Chomsky on Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine

Do you agree with the argument that Israel’s military offensive
in Lebanon is “legally and morally justified?” 

CHOMSKY: The invasion is a serious breach of international law and
major war crimes are being committed as it proceeds. There is no
legal justification.  

The “moral justification” is supposed to be that capturing
soldiers in a cross-border raid, and killing others, is an outrageous
crime. We know, for certain, that Israel, the United States, and
other Western governments, as well as the mainstream of articulate
Western opinion, do not believe a word of that. Sufficient evidence
is their tolerance for many years of U.S.backed Israeli crimes in
Lebanon, including four invasions before this one, occupation in
violation of Security Council orders for 22 years, and regular killings
and abductions. 

To mention just one question that every journal should be answering:
When did Nasrallah assume a leadership role? Answer: When the Rabin
government escalated its crimes in Lebanon, murdering Sheikh Abbas
Mussawi and his wife and child with missiles fired from a U.S. helicopter.
Nasrallah was chosen as his successor. Only one of innumerable cases.
There is, after all, a good reason why last February, 70 percent
of Lebanese called for the capture of Israeli soldiers for prisoner

The conclusion is underscored, dramatically, by the current upsurge
of violence, which began after the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit
on June 25. Every published Western “timeline” takes that
as the opening event. Yet the day before, Israeli forces kidnapped
two Gaza civilians, a doctor and his brother, and sent them to the
Israeli prison system where they join innumerable other Palestinians,
many held without charges—hence kidnapped. Kidnapping of civilians
is a far worse crime than capture of soldiers. The Western response
was quite revealing: a few casual comments, otherwise silence. The
major media did not even bother reporting it. That fact alone demonstrates,
with brutal clarity, that there is no moral justification for the
sharp escalation of attacks in Gaza or the destruction of Lebanon,
and that the Western show of outrage about kidnapping is cynical

has been said about Israel’s right to defend itself from its
enemies who are taking advantage of Israel’s withdrawal from
Gaza, causing the latest Arab-Israeli conflict. Do you agree? 

Israel certainly has a right to defend itself, but no state has
the right to “defend” occupied territories. When the World
Court condemned Israel’s “separation wall,” even
a U.S. Justice, Judge Buergenthal, declared that any part of it
built to defend Israeli settlements is “ipso facto in violation
of international humanitarian law,” because the settlements
themselves are illegal. 

The withdrawal of a few thousand illegal settlers from Gaza was
publicly announced as a West Bank expansion plan. It has now been
formalized by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with the support of Washington,
as a program of annexation of valuable occupied lands and major
resources (particularly water) and cantonization of the remaining
territories, virtually separated from one another and from whatever
pitiful piece of Jerusalem will be granted to Palestinians. All
are to be imprisoned, since Israel is to take over the Jordan valley.
Gaza, too, remains imprisoned and Israel carries out attacks there
at will. 

Gaza and the West Bank are recognized to be a unit by the United
States and Israel as well. Therefore, Israel still occupies Gaza
and cannot claim self-defense in territories it occupies in either
of the two parts of Palestine. It is Israel and the United States
that are radically violating international law. They are now seeking
to consummate long-standing plans to eliminate Palestinian national
rights for good. 

The United States has refused to call for an immediate ceasefire,
arguing that this would mean a return to the status quo, yet we
are witnessing a re-occupation of parts of Lebanon and Lebanon’s
rapid decline to political chaos by the current conflict. Is the
U.S. policy correct? 

It is correct from the point of view of those who want to ensure
that Israel, by now virtually an offshore U.S. military base and
high-tech center, dominates the region, without any challenge to
its rule as it proceeds to destroy Palestine. There are side advantages,
such as eliminating any Lebanese-based deterrent if U.S.-Israel
decide to attack Iran. They may also hope to set up a client regime
in Lebanon of the kind that Ariel Sharon sought to create when he
invaded Lebanon in 1982, destroying much of the country and killing
some 15-20,000 people. 

What will be the likely outcome of this “two-pronged”
crisis in Lebanon and the occupied territories? 

We cannot predict much. There are too many uncertainties. One very
likely consequence, as the United States and Israel surely anticipated,
is a significant increase in jihadistyle terrorism as anger and
hatred directed against the United States, Israel, and Britain sweep
the Arab and Muslim worlds. Another is that Nasrallah, whether he
survives or is killed, will become an even more important symbol
of resistance to U.S.-Israeli aggression. Hezbollah already has
a phenomenal 87 percent support in Lebanon, and its resistance has
energized popular opinion to such an extent that even the oldest
and closest U.S. allies have been compelled to say that, “If
the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance, then
only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions
befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare
no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them
to play with fire.” That’s from King Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia, who knows better than to condemn the United States directly. 

What steps do you recommend for the current hostilities to be
brought to an end and a lasting peace established? 

The basic steps are well understood: a cease-fire and exchange of
prisoners; withdrawal of occupying forces; continuation of the “national
dialogue” within Lebanon; and acceptance of the very broad
international consensus on a two-state settlement for Israel-Palestine,
which has been unilaterally blocked by the United States and Israel
for 30 years. There is, as always, much more to say, but those are
the essentials.


Chomsky is professor of linguistics at MIT and author of numerous
books. His latest is

Failed States: The Abuse of Power
and the Assault on Democracy

(2006). Kaveh Afrasiabi is
the founder and director of Global Interfaith Peace and author of

After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign

(Westview Press). This interview appeared on the
Information Clearing House website, August 7, 2006.