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Shouldn't Objectivists take into account the property rights of palestinians whom were driven from their land in 1948?

asked Sep 05 '11 at 19:00

Yernaz's gravatar image


I also asked a similar question (http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/3108/why-do-some-objectivists-seem-to-be-so-reflexively-pro-israel ). I am not sure I was satisfied by the answers I got. In my Objectivist readings I see muscular sympathy for Israel which gets labeled as a bastion of Western values amidst "worthless" Arab/Islamic regimes. A threat to Israel is sometimes seen as a threat to America. A discussion of the "rights" of the people of lived there before the return in mass numbers of Europeans is dismissed as defending the rights of "savages" whose only interest is conquest.

(Sep 05 '11 at 20:20) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I get exactly the same feeling when I hear Objectivist praise Israel. isn't it possible to separate a few issues? Yes Israel is a more free and secular country than most of it's neighbours. Yes radical Islam is a terrible threat to freedom. Still individual rights should be respected. Not every Palestinian is a jihadist. Israel is still a tribal society and one of only 2 countries in the world that was based on religion(other pakistan-bangladesh) How would such a positioning be in contrast with the basic principles of Objectivism?

(Sep 05 '11 at 20:47) Yernaz Yernaz's gravatar image

Israelis have to be commended for their more Western outlook and their focus on productivity and learning. However the fact many of came to faraway places all over Europe and claimed some mystically based Biblical "right of return" and essentially "took over" an existing state is something that is not discussed much. There is a strong pro-Israel thought (feeling?) among mainstream Objectivists. I am sure at least some of this comes from Ayn Rand's own fulsome support of Israel. But unless you stipulate that AR is always inerrant, then we should question and think about this position.

(Sep 06 '11 at 16:18) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image
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Shouldn't Objectivists take into account the property rights of palestinians whom were driven from their land in 1948?

I see two major issues in this question:

  • Philosophy, especially the meaning of "righs"; and

  • History -- what actually happened, done by whom.

    The questioner has phrased the question in a way that attempts to align with Objectivist philosophy, but then alludes to a view of history that is diammetrically at odds with the view generally expressed in the literature of Objectivism, to the extent that Objectivist literature makes reference to history at all in the course of developing and applying Objectivist philosophical principles.

    For those interested in the actual history of Israel, the Palestinian region as a whole, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is a very substantial and heavily documented article in Wikipedia, titled simply, "Israel." There are also related Wikipedia articles on topics such as "Palestine," "Zionism," and so on. Here are just a few of the relevant historical highlights:

  • The greatest role of foreign powers in Palestine in modern times was that of Great Britain, dating back to the 19th Century and into the 20th, up to the year of Israel's independence from Britain, 1948.

  • Palestine was partitioned into a Jewish sector and an Arab one by action of Britain and the United Nations in 1947.

  • Jews in Israel (Jewish Palestine) struggled tenaciously against British rule following the end of World War II and the Holocaust, culminating in Israel's independence from Britain in 1948.

  • Israel today -- politically, economically, and demographically -- stands in astoundingly productive contrast to the surrounding Arab countries.

  • Huge numbers of Arabs live in Israel today, Arabs who freely chose Israel over living as Muslims under the rule of Palestinian Arabs.

  • Other Arab elements outside Israel have engaged in constant, violent attacks on Israel, casting Israel into a life-or-death struggle with militant Arabs for Israel's very existence.

    The question mentions "property rights of palestinians" who were "driven from their land," but when did individual Palestinians ever have rights in the first place? Who actually "owned" Palestinian land -- individual, supposedly peace-loving Palestinian farmers and settlers, or some broader, more vague ethnic entity known as "the Palestinian people" as a whole? Was land effectively "owned" by individuals, or by a "collective"? It is actually Israel, not Arab countries, that does the most to recognize and uphold the rights of individuals, including Arabs, living within Israel's territorial boundaries.

    The question may have been attempting to avoid the issue of "collective rights" versus individual rights (rights of individuals), but it doesn't entirely succeed. Objectivism, of course, completely denies that there is any such thing as "collective rights" at all. The main Objectivist essay on the topic of "collective rights" appears in VOS, Chap.13, and key excerpts from that essay are available in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, under the topics of "'Collective Righs'" and "National Rights." One overall summarizing passage from those Lexicon topics is the following:

    A nation, like any other group, is only a number of individuals and can have no rights other than the rights of its individual citizens. A free nation -- a nation that recognizes, respects and protects the individual rights of its citizens -- has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government. The government of such a nation is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of its citizens and has no rights other than the rights delegated to it by the citzens for a specific, delimited task (the task of protecting them from physical force, derived from their right of self-defense)...

    Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.

    The history of countries like Britain, Israel and even the U.S. is far from spotless philosophically, but the fusion of history and philosophy nevertheless makes the difference between the Arab countries and Israel a matter of night and day -- urgently so, considering that the Arab countries, historically and still to this day, have sought nothing less than the total annihilation of Israel (driven by their deeply ingrained mysticism-altruism-collectivism).


    One of the comments (if I understand it correctly) expresses the view that (a) the central issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict is the legitimacy of claims by "a people" to the land that was partitioned (by Britain and the U.N.) for Jews in 1947; and (b) the essence of claims of legitimacy amounts to just "my god versus your god," i.e., equally mystical on both sides and thus impossible to judge objectively.

    Objectivism, however, looks at what people actually do, not primarily at the appeals they may make to any mystical moral viewpoints to justify what they do. Objectivism observes Israelis bringing industry and productiveness to an arid desert wasteland. Objectivism observes Arabs (the worst of them) making no comparable effort to develop themselves and the lands that were partitioned for them in 1947, and, instead, launching incessant, vicious terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The Arab perspective, deeply ingrained in the minds of the militants especially, is that Jews simply do not belong in Palestine at all, period. Here is how Ayn Rand expressed the judgment that she drew from these observations:

    The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures...they resent Israel because it's the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting [militant] savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind -- the development of industry in that wasted desert continent -- versus savages who don't want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don't wait for the [U.S.] government to do something. Give whatever you can.

    And Ayn Rand did give. She said it was the first time she had ever "contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency." (Quoted from Ayn Rand's 1973 Q&A at the Ford Hall Forum, published in Ayn Rand Answers, p. 96.)

    Four years later (Ford Hall Forum, 1977, published in Answers, p. 97), Ayn Rand was asked specifically about "the rights of Palestinians to their homeland." She replied:

    Whatever rights the Palestinians may have had...they have lost all rights to anything: not only to land, but to human intercourse. If they lost land, and in response resorted to terrorism -- to the slaughter of innocent citizens -- they deserve whatever any commandos anywhere can do to them....

    This evaluation is just as applicable to Arab militants today as it was in 1977. Israel has long sought a simple, fundamental agreement from Arabs: recognition of Israel's right to exist. Militant Arabs have consistently responded: never! In any such irreconcilable conflict between civilization and terrorists, I, like Ayn Rand, want to see civilization prevail.

    One may point to individual Arabs and observe that many of them are peaceful, life-seeking workers and producers, and, indeed, huge numbers of them already live within Israel today, coexisting in peace with non-Arab Jews. But the essential issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict is the Arab militants -- their aims and methods. It's not a "close call" at all. It's an issue of night and day, objectively so, notwithstanding any mystical Israeli appeals to religion and ancestral tradition.

    The surest way for Western nations to subdue the conflict is to make it clear to the militant Arabs that they will receive no moral or material support from the West. And I hope that Ayn Rand's very clear position on this issue will not be ignored, minimized or misrepresented.

  • answered Sep 09 '11 at 03:04

    Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    Ideas for Life ♦

    edited Sep 10 '11 at 23:55

    The issue of land tenure is interesting and ranges from accounts that the land of Israel was occupied by "wandering nomads" and that there are/were no Palestinian Arabs ( http://www.science.co.il/arab-israeli-conflict.asp#Nationhood ) to ones that show that there was significant Arab land expropriated (http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Maps/Story573.html ). The issue is charged and I am sure that this is the usual fodder for two mystical accounts of the same piece of real estate. As long as the argument stays my God vs. your God , I am sure both sides will unfortunately keep fighting.

    (Sep 09 '11 at 10:59) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

    Thanks for the added info on your response. I am with you on most points. I would agree that one should be pro-Israel from an objective viewpoint. On the militancy issue, I just worry that targeting Arab militants seems to very quickly becomes the waging of an unlimited Churchill/Sherman war on 1 billion people ( http://goo.gl/jl98f). This is not a war the USA can ever really win nor one we should get pulled into. Much better to feed the people surrounding Israel more Bollywood than bombs ;-) http://goo.gl/9Bs31.

    (Sep 12 '11 at 09:45) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

    The reference to a "Churchill/Sherman war" pertains more to the 9/11/01 attack on the U.S. than to earlier attacks on Israel. When Islamic militants attack the U.S. as directly and viciously as they did on 9/11/01, the conflict is no longer merely between the Arabs and the Israelis, with the U.S. as a distant observer not directly involved. If Islamic militants are determined to start a war with the U.S., the U.S. should be fully prepared to wage one -- whatever it takes to crush the attackers and their state sponsors as totally and permanently as possible. The U.S. can wage such a war and prevail if we have the political will and choose our targets wisely, and the Islamic militants have been doing everything within their power for decades to make such a war inevitable. It is their choice, not ours, but one that we in the U.S. may find ourselves increasingly unable to avoid ("Bollywood" notwithstanding), as the decades continue to go by without any response from the U.S. other than a purely "hunker-down" effort at home and some limited commando operations abroad. Articles such as "'Just War Theory' vs. American Self-Defense," by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein in the Spring 2006 edition of TOS (http://goo.gl/j198f), are well worth careful study by all rational observers.

    (Sep 12 '11 at 23:05) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    I've noticed that the "goo" link that I referenced doesn't always work reliably. Here is a more direct link that may work a little better: link.

    (Sep 12 '11 at 23:14) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    Who actually "owned" Palestinian land -- individual, supposedly peace-loving Palestinian farmers and settlers, or some broader, more vague ethnic entity known as "the Palestinian people" as a whole? Was land effectively "owned" by individuals, or by a "collective"?

    Are you suggesting that Arabs didn't recognize individual property rights in 1948?

    I can't find anything to support that, even on Wikipedia.

    (Oct 11 '14 at 17:06) anthony anthony's gravatar image

    To understand my questions further, it will be necessary for readers to relate them to the full context of my Answer, including the references cited and my bullet-point summary of the historical record. The questions are intended primarily to serve as guideposts for further study. The actual record of the Arabs and the Israelis is what it is, and Ayn Rand, in my judgment, has done a superb job of identifying the philosophical fundamentals involved.

    (Oct 12 '14 at 14:47) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image


    (Oct 12 '14 at 18:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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    Yes, Objectivists should take property rights into account in judging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, taking property rights into account does not diminish the moral status of Israel in the way that the questioner apparently thinks that it should, for the reasons discussed below.

    As a matter of general principles and in a normal (e.g., non-wartime) context, if any innocent individual—Palestinian or otherwise—is forcibly evicted from property that they own, then that is a rights violation, which is viewed by Objectivism as a terrible wrong.

    However, the moral blame for such rights violations generally falls on only the individuals who actually perpetrated them, and not on their innocent neighbors. Israel as a whole can only be blamed for such rights violations under limited circumstances—for example, if it was the government itself that perpetrated the violations, or the government legally sanctioned their performance by others, and so on. Moreover, during wartime the analysis becomes much more complicated—it is still wrong to evict innocent persons from their land during wartime, but those who are engaged in war against you (or supporting the war effort behind the scenes) cannot be considered innocent, and eviction of such enemies would not be wrong.

    Thus, in considering Israel’s moral status from the perspective of supposed property rights violations, one must answer at least the following questions: Did such rights violations actually occur, and, if so, how widespread were they? Were any such violations merely the actions of disparate individuals, or are the actions properly attributable to Israel as a whole?

    The questioner has not presented any evidence that such rights violations actually occurred, much less that they were widespread. The question states that Palestinians were “driven from their land in 1948”. Which Palestinians? How many? Were they “driven” out by the use of force. By whom were they “driven” out? What was the government of Israel’s role?

    Moreover, although the “formal” establishment of Israel happened relatively quickly, the settlement of Israel by Jews was taking place for decades prior. Then, immediately upon Israel being formally formed a civil war broke out followed by the First Arab-Israeli War. When the questioner speaks of Palestinians being driven out, is s/he referring to the pre-war settlement, the wartime period, or the post-war period?

    My understanding of the factual history is this. As early as 1492 some Jews began settling in Palestine. In 1881, the first modern wave of Jewish settlement in Palestine began, and continued periodically over the next 60 years. As far as I can tell, this early settlement did not involve any widespread or systematic rights violations of Palestinians—the Jewish settlers purchased land legally, or settled on un-owned land. Moreover to the extent any property rights violations at all occurred, they would be attributable only to the individuals who perpetrated them.

    As time went on, Palestinians began to oppose the immigration of Jews, causing a riot in 1920 and an attempted uprising against the British (who governed Palestine after WWI) in 1936-1939. There were tensions between the Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the 1930s and 1940s, but I can find no evidence of widespread or systematic property rights violations by Jewish settlers in this era, and, again, to the extent any property rights violations at all occurred, they would be attributable only to the individuals who perpetrated them.

    On 29 November 1947, the UN adopted a resolution recommending adopting a proposed plan of that included creating an “Independent Arab State, an Independent Jewish state, and the City of Jerusalem”. The representatives of the Jewish community accepted the plan, but the representatives of the Arab community rejected the plan. Shortly thereafter, Arabs began attacking Jewish targets, and a civil war broke out. According to Wikipedia, 250,000 Palestinian-Arabs “fled or were expelled” incident to this civil war.

    Whether this so-called “expulsion” involved rights violations is not clear. Were the Palestinian-Arabs who “fled or were expelled” forced to leave (i.e., was physical force actually initiated against them specifically?), or were they instead simply refugees seeking to avoid war in general but who were not specifically targeted themselves? I have not seen evidence strongly supporting either, but I presume that there was a mixture—I assume most merely fled of their own accord to avoid the war, while some others were actually forced to leave their property.

    Obviously, those who left of their own accord cannot claim a rights violation. Moreover, even those who were forced to leave may not be able to claim a rights violations, if they were supporting the Arab war effort (whether materially or through moral support). I presume that a portion of the small percentage who actually had force used against them were supporting the war effort, and thus they were not “innocents”. I also assume that another portion of the small percentage who actually had force used against were not supporting the war effort and were swept up merely because of their ethnicity. These last—those who were innocents but had force used against them—can claim a rights violation, and to the extent that such rights violations occurred, I think most Objectivists would consider each such occurrence to be a terrible wrong.

    During the First Arab-Israeli war that immediately followed the civil war, additional refugees fled. The same analysis above applies to these refugees, and under the assumptions stated above, only a small percentage of the refugees had their rights violated.

    There are no facts I can find that indicate the actual amount of the Arab refugees that had their rights violated, much less who violated their rights. Under the assumptions stated above, it appears that the amount was proportionally small. One might ask, “but isn’t even one rights violation bad enough?” Well, yes and no. While every such rights violation is a wrong, when it comes to judging a nation as a whole, the number of such violations and who is responsible for them becomes highly relevant. A country cannot be deemed morally bad merely because some rights violations have occurred therein—every country in the world has rights violations occurring therein every day. The moral status of the country depends not upon the mere occurrence of rights violations, but upon what the country does about the violations—do they tolerate or sanction the violations? Did the government itself perpetrate the rights violations?

    Thus, it seems to me the moral appraisal of Israel does not suffer when property rights are considered—at least not without some evidence being presented that would change the assumptions I made above. Unless and until such evidence is presented, Israel is entitled to a presumption of innocence, especially given the subsequent track record of both the Israeli’s and the Palestinians.

    answered Oct 08 '14 at 10:51

    ericmaughan43's gravatar image

    ericmaughan43 ♦

    Obviously, those who left of their own accord cannot claim a rights violation.

    Well, it gets a little more complicated if they weren't allowed to come back. Adverse possession, abandonment, etc.... I would think if I fled my home due to an ongoing war that I'd be entitled to retake my property when the war had ended, though.

    But before these issues can even be considered, there's a need for a lot more facts. My quick googling of the matter suggests that these facts are disputed.

    (Oct 11 '14 at 17:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image

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    Asked: Sep 05 '11 at 19:00

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    Last updated: Oct 12 '14 at 18:25