Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 5: The Utility of Interpretations Segment 5/11
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The news reports and commentary did not call upon witnesses from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, Angola, southern Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere to share their insights into Shultz's "visceral contempt for terrorism" and the "strong feelings" in Congress about the resort to violence. Rather, the media warned soberly that "Yasser Arafat is not your ordinary politically controversial visa applicant: his group kills people."29 Arafat is thus quite unlike Adolfo Calero, José Napoleón Duarte and his cohorts, or Yitzhak Shamir, among the many leaders whom we welcome from abroad because, one must assume, they do not "kill people."

Those who might have expected the media to take the occasion to review George Shultz's record of advocacy and support for terrorism, perhaps raising the question of whether there might be a note of hypocrisy in his "personal statement" or the media interpretation of it, would have been sorely disappointed. As in totalitarian states, however, cartoonists had greater latitude, and were able to depict the leaders who Shultz may have had in mind when he lamented that "people are forgetting what a threat international terrorism is": France's Mitterand, who "forgot when we sank the Greenpeace ship"; Britain's Thatcher, who "forgot when we had those IRA blokes shot at Gibraltar"; the USSR's Gorbachev, who "forgot how we mine bombed all those children in Afghanistan"; and the United States' Shultz, who "forgot about all the civilians our friends, the contras, murdered in Nicaragua."30

Other examples can readily be added. That Arafat and the PLO have engaged in terrorist acts is not in doubt; nor is it in doubt that they are minor actors in the arena of international terrorism.31

One of the acts of PLO terror that most outraged the Secretary of State and his admirers in Congress and the media was the hijacking of the Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, doubtless a vile terrorist act. Their sensibilities were not aroused, however, by the Israeli bombing of Tunis a week earlier, killing twenty Tunisians and fifty-five Palestinians with smart bombs that tore people to shreds beyond recognition, among other horrors described by Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk on the scene. U.S. journals had little interest, the victims being Arabs and the killers U.S. clients. Secretary Shultz was definitely interested, however. The United States had cooperated in the massacre by refusing to warn its ally Tunisia that the bombers were on their way, and Shultz telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a noted terrorist himself from the early 1940s, to inform him that the U.S. administration "had considerable sympathy for the Israeli action," the press reported. Shultz drew back from this public approbation when the U.N. Security Council unanimously denounced the bombing as an "act of armed aggression" (the United States abstaining). Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was welcomed to Washington a few days later as a man of peace, while the press solemnly discussed his consultations with President Reagan on "the evil scourge of terrorism" and what can be done to counter it.32

The outrage over hijacking does not extend to Israeli hijackings that have been carried out in international waters for many years, including civilian ferries travelling from Cyprus to Lebanon, with large numbers of people kidnapped, over 100 kept in Israeli prisons without trial, and many killed, some by Israeli gunners while they tried to stay afloat after their ship was sunk, according to survivors interviewed in prison. The strong feelings of Congress and the media were also not aroused by the case of Na'il Amin Fatayir, deported from the West Bank in July 1987. After serving eighteen months in prison on the charge of membership in a banned organization, he was released and returned to his home in Nablus. Shortly after, the government ordered him deported. When he appealed to the courts, the prosecutor argued that the deportation was legitimate because he had entered the country illegally -- having been kidnapped by the Israeli navy while travelling from Lebanon to Cyprus on the ship Hamdallah in July 1985. The High Court accepted this elegant reasoning as valid.33

The visceral outrage over terrorism is restricted to worthy victims, meeting a criterion that is all too obvious.

The hijacking of the Achille Lauro was in retaliation for the bombing of Tunis, but the West properly dismissed this justification for a terrorist act. The bombing of Tunis, in turn, was in retaliation for a terrorist murder of three Israelis in Cyprus by a group which, as Israel conceded, had probable connections to Damascus but none to Tunis, which was selected as a target rather than Damascus because it was defenseless; the Reagan administration selected Libyan cities as a bombing target a few months later in part for the same reason. The bombing of Tunis, with its many civilian casualties, was described by Secretary Shultz as a "a legitimate response" to "terrorist attacks," to general approbation. The terrorist murders in Cyprus were, in turn, justified by their perpetrators as retaliation for the Israeli hijackings over the preceding decade. Had this plea even been heard, it would have been dismissed with scorn. The term "retaliation" too must be given an appropriate interpretation, as any casuist would understand.

The same is true of other terms. Take, for example, the notion of "preventing" or "reducing" violence. A report headlined "Palestinian casualties nearly double" opens by quoting the Israeli army chief of staff, who says "that the number of Palestinians wounded in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has almost doubled in recent weeks but that the army has failed to reduce violence in the occupied areas." The statement makes no sense, but a look at the background allows it to be decoded. Shortly before, Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin had authorized the use of plastic bullets, stating that "more precisely our aim": "our purpose is to increase the number of (wounded) among those who take part in violent activities." He also explained the notion of "violent activities": "We want to get rid of the illusion of some people in remote villages that they have liberated themselves," he said, explaining that army raids "make it clear to them where they live and within which framework." Palestinians must "understand that the solution can be achieved only by peaceful means," not by illusions of self-government. The army is therefore stepping up raids on remote villages that have declared themselves "liberated zones," with a resulting increase in injuries, the report continues. In a typical example, "Israeli troops raided more than a dozen West Bank villages and wounded 22 Palestinians yesterday"; an army spokeswoman explained that a strike had been called and the army wanted to "prevent violence" by an "increased presence and by making more arrests."34

We can now return to the original Newspeak: "the number of Palestinians wounded in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip has almost doubled in recent weeks but...the army has failed to reduce violence in the occupied areas." Translating to intelligible English, the army has doubled the violence in the occupied territories by aggressive actions with the specific intent of increasing casualties, and by expanding its violent attacks to remote and peaceful villages that were attempting to run their own affairs. But it has so far failed to rid the people of illusions of self-government. For the Israeli authorities and the U.S. media, an attempt by villagers to run their own affairs is "violence," and a brutal attack to teach them who rules is "preventing violence." Orwell would have been impressed.

A report a few days later, headlined "Israelis kill three in West Bank, Gaza clashes," describes how soldiers shot and wounded three Palestinians in a "remote town rarely visited by soldiers" and "generally ignored by the military." "Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said two weeks ago the army would step up its actions in such villages to remind the inhabitants where they live and who is in control." This was one of thirty villages raided "in an offensive aimed at preventing violence," the report continues. And one can see the point; after the Israeli soldiers shot three Palestinians in the village in their "offensive aimed at preventing violence," "angry residents later stoned vehicles in the area." An accompanying story is devoted to the question of whether the PLO will really "renounce terror," quoting officials from Rabin's Labor Party and others in disbelief.35

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29 Editorial, WP Weekly, Dec. 5-11, 1988.

30 Szep, BG, Dec. 4, 1988. In print, allusions to the same matters in a column by Globe editor Randolph Ryan, Dec. 2, are the only questioning note I detected, though the point is so transparent that there must have been some others among the flood of obedient reports and commentary.

31 For some comparative assessments, see the sources cited earlier in note 25.

32 See Pirates & Emperors, chapter 2.

33 Ibid., 87f.; Al-Fajr, Aug. 2, 1987; Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz, Aug. 29, 1987; Committee against State Terrorism at Sea, State Terrorism at Sea (Jerusalem, n.d.); Joseph Schechla, "Israel's Piracy on the High Seas," The Return (September 1988); Joost Hiltermann, Middle East International, Oct. 10, 1987.

34 Wire services, BG, Oct. 5, 4; Joel Greenberg, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 28; Mary Curtius, BG, Sept. 28, 1988.

35 BG, Oct. 10, 1988.