“Israel doesn't like what you say”

May 20, 2010
*Special to asia!

Israel banned left-wing Jewish-American academic Noam Chomsky from lecturing at a local Palestinian university. Is an Israeli clampdown on its critics really the lesson to be learnt from this?

Oops, we messed up.

While not in those words, that was effectively the response from Israel's Interior Ministry to what happened on Sunday.

It all started when Noam Chomsky, renowned US academic and a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories, was trying to cross into the West Bank from neighbouring Jordan. He was  interrogated for hours by a border guard receiving instructions from a superior over the phone.

Chomsky was told among other things that “Israel doesn't like what you say.” “Entry Denied”was stamped in his passport, and he was banned from travelling to the Palestinian Bir Zeit University, where he was due to lecture on American policies at home and in the Middle East.

When the Israeli and international media broke the news, the Interior Ministry was asked to respond to what had happened. It said that the decision whether or not to allow Chomsky to cross the border lay with the Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

Then it admitted that the denial of entry was a “big mistake”. Professor Chomsky would be allowed to enter again, if he wished.

Chomsky's response to being turned away was this:

"I find it hard to think of a similar case, in which entry to a person is denied because he is not lecturing in Tel Aviv. Perhaps only in Stalinist regimes."

The lesson to be learnt may not be - as many think - that Israel is banning on its critics from entering the country."

Chomsky's remarks fuelled commentators, analysts and activists speaking out against the Israeli government's outrageous move to stifle its critics. Then there were those who lauded the ban like Israeli member of parliament Arieh Eldad.  He called Chomsky a “Jewish Israel-hater... known as one whose venomous criticism of the State of Israel is being uttered from many platforms worldwide.”

As Eldad wrote in the Israeli Ynetnews,

“The “entry banned” seal stamped in his passport is a badge of honor for Israel. It’s proof that there are some people among us who still hold on to their survival instincts.”

Now that a few days have passed, let's re-examine more calmly the whole fiasco.

The lesson to be learnt from it may not -  as many think – that Israel is banning on its critics from entering the country.

As Sam Husseini notes in the Palestine Chronicle, Chomsky was not prevented from entering Israel.

Chomsky was not trying to get into Israel. As the professor himself pointed out, he had no intention of going to Israel, where he had lectured many times on previous occasions. He was headed for  the West Bank under the invitation of the Palestinian Bir Zeit University there.

In order to get to there from Jordan, Chomsky had gone to the Allenby Bridge border crossing. He had stated clearly he was going to the West Bank. The “Entry Denied” stamp in his passport was not for Israel but the West Bank.

It may be useful at this point to recall that the West Bank is considered under international law to be Palestinian land illegally occupied by Israel. The Palestinian Authority has - over the years since the 1993 Oslo Accords – been gradually given control over various aspects of the administration of the West Bank. But as this episode clearly shows, it remains very much an area under Israeli control.

On this issue, United States embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv Kurt Hoyer said the US remains “interested” in how its citizens are treated, but added that Israel has the right to admit and refuse entry at the border, even to those travelling to the West Bank, since they are required to pass through Israeli border checks.

At the end of the day, what this whole affair reveals, as Husseini pointed out, is that "Israel controls the borders into occupied Palestinian areas". It speaks to the control (or lack of) the Palestinians have, even in the West Bank and the city of Ramallah where the Palestinian Authority sits.

This is a consequence of Israel's continued occupation of the Palestinian territories which Chomsky himself had spoken out against repeatedly.

Against the backdrop of the US trying to relaunch peace talks between the two sides, it is a reminder that this is an occupation that needs to end, so the Palestinian people can actually live in their own state with some dignity and real autonomy.


dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi