Israel: A Partial Indictment

The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians

by Noam Chomsky
South End Press, 481 pp., $10.00 (paper)

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky; drawing by David Levine

In his new book Noam Chomsky claims to describe and to assess the relations between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. But Chomsky’s “fateful triangle” has a rather bizarre shape: it is really a triangle with only one clearly visible side, the Israeli side. Most of his long book is about Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians, which was literally highlighted by the Israeli flares over the Sabra and the Shatila camps. Indeed, Israel’s war in Lebanon, dubbed in Begin’s newspeak “Peace for Galilee,” is a main concern.

When he discusses the American side, Chomsky confines himself largely to Israel’s liberal “fellow travelers” in the US. Thus Alexander Haig is mentioned three times, whereas Irving Howe is mentioned thirteen times. The book in any case is not a political tract on a triad of relationships, but a fierce moral indictment of Israel, which is charged with grossly mistreating the Palestinians, while at the same time presenting itself through its American propagandists as an enlightened democracy. These propagandists are, for Chomsky, the kind of people that give hypocrisy a bad name.

Painful as it is for me to acknowledge it, we Israelis should, I believe, plead guilty to many of Chomsky’s charges. Not to the charges as he states them, but to something not altogether unlike them.

Take the case of the massacre at Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip during the war of 1956, one of many unpublicized cases of Israeli brutality that Chomsky mentions. Israel was involved, according to the UN chief inspector, General E.L.M. Burns, in the massacre of at least 275 people. This number is cited by Chomsky although knowledgable Israeli sources I have talked to believe it is too high. What is missing from this account, however, is the fact that each of the persons who were shot was identified as a fedayeen (or terrorist, in Israel’s current jargon) according to lists compiled by Israeli intelligence before the killings. Execution without trial is evil, as is the mindless slaughter of innocents by Israelis at Deir-Yassin or by Phalangists at Sabra and Shatila. But it is a different sort of evil. Moreover, the military governor of Gaza at the time was Mattityahu Peled, and the battalion commander of Khan Yunis was Meir Pa’il, both prominent doves since the 1960s. Not that these two men had anything to do with the executions, but I suspect that had they been on Chomsky’s list of bad guys he would not have failed to mention their names. Fortunately they are, rightly I believe, on his list of good guys.

Chomsky’s indictment is highly detailed. Virtually no felony is missing, no misdeed left unaccounted for. And yet, though he finds Israel a sinful state, the clash between Israel and the Palestinians is in Chomsky’s eyes a conflict of “right against right.” He recalls that he has long held that the success of the…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.