Threats to Peace in the Middle East

Last night, Noam Chomsky packed the Packer Hall auditorium at Lehigh University for his lecture, Prospects for Peace in the Middle East, a phrase Chomsky himself said is difficult to put together. With state collapse in Egypt, Syria on a suicide path, and the threat of serious war in many other mid-East countries, the prospects for peace seem dire.

Students and members of the community crowded into the small auditorium, filling the seats and the aisles to hear the renowned linguist and political dissident speak on mid-east relations. Chomsky’s lecture focused on two main subjects: Iran and Israel/Palestine relations. Chomsky has lectured and written countless times on the perceived threat of Iran by U.S. and Israeli officials. In a September article for AlterNet, Chomsky wrote, “The war drums are beating ever more loudly over Iran,” but, he said during his lecture, Iran isn’t the main threat that the people of the region fear most. Instead, poll after poll has shown that those in the Arab world see Israel first and the United States second, as the main threats to peace in the region.

It is this threat, according to Chomsky, that pushes other nations like Iran to arm themselves in response. In his article, he quoted Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, saying, “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East,” one nation should arm itself with nuclear weapons, which “inspires other nations to do so.” In the quote, Butler was not referring to Iran, but to Israel, the country that most in the middle east consider to be the greatest purveyor of violence and the greatest inhibitor in the peace process, followed closely by the United States.

Yet why is Iran hyped up as such a threat to world peace and security within the United States? As Chomsky pointed out, “If you believe you essentially own the world, then any deterrent is a threat,” and you can act in any way you want to stop that threat. The only country with this right to deter perceived threats preemptively is the United States and its “clients”, like Israel, “because we’re the only one that owns the world.” The other countries, “they have the right only to obey.” Chomsky equated this idea to the preemptive invasion of Iraq against the perceived threat to our country’s security. This is justified, he says, because we consider our lives to be of more importance than theirs. “We can kill there little girls because maybe, somehow, they could kill ours.”

Chomsky also spoke of the recent disclosure of a Justice Department memo which outlined the legal framework for the U.S. government’s justification for the purposeful killing its own citizens abroad, including the 2011 murder of cleric and U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki in a drone strike, and later his teenaged son in a separate strike. The memo argues that the targeted drone killings of U.S. citizens are legal and ethical under U.S. law if they meet certain strikingly vague criteria including a high-level official providing evidence that the person may be a threat and if capture of the accused proves to be “difficult.” What about due process, you ask? What about our rights under the Constitution? What about the presumption of innocence and the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty? When Attorney General Eric Holder was asked these questions in March 2012, he responded that it is due process because it was discussed in the executive branch. Holder said,

“Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.”

Turning exclusively to the occupied territories of Palestine, Chomsky discussed the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel, which is in direct violation of the UN Security Council Resolution and the International Court of Justice. Chomsky continued, “Some states can violate international law with impunity mainly because they’re powerful enough to get away with it.” Since 1967, Israel has been using its uninhibited power by expanding its territories and blocking all efforts to a peaceful two-state solution, all with the 100% support of the United States.
Israel is willing to negotiate for peace, Chomsky said, however the negotiations must meet two preconditions. The first is that the negotiations must be run by the United States. Of course, what really should happen, he argued, is to have a more neutral country at the center of the negotiations, “on the one side is the United States and Israel, and on the other side you’d have the world,” he said. The second precondition for negotiations is that the settlements must continue. Effectively, as long as the U.S. supports Israel, the occupation and the expansions will not stop. What the U.S. and Israel are implementing and will continue to implement is to divide and bisect the Palestinian people and land until the factions are too divided to present a real threat. This is already being done with Gaza separated from the West bank, and as Chomsky remarked following a recent trip of his to the Gaza Strip, the people of Gaza are totally imprisoned on the small strip if land. Chomsky said Israel can “take whatever is valuable” including the arable land, water, resources, the pleasant suburbs, the Jordan Valley, and drive people out of the area.
“All of these things are worth knowing if we care to know about ourselves and want to know what kind of country we live in,” Chomsky remarked. The mainstream media and the U.S. government may push misinformation, but we can inform ourselves and push our governments to change their policies by popular movements, protests, and dissent. During the Q&A following the discussion, one student asked Chomsky how we can affect change within our government and within our country and begin a true, democratic uprising for peace and equality. Chomsky’s response was simple. “Just do it.”
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