[Editor’s Note: Toward the goal of fostering a deeper discussion of issues pertaining to the current conflict in Gaza, and of the implications of libertarian thought for issues of foreign policy more generally, we are running the following guest submission by John Glaser. Glaser is the Senior Editor at Antiwar.com. He was formerly an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative magazine and an intern at the Cato Institute. – MZ]
I should start by saying I greatly admire Mr. Horwitz, his work, and his unparalleled ability to simplify economic principles for the layperson. I chose to respond to his latest piece not out of malice or for a shouting match, but to try to correct the record, speak for the anti-war libertarians critical of Israel, and to move towards a greater understanding within the libertarian movement on important issues of US foreign policy. I participated in the Facebook discussion that prompted Mr. Horwitz’s essay, and I think I’m well suited to respond.
Mr. Horwitz’s first mistake is to conclude that, beyond demanding that the US government “keep its military and our money out of” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he’s “not sure how much libertarianism, at least of a thin variety, can say” about it. This thinking leads him to approach the issue in a vacuum, forgetting one vital strain in libertarian thought that I think is instructive.
As things stand, and as everyone knows, the US is not a neutral player in the conflict. Israel receives over $3 billion in aid from Washington every year, not including the mountains of military hardware and expertise that the Israeli Defense Forces are now unleashing on the Palestinians. As Noam Chomsky, a harsh critic of US foreign policy and the intellectual mentor of many a bleeding heart libertarian, said, “my own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state.” There are two reasons this is instructive in the case of Israel-Palestine. First, Israel’s violence and abuse of the Palestinians – supported with unparalleled US backing – is immeasurably greater than Palestinian violence towards Israel, and therefore rightly attracts far more criticism. Secondly, Americans are supporting and giving sanction to Israel’s violence towards Palestinians, and therefore a simple moral calculus leads us properly to focus on that violence, as opposed to any that we are not directly responsible for. “And that is a simple ethical judgment,” according to Chomsky. “That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.”
To really understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Horwitz correctly notes, “we need a much thicker libertarianism that actually goes out and reads a whole lot of history and tries to carefully untangle the knot.” I actually think this ought to be something of a prerequisite to talking about the issue in general and we should be skeptical of those that try to shape the opinions of our fellow libertarians without this strong reliance on the history and facts on the ground.
To that end, allow me to lay out some limited context. Just what is America supporting? Well, for 45 years Israel has militarily occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza, while using unqualified support from the United States to block the wildly popular political settlement based on the borders set in 1948. Many Palestinians aren’t happy with this settlement, given that it reaffirms Israel’s territory on almost 80 percent of historic Palestine. But many have accepted this as a viable deal to end the stalemate and occupation of what’s left of Palestine. The Arab League has officially endorsed this settlement, along with the Palestine Liberation Organization, and even some elements of Hamas.
But Israel has blocked this settlement for decades, insisting on continuing its brutal occupation of both the West Bank and Gaza. Not only has the occupation continued, but Israel has been slowly seizing more and more territory. In the West Bank, Israel has been demolishing Palestinian homes that have rested on that land for generations and building up Israeli settlements in their place, paid for by the Israeli state which also subsidizes Israeli citizens willing to live there. This is a direct violation of the international laws that were created in order to criminalize Nazi war policies in World War II. Occupying powers are prohibited from transferring their own civilian populations into occupied territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies over the last three years have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis into the West Bank, causing the Jewish population in Palestinian territory to increase by 18 percent. And the number of Jewish settlers that the Israeli government has incentivized to live on Palestinian land has tripled since 1993 to more than 342,000 at the end of 2011. That number does not include some 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed from the Palestinians in 1967. In 2012 alone, at least 476 Palestinian homes were demolished by Israel, according to a September UN report. In 2011, more than 1,100 Palestinians, half of them children, were displaced by Israeli demolitions.
A report from the European Union in January found that “a combination of house and farm building demolitions; a prohibitive planning regime; relentless settlement expansion; the military’s separation barrier; obstacles to free movement; and denial of access to vital natural resources, including land and water, is eroding Palestinian tenure of the large tract of the West Bank on which hopes of a contiguous Palestinian state depend.”
The report warns, “If current trends are not stopped and reversed, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders seem more remote than ever.”
And indeed, that seems to be the point. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party Charter declares Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza as “the realization of Zionist values” and describes the whole of the West Bank and Jerusalem as belonging to Israel.
Israel unilaterally withdrew its military forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005. This has led many Israeli leaders to claim they made a major concession to the Palestinians, without much in return. In a free election, which was heavily monitored by international organizations, Gazans elected Hamas to power in 2006. Israel decided they voted the wrong way and proceeded to impose an economic blockade on all of Gaza, for what they described as security reasons. The blockade has been devastating. Israel uses the coercive power of the state to block the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza and it has resulted in severe poverty and suffering.
Israel claims the economic blockade on Gaza is in place for security reasons, but it includes purely economic and humanitarian resources as well as other non-military items including children’s toys.
Several fact-finding missions in Gaza, including one by the International Committee of the Red Cross, have claimed the blockade is illegal. It has subjected Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.” According to one UN special rapporteur, about one third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, while at least two-thirds of Gazan households lack reliable access to food as a result of the blockade.
“I urge Israel to lift its harsh restrictions in order to ease the plight of civilians and bring an end to the closure,” the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon declared in a speech to the UN’s Human Rights Council in September. “Keeping a large and dense population in unremitting poverty is in nobody’s interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region,” he added.
In a January 2008 secret Israeli document released in a recent court case, Israel decided to allow Gazans to eat 2,279 calories worth of food each day, as if they were dogs in a cage. They estimated therefore that they would allow 1,836 grams of food per person, per day. The policy was summed up by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, years before the document was written. “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,” Weisglass said, claiming the hunger pangs are supposed to coerce Palestinians to force Hamas out of government.
These realities, and many more that I don’t have the space to explain here, are what motivate libertarians like me to emphasize Israel’s crimes over those of the few Palestinians in Gaza who launch rockets into Israel. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are victims and they don’t have a big terrible government to counteract Israel’s transgressions and thus attract more of the blame. The situation is very one-sided. Israel has the military and economic power. It has the support of the most powerful nation on Earth, the US. And it is using these coercive tools to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and their livelihoods.
Horwitz wrote in his piece “there is one and only one state in the region that rests on broadly classical liberal values and that is Israel.” While “it is far from perfect,” he admits, “it is the most classical liberal game in town.”
What Horwitz misses here is that the other states in the region that he is comparing with Israel have for decades been subsidized and propped up by the US government.
As a top-secret National Security Council briefing put it in 1954, “The Near East is of great strategic, political, and economic importance,” as it “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world” as well as “essential locations for strategic military bases in any world conflict.”
To this end, America needed to prop up brutal dictators that would allow such US imposition. As a 2004 report out of the Department of Defense recognized, with regard to “the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and the Gulf States,” unfortunately “The United States [is] the longstanding prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes. Without the U.S. these regimes could not survive.”
So yes, the region is bad all around and Israel does – at least for those it considers Israeli citizens – more closely resemble stable, liberal government values. But the story is not so clear as that. According to a poll released last month, 58 percent of Jewish Israelis believe “Israel practices apartheid against Arabs.” Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they want preferences for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and don’t want their children in the same classes with Arab children.
About a third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and 69 percent objects to giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank. “A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank,” Haaretz reports.
Even if Israel were incomparably better for liberty than all of its neighbors, that still wouldn’t excuse Israel of its crimes and it still shouldn’t convince libertarians to favor Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.
This latest clash between Israel and Hamas has rightly prompted many libertarians to object, loudly once again, to US-Israeli policies. Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza began when a lull in cross border violence was broken on Nov. 8th – not with rocket fire into Israel – but with Israeli tanks invading southern Gaza and shooting and killing a 13-year old boy. Gaza militants responded by shooting an anti-tank missile at an IDF vehicle, wounding four soldiers. Then Israel significantly escalated airstrikes.
The conflict then took a turn for the worst when Israel launched a targeted airstrike on Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari, who was killed while acting as the lead negotiator for Hamas in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire proposal. Israel instead rejected the peace deal and chose to escalate further.
Hamas has indeed launch over 1,000 rockets into Israel, most of them blocked by Israel’s missile defense system. Five Israelis died, tragically. On the other side, Israel has unleashed countless airstrikes into Gaza, killing over 145 Palestinians and wounding more than 900, most of them civilian men, women, and children.
With proportions like these, and with the limited context I provided above, I think libertarians, especially leaders of the movement looked up to by so many, should not hesitate to roundly condemn Israel’s actions. Everyone has his or her bias. But I sincerely believe the proper bias for libertarians is to always lay heavier scrutiny on those with more coercive power. And in this case the military occupier and blockader has, and uses, immeasurably more of it.