Many of the comments on my post First Sheikh Jarrah, Then Baka?, here and at The Forward, constitute textbook examples of how the mere mention of Israel acts like a gravitational lens that bends the rays emanating from extreme Zionism and anti-Zionism until they merge into a single image.
Let’s take, as an exhibit on the anti-Zionist side, Phillips Brooks. Brooks argues that the land on which the state of Israel was created belonged to the Palestinians. Therefore, it is stolen. Therefore, Israel is founded on a crime. Therefore there is no difference between the land Israel took in 1948 and in 1967; it’s all stolen and held illegitimately and the Jews should return whence they came.
Now, that might sound like a voice of conscience to the unthinking. But if you think it through, it’s based on a concept of originalism that makes no sense in the real world. In other words, for Brooks’ logic to work, there has to be some particular point in history in which the world’s territory was divided up fairly between different nations. Then bad nations started conquering peaceful ones to gain territory. Peace and justice can be regained if everyone goes back to where they came from.
But of course there was no such point in history. Brooks’ position also leads to logical absurdities. Where is the average Englishman, with his hopeless amalgamation of Celtic, Roman Saxon, Danish, and Norman French languages and gene pools, supposed to go? Should all the Arabs return to Arabia? Should India’s Aryan stock return to central Asia? What nation rightfully owns Malta? Istanbul? Honolulu?
On the Zionist side, Y. Ben-David get to the same point from a different direction. Like Brooks, YBD sees no difference between the War of Independence of 1948 and the Six Day War of 1967. In both cases Israel conquered land to which it has a historic and religious right. The fact that the Jewish people lived on this land in ancient times, and the fact that our sacred texts promise it to us, obviates all other claims and considerations. We have a right to take it, settle it, and do what we wish with it, at our sole discretion.
YBD’s absolutes lead him into the same fallacy as Brooks’ do. The only criterion for determining what a nation can do with a piece of territory is the fact that it held that piece of land at some particular time in history.
Let me outline a more complex set of principles. First, general ones:
1. Nations have a right to self-determination and to lands to which they have historic ties.
2. Where such claims conflict, a nation’s right to self-determination and a particular territories are not absolute. In exerting those claims, they must balance their own heritage and pressing needs with those of other claimants. The extent of self-determination and the extent of territory depend on the balance of pressing needs between the claimants, claims of justice and human rights, and practical considerations involving defense, natural resources, and the like.
Specifically, regarding Israel:
1. The Jewish nation has a right to self-determination.
2. The Jewish nation has a historic right to the Land of Israel.
3. A long history of persecution, even in supposedly enlightened polities, grants the Jewish people the right to demand self-determination in the form of a Jewish state, on the only territory to which it has a historic claim.
4. Another nation, the Palestinian Arabs, also claim this territory.
Here are my conclusions:
1. In 1948, the Jewish people fought to establish their state in the Land of Israel. Given the hostility of the other inhabitants of the territory, the Jewish people had no choice but to conquer the territory by force and create facts on the ground that would allow for the defense of the state and its ability to absorb the masses of Jews waiting to immigrate.
2. After 1948, the Jews already had a state. While its frontiers were far from advantageous and the state remained under threat from its neighbors, the state was viable and strong.
3. In 1967, Israel acquired, in the course of defending itself against attack, large territories to which the Jewish people also have historic claim. However, at this point, with a state already in existence, Israel was not at liberty to press its historic claims and pressing needs by conquest. Its interests, and its moral imperative, was to seek to dispose of those territories in such a way as to provide for the competing claims of the Palestinian nation. Israel was therefore fully justified in occupying these territories militarily until a peace agreement could be reached, but not in seeking to claim this territory as a place of settlement of its civilians.