Monday, June 23, 2008

Baka Lefties Again

In my post on Baka Lefties, I challenged the progessives who live in Baka (myself included) to recognize the morally problematic nature of living one's life in a house whose owners were expelled, and who will never receive compensation, at least not in our lifetimes. That post generated a certain amount of comment, although I must say that the only "Baka Lefty" I know of who responded was Deborah Greniman, and she raised some good points, which I will address below.

In my post I suggested that it would be a good idea to have the owners who have moral qualms about living in areas where the Palestinian owners were expelled to try to organize and to reach out to the original Palestinian owners, or more probably, their heirs, or, for that matter, the Palestinian people as a whole, and try to arrange some sort of interim settlement, symbolic or otherwise. I realize that there are many problems with the suggestion. But I wanted to open a discussion of what can be done.

I was misunderstood on several fronts, so here are some clarifications. But first, a story:

I have a friend who has become "green". But he drives every day to work, and that makes him feel guilty. He could take the subway but it would take him twenty minutes longer to get to work, and, frankly, it is not as convenient. He recently sold his SUV (his green consciousness is pretty recent) and got a Toyota Prius hybrid. But he still drives.

Now some people would say that my friend is hypocritical: if helping the environment were that important to him, he would not drive to work at all, they say. In fact, there are probably many things that he could do to reduce his carbon footprint. I mean, some people will die because of the environment, and he will be, in effect, helping to kill them and crying about it later.

I feel sorry for people who use that sort of argument against my friend. They don't realize – at least not when they are engaged in polemics -- that morality covers an enormous amount of grey area, that for most of that area there is no simple moral calculus to determine what is right and wrong, and that there can be areas of moral agreement and disagreement. There is a large area covered by "moral qualms," or "moral unease", which is weaker than "moral disapprobation," and over which there will be a lot of disagreement.

I used to drive on Highway 443, a highway that connects Jerusalem to Modi'in which was built on Palestinian land, and which is effectively closed to Palestinians, causing them enormous inconvenience. After thinking about the road, I decided that given the way I feel, I shouldn't use it. At first, I avoided the road unless there was a traffic jam on Highway 1, in which case I went back to 443. After all, does my use of the road make a single bit of difference to the Palestinians who can't drive on it, or to the other Israelis who can? I asked myself. Lately, however, I have been sitting in traffic jams at Sakharov rather than take the alternative route. (Serves me right for reading Gideon Levy.) But I may go back to the road, some day. Hypocritical? Yes, I suppose. But only if I feel that not using that road under any but emergency circumstances is a clear-cut moral imperative. Only if I criticized others for using it and then proceeded to use it myself.

Now, I am sure that there are people who won't buy houses in Baka because their Palestinian owners were never compensated. I salute such people, just as my friend who bought the Prius salutes those who don't drive to work at all. But there are many reasons why we do the things we do, and there are lots of factors that we weigh, when we choose neighborhoods or cars.

It is clear to me that the responsibility – legal and moral -- for compensation to the Arab refugees who left abandoned property devolves on Israel as a whole, not on the individuals living in Arab houses or on Arab lands throughout the country. Just how that compensation is to be paid and to whom is a matter for a whole different post. If you don't think the question is complicated, then you haven't been following the question of Holocaust reparations, or for that matter, the case of the Native Americans against the US government for misusing their trust funds , which is an even more egregious crime than appropriating people's houses.

I don't criticize others for not sharing my moral qualms. But I would still argue that accepting the status quo and not trying to do something about it is morally insufficient. Or, to be more modest, I still don't see how it is morally sufficient.

Let's look at this another way. Suppose there is a young Pole who learns that the house he bought, from another Pole, who bought it from still another Pole, was originally the property of a Jew, who never got compensated for it. And suppose that this young Pole feels some moral qualms about it. And suppose, finally, that he attempts to locate the owners, or that he makes a documentary film about the house, or something of this sort. Would we Jews be so quick to dismiss this guy as hypocritical or as acting from impure motives or even as acting inappropriately? When we invited him to show his film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, would we argue that the idea of making a film was wrong, that what he really should have done was to influence the Polish government to recognize its collective responsibilities?

Or would we have said that this is a good Pole. He didn't have to do what he did, to be sure, but we admire him for doing it.

Now, to Deborah's comments:

  1. "The responsibility isn't individual; it is collective." On that I agree. But I believe that there is a greater obligation – or if that is too strong, greater cause for moral unease -- on the part of those who benefit more from the expulsion than those who don't, especially if they view it as expulsion. The way that this unease is expressed need not, of course, be in reaching out to the original owners or to their representatives. But why not make this a person-to-person initiative, especially if the people on the other side are receptive? As I wrote, I know of somebody who came to an agreement with the owners. Is what he did wrong-headed?

  2. "Living in Baka makes me feel a little less self-righteous with respect to the settlers. Like them, I too, live on contested land." The fact that the settlers and we Baka lefties are in some respects in the same boat should make me more critical of myself, and not less critical of them. My Prius–driving friend doesn't criticize his SUV-driving friends less because he didn't give up his car. Being self-righteous is never a good thing. But cutting someone too much slack in order to salve your conscience isn't great either.

  3. "It makes more sense to focus energies on better ways of making life liveable for Palestinian Jerusalemites." Amen to that. I am sure that there are lots of things more pressing than reaching out to people who abandoned their property sixty years ago. I wasn't offering my proposal as "drop-everything-let's-do-this". All I wished to do was to get people to start thinking about how we can help raise the consciousness of folks on this issue, beginning with ourselves. Zokhrot is one answer, but not the only answer.

There is every reason in the world to prefer addressing present injustices than to deal with past injustices. But if we Baka Lefties deny or rationalize the past injustices, for which we are not responsible, but from which we indirectly benefit (and all of us humans indirectly benefit from injustices, no matter how hard we try), then aren't we missing an opportunity here?


Ben Bayit said...

Most of what I have written, you have already posted, and do not address. I will just quickly ad a few salient points:

1) You are DIRECTLY benefiting from you preceive to be immoral war plunder, not indirectly

2) According to Jewish Law you are a gazlan. There is no way to suggest that under Jewish Law, the State is collectively responsible for illegal war booty but the private individuals who took part in the looting are not culpable.

3) By way of your analogy, the responsibility for a group rape that takes place on a collective (Kibbutz, Youth Village, School Grounds) lies with some amorphous collective group entity. As I'm certain you would not extend it so far, your analogy falls apart logically in the case of stolen Arab property. If you believe it to be stolen it is YOUR responsibility to return it - not the State's. Suggesting it is immoral but it is the State's responsibility to deal with it and not the beneficiary's is completely illogical and any clear rational analyis of the topic will show that to be true.

Jerry Haber said...


You posted a comment to the wrong post. You repeated yourself ad nauseu, and didn't address anything I said in this post. I won't delete it this time.

There's no point in saying that your reasoning is crap, your analogies absurd, and your premises false.

The spelling is good, though.

Ben Bayit said...

Yes, I realized I was having a problem with my lenses and had my prescription updated. Hopefully the spelling will be better in future.

Using words like, crap, absurd and false is usually the indication that there is simply no valid response, thus the descent in damagoguery.

Enjoy the the breeze on the stolen rooftop.

Jerry Haber said...

Oy, I can't even compliment your spelling (which is much better than mine) without your misunderstanding me.

When I get exasperated I resort to ad hominem attacks. It doesn't mean that I don't have a valid response. It means that I don't think you have a clue what I am saying, since you persistently misread, misinterpret, and misunderstand me -- if you read what I say at all. (Maybe the new prescription will help...I also need a new one.)

At least bar kochba tries to grapple with the text...and don't bother quoting it. Whatever you think I mean to say, you can assume that you are wrong. So you are rarely arguing against what I actually intend; you are arguing against what you think I imply, or presuppose. So most arguments you make are devestating to some straw man of your imagining. Very frustrating, because in your own blog you make some good points.

Oh, well, let's agree to disagree on this one. On the settler compensation, I am ready to concede that in some cases the settlers didn't get what the courts said they deserved. That's because I don't trust the government. But I will tell you one thing -- I trust Yonatan Bassi more than the government and the settlers together. It speaks volumes when a man of his moral stature is hounded off his leftwing religious kibbutz

Eye of the Abyss said...

Every US resident/citizen who is descended from voluntary immigrants shares in the collective moral debt that the US owes to the victims of their ancestors' genocide of the Native Americans and enslavement of blacks. It is in keeping with that debt that one do whatever things, small or large, which tend to pay on the debt. Hence, e.g. affirmative action. If I encounter 2 vendors at a carnival selling the same items,and one is Native American and the other white, I trade with the Native American. It's a very small gesture for a huge historical atrocity.

Ben Bayit said...

It's very obvious to any student of poiltical thought that in Israel the "far-left" and the "far-right" have some ideas in common. Distrust of the government is one of them.
The willingness to engage in civil disobedience and/or disobeying military orders is another.

Yes, we can agree to disagree on certain issues. I would add the supposed morality of Yonatan Bassi to that list. He is probably the PRIME example of the national religious Israeli who dances ma yafis to the oligarchic regime, and who still naively believes in some sort of historic covenant between the religious zionist movement and the socialist labor movement. Those guys are so stuck in the 1930's.......and in Bassi's case I'm not willing to grant him a waiver on naivete as I would on many other fellow travellers of the left. He has his finger in the proverbial pie.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, you commented in the earlier thread:
Who is a freeloader? Very simple.

If the subsidies given to a sector are such that they are able to afford housing well beyond their means, on land which is occupied and hence violates international law, and is not recognized by any government as belonging to the state of Israel, including that of Israel,

Now you really have me confused. First of all the settlements are not "illegal" according to both the Israeli gov't (as ruled by the Israeli Supreme Court which you revere) and the US State Department which defines Judea/Samaria/Gaza as "disputed territories".

Secondly, in spite of your denials, there are sectors of Israeli society, generally associated with the Labor Party/MERETZ branja that gets fat subsidies, at least as much as Gush Katif got, and all this is due to their political connections, or sacrifices their grandparents made which gives the grandchildren a sense of entitlement. Huge amounts of money have been stolen from the Histadrut, the Jewish Agency, Israel Television, etc, etc, over the years, allowing lots of people to live in luxury at taxpayer's expense, and none of these people were ever called to account for it by you or anybody else. Shimon Peres announced that the State Controller has no right to audit the President's Office now that he occupies it. What do you call that? (Oh, I forgot he has a Nobel 'Peace' Prize so the Law doesn't apply to him).
Tel Aviv University is sitting on stolen Arab land of the village of Sheikh Munis (whose original owners are now languishing in a Gaza Strip refugee camp, I would imagine) and they never paid a penny for it and many of its professors are living a better life than anybody in Gush Katif ever had due to fat government subsidies. (The land Gush Katif was built on was all empty land).

Thirdly, you yourself stated that "the problem is not 1967, it is 1947, or more so 1917 (Balfour) or 1897 (First Zionist Congress), so why do you get excited about Gush Katif but not Israel's occupation of Lod, Ramla, Yafo and JERUSALEM which was supposed to be a "corpus separatum" according to the 1947 UN Partition Plan?

To the Palestinians, the Israeli Left are like a thief that steals $100 and then goes around saying that he is tzaddik because he feels morally bound to return $30 but he intends to keep the rest.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the previous comment, but forgot to put my name on it.

Ed M. said...

and the US State Department which defines Judea/Samaria/Gaza as "disputed territories".

Not that it would matter an iota what the U.S. state dept. had to say but that hasn't even been true for the last eight years. It was *only* true during the Clinton administration.

Your mindless propaganda is out of date, schedule a tune-up.

Anonymous said...

No, Ed,

President Carter declared that the settlements were "illegal". The matter was sent to the State Department's section on international law and they came up with the finding that Judea/Samaria/Gaza are "disputed territories" and the settlements are NOT illegal. The last sovereign power to have internationally recognized control of these territories was the British Mandatory Government whose authority was based on the 1922 League of Nations mandate which recognized the Balfour Declaration's granting of Jewish rights to settle these territories. The 1947 UN Partition Resolution would have superseded this, but the Arabs rejected the Partition, thus leaving the Mandatory Authority as the last operative one. Jordanian rule was never recognized internationally, and the Palestinians refused to set up a state when they had the chance in the past, and as they will this time as well.
The Israeli Supreme Court (almost all of whose members are Labor or MERETZ supporters) also has ruled the settlements are legal on this basis.

Jerry Haber said...

Y. Ben David, please cite references.

The United States does not, to my knowledge, take an official position on the legality of the settlements. They have not declared them illegal or legal.

I repeat -- nobody has declared the settlements legal who is not Jewish or Zionist.

The overwhelming opinion of authorities -- is that the settlements are illegal. Of course, the state of Israel and its Zionist supporters disagree with prevalent opinion -- just as Iraq and its supporters disagreed with the world over Kuwait.

From wikipedia:

Legal status of the settlements
See also International law and the Arab-Israeli conflict

The establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been described as "having no legal validity" by the UN Security Council in resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471. These resolutions were made under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter which relates to the "Pacific Settlement of Disputes" between parties, and as such have no enforcement mechanisms and are generally considered to have no binding force under international law.[40] In 1971, however, a majority of the then International Court of Justice (ICJ) members asserted in the non-binding Namibia advisory opinion that all UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding.[41] This assertion by the ICJ has been countered by Erika De Wet and others.[42] De Wet argues that Chapter VI resolutions cannot be binding. Her reasoning, in part states:

Allowing the Security Council to adopt binding measures under Chapter VI would undermine the structural division of competencies foreseen by Chapters VI and VII, respectively. The whole aim of separating these chapters is to distinguish between voluntary and binding measures. Whereas the pacific settlement of disputes provided by the former is underpinned by the consent of the parties, binding measures in terms of Chapter VII are characterised by the absence of such consent. A further indication of the non-binding nature of measures taken in terms of Chapter VI is the obligation on members of the Security Council who are parties to a dispute, to refrain from voting when resolutions under Chapter VI are adopted. No similar obligation exists with respect to binding resolutions adopted under Chapter VII... If one applies this reasoning to the Namibia opinion, the decisive point is that none of the Articles under Chapter VI facilitate the adoption of the type of binding measures that were adopted by the Security Council in Resolution 276(1970)... Resolution 260(1970) was indeed adopted in terms of Chapter VII, even though the ICJ went to some length to give the opposite impression.[43]

Pieter H.F. Bekker has argued that this non-binding character of ICJ advisory opinions does not mean that are without legal effect, because the legal reasoning embodied in them reflects the Court's authoritative views on important issues of international law and, in arriving at them, the Court follows essentially the same rules and procedures that govern its binding judgments delivered in contentious cases submitted to it by sovereign states. In his view, an advisory opinion derives its status and authority from the fact that it is the official pronouncement of the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.[44] In practice the Security Council does not consider its decisions outside Chapter VII to be binding.[42]

The European Union considers the settlements to be illegal,[45] and an April 21, 1978 opinion of the Legal Adviser of the Department of State to the United States Congress on the legal status of Israeli settlements concluded that "[w]hile Israel may undertake, in the occupied territories, actions necessary to meet its military needs and to provide for orderly government during the occupation, for the reasons indicated above the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law."[46][47]

In 1967, Theodor Meron, legal council to the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated in a legal opinion to Adi Yafeh, the Political Secretary of the Prime Minister, "My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."[48] Nevertheless, Israel considers its settlement policy to be consistent with international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, while recognizing that some of the smaller settlements have been constructed "illegally" in the sense of being in violation of Israeli law. [49] In 1998 the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs produced "The International Criminal Court Background Paper".[50] It concludes

International law has long recognised that there are crimes of such severity they should be considered "international crimes". Such crimes have been established in treaties such as the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions. .... The following are Israel's primary issues of concern [ie with the rules of the ICC]: - The inclusion of settlement activity as a "war crime" is a cynical attempt to abuse the Court for political ends. The implication that the transfer of civilian population to occupied territories can be classified as a crime equal in gravity to attacks on civilian population centres or mass murder is preposterous and has no basis in international law.

International human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced the settlements as illegal,[51][52], though the Anti-Defamation League has argued that they are legal.[53]

Some legal scholars [54] (including prominent international law expert Julius Stone, [55] [56] and Eugene Rostow, Dean of Yale Law School) and others, have also argued that the settlements are legal under international law, on a number of different grounds.

And now me, Jerry Haber:

Stone and Rostow are Jewish and Zionist. They are entitled to their opinions, to be sure.

The Balfour Declaration as interpreted by subsequent British governments and by the League of Nations provided for a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. In principle, this could have been fulfilled by a secular Palestinian state which provided a limited amount of cultural autonomy for a Jewish minority.

So much for the Balfour declaration -- which never promised statehood to the Jews, or anything that would prejudice the rights of the native Palestinians.

Jerry Haber said...

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

"national home in Palestine" could mean a state in all of Palestine, including the Hashemite kingdom, or it can mean a status for the Jews in a secular state of Palestine with a certain amount of cultural autonomy, or minority rights, or even less.

Each side reads into the statement what it likes. For the Zionists, the 1947 partition resolution is generally the last UN resolution they are happy to mention. Even 242 is an embarrassment that they signed to under great pressure, and which people like Menachem Begin, for instance, thought fulfilled with the withdrawal from Sinai.

Anyway, what I increasingly like about the settlements is that they not only undermine the 67 conquest but the 48 conquest. Since the two-state solution is virtually dead, Efrat and Ofra are great news for the Palestinan one-staters. For that matter, it is great news for the Israeli one-staters. One state undivided from the sea to the Jordan -- with equal justice for all.

Ed M. said...

The matter was sent to the State Department's section on international law and they came up with the finding that Judea/Samaria/Gaza are "disputed territories" and the settlements are NOT illegal.

I wasn't remembering right, Reagan wouldn't weigh in on the legality of settlement in the West Bank and to my total suprise Bush the Elder didn't either (with the exception of Jerusalem).

However, your version is even more screwed up.


"The expropriation or confiscation of land, the construction of housing on such land, the demolition or confiscation of buildings, including those having historic or religious significance, and the application of Israeli law to occupied portions of the city are detrimental to our common interests in [Jerusalem]. The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is governing the rights and obligations of an occupying Power. Among the provisions of international law which bind Israel, as they would bind any occupier, are the provisions that the occupier has no right to make changes in laws or in administration other than those which are temporarily necessitated by his security interests, and that an occupier may not confiscate or destroy private property. The pattern of behavior authorized under the Geneva Convention and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation. I regret to say that the actions of Israel in the occupied portion of Jerusalem present a different picture, one which gives rise to understandable concern that the eventual disposition of East Jerusalem may be prejudiced, and that the private rights and activities of the population are already being affected and altered.


"[S]ubstantial resettlement of the Israeli civilian population in occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under the convention and cannot be considered to have prejudged the outcome of future negotiations between the parties on the locations of the borders of states of the Middle East. Indeed, the presence of these settlements is seen by my government as an obstacle to the success of the negotiations for a just and final peace between Israel and its neighbors."


"I then explained to the Prime Minister how serious an obstacle to peace were the Israeli settlements being established within the occupied territories. . . . I reminded Begin that the position of the United States had always been that any settlements established on lands occupied by military force were in violation of international law."

(as an aside his legal advisor from the State Department)

"the establishment of the civilian settlements in those territories is inconsistent with international law."

Anonymous said...

We might refer to your interpretation of the Balfour Declaration ( a majority Arab state with limited cultural autonomy for Jews) as the "Karaite interpretation". The Zionists certainly didn't interpret it that way (and don't forget that it was drawn up in consultation with them, led by Haim Weizmann) nor did most of the Jews in the world.
The reference to "prejudicing the rights of the native non-Jewish population refers to their civil and property rights, not "national" rights.

I am reading Benny Morris' book "1948". He mentions your hero Judah Magnes in reference to the massacre of the 78 Hadassah Hospital staff. Apparently, he felt that people associated with the Hospital and Hebrew University would somehow be exempt from Arab violence because of his opposition to a Jewish state. Morris said he left Israel in a badly disillusioned state shortly thereafter and never returned. It is pointed out that the Arabs were no more ready to accept Brit Shalom's bi-national state than they were a Zionist Jewish state because it still would have made the Jews and Arabs equal, meaning one Jew was equal to two Arabs according to the population distribution of the time. (I am sure that Magnes was always congratulating himself on how he was not a "racist" compared to Ben-Gurion and the Zionists since he was willing to grade the Arabs up to being worth one half of what a Jew was, just like the example I gave of "progressive" Zionists who claim it is "outrageously immoral" for Jews to build settlements in Judea/Samaria, but it is "highly moral" for the Jews to have taken pre-67 Israel from the Arabs).

Be honest, if the Balfour Declaration had been interpreted the way you Arab majority state with a Jewish minority with "limited cultural autonomy", how many Jews would have made aliyah? Would you have left America to live as a minority in an Arab-controlled state here?

Jerry Haber said...

Hi, no problems with your comment on the Balfour declaration. I should say that you assume that all Zionists were statist Zionists in 1917, and that's wrong. On the other hand, the predominant majority of Arabs opposed the Balfour declaration and for giving the Jews anything more than minority rights, if that.

My point was that quoting the Balfour declaration with the Zionist interpretation assumed is like quoting 242 with the Zionist interpretation assumed. You guys love international legitimacy when you get it, and say Oom-shmoom when you don't. Duh.

As for Morris on Magnes -- I haven't seen his new book or what documents he has on Magnes. But according to Dissenter in Zionism, he left Israel on April 22 on a mission of peace. While in the US, and in addition to meeting President Truman, he performed his duties both as Chancellor of the Hebrew University. He suffered a stroke in June, threatened to resign from the JDC unless it helped with the Arab refugees, and died in October. As far as I know, he had every indication of returning and kept up with university business till the very end, Portraying him as a disillusioned man who left Israel as a result of statehood is a lie. On the contrary, once he recognized the inevitability of statehood, he accepted it, and wrote an article for Commentary arguing for a federation.

I didn't understand your last point; why would I care how many Jews made aliyah if they were a minority? Would I have made aliyah? How do I know? Let's say I wouldn't. So what?

Jerry Haber said...

"Dissenter in Zion," of course, is the name of Goren's book.