Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 29/33
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In accord with the same logic, Israel once again sentenced the Palestinian intellectual Faisal Husseini to six months in prison without trial in July 1988 immediately after he had appeared as the principal speaker at a meeting organized by Peace Now exploring the possibilities for a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and only hours before a scheduled meeting with Peace Now activists to implement the proposals discussed. The Israeli press observed that Husseini, the leading (unofficial) spokesman for the PLO in the occupied territories and one of the most respected Palestinian intellectuals, surely appeared with prior PLO authorization. At the Peace Now meeting, Husseini endorsed the two-state settlement proposal advanced by PLO spokesman Abu Sharif and called for "mutual recognition of the two sides," proposing that the Palestinians create a demilitarized state in the currently occupied territories. The New York Times did not consider these events significant enough for a news story, but they did run a picture with a caption reporting his arrest and the closing of the Arab Studies Center that he directed.170
This was Husseini's third administrative detention in two years. The first was a week after a meeting with Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, whom Husseini had approached on a civil rights issue. The second was shortly after a meeting with Likud activist Moshe Amirav, with whom Husseini prepared a plan for a peaceful political settlement. Professor Yehoshua Porath, Israel's leading specialist on Palestinian nationalism, commented that Husseini and his Center were alone among Palestinian intellectuals and institutions in seeking contact with Israeli research institutions and scholars and calling for cooperation among Israelis and Palestinians. The government reaction is typical of the official response to the threat of moderation and political settlement.171
One will learn virtually nothing about these matters here, and they do not affect the doctrine that Israel and the United States can find no Palestinians who share their deep commitment to peace.
The Husseini-Sharansky interchange merits further attention. Husseini approached Sharansky to ask his assistance in the matter of Akram Haniye, editor of the Jerusalem journal Al-Shaab, who had been ordered expelled from the country by the military authorities. The expulsion was protested by the International Red Cross and the twelve countries of the European Community, which condemned Israel's actions as a breach of international law. Not Sharansky, however. After coming under attack by the Israeli right for meeting with Husseini on the Haniye matter, Sharansky published advertisements expressing his "full confidence" in the actions of the Israeli government and security forces, including the expulsion of the editor. He endorsed these actions as "in no way a violation of human rights" and as furthering "the highest goals of humanity in preserving the nation of Israel and in combating a pestilence that threatens all civilised people"; the wording is interesting, considering the memories it will evoke in the minds of every Jewish reader. A few weeks later he described Israel as "an absolutely free society." The same week, he received the "Jewish Settlement in the Gaza District Award" at Yeshivat Hesder Yamit, a right-wing military-religious school named after the town of Yamit, established by Israel in northeastern Sinai after thousands of Bedouins were expelled, their homes, schools, lands, cemeteries, and mosques destroyed; on the contribution of these institutions to military terror, see p. 210. At the ceremony, Sharansky called for "freedom to settle anywhere in Israel," meaning the occupied territories.
On arriving in Israel after nine years of courageous resistance in Soviet prisons, Sharansky had assured the press that "his broad concern for human rights remains undiminished" and "his sensitivity to human rights...would inevitably lead him to study closely their observance here." With regard to the Arabs, he said that "whether we want them or not, there are many Arabs in Israel, and I think we must, from time to time, try to talk to them" -- a good indication of what was to come. A reviewer in the New York Times praises his "high spirited and generous faith" and his "political engagement to include the cause of human rights everywhere," where "everywhere" presumably is intended to include the place where he lives. The proposal to appoint him as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations aroused much acclaim. He would be "an inspired choice," the editors of the New Republic felt: "He may be the single most morally alert public figure of our time, and he is keenly alert to the grievance of the Palestinians."172
Whatever one's judgment may be about Israeli law and regular practice, one thing is clear. If Nicaragua were to follow the legal principles and regular practice of the state of Israel under far less threatening circumstances, the internal political opposition would have been jailed or expelled long ago and all their publications closed. If four anti-contra Nicaraguan dissidents were convicted, sentenced, and fined "for violating a law that bars contacts with the contras" after a meeting abroad to discuss the possibilities of a peaceful political settlement, the New York Times might have thought that the matter deserved more than the buried hundred-word item devoted to exactly these events, with "Nicaragua" and "contras" replaced with "Israel" and "PLO"173 Much the same is true of the other examples cited, and many more like them.
Similarly, if Nicaragua were to bomb a contra radio station in a refugee camp deep inside Honduras, "firing 30 missiles in 15 sorties over two hours," killing three people and bringing the death toll from such bombings to sixty for 1988 through mid-August, the Times might devote more than the 190 words it used to describe exactly these events, except that it was Israeli jets bombing "a site in Mieh Mieh [refugee camp in Lebanon] used as a transmitter by the Voice of Palestine, a P.L.O. radio station" that "broadcasts reports designed to incite what the Israeli [spokesman] called `terrorist activity' in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip"174 -- that is, the Intifada, which has been remarkable for how little violence has been elicited by the extreme brutality of the occupying military forces, and which is, furthermore, an extraordinary expression of courage, integrity, and the will for freedom. The comparison is far from exact; the Voice of Palestine is not a Soviet-run station so powerful as to dominate the airwaves in the occupied territories and much of Israel, and the "terrorist activity" of the Intifada falls somewhat short of the behavior of those who proudly designate themselves "the sons of Reagan" when they swoop down upon civilian settlements to murder, pillage, torture, rape and kidnap. Nevertheless, in this case there was no notice or reaction.
It is, of course, unthinkable that Israel would permit free entry by journalists and political figures from the PLO and the Arab states, in sharp contrast to the practice of the "totalitarian Sandinistas." Nor has anything similar ever been tolerated by the United States, even under far lesser threat. The demands upon Nicaragua that are standard in U.S. commentary conform to libertarian standards that are appropriate, in my view, though held by virtually no one, surely not by those who indignantly invoke them in the media in the case of official enemies, as the simple test of sincerity discussed earlier conclusively demonstrates. The application of these standards to Nicaragua by Western elites has been a display of crude hypocrisy, yet another tribute to the effectiveness of thought control and the vulgarity of the intellectual culture.
Such considerations are off the agenda in U.S. commentary. Thus, in a departure from the Washington line, Stephen Kinzer observes that
during the recent negotiations in Managua, contra leaders dominated the radio airwaves, appearing on morning and evening news programs and giving live statements as the talks proceeded. They were jubilantly received at La Prensa's offices. That would have been unthinkable until a few months ago, and would be unheard of in a truly Marxist regime.175We are to assume, then, that it would be standard procedure in Western democracies under attack by the terrorist forces of a superpower, or even far lesser threat -- an evident absurdity.
Quite generally, no notice is given and no concern aroused in the case of repression in the Western democracies of a sort that arouses much ire when conducted in Nicaragua, under threat of destruction. In 1988, when congressional liberals and media doves were berating the Sandinistas for harassment of the media and political opposition, and calling for escalation of the military attack if this display of communist totalitarianism does not cease forthwith, the government of France, under no threat, "prohibited the sale, circulation and distribution" of a Basque book on grounds that it "threatened public order," and banned publication of the journal El-Badil Démocratique that supports Algerian dissidents on grounds that "this publication might harm the diplomatic relations of France with Algeria." The director of the Basque journal Abil was sentenced to twenty months in prison by the French courts for having published an "apology for terrorism," while the Spanish courts fined a Basque radio station for having broadcast insults to the King on a call-in radio show and the government brought three activists of a political group to trial on charges of "publication, circulation and reproduction of false information that might disturb public order," among many other cases of punishment of public statements and cancellation of peaceful demonstrations.176 Such events do not arouse the civil libertarian passions of Western elites, or call for harsh retribution by the guardians of democratic principles.
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170 Aryeh Dayan, Kol Hair, Aug. 5, 1988; LAT, Aug. 1; NYT, Aug. 1; Joel Greenberg, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 3; Geraldine Brooks, Wall St. Journal, Aug. 26, 1988.
171 Dayan, op. cit.; The Other Israel, Nov./Dec. 1987; Porath, Ha'aretz, Aug. 9, 1988.
172 Reuters, NYT, Nov. 13, 1986; EEC reaction, Manchester Guardian Weekly, Jan. 4, 1987; "Natan Sharansky Clarifies," advertisement, Jerusalem Post, Ma'ariv, Nov. 13, 1986; Interview with Louis Rapoport, JP, Dec. 5, 1986; Award, Samson Krupnick, Jewish Post & Opinion, Dec. 3, 1986; William Claiborne, Washington Post, Feb. 19, 1986; Robert Stone, NYT Book Review, June 5, 1988. New Republic, Feb. 27, 1989.
173 NYT, July 1, 1988.
174 Ihsan Hijazi, NYT, Aug. 10, 1988, 190 words.
175 NYT, April 24, 1988.
176 El Pais (Madrid), May 3; Egin (San Sebastian), June 28, August 2, June 22, July 24, 28, 1988.