Chomsky speaks in Edinburgh

Chomsky speaking in EdinburghBig event today – Chomsky spoke in the McEwan hall (extraordinarily grand and impressive but with lousy acoustics). He spoke not once but twice – the first time at an activists’ meeting sponsored by the Palestince Solidarity Campaign amongst others (including Scottish Jews for a Just Peace), the second time as Gifford Lecturer for the University (video feed). I’ll just pick out a couple of themes from the morning talk. One was his frequent references to the “Memory Hole” – this is a really useful idea borrowed from 1984, in which it serves as an oubliette for inconvenient items of history. Examples from his talk included Sadat’s offer of a peace treaty in 1971 (before the Yom Kippur war) the Saudi plan of 2002 offering full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for a full withdrawal from the OT, the assessment by top Israeli intelligence officers before the second intifada that Arafat was committed to the diplomatic path and would use violence only to get out of a diplomatic dead-end, and so on.

The second theme was his emphasis on the political weakness of the ruling elites of the United States and Western Europe. He believes that the only way in which they can maintain their policies – particularly in respect of Israel-Palestine – is by lying about them. For example, public opinion in the US would strongly support the Saudi plan if people understood what it offers. This is why the media, especially in the US, has to be so biassed and limited in how it reports the Middle East – there’s a lot at stake. It also explains whose interest is served when conflict is moved from the arena of political debate to the arena of physical force, in which the state is incomparably stronger than we are. Remember that when you read the dire predictions about the G8 summit demonstrations – how the police are arming themselves with rubber bullets and teargas.

As for the event itself: setting aside the adulation, it was very encouraging to see the McEwan hall filled – twice in one day! – with people who appreciate and share a left-wing (read: humane and rational) view of international relations. And although some people criticise Chomsky’s upbeat approach as facile, I appreciate the encouragement he gives. Asked what we should be doing, he answered “Whatever you like! People in the West have more freedom than ever before in deciding how to act”. The triumph of their propaganda has been to convince us that we are helpless.

Sasson report on illegal outposts published

The Sasson Report on the Unauthorized Outposts has been published. This official Israeli government report will shed some light on the process by which most of the settlements have been started. I will write more about it soon. For the moment, here are a couple of sentences, chosen by me at random from page 34 (out of 108):

The Ministry of Construction & Housing financed the establishment of unauthorized outposts, but never examined the interests (title) in the lands upon which the outposts were built. Some of the outposts built with the Ministry’s aid were located on private Palestinian property and on survey land. The Housing Ministry claims it was not aware of this fact. There is no dispute it never bothered to check it out.

A good overall comment on the idea of an “outposts” report is provided by Dror Etkes, head of the Settlement Monitoring Unit of Peace Now (He came to speak late last year at the Scottish Parliament). He asks

what is the point of distinguishing between a discussion of outposts and a discussion of the entire settlement enterprise? Clearly the outposts are nothing less than new or expanded settlements, established in recent years.

Elias Chacour talk

Abuna Elias Chacour spoke on Thursday at the Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality. I didn’t really know what to expect, given that he is a priest in the Melkite Church, an obscure (to me) Byzantine church in communion with Rome. In fact he spoke very well, with a lot of humour and sympathy for all sides of the community in Israel. You should definitely hear him if you get the chance.

The natives’ time is cheap

Amira Hass writes about transportation in the West Bank:

There is one system of roads for the natives, and it is winding, narrow, long, bumpy, sown with military checkpoints and frequently closed. And there is the system of road for “Whites,” that is, Israelis, or all kinds of people who have been whitened – diplomats, VIPs, wealthy people with permits, merchants, journalists.

Stolen land can be returned, but time is lost for ever:

Time that is robbed while waiting at checkpoints, or waiting for permits, cannot ever be returned. The loss of time, which Israel is stealing every day from 3.5 million people, is evident everywhere: in the damage it causes to their ability to earn a living; in their economic, family and cultural activity; in the leisure hours, in studies and in creativity; and in the shrinking of the space in which every individual lives and therefore the narrowing of their horizon and their expectations.

Full story, from Ha’aretz