Noam Chomsky, a leading U.S. intellectual known for his strong criticisms of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians, continued his first tour of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, speaking at the the Islamic University of Gaza’s first international conference on applied linguistics and literature.
Chomsky, 84, who arrived in Gaza last Thursday, Oct. 18, with other international intellectuals via the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, was a guest speaker at the conference in Gaza City. The university website says the conference provides a meeting place for researchers and practitioners in applied linguistics and literature to present and share their research findings in a stimulating and interactive environment.
Chomsky told the conference a basic question lay at the heart of the discipline of linguistics.
"To begin at the beginning the first question we have to ask is, ‘What is language?’" he said.
The outspoken intellectual was a guest in the coastal area of Rafah for two days. Speaking after the conference, Chomsky told Reuters he was stirred by how Palestinians continued to conduct themselves.
"[My] main impression is how inspiring it is to see people living under extreme duress but nevertheless remain vibrant, vigorous, active, hopeful, resilient and continuing the struggle," he said.
Chomsky was denied entry to the West Bank in May 2010 by Israeli immigration officials. His intention was to visit Birzeit University and the Institute for Palestine Studies in Ramallah in the West Bank.
An Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman said immigration officials at the border crossing had misunderstood Chomsky's intentions, thinking initially he was also due to visit Israel.
Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has frequently and outspokenly criticized Israel's policies toward Palestinians and has openly slammed U.S. regional policy.
Later on Saturday he visited Gaza port and voiced anger over Israeli naval actions in seizing an international pro-Palestinian activist ship in the Mediterranean Sea to prevent it breaching Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"I should say that every time Israel stops a boat, that's another blow to its diminishing legitimacy and another element of support, both to the those who are resisting internally and to those who are opposing the policies outside, and sooner or later the wave will sweep over the barriers," Chomsky told a news conference, standing in front of posters saying "Freedom Flotilla."
The ship Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement, and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said earlier on Saturday.
Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for the Gaza Strip's 1.6 million residents, and supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea.
Most were stopped by Israel, and in an incident in May 2010, Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their ship after they attacked the Israeli soldiers.
An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that Israel's Gaza blockade was legal but faulted the Israel Navy for using excessive force.
Chomsky last visited Israel and the West Bank in 1997, when he lectured at Ben-Gurion University and also at Birzeit.