cj#1143 >Chomsky on the “Al-Aqsa Intifada”


Richard Moore

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                    AL-AQSA INTIFADA

                    By Noam Chomsky*

After three weeks of virtual war in the Israeli occupied
territories, Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced a new plan
to determine the final status of the region.

During these weeks, over 100 Palestinians were killed,
including 30 children, often by "excessive use of lethal
force in circumstances in which neither the lives of the
security forces nor others were in imminent danger,
resulting in unlawful killings," Amnesty International
concluded in a detailed report that was scarcely mentioned
in the US. The ratio of Palestinian to Israeli dead was then
about 15-1, reflecting the resources of force available.

Barak's plan was not given in detail, but the outlines are
familiar: they conform to the "final status map" presented
by the US-Israel as the basis for the Camp David
negotiations that collapsed in July. This plan, extending
US-Israeli rejectionist proposals of earlier years, called
for cantonization of the territories that Israel had
conquered in 1967, with mechanisms to ensure that usable
land and resources (primarily water) remain largely in
Israeli hands while the population is administered by a
corrupt and brutal Palestinian authority (PA), playing the
role traditionally assigned to indigenous collaborators
under the several varieties of imperial rule: the Black
leadership of South Africa's Bantustans, to mention only the
most obvious analogue. In the West Bank, a northern canton
is to include Nablus and other Palestinian cities, a central
canton is based in Ramallah, and a southern canton in
Bethlehem; Jericho is to remain isolated. Palestinians would
be effectively cut off from Jerusalem, the center of
Palestinian life.

Similar arrangements are likely in Gaza, with Israel keeping
the southern coastal region and a small settlement at
Netzarim (the site of many of  the recent atrocities), which
is hardly more than an excuse for a large military presence
and roads splitting the Strip below Gaza City. These
proposals formalize the vast settlement and construction
programs that Israel has been conducting, thanks to
munificent US aid, with increasing energy since the US was
able to implement its version of the "peace process" after
the Gulf war.

For more on the negotiations and their background, see my
July 25 commentary; and for further background, the
commentary by Alex and Stephen Shalom, Oct. 10. The goal of
the negotiations was to secure official PA adherence to this
project. Two months after they collapsed, the current phase
of violence began. Tensions, always high, were raised when
the Barak government authorized a visit by Ariel Sharon with
1000 police to the Muslim religious sites (Al-Aqsa) on a
Thursday (Sept. 28). Sharon is the very symbol of  Israeli
state terror and aggression, with a rich record of
atrocities going back to 1953. Sharon's announced purpose
was to demonstrate "Jewish sovereignty" over the al-Aqsa
compound, but as the veteran correspondent Graham Usher
points out, the "al-Aqsa intifada," as Palestinians call it,
was not initiated by Sharon's visit; rather, by the massive
and  intimidating police and military presence that Barak
introduced the following day, the day of prayers.
Predictably, that led to clashes as thousands of people
streamed out of the mosque, leaving 7 Palestinians dead and
200 wounded.

Whatever Barak's purpose, there could hardly have been a
more efficient  way to set the stage for the shocking
atrocities of the following weeks.  The same can be said
about the failed negotiations, which focused on Jerusalem, a
condition observed strictly by US commentary. Possibly
Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling was exaggerating when
he wrote that a solution to this problem "could have been
reached in five minutes," but he is right to say that "by
any diplomatic logic [it] should have been the easiest issue
to solve (Ha'aretz, Oct. 4).

It is understandable that Clinton-Barak should want to
suppress what they are doing in the occupied territories,
which is far more important. Why did Arafat agree? Perhaps
because he recognizes that the leadership of the Arab states
regard the Palestinians as a nuisance, and have little
problem with the Bantustan-style settlement, but cannot
overlook administration of the religious sites, fearing the
reaction of their own populations. Nothing could be better
calculated to set off a confrontation with religious
overtones, the most ominous kind, as centuries of experience

The primary innovation of Barak's new plan is that the
US-Israeli demands are to be imposed by direct force instead
of coercive diplomacy, and in a harsher form, to punish the
victims who refused to concede politely. The outlines are in
basic accord with policies established informally in 1968
(the Allon Plan), and variants that have been proposed since
by both political groupings (the Sharon Plan, the Labor
government plans, and others). It is important to recall
that the policies have not only been proposed, but
implemented, with the support of the US. That support has 
been decisive since 1971, when Washington abandoned the
basic diplomatic framework that it had initiated (UN
Security Council Resolution 242), then pursued its
unilateral rejection of Palestinian rights in the years that
followed, culminating in the "Oslo process." Since all of
this has been effectively vetoed from history in the US, it
takes a little work to discover the essential facts. They
are not controversial, only evaded.

As noted, Barak's plan is a particularly harsh version of
familiar US-Israeli rejectionism. It calls for terminating
electricity, water, telecommunications, and other services
that are doled out in meager rations to the Palestinian
population, who are now under virtual siege. It should  be
recalled that independent development was ruthlessly barred
by the military regime from 1967, leaving the people in
destitution and dependency, a process that has worsened
considerably during the US-run "Oslo process."

One reason is the "closures" regularly instituted, must
brutally by the more dovish Labor-based governments. As
discussed by another outstanding journalist, Amira Hass,
this policy was initiated by the Rabin government "years
before Hamas had planned suicide attacks, [and] has been
perfected over the years, especially since the establishment
of the Palestinian National Authority." An efficient
mechanism of strangulation and control, closure has been
accompanied by the importation of an essential commodity to
replace the cheap and exploited Palestinian labor on which
much of the economy relies: hundreds of thousands of illegal
immigrants from around the world, many of them victims of
the "neoliberal reforms" of the recent  years of
"globalization." Surviving in misery and without rights,
they are regularly described as a virtual slave labor force
in the Israeli press.

The current Barak proposal is to extend this program,
reducing still further the prospects even for mere survival
for the Palestinians. A major barrier to the program is the
opposition of the Israeli business community, which relies
on a captive Palestinian market for some $2.5 billion in
annual exports, and has "forged links with Palestinian
security officials" and Arafat's "economic adviser, enabling
them to carve out monopolies with official PA consent"
(Financial Times, Oct. 22; also NYT, same day). They have
also hoped to set up industrial zones in the territories,
transferring pollution and exploiting a cheap labor force in
maquiladora-style installations owned by Israeli enterprises
and the Palestinian elite, who are enriching themselves in
the time-honored fashion.

Barak's new proposals appear to be more of a warning than a
plan, though they are a natural extension of what has come
before. Insofar as they are implemented, they would extend
the project of "invisible transfer" that  has been underway
for many years, and that makes more sense than outright
"ethnic cleansing" (as we call the process when carried out
by official enemies). People compelled to abandon hope and
offered no opportunities for meaningful existence will drift
elsewhere, if they have any chance to do so.

The plans, which have roots in traditional goals of the
Zionist movement from its origins (across the ideological
spectrum), were articulated in internal discussion by
Israeli government Arabists in 1948 while outright ethnic
cleansing was underway: their expectation was that the
refugees "would be crushed" and "die," while "most of them
would turn into human dust and the waste of society, and
join the most impoverished classes in the  Arab countries."
Current plans, whether imposed by coercive diplomacy or
outright force, have similar goals. They are not unrealistic
if they can rely on the world-dominant power and its
intellectual classes.

The current situation is described accurately by Amira Hass,
in Israel's most prestigious daily (Ha'aretz, Oct. 18).
Seven years after the Declaration of Principles in September
1993 -- which foretold this outcome for anyone who chose to
see -- "Israel has security and administrative control" of
most of the West Bank and 20% of the Gaza Strip. It has been
able "to double the number of settlers in 10 years, to
enlarge the settlements, to continue its discriminatory
policy of cutting back water quotas for three million
Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of
the area of the West Bank, and to seal an entire nation into
restricted areas, imprisoned in a network of bypass roads
meant for Jews only. During these days of strict internal
restriction of movement in the West Bank, one can see how
carefully each road was planned: So that 200,000 Jews have
freedom of movement, about three million Palestinians are
locked into their Bantustans until they submit to Israeli
demands. The bloodbath that has been going on for three
weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying and
deception, just as the first Intifada was the natural
outcome of direct Israeli occupation."

The settlement and construction programs continue, with US
support, whoever may be in office. On August 18, Ha'aretz
noted that two governments -- Rabin and Barak -- had
declared that settlement was "frozen," in accord with the
dovish image preferred in the US and by much of the Israeli
left. They made use of the "freezing" to intensify
settlement, including economic inducements for the secular
population, automatic grants for ultra-religious settlers,
and other devices, which can be carried out with little
protest while "the lesser of two evils" happens to be making
the decisions, a pattern hardly unfamiliar elsewhere. "There
is freezing and there is reality," the report observes
caustically. The reality is that settlement inthe occupied
territories has grown over four times as fast as in Israeli
population centers, continuing -- perhaps accelerating --
under Barak.

Settlement brings with it large infrastructure projects
designed to integrate much of the region within Israel,
while leaving Palestinians isolated, apart from "Palestinian
roads" that are travelled at one's peril.   Another
journalist with an outstanding record, Danny Rubinstein,
points out that "readers of the Palestinian papers get the
impression (and rightly so) that activity in the settlements
never stops. Israeli is constantly building, expanding and
reinforcing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and
Gaza. Israel is always grabbing homes and lands in areas
beyond the 1967 lines - and of course, this is all at the
expense of the Palestinians, in order to limit them, push
them into a corner and then out. In other words, the goal is
to eventually dispossess them of their homeland and their
capital, Jerusalem" (Ha'aretz, October 23).

Readers of the Israeli press, Rubinstein continues, are
largely shielded from the unwelcome facts, though not
entirely so. In the US, it is far more important for the
population to be kept in ignorance, for obvious reasons: 
the economic and military programs rely crucially on US
support, which is domestically unpopular and would be far
more so if its purposes were known.

To illustrate, on October 3, after a week of bitter fighting
and killing, the defense correspondent of Ha'aretz reported
"the largest purchase of military helicopters by the Israeli
Air Force in a decade," an agreement with the US to provide
Israel with 35 Blackhawk military helicopters and spare
parts at a cost of $525 million, along with jet fuel,
following the purchase shortly before of patrol aircraft and
Apache attack helicopters.  These are "the newest and most
advanced multi-mission attack helicopters in the US
inventory," the Jerusalem Post adds. It would be unfair to
say that those providing the gifts cannot discover the fact.
In a database search, David Peterson found that they were
reported in the Raleigh (North Carolina) press.  The sale of
military helicopters was condemned by Amnesty International
(Oct. 19), because these "US-supplied helicopters have been
used to violate the human rights of Palestinians and Arab
Israelis during the recent conflict in the region." Surely
that was anticipated, barring advanced cretinism.

Israel has been condemned internationally (the US
abstaining) for "excessive use of force," in a
disproportionate reaction" to Palestinian violence. That
includes even rare condemnations by the ICRC, specifically,
for attackson at least 18 Red Cross ambulances (NYT, Oct 4).
Israel's response is that it is being unfairly singled out
for criticism. The response is entirely accurate. Israel is
employing official US doctrine, known here as "the Powell
doctrine," though it is of far more ancient vintage, tracing
back centuries: Use massive force in response to any
perceived threat.

Official Israeli doctrine allows "the full use of weapons
against anyone who endangers lives and especially at anyone
who shoots at our forces or at Israelis" (Israeli military
legal adviser Daniel Reisner, FT, Oct. 6). Full use of force
by a modern army includes tanks, helicopter gunships,
sharpshooters aiming at civilians (often children), etc. US
weapons sales "do not carry a stipulation that the weapons
can't be used against civilians," a Pentagon official said;
he "acknowleged however that anti-tank missiles and attack
helicopters are not traditionally considered tools for crowd
control" -- except by those powerful enough to get away with
it, under the protective wings of the reigning superpower.
"We cannot second-guess an Israeli commander who calls in a
Cobra (helicopter) gunship because his troops are under
attack," another US official said (Deutsche 
Presse-Agentur,October 3). Accordingly, such killing
machines must be provided in an unceasing flow.

It is not surprising that a US client state should adopt
standard US military doctrine, which has left a toll too
awesome to record, including very recent years. The US and
Israel are, of course, not alone in adopting this doctrine,
and it is sometimes even condemned: namely, when adopted by
enemies targeted for destruction. A recent example is the
response of Serbia when its territory (as the US insists it
is) was attacked by Albanian-based guerrillas, killing Serb
police and civilians and abducting civilians (including
Albanians) with the openly-announced intent of eliciting a
"disproportionate response" that would arouse Western
indignation, then NATO military attack. Very rich
documentation from US, NATO, and other Western sources is
now available, most of it produced in an effort to justify
the bombing. Assuming these sources to be credible, we find
that the Serbian response -- while doubtless
"disproportionate" and criminal, as alleged -- does not
compare with the standard resort to the same doctrine by the
US and its clients, Israel included.

In the mainstream British press, we can at last read that
"If Palestinians were black, Israel would now be a pariah
state subject to economic sanctions led by the United States
[which is not accurate, unfortunately]. Its development and
settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of
apartheid, in which the indigenous population was allowed to
live in a tiny fraction of its own country, in
self-administered `bantustans', with `whites' monopolising
the supply of water and electricity. And just as the black
population was allowed into South Africa's white areas in
disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel's
treatment of Israeli Arabs - flagrantly discriminating
against them in housing and education spending - would be
recognised as scandalous too" (Observer, Guardian, Oct.15).

Such conclusions will come as no surprise to those whose
vision has not been constrained by the doctrinal blinders
imposed for many years. It remains a major task to remove
them in the most important country. That is a prerequisite
to any constructive reaction to the mounting chaos and
destruction, terrible enough before our eyes, and with
long-term implications that are not pleasant to contemplate.

* Noam Chomsky is known throughout the world.  He teaches
Linguistics at M.I.T. More about Chomsky including the
special video documentary "THE NEW WORLD ORDER, LATIN
AMERICA, AND THE MIDDLE EAST", can be found at

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