December 11, 2012
Full audio of interview can be found at http://www.AirOccupy.com
Air Occupy radio show interviews Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics & Philosophy. In addition to authoring groundbreaking work in the field of linguistics, Professor Chomsky is a prolific writer and speaker on many topics, including foreign policy, media, politics, and war. He has been a vocal supporter of the Occupy movement, and in May, he published a pamphlet of talks entitled "Occupy" through Zuccotti Park Press/Occupied Media Pamphlet Series.
Liz, Jerry, and Shannon talk with Professor Chomsky about Gaza, Palestine, and Israel; media and propaganda; Occupy 2.0 and the Labor movement.
Professor Noam Chomsky: Okay.
LM: We want to thank you for coming on. We're very excited to talk to you, and we have a whole host of questions. I think that we wanted to start in the Middle East, and talk about your recent trips to Gaza. Jerry had a question for you.
Jerry Bolkcom [JB]: You know I don't think that we really get here as consumers of corporate media, generally the public here, gets a good impression of what it's like for Palestinians living in Gaza. I think recently when you returned, you described Gaza as "the largest open air prison in the world," and I wonder if you might share some reflections from your trip with our listeners.
Professor Chomsky: Well, actually that characterization of Gaza is not really mine. It is a very common one, and it's correct. Gaza is under a tight siege: land, sea, and air. It's possible for Gazans to get out, but extremely difficult and under great limitations. Most Gazans just have no way of getting out. They can't. It's a very, it's a pretty small, it's very densely populated. It's one of the most densely populated places of the world. Gazans can't even approach their borders. Israel has imposed a restriction, which takes somewhere between a third and a half of Gaza's arable land near the borders, and any one who goes there gets shot. Also, Israel's - when you stand on the sea coast, you can hear the machine guns firing as Israeli ship and navy vessels are driving fisherman toward the shore. Not for any security reasons, but so they won't be able to fish. Of the area close to the shore, within a couple kilometers of the shoreline where they are allowed to be, is mostly highly polluted because the sewage and power systems have been bombed and destroyed, and there's restrictions on bringing in construction materials that make it impossible to rebuild them. So people are just trapped.
You know, they are resilient. They continue their lives, but I think there's nothing else like it except a prison camp. And its kept at a - there is some wealth... It is like a kind of third world country. You find pockets of considerable wealth, you know, like in stores and so on, but incredible misery. People living in, you can't even call them barely huts. There are broken tin roofs, dirt floors, and children playing in the dirt outside. And that's most of the country. You can't really call it an undeveloped country. Scholars who work on it, Sara Roy in particular, have called it more accurately a de-developed country. If you go back to 1948 it was on its way to become a relatively flourishing Mediterranean society. It has beautiful beaches, agricultural land, agricultural production. It could have flourished, but its been, as she says, "de-developed" since then. So, now you can kind of survive but not much beyond that. When you go to the hospitals, there is a very serious shortage of simple medicines and simple surgical equipment. In fact, on the eve of this latest killing spree, the U.N. estimated about 50% of essential medicines were lacking. You can't bring them in through Israel, and Egypt has allowed some things in, not as much as it should. It is living just above the level of survival for most people. And of course, it is separated from the West Bank - that is, the rest of Palestine. The Oslo Accords, twenty years ago, determined that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity which cannot be separated. The U.S. signed onto that, but by that time, already the U.S. and Israel were working to separate them from one another. By now, they are totally separated. A Gazan who needs medical aid that can't be provided in Gaza would like to go to a Jerusalem hospital, at first will have to go through a ton a bureaucracy - Israeli bureaucracy - and then they'll probably never be allowed to leave. They may die before they get there. People can't visit families, so that they are totally separated from Palestine. They are cut off from anything else except for those who can struggle their way - with considerable difficulty - through the Egyptian border.
That's Gaza. It has been punished quite harshly for a long time, but the punishment picked up severely in January 2006. What happened then is that there was a free election, carefully monitored, recognized to be free and fair. But the U.S. and Israel didn't like the way it came out. Hamas won the election. Israel and the U.S. didn't like that, so they immediately turned to quite heavy punishment of the population for voting the wrong way. The United States also initiated, at that time, standard operating procedure for when there is a government you don't like: organize a military coup. So it began to organize a military coup using Fatah strong-man Muhammad Dahlan. The coup was preempted a year before it could take place, and Hamas took over Gaza. Beating back the military coup was considered an even greater crime than voting the wrong way in a free election, so the punishment increased severely. The punishment is first of all violence: a lot of killing. Israel is attacking all the time and killing people - thousands of people have been killed. And the siege, which is the way I described and also prevents almost anything from coming in except absolute essentials. Now there is a tunnel economy, tunnels going under the Egyptian border, which Israel tolerates because it sort of keeps the population alive. They don't want everyone to starve to death; it wouldn't look good. So the tunnel economy keeps people alive and does bring in some wealth for a small sector of the population. That's what gives it this Third World look.
LM: Professor Chomsky, given the history and the siege and the fact that Palestine is divided into multiple parts, do you see any way to peace?
Professor Chomsky: There's a lot of complicated problems in the world where you can barely think of the solution - you can run through them alphabetically. But this one happens to be very simple: there's an overwhelming international consensus - there has been for decades - on how the problem should be settled, at least a short-term solution. Namely, there should be a two-state settlement on the internationally-recognized border with - the phrase is - "minor and mutual modifications." The phrase is taken from official U.S. government policy from 1967 up 'til the mid-70s when the U.S. basically departed from the world on this issue. That option has been on the table for thirty-five years. In 1976, the major Arab states - Jordan, Syria, and Egypt - brought a proposal like that to the Security Council. Two states on the international border with guarantees for - I'm virtually quoting - guarantees for the right of each state to exist in peace and security within secure and recognized borders. That's the core of the proposal. The U.S. vetoed it. There was a similar proposal in 1980; the U.S. vetoed it. And it continues like that until the present. The U.S.'s backing - participating and backing - the settlement programs which are: first of all, the separation of Gaza from the West Bank; the siege of Gaza and regular attacks on Gaza; and the cantonization of the West Bank.
In the West Bank, Israel has been, since 1967, systematically taking over parts of the West Bank that it wants: the parts that are valuable, the areas near its border. They are now fenced behind what's called a "separation fence" - although it's actually an annexation wall - which includes a good bit of the arable land, most of the water resources, the nice suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Then there's the corridors cutting through the rest. One major one - first of all, what's called "Jerusalem" is far bigger than it ever was. It was greatly expanded, and it was annexed by Israel in violation of Security Council orders. The corridors essentially break up the rest of the West Bank into cantons. Israel is, meanwhile, taking over the Jordan Valley, which kind of encloses, imprisons the rest. They are essentially taking over maybe forty to fifty percent of the West Bank. Incidentally, all of this is flatly illegal, not even any controversy about it. It's in violation of specific Security Council orders; the International Court of Justice has declared it to be in violation of fundamental international law. I mean, even the Israeli government back in 1967, its leading legal experts, including its Attorney General, recognized this as illegal, but they can go ahead as long as the United States helps.
Right now, if you read today's newspapers, right now you'd see that there's controversy over what is called the "E1 Corridor." Israel developed a big town, Ma'aleh Adumim, right in the middle of the West Bank. This was mostly built under Clinton with the clear purpose of bisecting the West Bank. It extends almost to Jericho, which is a town that is left under Palestinian control. The one place which is not connected is the corridor between Ma'aleh Adumim and greater Jerusalem - that's E1. Israel has been trying to settle it for decades, but every U.S. president prior to Obama has prevented it. Now they said again they were going to do it, and Obama hasn't said much except some mild criticisms about how its not helpful. If he allows them to do it, he'll be the first one. That will finish the bisection of the West Bank, except for towns like Bethlehem, from Ramallah up to the north.
So what will be left is isolated cantons which will contain most of the Palestinians. So the areas that Israel is taking over either have very few Palestinians, or those who are there are being driving out. When this program is completed, what will ultimately be an accident, Israel won't cause what they call a "demographic problem": too many non-Jews in a Jewish state. So there won't be any civil rights struggle, any anti-apartheid struggle, any of the things people talk about it. But it will leave the Palestinians essentially nothing and separated from Gaza. Even under the two-state proposal that virtually the entire world supports, Gaza would be the outlet to the outside world. What the West Bank has is contained within Israel and Jordan, so Gaza would be the outlet to the outside world, but that is blocked. That's where there would be a seaport, an airport, and so on. Actually, there are seaports, but they can't be used, and there was an airport, but it can't be used because Israel won't allow it - and that means that the U.S. and Israel won't allow it. So that's essentially the situation.
JB: I wonder if you might address the notion that we hear a lot about, that the U.S. should or could play a role in the peace process as some sort of arbiter, if that's even possible given the history of bias towards one side.
Professor Chomsky: That's what people say, but its a sign of the power of the propaganda system because it makes absolutely no sense. It's like saying that if there are conflicts in Iraq - as there are - between Shiites and Sunnis, Iran should mediate them. If anybody proposed that, you would laugh. Iran is on the side of one of the two contending parties. The United States is a participant, not just on the side of Israel, but a direct participant with Israel in blocking a political settlement. If there were to be serious negotiations, they would have to be by some neutral party that has some degree of international credibility, maybe Brazil. On one side would be the U.S. and Israel, and on the other side would be the rest of the world. Those would be serious negotiations. But the power of propaganda and doctrine in the United States and Western Europe is so extreme that truisms like this cannot be understood.
Shannon McLeish [SM]: In [your book] Media Control, you said that, "Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state." I know that is an oft-quoted passage, but I don't think that, by and large, Americans really understand that we're being fed propaganda.
Professor Chomsky: There's various kinds of propaganda systems. There's the kind that they had in Russia in the old days, which was overt. The government said here's what your are supposed to believe. Okay, so maybe people would accept it, maybe not, but they had no doubt as to where it was coming from. A sophisticated propaganda system won't do that. It won't state the doctrines you are supposed to believe. It will just presuppose them, so they become kind of like the air your breath. That's the basis for discussion, then we have debate within those limits. So we can debate the question you asked before: should the U.S. get more involved, shouldn't it get more involved. We can debate that because both sides accept that it's legitimate for the U.S. to run the negotiations. And that's the propaganda line. Of course it's not legitimate, but since it's accepted on all sides, people don't even see it as propaganda. This happens on issue after issue.
Take domestic issues: the big issue is the deficit. What do we do about the deficit? In the political system, in Washington, in the media - huge problem - what do we do about the deficit? And then you have various suggestions about what to do about the deficit. Take a look at public opinion. Public opinion does not regard the deficit as a major problem. The people regard joblessness as the problem, and they are right. The deficit is not a major problem, but the deficit is important to the banks and the other financial institutions. They are very powerful so therefore we only discuss the deficit.
Take another Middle East issue, a really critical one. If you listened to the last presidential debate, you are a masochist. [Laughs] You noticed that one issue came up over and over: the greatest threat to world peace is Iran's nuclear programs. Okay now, that's just repeated in the political system, in the press, its just taken for granted. It's as obvious as the sun rises in the morning. Well, there are a couple of questions to ask about that, if you can extricate yourself from the doctrinal system. First of all, who thinks so? It turns out it's a Western obsession. People in the Arab world don't think so. In fact, they don't regard Iran as much of a threat. They regard the U.S. and Israel as the main threats. The nonaligned countries - that's most of the world - they don't think so. The Indians and so on, they don't regard Iran as a major threat. It's the U.S. and its allies. Second question is, lets admit that it's a threat: if you believe it is, how could you deal with it? Well, there's a very simple way of dealing with it ... you could move towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region with inspections and so on. That's quite feasible. In fact, that can be done at this moment. Right now, there's supposed to be an international conference in Finland to carry forward this proposal, which is supported by almost the entire world.
Alright, here's your recent events that took place in the last few weeks, which almost nobody knows about because they weren't reported. In early November, Iran said it would attend the conference. Israel had already indicated it wouldn't attend the conference. Immediately after Iran said it would attend the conference, Obama cancelled the conference. Immediately after that, the Arab states and the nonaligned movement pressed again to re-institute the conference. Nothing happening; it won't happen. Shortly after that, the U.S. carried out a nuclear weapons test, which was protested. That's what's going on before our eyes, and that's the simple way to deal with whatever anyone thinks the threat is. I don't know if you would call that propaganda, but it is very effective subordination to power on the part of the educated community and the media system.
LM: I have a question for you... talking about media. In the past 10 years, we've moved a lot of media to social media and to online Twitter, Facebook, a lot of live streaming - Occupy does a lot of live streaming - and I was wondering: do you think this has democratized some of the media, so that it is available to more? Or do you think that it's made it more disparate, or harder to get a clear picture because its coming from so many different sources?
Professor Chomsky: The social media have been very valuable. As you say, Occupy uses them. In Egypt, the protesters relied on them, and most activist movements use them for almost everything: information, annoucements, organization. And they do allow people to say things freely that they would have no way of saying. But on the other hand, they don't compensate for lack of free, independent, major media. You and I could have a Twitter account, but we can't have correspondents in the Middle East, and we can reach scattered and selected sectors of the population, but not most people. So it's useful, and it has very many positive effects. It also has some very negative effects. I can just tell from mail I receive - I receive a ton of email, hundreds of letters a day, and I try to answer. But an assistant pointed out to me recently that a lot of the letters are getting very short. In fact, she pointed out to me that a lot of them are basically Twitter messages. Well, what does that mean? That means that some body is walking on the street, and a thought comes to your mind. Instead of thinking about it, you write a message to somebody and ask them to answer it. It becomes very superficial -
LM: - dumbed down, in a way -
Professor Chomsky: - I think a lot - personally, I don't happen to use a lot of social media. I'm an old-fashioned and conservative. But the impression that I get is that it sort of has an effect of trivializing relationships among people. It keeps them pretty superficial. And it has to because of the nature of the medium. Now that doesn't mean we shouldn't use them. In fact, I think that they are very valuable. We should recognize them for what they are. They don't substitute for face-to-face contact, for a serious interaction, and for a major media. In fact, one of the main contributions of Occupy, I thought, was that it brought people together in face-to-face contact. People were actually working together to do something in common, with mutual support, with solidarity, and that's something that's pretty much missing in this society. In fact, very much missing. And there's nothing like direct interaction to carry forward these central things. Community interaction, not just two individuals.
LM: You brought up Occupy, and I know you wrote a book that was published in May entitled Occupy, and it was published through the Zuccotti Park Press and the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series. Since your book was published, the Occupy movement has kind of gone under an evolution - its revolution under evolution - and we've had things like Occupy Sandy, the Debt Strike and Rolling Jubilee, and a lot of foreclosure actions in -
SM: - Occupy Our Homes -