily. For example, in February 2011, the U.N. Security Council considered a resolution which called for — which called on — Israel to terminate its expansion of settlements. Notice that the expansion of settlements is not really the issue. It’s the settlements. The settlements, the infrastructure development, all of this is in gross violation of international law. That’s been determined by the Security Council, the International Court of Justice. Practically every country in the world, outside of Israel, recognizes this. But this was a resolution calling for an end to expansion of settlements — official U.S. policy. What happened? Obama vetoed the resolution. That tells you something.

Furthermore, the official statement to Israel about the settlement expansion is accompanied by what in diplomatic language is called a wink — a quiet indication that we don’t really mean it. So, for example, Obama’s latest condemnation of the recent, as he puts it, violence on all sides was accompanied by sending more military aid to Israel. Well, they can understand that. …

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke to foreign journalists yesterday.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Israel accepted and Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal of July 15th. And I want you to know that at that time the conflict had claimed some 185 lives. Only on Monday night did Hamas finally agree to that very same proposal, which went into effect yesterday morning. That means that 90 percent, a full 90 percent, of the fatalities in this conflict could have been avoided had Hamas not rejected then the ceasefire that it accepts now. Hamas must be held accountable for the tragic loss of life.
NOAM CHOMSKY: … The narrow response is that, of course, as Netanyahu knows, that ceasefire proposal was arranged between the Egyptian military dictatorship and Israel, both of them very hostile to Hamas. It was not even communicated to Hamas. They learned about it through social media, and they were angered by that, naturally. They said they won’t accept it on those terms. Now, that’s the narrow response.

The broad response is that 100 percent of the casualties and the destruction and the devastation and so on could have been avoided if Israel had lived up to the ceasefire agreement … from November 2012, instead of violating it constantly and then escalating the violation in the manner that I described, in order to block the unity government and to persist in … the policies of taking over what they want in the West Bank and … separating it from Gaza, and keeping Gaza on what they’ve called a "diet," Dov Weissglas’s famous comment. The man who negotiated the so-called withdrawal in 2005 pointed out that the purpose of the withdrawal is to end the discussion of any political settlement and to block any possibility of a Palestinian state, and meanwhile the Gazans will be kept on a diet, meaning just enough calories allowed so they don’t all die — because that wouldn’t look good for Israel’s fading reputation — but nothing more than that. … Fishermen can’t go out to fish. The naval vessels drive them back to shore. A large part, probably over a third and maybe more, of Gaza’s arable land is barred from entry to Palestinians. …

When you pursue a policy of repression and expansion over security, there are things that are going to happen. There will be moral degeneration within the country. There will be increasing opposition and anger and hostility among populations outside the country. You may continue to get support from dictatorships and from, you know, the U.S. administration, but you’re going to lose the populations. And that has a consequence. You could predict — in fact, I and others did predict back in the ’70s — that, just to quote myself, "those who call themselves supporters of Israel are actually supporters of its moral degeneration, international isolation, and very possibly ultimate destruction." That's what’s — that’s the course that’s happening. …

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Talking about separating rhetoric from actions, Israel has always claimed that it no longer occupies Gaza. Democracy Now! recently spoke to Joshua Hantman, who’s a senior adviser to the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a former spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Ministry. And Hantman said, quote, "Israel actually left the Gaza Strip in 2005. We removed all of our settlements. We removed the IDF forces. We took out 10,000 Jews from their houses as a step for peace, because Israel wants peace and it extended its hand for peace." Your response?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, several points. First of all, the United Nations, every country in the world, even the United States, regards Israel as the occupying power in Gaza — for a very simple reason: They control everything there. They control the borders, the land, sea, air. They determine what goes into Gaza, what comes out. They determine how many calories Gazan children need to stay alive, but not to flourish. That’s occupation, under international law, and no one questions it, outside of Israel. Even the U.S. agrees, their usual backer. …

As for wanting peace, look back at that so-called withdrawal. Notice that it left Israel as the occupying power. By 2005, Israeli hawks, led by Ariel Sharon, pragmatic hawk, recognized that it just makes no sense for Israel to keep a few thousand settlers in devastated Gaza and devote a large part of the IDF, the Israeli military, to protecting them, and many expenses breaking up Gaza into separate parts and so on. It made no sense to do that. It made a lot more sense to take those settlers from their subsidized settlements in Gaza, where they were illegally residing, and send them off to subsidized settlements in the West Bank, in areas that Israel intends to keep — illegally, of course. That just made pragmatic sense.

And there was a very easy way to do it. They could have simply informed the settlers in Gaza that on August 1st the IDF is going to withdrawal, and at that point they would have climbed into the lorries that are provided to them and gone off to their illegal settlements in the West Bank and, incidentally, the Golan Heights. But it was decided to construct what’s sometimes called a "national trauma." So a trauma was constructed, a theater. It was just ridiculed by leading specialists in Israel, like the leading sociologist — Baruch Kimmerling just made fun of it. And trauma was created so you could have little boys, pictures of them pleading with the Israeli soldiers, "Don’t destroy my home!" and then background calls of "Never again." That means "Never again make us leave anything," referring to the West Bank primarily. And a staged national trauma. What made it particularly farcical was that it was a repetition of what even the Israeli press called "National Trauma ’82," when they staged a trauma when they had to withdraw from Yamit, the city they illegally built in the Sinai. But they kept the occupation. They moved on.

And I’ll repeat what Weissglas said. Recall, he was the negotiator with the United States, Sharon’s confidant. He said the purpose of the withdrawal is to end negotiations on a Palestinian state and Palestinian rights. This will end it. This will freeze it, with U.S. support. And then comes imposition of the diet on Gaza to keep them barely alive, but not flourishing, and the siege. Within weeks after the so-called withdrawal, Israel escalated the attacks on Gaza and imposed very harsh sanctions, backed by the United States. The reason was that a free election took place in Palestine, and it came out the wrong way. Well, Israel and the United States, of course, love democracy, but only if it comes out the way they want. So, the U.S. and Israel instantly imposed harsh sanctions. Israeli attacks, which really never ended, escalated. Europe, to its shame, went along. Then Israel and the United States immediately began planning for a military coup to overthrow the government. When Hamas pre-empted that coup, there was fury in both countries. The sanctions and military attacks increased. And then we’re on to what we discussed before: periodic episodes of "mowing the lawn."

AMY GOODMAN: … What needs to happen right now? The ceasefire will end in a matter of hours, if it isn’t extended. What kind of truce needs to be accomplished here?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, for Israel, with U.S. backing, the current situation is a kind of a win-win situation. If Hamas agrees to extend the ceasefire, Israel can continue with its regular policies, which I described before: taking over what they want in the West Bank, separating it from Gaza, keeping the diet, and so on. If Hamas doesn’t accept the ceasefire, Netanyahu can make another speech like the one you — the cynical speech you quoted earlier. The only thing that can break this is if the U.S. changes its policies, as has happened in other cases. I mentioned two: South Africa, Timor. There’s others. And that’s decisive. If there’s going to be a change, it will crucially depend on a change in U.S. policy here. …

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