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WEST BANK: Noam Chomsky says Israel didn't want him to lecture in Palestinian territories

May 17, 2010 | 10:52 am

Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, 81, a world-renowned linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Monday that Israel banned him from entry into the West Bank, where he was scheduled to give a lecture at Birzeit University, because of his critical views of Israel and because “they did not like the fact that I was going to speak at BZU.”

Chomsky, a Jewish American known for his strong critical views of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was invited to give a lecture on Monday at the Palestinian university near Ramallah.

Speaking by phone from Amman, Jordan, to a news conference in Ramallah, Chomsky, who was traveling with his daughter, said they were held up for five hours on Sunday at the Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank, only to be told that they would not be allowed to enter.

“This very unusual behavior only happens in totalitarian states,” Chomsky said.

He said interrogators at Allenby Crossing received their questions from the Israeli Interior Ministry.

"It was clear from the interrogation that there were two things that seemed to bother the Israeli government in my trip," he said.

“One was that they didn‘t like my opinion of Israel. And the second thing they did not like was the fact that I was going to speak at Birzeit University and not at Israeli universities. The issue was going to BZU without specific Israeli approval,” he said.

Chomsky said he has spoken at Birzeit in the past and had visited the West Bank and never had a problem entering Israel, but that was when he was on a lecture tour of Israeli universities.

This time, he said, he was invited by Palestinians to speak only at a Palestinian university.

Chomsky had been invited to the West Bank by Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative.

Speaking at the same news conference, Barghouti said Israel wanted Chomsky to first ask for permission to visit the West Bank.

“Neither Chomsky nor us would ever ask for permission for a visitor to enter the West Bank in order to speak at a university,” he said.

He described the Israeli ban as “a very stupid act.”

He said that Israel did not want Chomsky to see the living conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank (the professor's itinerary included visits to conflict areas such as Hebron, Bilin and Nilin, where Palestinians regularly confront Israeli soldiers) and that the ban was likely to backfire as it would increase critics of the Israeli government.

An Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman described the ban as "a misunderstanding." She said that because Chomsky wanted to enter Palestinian Authority territory only, his entry was the responsibility of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories at the Defense Ministry.

"There was a misunderstanding on our side," she told reporters. "The minute COGAT says that they do not object, Chomsky's entry would have been permitted."  

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank.

Photo: Noam Chomsky at an antiwar rally in Vancouver, Canada, in 2004. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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