The MIT linguist and political analyst does a quick recent history of the situation in the region and what Israel hopes to achieve by its successive military assaults on Gaza that are causing outrage and protests in the rest of the world, as this report of a recent rally and demonstration in London demonstrates.
Chomsky writes that when Israel talks of wanting ‘peace’, what it means is that it wants the Palestinians to be quiet while it steadily continues its policies of expropriating Palestinian lands. This is the ‘norm’ that Israel and the US are pursuing.
Israel’s goal had long been a simple one: quiet-for-quiet, a return to the norm (though now it may demand even more). What then is the norm?
For the West Bank, the norm has been that Israel carries forward its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value to it, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to intense repression and violence.
For the past 14 years, the norm has been that Israel kills more than two Palestinian children a week. The latest Israeli rampage was set of by the brutal murder of three Israeli boys from a settler community in the occupied West Bank. A month before, two Palestinian boys were shot dead in the West Bank city of Ramallah. That elicited no attention, which is understandable, since it is routine. “The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence,” the respected Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani reports, “but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.”
He also demolishes the myth promoted by Israel and its supporters of Ariel Sharon’s ‘generous’ withdrawal from Gaza as a peace offering that the Palestinians ungratefully spurned. It was all theater, part of an Israeli-US plan for the continuation of the suppression of Palestinian rights.
For Gaza, the plans for the norm were explained forthrightly by Dov Weissglass, a confidant of Ariel Sharon, the person who negotiated the withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hailed as a grand gesture in Israel and among acolytes and the deluded elsewhere, the withdrawal was in reality a carefully staged “national trauma,” properly ridiculed by informed Israeli commentators, among them Israel’s leading sociologist, the late Baruch Kimmerling.
What actually happened is that Israeli hawks, led by Sharon, realized that it made good sense to transfer the illegal settlers from their subsidized communities in devastated Gaza, where they were sustained at exorbitant cost, to subsidized settlements in the other occupied territories, which Israel intends to keep. But instead of simply transferring them, as would have been simple enough, it was clearly more useful to present the world with images of little children pleading with soldiers not to destroy their homes, amidst cries of “Never Again,” with the implication obvious. What made the farce even more transparent was that it was a replica of the staged trauma when Israel had to evacuate the Egyptian Sinai in 1982. But it played very well for the intended audience at home and abroad.
Weissglass provided his own description of the transfer of settlers from Gaza to other occupied territories: “What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that [the major settlement blocs in the West Bank] would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns” – but a special kind of Finns, who would quietly accept rule by a foreign power. “The significance is the freezing of the political process,” Weissglass continued. “And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with [President Bush’s] authority and permission and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
Weisglass explained further that Gazans would remain “on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger” – which would not help Israel’s fading reputation. With their vaunted technical efficiency, Israeli experts determined precisely how many calories a day Gazans needed for bare survival, while also depriving them of medicines and other means of decent life. Israeli military forces confined them by land, sea and air to what British Prime Minister David Cameron accurately described as a prison camp. The Israeli withdrawal left Israel in total control of Gaza, hence the occupying power under international law. And to close the prison walls even more tightly, Israel excluded Palestinians from a large region along the border, including a third or more of Gaza’s scarce arable land. The justification is security for Israelis, which could be just as well achieved by establishing the security zone on the Israeli side of the border, or more fully, by ending the savage siege and other punishments.
The official story is that after Israel graciously handed Gaza over to the Palestinians, in the hope that they would construct a flourishing state, they revealed their true nature by subjecting Israel to unremitting rocket attack and forcing the captive population to become martyrs to so that Israel would be pictured in a bad light. Reality is rather different.
A few weeks after Israeli troops withdrew, leaving the occupation intact, Palestinians committed a major crime. In January 2006, they voted the wrong way in a carefully monitored free election, handing control of the Parliament to Hamas. The media constantly intone that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. In reality, its leaders have repeatedly made it clear and explicit that Hamas would accept a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus that has been blocked by the US and Israel for 40 years. In contrast, Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Palestine, apart from some occasional meaningless words, and is implementing that commitment. [My emphasis-MS]
Israel can only continue its current policies because it is underwritten economically, militarily, and politically by the US. This is why the Israel lobby works so furiously to silence any critics in the US, though it is getting harder and harder to do so.
Could US policy change? It’s not impossible. Public opinion has shifted considerably in recent years, particularly among the young, and it cannot be completely ignored. For some years there has been a good basis for public demands that Washington observe its own laws and cut off military aid to Israel. US law requires that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Israel most certainly is guilty of this consistent pattern, and has been for many years. That is why Amnesty International, in the course of Israel’s murderous Cast Lead operation in Gaza, called for an arms embargo against Israel (and Hamas). Senator Patrick Leahy, author of this provision of the law, has brought up its potential applicability to Israel in specific cases, and with a well-conducted educational, organizational, and activist effort such initiatives could be pursued successively. That could have a very significant impact in itself, while also providing a springboard for further actions not only to punish Israel for its criminal behavior, but also to compel Washington to become part of “the international community” and to observe international law and decent moral principles.
Nothing could be more significant for the tragic Palestinian victims of many years of violence and repression.
What the recent surge in violence has made clear to the world is the appalling stranglehold that Israel has placed on the people of Gaza and it is clear is that the siege must be lifted.