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More on Supporting Israel

About a month ago I wrote about why I support Israel. Josh responded with several followup articles on his own blog during the next week, and I totally neglected to respond. Until now.

Populations of human behaviors and political positions typically fall on a bell curve. Let's define the "radical" elements of the Palestinian population — the terrorists — as a small segment of the population. Let's say that that segment of the population falls somewhere above the mean of the population at large — say 1, 2, or 3 standard deviations above the mean — and that segment has, is about to, or is planning on doing some violence to Israelis. Draw a line there. Everyone to the right of that line is a terrorist and, in my opinion, forfeits their claim to human rights. Everyone to the left of the line is not a terrorist and is entitled, in my opinion, to the same human rights that you enjoy. I believe most of the population falls on that left hand side by a large margin. (I may be wrong, but that's where I begin my assumptions.)

I have no theoretical problem with making a distinction between the militants and the innocent, but I disagree on where the line is to be drawn. The "radical" elements of the Palestinian population are not a small minority. According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in October 2003:

  • 75% support the suicide attack at Maxim Restaurant in Haifa leading to the death of 20 Israelis.
  • 59% believe that current armed confrontations have helped the Palestinians achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.
  • 64% still support a two-state solution (Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), while only 12% support a one-state solution (for Palestinians and Israelis). 21% want all Palestine back to the Palestinians.

The majority support terrorist attacks and believe that they help them achieve their political goals. One in five Palestinians is committed to the utter destruction of Israel and rejects peaceful coexistence.

Part of my assumption is that both societies were equivalently rational before the conflict began 60 years ago. I don't believe Palestinians at the time bombed anybody and I don't believe any Jews living in the area at the time were violating anyone's rights, either. It may be that you can show this assumption is false.

My understanding of the region's history is also very poor. A friend loaned me a copy of The Case for Israel which includes some history, but I haven't read it yet. (Maybe I'd procrastinate less if it was about pirates or economics or something…)

I will say that a culture permeated by religion is inherently less rational than one that isn't. But this clearly cuts both ways, and it's important to look at how effectively the resulting cultures respect individual rights.

Are the Israelis serious? Why have they been building settlements? Why do they extravagantly subsidize settlements instead of letting market forces rule? I'd say it's because, politically, they want Israeli citizens to move to the area, and they do what it takes to make the costs of living there outweigh the risks.

I've heard many of the "settlements" are little more than trailers or small buildings put there simply to have a tangible claim to the land. Those kinds of settlements are ridiculous and should be ignored — they scarcely exist at all. Some of the more significant settlements, where communities have been built, are indeed an extravagant defense subsidy to the people living there. I think it's important and valuable that the current Israeli plan is to unilaterally withdraw from several settlements while building the security wall. But I don't know how many of those settlements are the inhabited type vs. the trailer variety, or how many people will be moved as a result.

I've seen a lot of claims about how the Palestinians never had any claim to the land currently occupied by Israel. That Israel was some kind of a barren wasteland before the Zionist movement. I don't buy it. It seems ludicrous. Israel is lush land compared to the surrounding deserts, isn't it? Why wouldn't people be living there and why wouldn't they have a claim at least as important as decendents of Biblical Jews?

I believe one of the arguments in the aforementioned book is that the land that became Israel was very sparsely populated at the time. But I haven't read it yet, so I'll have to readdress this later. It's also my understanding that the land that became Israel was primarily purchased, not stolen, but that the sellers had second thoughts after the deal was inked. Again, I'll have to go read about the history.

Given my relative historical ignorance, my position on the Israeli/Palestinian issue is grounded in the current policies of the groups. And by that standard, Israel unmistakably occupies the moral high ground.

Planned followups: Discuss the historical acquisition of the land within the original borders of Israel. Discuss the theoretical basis why reparations for past injustice should decline and ultimately vanish with time. (Or: Why 1970 matters more than 1270.)

Tiny Island