By Noam Chomsky and Assaf Kfoury
Noam Chomsky’s ZSpace Page
February 09, 2009
For more than three weeks, starting December 27th, Gaza and its 1.5 million people bore the brunt of a massive Israeli military campaign, supported and abetted by the US government. While Israel has now stopped its devastating air and ground operations in Gaza, it continues the total blockade from both the land and the sea, still pursuing the futile goal of trying to destroy Hamas and allied resistance groups by punishing the population around them.
Noam Chomsky gives a preliminary assessment of the US-Israel war on Gaza and its consequences in an interview conducted by Assaf Kfoury on January 31, 2009. The Arabic translation of the interview will appear in the Beirut daily as-Safir.
The public response in the US
AK: From the carnage in Gaza in recent weeks, there is a silver lining in the US, at least at the popular level. The devastation of Gaza has elicited something different, compared to the Lebanon war of 2006, or the Lebanon war of 1982, or other episodes of violence visited by Israel on Palestinians and Lebanese.
This time, for the first time perhaps, the public response in the US has been closer to the public response outside the US. Greater sympathy and support for the Palestinians, more criticism and anger at Israel’s actions. There were almost daily protests and demos, in major cities in the US, closer to the kind of public expressions we had been accustomed to see in Europe, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.
This time, for example, we have seen significant participation in the US of Jewish groups in support of the Palestinians and against the Israeli government. We had never seen it before, certainly not to the same extent. This kind of participation has been coming through, not always in the mainstream media to be sure, but through alternative media channels on the Internet. For example, when 8 Jewish activists chained themselves and obstructed entrance to the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles while others carried signs reading “Closed For War Crimes” on January 14, the news came through the alternative channels, but not the New York Times, Washington Post and other major newspapers in the US.
Is this an exaggeration of the public response? And if it is not, can it be developed into a popular movement and, by extension, an effective pressure group on policy-makers?
NC: You are quite right that there was a difference in the reaction, a very noticeable difference, and that might turn out to be important. Many people, even knowing little about the matter, were revolted by the savage cruelty and cowardice of the IDF, brutally attacking defenseless people locked in a cage.
But we have to be careful in assessing the popular reaction. Most people are unaware of anything beyond the highly sanitized version that passes through media filters. Al-Jazeera is effectively barred in the US, so there was little direct visual reporting. And while the reality cannot be totally concealed, it is presented in fragments, and within a framework of apologetics — and of course portrays the US as an innocent bystander, dedicated to peace and justice, as always.
The strong and principled reaction is from a select part of the population. Polls showed a pretty even split between support for the invasion and opposition to it, and the opposition is mostly on grounds of “disproportion.” More revealing are the polls after the war ended — ended theoretically, that is; it is continuing, bitterly, though the facts are scarcely reported. A CNN poll on Jan. 24 found that 60% supported Israel, 17% the Palestinians. 63% felt that Israeli military action was justified, 30% disagreed. A Pew poll had rather similar results (Bloomberg News, Jan. 24).
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I agree that America has been far too willing to accept Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. But until a strong majority of Palestinians are willing too accept a two-state solution I see no way to solve the problem. Unfortunately, Israel’s shift to the political right has made peace seem very far away.