September 19, 2006

Commentary From Noam Chomsky

The editors of this blog asked Noam Chomsky to comment on Thomas Friedman’s "Land for NATO" editorial in the September 13th edition of the New York Times.  The following is Mr. Chomsky’s response.

I’ve been asked for comments on Thomas Friedman’s "Land For NATO" editorial, NYT, Sept. 13, 2006.

Friedman’s main point is that the UN force in Southern Lebanon offers a possible model for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians: "Israel withdraws and the border is secured by a force that is U.N. on the outside but NATO on the inside."

Friedman’s thesis is based on two crucial tacit assumptions.  The first is that “the border is secured” for Israel; the problem of security arises for Israel, not for the Palestinians and Lebanese.  The second is that Israel has been willing to withdraw from the occupied territories if security is guaranteed, or would even contemplate that possibility.

The first assumption is too bizarre to discuss.  Given the balance of means of violence and the record of how they have been used to crush and destroy, the fact that the issue of security can be posed in such terms – worse, conceived as self-evident — is a testimonial to imperial mentality so deeply rooted in the culture of the powerful as to be virtually invisible.  But fact it is, and it is unfair to single Friedman out to illustrate this malady.

Let us then turn to the second and more specific assumption.  Unless a credible argument is presented for it, Friedman’s thesis is worthless.  Since he offers no argument, there is nothing to refute, but we can consider some of the obstacles that would lie in the path of presenting the missing argument.

Since the 1970s, there has been a very broad international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international border within the context of a general peace treaty that adopts the wording of UN 242 on recognized borders and security guarantees.  Some have rejected the consensus.  The leaders of the rejectionist camp have been Israel and the United States, apart from pro forma declarations undercut at once by actions.  Unless the US radically shifts course and joins the rest of the world in accepting a settlement in these terms, there is no reason to expect Israel to change course.  The record has been amply documented elsewhere, and there is no need to review it here.

The PLO has officially endorsed this position for decades, as have the major Arab states.  Their stand was reformulated still more strongly in the 2002 Arab League proposal for normalization of relations with Israel within a two-state settlement.  In 2003, Iran offered to negotiate a two-state settlement, with the endorsement of “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei, who sets Iranian policy.  Khamenei recently declared that Iran supports the Arab League 2002 initiative for normalization of relations with Israel; the timing suggests that it may have been a reprimand to his subordinate Ahmadinejad.  Hamas has clearly indicated that it supports negotations for a settlement in these terms, and called on Israel to accept the long-term truce that Hamas had observed for a year and a half despite continuing Israeli violence and harsh repression.

Unilateral US-Israeli rejectionism is not just words, but more important, actions.  US-supported Israeli settlement and infrastructure projects in the occupied territories, which undermine the prospects for such a settlement, continued steadily through the Oslo years, peaking in 2000, Clinton’s last year and Prime Minister Barak’s.  With Bush-Sharon, the programs accelerated further.  Sharon’s “Gaza disengagement” plan was an openly-announced West Bank expansion plan.  Reduced to a disaster area by brutal Israeli occupation, Gaza was to be turned into what Israeli human rights groups call “the world’s largest prison,” where Israel would be free to carry out attacks at will, as it has done.  When the US and Israel decided to punish Palestinians severely last February for voting the wrong way in a free election, Israel stepped up attacks, tightened the imprisonment, and withheld desperately needed funds it was obligated to provide, and even cut off water to the Strip, which suffers from severe water shortages.  The few thousand Jewish settlers there, who had been given much of the arable land and precious water supplies and were protected by a large part of the Israeli army, were removed to other parts of the occupied territories, where Israel expanded its illegal programs of annexation, dismemberment and imprisonment, now under the cynical guise of “convergence.” Israel is annexing valuable Palestinian lands and resources (primarily water) behind its Separation Wall – now in effect an Annexation Wall — declared illegal by the World Court.  US Justice Buergenthal, in a separate statement, declared the Wall to be “ipso facto” illegal insofar as it is built to protect Israeli settlements: about 80-85% of the wall.  Huge infrastructure projects and settlements dismember the shrinking territories remaining to Palestinians into cantons that are virtually separated from one another and from whatever sliver of Jerusalem might be left to Palestinians – traditionally, the center of their commercial, educational, cultural and political life.  The unviable cantons are imprisoned with Israeli takeover of the Jordan Valley.

Gaza and the West Bank are regarded as a unit, by the US and Israel as well.  Therefore, if resistance to these programs and their implementation is legitimate in the West Bank – and it would be interesting to hear a counter-argument – then it is in Gaza too.

These programs are not designed to enhance Israeli security.  The goal, scarcely concealed, is to enrich Israel and extend its regional dominance, drive the last nails into the coffin of Palestinian national rights, and safeguard the “demographic balance,” so that Israel can remain a Jewish state, not the state of its citizens.  The US and Israel are surely aware that their policies create bitter resentment and hostility to Israel, hence intensify the threats to its security, just as they know that the recent destruction of Lebanon is likely to create new generations of Jihadis, as did the Iraq invasion, predictably.  Israeli security would surely be enhanced by the kind of peace settlement that the US and Israel have rejected for over 30 years, with brief and rare departures.

The US-Israeli preference for expansion over security has been clear since 1971, when Israel rejected Egyptian president Sadat’s peace offer, offering nothing to the Palestinians, and in accord with official US policy.  Israel considered the offer, but rejected it with US support, preferring expansion to security: at the time, primarily expansion into the northeastern Sinai, where thousands of farmers were expelled into the desert to prepare ground for the all-Jewish city of Yamit and other settlements.  That was the immediate background for the 1973 war, a very close call for Israel.  The pattern has continued since.  It is, of course, not unique to Israel.  Nor is Israel alone, or even unusual, in pleading security to mask quite different goals – a virtual reflex for systems of power that should never be accepted without critical examination.

Just to keep to the parts of the record that Friedman knows from personal experience, when he was Jerusalem correspondent for the Times 20 years ago he was reading headlines in the mainstream Hebrew press saying “Arafat indicates to Israel that he is ready to enter into direct negotiations” for political settlement, firmly rejected by Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other leading figures of both political groupings.  A few days later Friedman reported Peres’s laments that there is no “peace movement” among the “Arab people” as “we have among the Jewish people,” and that the PLO “refuses to negotiate.” This charade has persisted for decades.  Friedman’s latest column is just another familiar chapter.

Friedman refers correctly to the UN force in southern Lebanon.  Why there, and not northern Israel?  That unquestioned decision reflects power, not justice.  Clearly it is Lebanon that needs a deterrent against Israeli attacks, just as Palestinians need a deterrent to Israeli violence and repression.  For Lebanon, the invasion in 2006 was the fifth in 30 years, each murderous and destructive.  In 2000, Israel finally accepted the Security Council demand 22 years earlier that it withdraw from Lebanon, though only partially.  UNIFIL recorded almost daily violations of Lebanese territory, but not a single rocket firing from Lebanon in 6 years attributed to Hezbollah (with one possible exception, source undetermined).  The Israeli invasions, including the latest one, can hardly be justified on security grounds.  The most vicious was in 1982, undertaken to fend off embarrassing PLO peace proposals that were a “veritable catastrophe” for Israel, as pointed out at once by Israel’s leading academic specialist on the Palestinians, Yehoshua Porath – no dove.  At the highest levels, the invasion was recognized to be a war for the West Bank.  Friedman, however, preferred the Israeli propaganda version: the invasion was to protect northern Israel from Palestinian rockets.  In reality, the PLO had adhered to the US-negotiated cease-fire despite extensive and often murderous Israeli violations, which appeared to be an effort to provoke some reaction that could be used as a pretext for the planned invasion.  When no such pretext could be found, Israel simply invaded, killing some 15-20,000 people and destroying much of southern Lebanon and Beirut.  Pretexts for the other invasions, including the latest one, collapse on the slightest examination, as has been extensively documented.

In the same column, Friedman assures us that “There was absolutely no reason for the Hezbollah attack on July 12 across the U.N.-recognized Israel-Lebanon border, in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two abducted” – five of the eight killed within Lebanon.  He does not explain why he rejects the conclusions of Israeli and Lebanese commentators (cited elsewhere) that its goals were those it officially announced: exchange of prisoners and a gesture of support for Palestinians under increasingly merciless attack.  The US-backed Israeli invasion sought to eliminate a Lebanon-based deterrent to possible US aggression against Iran, and to destroy Hezbollah, which offers the only meaningful support for Palestinians under Israeli attack and facing what Hebrew University sociologist Baruch Kimmerling calls “politicide.” These reasons alone provide a plausible explanation of the indiscriminate US-Israeli attack against the civilian society, which led to an astonishing 87% support for Hezbollah resistance.  Reviewing Lebanese opinion in the last days of the war, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the leading Lebanese academic specialist on Hezbollah (and no supporter of the organization) wrote that “Hizbullah’s `logic of resistance’ and deterrence has been both vindicated and demonstrated. It has stepped in to fill the huge political and military vacuum left by the state, the resistance’s ongoing counter-attacks paralysing Israel on the ground. The Lebanese reject the self- designated role that US and Israeli officials have taken on as spokespersons for the Lebanese, along with their purported favour of ridding the Lebanese, once and for all, of Hizbullah.”

Like others, Friedman regards Israel’s invasion as justified by the capture of the two soldiers on July 12, but neither he, nor anyone, has ever suggested that Israel should repeatedly have been invaded and largely destroyed in retaliation for its regular practice of kidnapping Lebanese and Palestinian civilians – a far more severe crime than capture of soldiers — holding them for many years, sometimes in secret prison/torture chambers, sometimes as hostages.  This is hardly ancient history.  Israel’s latest sharp escalation of its attacks in Gaza followed the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, and was justified as retaliation for this atrocity.  One day earlier, on June 24, Israeli forces kidnapped two Gaza civilians, the Muammar brothers, who have disappeared into the Israeli prison system, joining almost 1000 others held without charge – hence kidnapped.  No one suggested that Israel should be invaded in retaliation for the kidnapping of the Muammar brothers on June 24 – again, a far more severe crime than the capture of a soldier.  Such examples, which abound, reveal that the support for Israel’s escalated attack on Gaza and invasion of Lebanon are cynical fraud, again undermining the security pretense.

Friedman also assures us that Hezbollah attacked “claiming among its goals the liberation of Jerusalem, and using missiles provided by an Iranian regime that says Israel should be wiped off the map.” Hence “Israel had to respond resolutely.” As noted, the Iranian regime has declared its support for the Arab League plan for normalization of relations with Israel, a plan that the US and Israel do not even go so far as to reject: they dismiss it with contempt.  And Friedman fails to inform us that Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has repeatedly stated that if Palestinians accept a two-state settlement, then Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese organization, will not disrupt it.

It continues the same way, following an all-too-familiar script.  Whatever conclusions one draws about those participating in the torment of the region, at least they should not be based on rejection of the most crucial facts.

Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. Thank you Dr. Chomsky for such an informative rebuttal. If NYT is truly fair, it should consider printing this piece.
    I wish more Americans could read your writings and make informed decisions.

  2. Suggested reading: America: Beacon or Bully, by Shadia B. Drury, in Free Inquiry, vol.26 no.55, pp. 59-62, Aug-September, 2006, a book review of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, by Francis Fukuyama. Dr Drury succinctly summarizes the history and definition of hegemony as described by Kant, refined by Alexandre Kojeve, finally hailed by Fukuyama as ” the End of History!” Professor Chomsky could easily include Doctor Drury’s article in one of his recent books to add an historical perspective to his excellent works.
    Edwin. D Savlov

  3. Chomsky visited Lebanon just two months before the July conflict began. There he applauded Hezbollah’s flouting of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the group to disarm. His rationale? That the Lebanese army was too weak to deter Israel from invading. Of course, the flip side is that the Lebanese army wouldn’t have done anything to precipitate a full-scale Israeli invasion!
    I’m reminded that after Israel’s Jenin incursion in 2002, a writer for Electronic Intifada chided Hamas (whose suicide attack triggered the incursion) by saying that Hezbollah wouldn’t have made such a mistake. Guess he was wrong.
    As to the suggestion above that the NY Times should consider publishing Chomsky’s reply to Friedman, I’m afraid the poster was being too kind. Quite frankly, Chomsky’s response doesn’t rise to the paper’s intellectual standards. One example: his claim that Friedman’s assumption that UN forces should go on the Lebanese side of the border “reflects power, not justice.” More plausibly, it reflects the fact that the Lebanses Armed Forces have been too weak to deploy in Hezbollah territory.
    Last, as for Hezbollah’s official explanation for its July 12th attack, it’s hard to believe that Chomsky doesn’t know that the attack was planned nearly a year in advance, that the main operatives received training in Iran, or that their first attempt (several months earlier) resulted in the deaths of several Hezbollah operatives. “Solidarity with the Palestinians” is touching, but totally unconvincing.

  4. This is a FANTASTIC rebuttal of the nonsense that Zionist hack Friedman spews forth in the New York Times with routine regularity. A great job by Chomsky; keep up the great work of telling the painful but essential truths that this country needs to hear!

  5. What I would like to know is what was Britian and America’s role in the invasion of Lebanon. We famously saw at a conference Tony Blair and Bush II caught slating Kofi Annan (when they thought the microphones were off), but what was thier role in all this?

  6. Thank you, Mr. Chomsky, from the bottom of my heart. Having lived in Lebanon as a youth for 2 years (now 54), I have had a life-long affinity and concern for that country and her people. I am sickened by this latest incursion, not to mention the death, destruction and pollution(oil slick extending the length of Lebanon’s beautiful coastline – cleanup hindered by Israeli blockades). Our family had Palestinian friends and coworkers. I have also been blessed with many jewish and Israeli friends. Justice is justice, and it is never served by imperialism, occupation and prejudice. Thank you, Mr. Chomsky. in peace, Kate of The Radio Kiosk

  7. As he nimbly skirts the real question, Chomsky’s impressive dexterity is on full display:
    (The Real Question: Did Hezbollah have Lebanon’s interests in mind when it launched the unprovoked attack of July 12th?)
    Most likely, Friedman had the Real Question in mind when he claimed that there was no reason for the attack.

  8. Ten Tough Facts Chomsky Needs to Chew On:
    1. Six years before Hezbollah’s recent series of cross-border raids, the UN certified Israel’s withdrawal to the internationally recognized border with Lebanon.
    2. Prior to Israel’s certified withdrawal, Hezbollah insisted that its violence was merely “resistance” to Israeli occupation.
    3. After Israel’s withdrawal, Hezbollah began to say that Israel’s continued presence in the Sheba Farms justified further armed resistance.
    4. Under international law, the Sheba Farms is part of the Golan Heights, and its fate is linked to the resolution of hostilities between Israel and Syria.
    5. Hassan Nasrallah has publicly acknowledged that the Sheba Farms is just a pretext for continuing its armed struggle against Israel.
    6. Hezbollah is officially dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
    7. Despite its professions of solidarity with the Palestinians, Hezbollah has shown that it is not above meddling in Palestinian affairs when this suits Tehran.
    8. Lebanon is now serving as a proxy front for Iran, and a storage site for missiles to be used in furthering Iranian (not Hezbollah’s, not Lebanon’s) interests.
    9. The Hezbollah state within a state precludes any hope of a sovereign Lebanon.
    10. Chomsky has not yet shown any sign of remorse for publicly supporting Hezbollah’s refusal to disarm, even after all the harm Hezbollah has wrought by doing Tehran’s bidding.

  9. Mr Harris, backs up Chomsky’s argument beautifully even whilst being blinded by the rhetoric of a failed State. Namely…there is no country any where called PALESTINE. Even though there appears to be many Palestinians using democracy to elect Hezbollah. I believe that any population being exterminated by another has the right to bear arms.
    I am not an academic, merely a citizen from the coaltion of the willing and his comments disturb me.
    My apologies for even giving a reply, but I felt someone of little standing responding to his illogical comments is fitting.

  10. Chomsky is like a razor, but the article by Friedman is not surprising: he still believes “The World is Flat”…


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