In the wake of each flare-up in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, people inevitably argue over the same question: “Who owns the territory that currently comprises Israel: the Arab Palestinians, or the Jews?” Then long debates ensue about the history of the two different groups in the region, who was there first, which group was the aggressor, which group has rightful title, etc.
But the Objectivist answer to the question of which ethnic group has the right to the land is: Neither. Land cannot belong to ethnic groups, social classes, or other categories of people, in any sense.
In The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand wrote:
A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.
The reason that rights are individual is that the human mind is individual, the process of thought is individual, and human life is fundamentally individual. (For more on this, see: QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual.) Rights are the moral-political principles that protect individual human life and freedom of thought and action from the coercive depredations of other humans. (See Ayn Rand’s essays from The Virtue of Selfishness here: “Man’s Rights/The Nature of Government.”)
Land can only be owned by individuals, or by groups that are definite sets of individuals in a clear contractual arrangement, (such as a corporation.) Vague conglomerations of people have no singular identity and no collective mind, and thus cannot have rights to anything, as such.
Land can, however, “belong” to a governmental organization in a sense apart from literal ownership: A government can be regarded as having rightful jurisdiction over a territory. That is, a government can be the morally proper protector of those who own or otherwise use the land in a given geographic area.
The proper standard for evaluating a government morally is: how consistently does it strive to protect individual rights in all facets of its operation? The proper standard is not that the government is composed of the same ethnic group as the majority under its jurisdiction, nor that it best reflects whatever values most people in its jurisdiction happen to hold.
People, whether part of a government or not, do not have a “right” to violate the genuine rights of others, just because a majority of citizens happen to desire that violation. So there is no right to the “self-determination of peoples,” where the “self” is intended to mean some class or group, since such “self-determination” often involves the implementation of laws that violate the rights of individuals. For example, if the “self-determination” of Arab Muslims means that a code of Sharia is voted into law, under which adulterers are executed by stoning, and “blasphemers” are punished with jail terms, then such “self-determination” is an abomination that makes the government a rights violator and morally illegitimate.
So in the case of two governmental agencies competing for the same territory, the one with the rightful claim to governance is the one that is more consistent in the protection of individual rights.
Palestinians’ vs. Israelis’ Respect for Rights
In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the relevant comparison is between what evidence shows would be the level of respect for rights by a Palestinian government, versus that of the Israeli government.
Now, the Israeli government is not a perfect respecter of individual rights by any means; it is a quasi-socialist country that initiates force to regulate the affairs of its citizens. (The military draft and the government ownership of the majority of land are especially offensive in this regard.) But compared to the government that the Palestinian Muslims would bring about, Israel is a champion of rights and freedom.
Arab Israeli citizens, most of whom are Muslim, have all the same rights as Jewish citizens. Their rights to freedom of speech and religious practice are equally protected. All citizens are entitled to a fair trial by an independent judiciary. All citizens have voting rights, and Arab Muslims can and do serve in the Knesset, (Israeli Parliament.) Women have rights equal to those of men, including property and civil rights. (See: here, here, here and here.) Homosexual activity is legal in Israel and same-sex marriages made in other countries are recognized there. The media in Israel are all privately owned and are generally left free from forcible interference. All citizens, including Arab Muslims, have equal rights to buy private land. (Unfortunately, a large proportion of Israeli land is considered publicly owned, and is merely rented out by the government.)
The (majority) Palestinian Muslims, on the other hand, would base their government on the Islamic code of Sharia. The code of Sharia treats women and non-Muslims as second-class citizens, denies people freedom of speech, and institutes draconian punishments for premarital sex, homosexual sex, and depicting or “disrespecting” the alleged prophet, Muhammad. Sharia is a code of religious law from the 7th Century that does not recognize the principle of individual rights, and, to the extent it is implemented by a government, that government won’t respect individual rights, either.
Current Palestinian government does not respect the rights of the media to freedom of speech. So reporters in the Palestinian Territories who report things unfavorable to the public image of Hamas or the anti-Israel “intifada,” are subject to intimidation, fines, jailing and banning. As reported on FreedomHouse.org:
The media are not free in the West Bank and Gaza. Under a 1995 press law, journalists may be fined and jailed, and newspapers closed, for publishing “secret information” on PA security forces or news that might harm national unity or incite violence. Several small media outlets are routinely pressured to provide favorable coverage of the PA, Fatah, or Hamas. Journalists who criticize the PA or the dominant factions face arbitrary arrests, threats, and physical abuse. Hamas has banned all journalists not accredited by its Information Ministry and closed down Gaza outlets that were not affiliated with it, while both the Fatah-led PA and Israeli forces have shut down Hamas-affiliated radio stations in the West Bank.
The majority of Palestinians in the Palestinian territories have shown their willingness to embrace Islamic totalitarianism, the wanton killing of Jews, and Sharia, again and again. Many supported Yasser Arafat, who was a former member of the Islamic Brotherhood, a terrorist and guerrilla fighter against Israel. In 1980, he said:
Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations… We shall not rest until the day when we return to our home, and until we destroy Israel.
In 1996, three years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, he said:
We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews. We now need all the help we can get from you [Arab states] in our battle for a united Palestine under Arab rule.
Again in 1996, he said:
We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilt to redeem our land!
True to his religiously inspired mission of the domination of the entire Middle East by Islamic Arabs, Arafat rejected an offer at the 2000 Camp David Summit that would have established a Palestinian state, while leaving Israel intact and Jerusalem shared between the Palestinian state and Israel. (See: Yasser Arafat, section called “Other peace agreements”)
Meanwhile, the terrorist wing of Arafat’s Fatah party, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, conducted a long series of indiscriminate suicide bombings against Israelis.
Those Palestinian “refugees” that did not support Arafat, typically supported groups that were even more openly Islamic totalitarian, and that more consistently proclaimed their dedication to the destruction of Israel. The most prominent of these groups is Hamas: A terrorist group that fires rockets at Israel from Palestinian hospitals, stores rockets in UN schools, and openly crusades for an Islamic state in all of Palestine.
The founding Charter of Hamas includes the following:
Article One: The Islamic Resistance Movement: The Movement’s program is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgment in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps.
Article Two: The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterized by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgment, the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam.
Article Eleven: The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgment Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Muslim generations till Judgment Day?
This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Muslims have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till the Day of Judgment. … Any procedure in contradiction to Islamic Sharia, where Palestine is concerned, is null and void.
[The rest of the charter is here: Hamas Covenant at Yale Law Library.]
A Hamas leader, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, recently reiterated much of this in an interview:
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar: We in Gaza conducted a plan of resistance in order to drive the occupation out. The plan was accomplished, and not a single settler or soldier remains on the Palestinian land in Gaza. Our plan is to continue this approach. Today, we have completed the liberation of Gaza, and your plan does not… At this moment in time, we say to you, first of all: We want Palestine in its entirety – so there will not be any misunderstandings. If our generation is unable to achieve this, the next one will, and we are raising our children on this. Palestine means Palestine in its entirety, and Israel cannot exist in our midst.
Interviewer: But that was your past rhetoric. Today, you are talking about the 1967 borders…
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar: I swear by Allah, this is what is on our minds.
Interviewer: Today, you are talking about the 1967 borders.
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar: Fine, but this is a phase. This is just a phase.
Interviewer: When Abu Ammar [Arafat] used to talk about conducting struggle in phases and about give and take, you accused him of treason…
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar: No, we never accuse anyone of treason. We talk about security cooperation and leave the interpretation up to you. Let me explain to you the difference between Fatah and us on this issue. We talk about the liberation of the pre-1967 territories, but we do not recognize Israel on a single inch of our land. In other words, this land will remain ours, and when the balance of power changes, we will regain it. We will regain the land, even if we have to do so inch by inch.
So the difference between Fatah and us is clear. They sold out 78% of the Palestinian lands and consider them to be Israeli lands. They consider only 22% of the land to be Palestinian, and even that is subject to negotiation. Therefore, anyone who says that Hamas has accepted the 1967 borders… I would like to make something clear: We will establish a state on any piece of land, but without giving up on any piece of Palestinian land.
So the basic goal of Hamas is clear: an Islamic state, under rights-violating Sharia, covering the whole area they call Palestine, with Israel wiped out of existence.
After being elected to majority position in the Palestinian Legislative Council by the Palestinians in 2006, Hamas attempted to put Sharia into practice in the penal code of the Palestinian territories. In 2012, the Palestinian Authority arrested six people for eating in public during Ramadan, in accordance with a law based on Sharia that could be enforced against Muslims and non-Muslims, alike.
But it is not just Hamas leadership that want to destroy Israel and enact Sharia: Polls show that the majority of Palestinians want Sharia to be the official law of Palestinian land, and that large numbers of them approve of suicide bombings against civilians “in defense of Islam.” A 2010 poll showed that, of Palestinians ages 18-30, 73 percent want Sharia to be the whole or partial basis of legislation. (38.3% wanted Sharia to be the sole basis, while only 22.9% wanted only secular/civil laws.)
A 2013 Pew poll found that 89 percent of Palestinian Muslims favored Sharia becoming “the official law of the land.” The same poll found that 40% of Palestinian Muslims said that suicide bombing against civilians can be “often or sometimes justified in defense of Islam.” (Note that 80-85% of those in the West Bank, and 98-99% of those in the Gaza Strip, are Muslim.)
Beyond the desire for Arab, Islamic rule and Sharia law, what the above quotes make clear, is that both Fatah and Hamas consider land a collective, ethnic possession, rather than a private, individual possession. In this, they are no better than Israelis, and–in fact–worse, because they will not allow Jews anywhere on “Islamic land,” (the entire region) whereas Israel is quite willing to let Muslim Palestinians have “their own” territory and state in the area.
In the 1930s, Jews originally moved into British-controlled Palestine by buying land from the legally recognized owners at the time: mostly wealthy Syrian, Egyptian and Lebanese Arabs, who had been leasing some of it to poor Arab farmers. (Much of the land that Jews purchased was uncultivated.) The reaction of many Arab Muslims in the area was to fear that their group would be displaced by Jews. Thus, under the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, they rioted and went on strike in order to pressure the British colonial government to place restrictions on Jewish immigration. It worked, and restrictions were indeed put on Jewish immigration by the British. (1) Thus Jews, who had been doing nothing but voluntary transactions with Arabs, were forced to stop.
This early action by Arab Muslims fits neatly into the cultural pattern we see today: They consider the entire region to be their collective property as Muslims, and they will use violence to remove members of other ethnic/religious groups from it.
The contrast is striking: A modern, civilized country that generally protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the equal freedom of women, Arabs and Muslims, and the civil rights of gays–versus a would-be country that violates freedom of speech and the media, violates freedom of religion, harbors anti-Semitic views, and that would institute Sharia law as the official law of the land.
Again, Israel is not perfect by any means in its respect for individual rights, but it has been improving and, compared to the government of the Palestinian “refugees,” Israel is a beacon of freedom and civilization in the Middle East.
This is why Israel is entitled to govern, not only all of its own official territory, but the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has a moral right to defend itself and to obliterate the Palestinian Authority, because it is the freer country. In doing so, it would pave the way for the individuals of the Palestinian Territories to live freer and more prosperous lives under the Israeli government.
- Did the Jews Steal the Land from the Arabs?
- Wikipedia: Haj Amin al-Husseini: Arab Revolt
- The British Peel Commission Report of 1937 mentions land purchases. See especially, Chapters V and IX
- Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict – Chapter 2
The Qur’an Promotes Violence Against Non-Muslims
Israel and the Palestinians: Of War, Civilization and “Refugees”
Ayn Rand’s Philosophy vs. Abortion Bans: Why a Fetus Doesn’t Have Rights
19th-Century Capitalism Didn’t Create Poverty, But Reduced It
I wish to address the issue of land ownership rights, before commenting on Israel/Palestine.
The proper root of property rights is in the production/creation of wealth. The man-made – through the combining of natural resources, the mind and productive labour. If I use my mind and hands to create something of value, I have established my right to keep, use or dispose of it.
In the case of land, meaning all natural resources, it is not man-made. It is a pre-requisite of the man-made. As natural resources are not man-made, so no-one possesses a legitimate right to use, keep or dispose of them until they have been used as a factor of production in the creation of wealth.
This means that ownership of land, of natural resources outside of productive use cannot be established accept through force.
Objectivist treatment of individual rights would entail that disputes over land are really disputes over which individuals can benefit from using land and natural resources; not properly over who owns it. If I use the land productively but you want to use it exclusively, you can only do this initiating force against me to stop me from using it. By what right? If I want to prevent you from using it, I can only do this by initiating force against you – again by what right?
Part of the creation of wealth results in the creation of capital. For example I may build a factory. This factory is located on a piece of land. Clearly I have a right to use this factory as it is mine. No one can legitimately interfere with it. The same if I were to farm the land, or build a mine etc. So this use of the land to place my capital upon legitimately prevents others from also using the land though is not the intention but a consequence of my having created capital wealth.
The private ownership of land is objectionable because it implies one must purchase or rent a licence from other individuals in order to produce. It grants a land owning individual a perpetual “right” to land whether it is used productively or not, a “right” backed by government force. It entitles these land owning individuals to benefit from unearned income – a producer must pay him a rent or buy a licence (the land title) in order to produce using the land (known as Economic Rent). As Rand wrote, if one produces whilst another disposes of his product, then he is to that extent enslaved. Private ownership of land is basically enslavement – but a clean and tidy form of enslavement – no shackles required.
In the case of Israel and Palestine, I would agree individuals who wish to put in place regimes which are inherently opposed to individual rights are individuals worth stopping or certainly not backing. However it is clear many Israeli and Palestinian individuals are refusing to accept the rights of each other to use the disputed lands productively without fighting each other, what’s more individuals on both sides are initiating force against individuals who have not violated the rights of anyone. There is evil all around. It really is a choice between which thug you would prefer to be in the company of – but as Rand said there is no lesser of two evils – to pick any evil would be self-defeating – a sacrificial act.
Think carefully before backing either “side” in the conflict. Instead focus on the individuals involved – those who are using the lands. What are their values, which other individuals have they interfered with as they go about their business. Do we really know who we are backing? Who is asking?