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Reflections on Noam Chomsky’s visit to Gaza

Written by admin  •  Monday, 22.10.2012, 10:48
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US scholar and activist Noam Chomsky at a press conference to support the Gaza-bound flotilla in the port of Gaza City on 20 October 2012. (Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Renowned linguistics professor Noam Chomsky has been in Gaza for a few days now. Chomsky was invited by the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) to participate in the university’s first International Conference of Applied Linguistics and Literature (ICALL).

When the news of his visit spread among the intellectual segment of the Gaza youth, everybody was thrilled.

The first semi-public lecture by Professor Chomsky was held at Gaza’s Almathaf Restaurant and Cultural House in cooperation with many local organizations and youth groups, primarily Diwan Ghazza, TIDA, and the Palestinian National Initiative. Half an hour prior to Chomsky’s arrival at the House, the room was already crowded that we had to take out the tables and make rows of chairs instead.

Amid excitement, Chomsky brought the generations together

You could feel a rush of excitement in the room the moment you set foot inside. Activists, youth, academics, journalists, and intellectuals were humming in clusters, notepads were prepared and Twitter and Instagram were working non-stop. Conversations had already been triggered, and you could hear “nice to meet you” in many spontaneously-shaped circles.

What was very special about this occasion, aside from Noam Chomsky’s lecture, is the fact that it was one of the very few, if not rare, occasions when the older generation of intellectuals mingles with the younger generation. It was a cruel eye-opener to the gap that continues to exist between generations and the urgent necessity to bridge this gap in order for the learning and transfer of knowledge to occur.

But let’s get back to Professor Chomsky. Wild applause and voiced announcements from here and there drew our attention to the fact that he had just entered the room. Sitting next to Chomsky on the panel, was Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, co-founder of Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) and leading Palestinian intellectual who was imprisoned by Yasser Arafat back in the years. Al-Sarraj welcomed Professor Chomsky saying that it was a “historic” moment — a notion that was also repeated in IUG’s conference room.

Then the lecture began, and as far as my ears are concerned, it was very quiet except for Chomsy’s voice that you could hear the “noise” a pin would make if dropped on the floor.

“The Arab Spring began in November 2010 when the people of Western Sahara revolted against their Moroccan occupiers. The uprising was crushed by Moroccan troops” he announced, adding that no one heard of it because western media was not interested in seeing a change in the region.

He drew an interesting analogy between Palestine and Western Sahara where Western-backed settler-colonial projects are swallowing up lands.

“The people of Western Sahara appealed to the UN; but France is the protector of Morocco. And France appealed to the Security Council to make sure that nothing would happen” he explained, adding that “France is a Western ally of Morocco.”

“If that sounds familiar it’s because it is,” he declared, “the difference is that in Palestine it’s the United States that ensures that nothing would happen.”

Two-state solution or one-state solution?

Professor Chomsky is known for his support for the two-state solution proposal and he is usually criticized for this. This lecture was no exception. During the first round of Q & A, he was asked if the proposal is still “realistic” despite Israel’s well-established facts on the ground. One of the audience cited the example of Edward Said who moved from supporting the two-state solution proposal into supporting a binational state in historical Palestine.

“You are basically asking me to move from supporting what I have always supported to support what I have always supported” Chomsky shot. “All my life – and it’s over 70 – I have been in support of the one-state solution. But it’s a proposal, how can we get there?” he inquired.

I must say that his answer struck me. For it turned out that he is not a two-state solution supporter and that’s it as is often publicized. Noam Chomsky is a pragmatic realist. And that’s why I was able to understand his views, though not necessarily agree with him. Chomsky finds it more “realistic” to implement an “internationally-supported” solution, with the exception of the US of course, than to support a solution that he sees as a mere proposal: “We have to distinguish between proposals and advocacy” he said. He also made clear the two-state solution should be a step towards the final status of Palestine.

Chomsky also blamed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) for not “using and exploiting initiatives like those of Amnesty International.” According to him, there was a call by Amnesty International to impose an embargo on arms to Israel. Referring to BDS, he said that it’s “a great strategy if it is followed properly.” Obviously, he doesn’t think that BDS is properly implemented and used (In fact the Boycott National Committee is fully behind European and international efforts to impose an arms embargo on Israel).

Chomsky raised important questions

I disagree with Professor Noam Chomsky. But the questions he addressed regarding the final outcome of the Palestinian struggle are reasonable and should be thought more about. Many people on the online platform were hostile to Chomsky as they read our live-feed from the room. And at some point, our ecstasy over Chomsky’s visit was implicitly questioned.

It’s fair to say that the young Gazans, and especially those of us who attended his lectures, are honored to have Professor Chomsky visit us here. The fact that many of us do not agree with him on many levels does not mean that we should close our minds or be hostile to him.

To have the father of modern linguistics and one of the world’s most celebrated public intellectuals cross into Gaza and participate in IUG’s linguistics conference is a success that deserves to be acknowledged. For so long, the Palestinian educational system has been closed into itself and therefore producing generations that are educated on the surface but that are incapable of participating in a more open and multicultural environment. Of course, the problem hasn’t been rooted out to say the least. But at least, our local universities have finally started to think in that direction.

And being Jewish, Chomsky’s visit discredited charges of anti-Semitism that are usually blared out about the people of Gaza. Professor Chomsky received a very warm welcome here from all sectors of the society. Whether in Almathaf or the Islamic University, you could see beards, wax-spiked hair, headscarves, niqabs and ponytails. Professor Chomsky was also granted an Honorary Doctorate yesterday morning at IUG.

It’s easy to point out the shortcomings of people’s views and arguments. But what is harder is to develop a cohesive counter-argument. And that specifically does not occur without listening.

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