Israel refuses Noam Chomsky's entry via Allenby Bridge to West Bank

Israel’s Ministry of Interior has today denied entry to the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan of renowned American academic Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has often criticized Israeli and American policies.

Chomsky, who 81 years old, was held at the Allenby Bridge crossing and interrogated for over four hours before being turned back.

Like Norman Finkelstein and Richard Falk, two American academics who have also criticized Israeli policies and who have also been denied entry, Chomsky is also Jewish. Finkelstein and Falk were detained and then deported from Ben Gurion Airport.

When he asked the reason for his denial of entry, according to a report in Haaretz by Amira Hass, he was told that it would be communicated to the American Embassy. Chomsky was apparently in touch, during his ordeal at the Allenby Bridge, with representatives of the Ramallah-based Right to Enter Campaign.

Chomsky had been invited to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

He was trying to enter the West Bank from Jordan, which administered the West Bank from 1948, during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel, until the June 1967 war, when Israeli forces seized control of the West Bank.

Israeli occupation of the West Bank continues, and today, Israeli border control officials have prevented Chomsky’s entry from Jordan into Palestine.

YNet is reporting that Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and of the Al-Mubadara political movement, was to have been one of Chomsky’s hosts during his visit to the West Bank. Barghouthi reportedly said that Chomsky was told there was an objection to his “political opinions”, which have been for many decades decidedly left-wing — socialist or even Marxist.

The Associated Press quoted Israeli Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Sabine Haddad as saying Chomsky was turned away for “various reasons” — but Haddad reportedly “declined to elaborate”, AP said

There are reports that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is looking at whether or not the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Coordinator of [Israeli] Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) would agree to allow Chomsky to enter the West Bank only.

Even if COGAT were to agree to this proposal — which could have been made when Chomsky presented himself at the border passport control, when he reportedly said he only wanted to be in the West Bank — it is far from certain that Chomsky would agree to return to the unpleasant Allenby Bridge crossing to try again.

The Jerusalem Post is now reporting that Chomsky was denied entry due to a “misunderstanding”.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense’s COGAT department is responsible for administering the Israeli government sanctions designed to keep the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip living at a “humanitarian minimum” which COGAT itself defines.

Tightened Israeli sanctions went into effect in October 2007, a few months after Hamas routed Fatah/Preventive Security Forces in the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007. As sporadic rocket fire continued from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the Israeli cabinet declared Gaza an “enemy entity” or “hostile territory” on 19 September 2007, and this laid the basis for the tightened sanctions. The Israeli Supreme Court rejected months of appeals by a grouping of Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations against these tightened sanctions, and only made the Israeli military promise that a “humanitarian crisis” would not be allowed to develop. The Israeli Supreme Court is now hearing a appeal from the Israeli human rights group GISHA to know exactly how COGAT is fulfilling this responsibility.

Over recent months, it has been announced that COGAT is also being put in charge of deciding which non-governmental organizations will be issued visas and allowed to carry out humanitarian work in the West Bank — a function previously carried out by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.

The Jerusalem Post says that the Interior Ministry’s Haddad has now said that “if COGAT gives us the all clear, we will grant him entry”.

It is not clear why COGAT, and not the Interior Ministry, would have the final decision on the matter of Chomsky’s entry — other than the fact that the Israeli Defense Ministry is in complete charge of the West Bank.

COGAT has become an all-powerful but rather opaque military-security apparatus which operates with few government constraints and almost no oversight — and which now appears to have both the ability and the will to carry out reprisals against anyone it views as critical of its actions and policies, in particular the sanctions it is implementing against Gaza.

Chomsky told Israel’s Channel 10 TV by phone from Amman later that Israeli interrogators told him at Allenby Bridge that he had “written things that the Israeli government did not like”, according to Amira Hass’ report in Haaretz.

The Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) in Israel has strongly condemned Chomsky’s denial of entry. ACRI Attorney Oded Feller said, in a statement sent to journalists by email, that “The decision to prevent an individual from expressing his or her views by denying entry is characteristic of a totalitarian regime … A democratic state, which considers freedom of expression a guiding principle, does not close itself off to criticism or uncomfortable notions, and does not refuse entry to visitors whose views it does not accept, but rather deals with them through public discourse”.

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