Bryan Caplan  

Joe Sacco's Palestine: Some Unanswered Questions

Short Debate with Jane Orient,... Response to Susan Lee...
Last year, I bought The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, which in turn led me to buy dozens of its recommendations.  I'd like to blog virtually every one, but only a handful have enough social science to review at EconLog.  One of these few is Joe Sacco's Palestine.  It's an autobiographical graphic novel about the journalist's time in Gaza and the West Bank.  Most of the pages revolve around Sacco's sympathetic interviews with scores of Palestinians. 

If your instant reaction is,  "What about interviews with Israelis?," Palestine's got a scene just for you.  When he explains his project to two Israeli women, one asks, "Shouldn't you be seeing our side of the story, too?," Sacco responds with voice-over: "And what can I say?  I say I've heard nothing but the Israeli side most all my life..."  Growing up in the U.S., that sounds about right.

So what can we learn from Sacco's book?  Despite his focus on the Palestinian side of the story, we see that collective guilt is a double-edged sword.  The Israelis inflict harsh collective punishment on the Palestinians to retaliate for the terrorism of a tiny minority.  Most of the Palestinians respond by openly sympathizing with the terrorists, and dreaming of inflicting harsh collective punishment on the Israelis.  Sacco doesn't sugarcoat this: Even his mellower subjects occasionally hiss that "The Jews are dogs."  He leaves little doubt that if the Palestinians managed to get the upper hand, they'd exact a terrible revenge.

My main complaint about the book is that Sacco rarely asks his subjects the really hard questions.  Here are a few I would have posed... if my physical safety were assured:

1. You're too weak to beat the Israelis.  Why don't you just submit?  (And if they responded, "Would you?," I'd say "I already do.  I think taxation is theft, but I also have the wisdom to realize that the IRS will make my life a living hell if I resist.")

2. The Israelis could easily have killed or exiled every Palestinian.  Why didn't they?  What does that say about their objective function - and/or the objection functions of other Western countries that put pressure on Israel?

3. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow.  What would greater Palestine's GDP per capita be ten years from now?  Want to bet on that?

4. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow.  How many Palestinians would still die violent deaths during the next ten years?  How many political prisoners will there be in ten years?  Want to bet on that?

I realize, of course, that these are insensitive questions to ask someone who spent years in an Israeli prison for a crime he didn't commit.  But I'd still like some honest answers.  Care to enlighten me?

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The author at Fahreunblog in a related article titled La Pace e il benessere come arte della sottomissione writes:
    Caplan legge il fumetto di Sacco sulla Palestina e nota come manchi, tra le altre, una domanda decisiva da rivolgere ai palestinesi: "... You're too weak to beat the Israelis. Why don't you just submit? (And if they responded, "Would you?," I'd say [Tracked on April 6, 2009 2:53 AM]
COMMENTS (27 to date)
RL writes:

"I realize, of course, that these are insensitive questions to ask someone who spent years in an Israeli prison for a crime he didn't commit."

Often, as you know Bryan, it is without even being accused of a crime.

Thanks for making me aware of a graphic novel on this topic. Another book on the Palestinians I can recommend, and found very moving, is The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account, by Norman Finkelstein, written from his many months living with the Palestinians during the first intifada. Measured and moving. (Finkelstein is, of course, controversial to many and it is not my intent to hijack this thread, merely to recommend a text I found thoughtful and perceptive.)

beamish writes:

1. They do submit, except for the ones who don't. (Terrorists are to the average Palestinian as Wesley Snipes is to you.)

2. The current rulers of Israel aren't sociopaths.

3. $2350 per capita. No.

4. 987; 623, including politically motivated prisoners who use violence and break the laws in other ways; No.

These aren't very good questions.

Maniel writes:

On the narrow issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it seems to me to be like a bad marriage, characterized by each side pointing fingers at the other and invoking years and years of history. If we stipulate that divorce is not an option - and neither group is going to leave voluntarily - the only solution is to find, somewhere, somehow, a common objective. Absent invaders from Mars (in a graphic novel, this would be a convenient option), common goals arising from commonly perceived needs would allow both sides to set a mutual goal. The trick is to convince each side that such a goal - economic (a good blog topic), social, environmental, etc - is sufficiently compelling to turn from hostility toward teamwork. On this point, neither side can get it right alone. Real marriage counseling requires both parties to come to the table with the goal of saving the marriage.

Anomymous writes:

Caplan: 'Sacco responds with voice-over: "And what can I say? I say I've heard nothing but the Israeli side most all my life..." Growing up in the U.S., that sounds about right.'

I must live in an alternate dimension from either you, Bryan, or Mr. Sacco. One is constantly being bombarded with propaganda in favor of the Palestinians, while we have access to all the internal political debates within Israel itself. We know both the justifications for their actions and the heated internal debates over which actions are appropriate. (There has been less internal debate in Israel in the last decade, but that has largely resulted from the despair of the Israeli peace movement in the face of Palestinian intransigence.) Anyone who hasn't heard the Palestinian side hasn't been listening.

The whole question here is being looked at naively. Go back to EconTalk and listen to Russ Roberts's conversation with Barry Weingast on the different kinds of states (8/13/2007). We are dealing here with a conflict between a limited access order (governed with great brutality by the Palestenian Authority and Hamas) and an open access order (Israel). These states are different in kind, and they are in fact held up to different international standards. If the Palestinians started acting like Norwegians, how long would it take for Israel to reach a lasting settlement with them? I'd guess six weeks.

Captain Awesome writes:

I don't know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the premise of 1 seems a bit extreme to me. In the long-run (i.e. 50 to 100 years), it doesn't seem terribly unlikely that the Palestinians will get a nuke or that their political allies might get stronger than the Israelis. In such a case, a history of sustained attacks against the Israelis might make it more legitimate or likely that these weapons/allies will be used against Israel. So, on a pragmatic level, in the long run, the conflict does not appear futile to me.

mike shupp writes:

Question 5: Why can't or won't you restrain your maniacs? Would you tolerate neighbors and relatives who are kidnappers, burglers, bank robbers, or robbers of other Palestinians; or would you report them to the police? Why make exceptions for gunmen and suicide bombers?

Question 6: If you and your family were relocated as setlers to some other environment -- say Chicago or small towns in the American midwest or Hong Kong or Siberia or Mexico City -- would you get along peacefully with non-Moslems, even including Jewish neighbors?

MikeL writes:

My question would be, "Why on earth would you want a State?"

MikeL writes:

3. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. What would greater Palestine's GDP per capita be ten years from now? Want to bet on that?

I have to wonder what you're implying here, Bryan? Are you suggesting that the Palestinians would be worse off if the Israelis stopped attacking them? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like you don't think the Palestinians are capable of improving their lot under any circumstances. Please clarify.

4. Suppose all the Jews left Israel tomorrow. How many Palestinians would still die violent deaths during the next ten years? How many political prisoners will there be in ten years? Want to bet on that?

Again, what are you suggesting? That absent a murderous external power harassing them day and night that a murderous internal power will do the same, or worse?

I'm wondering what reservoir of contempt these questions are coming from.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Regarding Norman Finkelstein, it should be noted that he was denied tenure in 2007 in the political science department at DePaul University. He was supported by his department and a committee above that, only to be turned down at higher levels, with strong claims that appear to be true that this was due to outside influence, particularly coming from Alan Dershowitz, who was very upset at Finkelstein's criticism of his work. Whatever one thinks of Finkelstein, who is certainly controversial, not to mention the broader Israeli-Palestinian issue (which is even more controversial), I find this particular incident disturbing.

MikeL, You appear to be woefully ignorant of the history of Palestine. In short, there was nothing there, until the Jews began to migrate there in the late 19th century.

Many famous people traveled to Palestine in the 19th century, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert. All agreed it was a lawless wasteland. Which is pretty much why the Turks allowed the Jews in; they (correctly) thought that the Jews would develop it economically.

The great travel agent/entrepreneur, Thomas Cook had to take everything with him for his Tours of the Holy Land. Food, utensils, stoves, tents, bedding, armed guards...the works.

Take a look at a map and see how tiny a sliver of land Israel is compared to what surrounds them. 5 million Jews living in a few square miles can't be the reason the Arab world is such a mess.

Ritwik writes:

"1. You're too weak to beat the Israelis. Why don't you just submit? (And if they responded, "Would you?," I'd say "I already do. I think taxation is theft, but I also have the wisdom to realize that the IRS will make my life a living hell if I resist.")"

We are hard-wired to be irrational about revenge. This is the result of evolutionary game theory. If you are rational and always submit to opponents that are stronger, the opponent will figure this out and bully you further. Only if you are irrational and ready to fight a stronger opponent, even at the risk of being annihilated, the opponent will be cautious. He risks getting hurt in the process of annihilation and in the consequent uncertainty, might decide to not impose himself. Of course, there has to be some match - the threat has to be credible.

You may thus pay taxes because

1) The injustice that you perceive because of the ostensible theft by the IRA is far lesser than the injustice as perceived by Palestinians. There have been armed/civil unrest movements on the subjects of tax elsewhere.

2) You vs. IRA is not the same as Palestine vs. Israel. The threat of irrational resistance is much more credible in the case of the Middle-East.

Les writes:

This discussion has been very illuminating in showing several cases of strong judgments being made with little or no factual knowledge or evidence.

The most perceptive comment I have heard is from past prime minister Golda Meier, who said "There will be peace between Israelis and Palestinians when they love their children as much as we love ours."

Tom West writes:

If the Palestinians started acting like Norwegians, how long would it take for Israel to reach a lasting settlement with them? I'd guess six weeks.

Really? And if Israel's security could magically be assured, would the treaty involve the Palestinians getting back *all* of the West Bank?

I've seen enough to know that any degree of submission or reasonableness from either side will be ruthlessly taken advantage by the extremists on the other side.

There is enough support for such extremists that either state would be destroyed if they actively tried to stop the extremists. (Dismantle all the settlements or imprison all the terrorists.)

Sorry for the (I hope mistaken) cynicism, but historically disputes of this nature were only finished with the destruction or exile of one side or the other. Thank God we're living in the present, but I cannot see any other alternative but this going on forever.

My question then becomes "What do we do to minimize the impact of the crisis on the lives of Palestinians and Israelis."

John Fast writes:

Bryan Caplan wrote:

My main complaint about the book is that Sacco rarely asks his subjects the really hard questions. Here are a few I would have posed... if my physical safety were assured:
Your physical safety is pretty well assured if you ask questions on a pro-Palestinian blog; and also if you ask Sacco himself why he didn't ask really hard questions.

Oh the other hand, I think your meta-question contains its own answer, at least about Sacco.

On the gripping hand, I'd like to confirm whether Sacco didn't ask those questions because he thought he was in danger, or because they never occurred to him.

Mike Shupp, I love your questions too!

MikeL writes:

Are you suggesting that the Palestinians would be worse off if the Israelis stopped attacking them? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like you don't think the Palestinians are capable of improving their lot under any circumstances. Please clarify.
I'm willing to bet that Bryan is suggesting that the Palestinians would be better off if the Israelis stopped attacking them, which will happen as soon as the Palestinians stop attacking the Israelis.

Do you disagree with any part of that?

Again, what are you suggesting? That absent a murderous external power harassing them day and night that a murderous internal power will do the same, or worse?
I don't know about Bryan, but I'm suggesting exactly that.
Do you think Palestinians or other Arabs who live in Israel are worse-off than those who live in Egypt, Syria, or Libya? Or in any other Arab state that, like Gaza and the West Bank, doesn't have massive quantities of oil.
I'm wondering what reservoir of contempt these questions are coming from.
So, yeah.

Anomymous writes:

If the Palestinians started acting like Norwegians, how long would it take for Israel to reach a lasting settlement with them? I'd guess six weeks.
Tom West writes:

Really? And if Israel's security could magically be assured, would the treaty involve the Palestinians getting back *all* of the West Bank?
Short answer: Yes.

My question is: If the Israelis started acting like Palestinians, how long would it take for Israel to drive all the Palestinians from Gaza into the sea?

I'd guess six days.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:


It takes courage to even talk about this subject. From what I have seen, criticism of Palestinians is not allowed, period. For instance, I wrote what I thought was a middle-of-the-road Amazon review of The Case For Israel, and got absolutely caned. God help me if they get my address. Be careful.

I presume your questions come out of a perspective, like that of Spengler, that some cultures are in terminal decline, and cannot be saved.

I do not know any Palestinians, so it is unfair of me to judge - but by the time one's method of warfare is to strap bombs to children, that must represent some kind of cut-off point from which it is not possible to return to civil society.

Of the (very few) Israeli's I know personally, they are all desperate for almost any permanent solution that does not destroy Israel. But they have no (reliable) partner with which to negotiate. I feel that lack of reliability is a much bigger feature of Palestinian leadership than Israeli.

But then I might be mistaken. Don't give out my email, godsakes.

saifedean writes:


As a Palestinian who grew up in Ramallah, I will attempt to answer your questions.

1. I can't even begin to tell you how many things are wrong with this question. But here's a partial list:

Submission is not an option, because Israel is continuously stealing land, ethnically cleansing swathes of it, building religiously exclusive colonies and murdering people wantonly. You cannot "submit" to an ongoing process whose end goal is to completely eliminate your existence from your land. This is Zionism. If you think that is not the case, then that is purely down to you having heard nothing but the Israeli side all your life. Given that you live in America, this is very likely, and far more likely than even if you lived in Israel.

Nonetheless, most Palestinians pretty much "submit". In spite of what your media tells you, most Palestinians are normal people like you who want to get on with their daily life. Most of them have no intention of fighting and murdering and just want to be left alone. And yet, they are not. They are locked up in cages. Their houses are destroyed, their land stolen, their schools bombed, their hospitals flattened, and their lives utterly made impossible.

Most importantly, these things happen to them NOT because they are fighting. They happen simply because Israel has from day one operated under one maxim: "more land, less Arabs." If you do nothing, your land will be taken and your life destroyed. If you do something, the same will happen as Americans continue to foot the bill for Israel's weapons and find even more contorted ways of trying to pin the blame on the Palestinians.

I have to say; your idea of "why don't you just submit?" is a creative one that I'd not heard. So now it is the fault of the Palestinians that they are being ethnically cleansed with your tax dollars because they didn't "submit" to this ethnic cleansing.
The truly awful thing about this is how you take the actions of a few Palestinians to generalize that all Palestinians want to continue fighting on. There is surely a higher percentage of thieves in America than there terrorists in Palestine. I won't ask you as an American why you don't stop stealing cars.

2. There are two answers to this: a) Logistics and b) they're working on it.

If you don't believe me, then you truly must start reading stuff other than Zionist garbage propaganda that passes for American discourse on the Middle East. Israel's current foreign minister is a Fascist racist who has openly called for the ethnic cleansing, murder and sterilization of Palestinians. He makes Jorg Haider look like an angel.

Israel has from its inception tried to get as much land as possible, and get rid of as much Palestinians as possible. In 1948, they managed to steal 78% of Palestine, and ethnically cleanse 1 million people. They continued to try to expel as much people as possible. In 1967, they took over the West Bank and Gaza and proceeded to kick people out, deny people who leave the right to return to their homes, steal land and property, and build religiously-exclusive colonies on this stolen land. After 41 years of unremitting, unprovoked, premeditated and carefully planned colonial theft, they today have installed half a million colonialists in the West Bank, and have torn the West Bank up literally into prisons which they control entirely. Further, they are using apartheid policies that would make the South Africans blush in order to cleanse Jerusalem of all its Christian and Muslim inhabitants. They continue to give Palestinians two options:

1- Do nothing and have your land stolen and be locked up in cages till you starve

2- Do something and have your land stolen and be locked up in cages till you starve, with the added bonus of the Israeli military (with American arms) unleashing massive premeditated death and destruction on a captive civilian population like it did in Gaza a few months ago.

They key point that you must understand is that you cannot keep thinking of the fate of the Palestinians as their fault. The problem that we Palestinians have faced throughout history is very straightforward and there is NOTHING we could've done to avert this terrible fate: Zionism wants a nation state for Jews on the land of Palestine. Zionism has the support of all the world’s superpowers. Zionism has a lot of guns and no reservations on using them. Zionism will do all it can to get rid of the Palestinians.

Can you please explain to me what on earth the Palestinians could've done to avert this fate? Conversion to Judaism is not an option for an entire people. If we fought back, then the Zionists and the British (who were as committed to this racist program as the Americans are committed to it today) would fight back. This is what happened in 1936, where the world's only superpower fought a three-year revolt by the Palestinians, and succeeded in finally defeating it. But if Palestinians hadn't fought back, they would've simply been ethnically cleansed entirely from the whole land.

If you are in any doubt over this, please look at Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This was a process that was premeditated by the Zionists from the 1930's and was completely independent of what the Palestinians would do. While Pappe's book provides definitive proof of this; it is simply affirming common sense. You can't establish a Jewish state on a predominantly non-Jewish land unless you kick people out.

And the currency predicament is no different. Israel is hell-bent on colonizing all of the West Bank. They have been doing this unrelentingly since 1967. Every single Israeli government since then has enormously supported these settlements. There isn't a single government that did anything to curb or stop them. If the Palestinians don't fight back and "submit" as you suggest, they will all inevitably be expelled, murdered or locked up in cages as the West Bank becomes a giant colony for the most fanatic, most racist and most murderous Israelis. If the Palestinians fight back, then the same outcome happens.

The reason this is the case is because the world's only superpower continues to support Israel while it does all of this. The reason the US continues to do this, of course, is because even the most intelligent Americans like you continue to somehow view the ethnic cleansing, colonialism and murder that befalls the Palestinians as somehow being their fault for not submitting.

Questions 3 and 4 are utterly irrelevant, meaningless and insulting. I don't give a toss what Palestine's GDP will be--all I care about now is that our lives are not destroyed by racist Zionist colonialism. My grandfather’s land was stolen by Zionists in 1948. I don’t want my father’s land stolen.

But these questions expose something very problematic on your part: you seem to think that this conflict is simply a zero-sum game where the Palestinians want the Israelis to leave. This is nonsense. Read Ali Abunimah's One Country. A large number of Palestinians have through the years maintained that the way to fight against a racist colonial exclusivist project is not with another exclusivist racist project. The land is big enough to fit both peoples. Why do we need to divide it into one religiously-exclusive racist theocracy (Israel) and another country for the people that the theocracy could not absorb? We can rather have one secular state where your life is not governed by whatever god you believe or don’t believe in. It’s not rocket science. It’s simply an attempt to get rid of the moronic European ethno-centric model of the Nation State that has brought nothing but ruin, devastation and misery anywhere it’s been tried.

Which brings me back to something quite problematic you say: “if the Palestinians managed to get the upper hand, they’d exact a terrible revenge.” This is utter nonsense. History has always shown us that people living under oppression, once that oppression is removed, turn out to be far more interested in living normal lives and enjoying their liberty than in “exacting revenge.” Even in places where people swore revenge, remarkably, people will just get on with their lives rather than exact worthless revenge. Palestinians, trust me, are normal humans. If the scourge of Zionist racist oppression is removed, I can assure you they will all be far more interested in just living normal lives than revenge. The same was said about slavery, and yet, free slaves did not decide to go on murderous rampages against whites. People are not predisposed to revenge, they’re predisposed to living normal lives.

But what really troubles me about this statement is how it seems to always be used to justify oppression by Israelis. I never quite understood the illogic of pre-emptive oppression, and I’m sure you do not ascribe to it.

I strongly recommend Rothbard’s short and excellent “War Guilt in the Middle East:

I am always utterly amazed at how well Rothbard understood the conflict, and how clear-headed his thinking on it was. Perhaps you can have a discussion of this paper once you’re done with For A New Liberty.

I also recommend Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine, Rashid Khalidi’s Palestinian Identity, and Joseph Massad’s The Persistence of the Palestinian Question.

Barkley Rosser writes:

Jermey from Alabama,

Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish-American, was denied tenure for criticizing the work of strong defenders of Israel. It has been reported widely that Juan Cole was blocked from being hired at Yale because of his public criticisms of Israeli policy. Can you name a single American academic who has suffered in any way shape or form for criticizing the Palestinianas?


Unlike some of the commenters here, I am perfectly willing to criticize much Israeli policy. The question is where do we go from here? There have been several serious efforts led by the US to bring about some sort of settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Many think they see what a settlement would look like, if it could be sold to both sides who would have to keep their respective extremists under control.

So, Israel would pay off those who were either forced out or their descendants. Settlements in the West Bank would have to go. There would be two states. Some sort of drawing of lines and careful agreements would have to be done regarding Jerusalem.

Something close to this was proposed by Clinton near the end of his presidency. By all accounts it was Arafat who wanted nothing to do with it, perhaps fearing the assassination that Rabin got and that Sadat got and that Malik Abdullah of Jordan got on the steps of al Aqsa Mosque when he was rumored to be about to recognize Israel.

What has been going on in Gaza is truly horrifying, and the latest Israeli invasion was wildly disproportionate, and the new Israeli foreign minister is truly horrifying in some of his remarks. But, can the refusal of Hamas to even consider a two state solution or anything other than "push them into the sea" be defended? If the Arab world had accepted the 1947 UN partition, Israel would be much smaller than it is today, and if the Palestinians did not have a state, it would be because they were still trying to get independence from Jordan or Syria or Egypt or (and I have spent enough time in the Middle East to know that Palestinians suffer serious discriminiation in other Arab countries).

saifedean writes:


Thanks a lot for your thoughtful response. I will answer your main points one by one.

"There have been several serious efforts led by the US to bring about some sort of settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

--Unfortunately, this is utterly false. Since the Clinton Administration took over, the "Peace Process" has been nothing but an attempt by hard-line extremist expansionist colonialist Zionists within America (Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Elliot Abrams, the AIPAC set, etc...) to use the power of the US government to allow the most extremist expansionist colonialist Zionists within Israel's politics (Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Lieberman, etc…) to steal as much Palestinian land as possible.

This is utterly clear if one were to think clearly of the reality of what's going on. In reality, the US continues to support Israel militarily, diplomatically, economically and politically like it has never supported a state before. It is precisely this support that allows Israel to be the last colonial project in the world. There's a reason no one else is doing colonialism. You'd get into trouble and face trade sanctions that would make the country realize it's not worth it. But Israel can get away with it because it has Uncle Sam backing it.

More specifically (and in more public choice terms, since this is EconLog), the colonialists and fanatics within Israel’s politics (who really are a minority) can get away with their colonialism like American farmers get away with their subsidies because the rest of society does not suffer a high cost from it. If, however, America were to make it clear to Israel that military, political and economic support would end if colonialism continued, then there is no doubt that the rest of society would oppose the minority of colonialist fanatics, and people like Netanyahu would never stand a chance within Israeli politics.

The number of illegal colonialists on stolen Palestinian land has doubled since the "Peace Process" began, surpassing 500,000. America has NOT ONCE threatened to do anything to Israel if it continued its settlements since Clinton took office. You cannot possibly reconcile these incontrovertible glaring facts with the claim that America is engaged in a process aimed at bringing about peace.

This idea is pure fiction. But it is a necessary fiction that exists precisely to trick Americans into believing that their government's intervention is part of the solution of the conflict, when in fact it is without doubt the biggest and most central problem in it. Without the support of the world's only superpower, Israel would have had to come to a peace agreement with the Palestinians a long time ago, and would not have been able to continue this policy. Most obviously, the extremist colonialists within Israeli politics (Lieberman, Olmert, Sharon, Barak, Netanyahu) would never have a chance of coming into power if America treated them like it treats other Fascist politicians in other countries.

--The contours and details of a negotiated solution are not the real problem. This is simply diversion from the real issue: Israeli ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine. That is what needs to be stopped immediately before Israel's Liebermans unleash a genocide on Palestinians.

“Something close to this was proposed by Clinton near the end of his presidency.”

--This, unfortunately, is utterly wrong. The story of these negotiations that gets repeated in the American discourse is completely and utterly false, and is built on the propaganda account of Dennis Ross--a man who during the Camp David negotiations took a harder line on Israeli concessions than the Israelis themselves. 'More Catholic than the Pope' does not even begin to describe the utter depravity of a purported "mediator" telling the Israeli negotiators "If Barak concedes anything more; I will be against this agreement."

The reality, in a nutshell, is that Israel and the depraved American "mediators" viewed the peace process as an attempt to solidify, legalize and confirm the illegal theft and colonization that had been carried out since 1967. They offered Arafat a Bantustan that made South African apartheid look wonderful in comparison. Say what you want about Arafat, but no Palestinian or sane human could ever accept that deal, and he was completely right to reject a prison-puppet-state. But since then, of course, we've been inundated by garbage by the likes of Ross whose aim it is to somehow convince the world that Arafat rejecting that deal was the problem—and not, as is obvious, the fact that Dennis Ross and the United States of America was recruited to try and secure as much illegal colonies as possible for fringe Israeli extremists.

Nothing astonishes me more about America than the number of otherwise intelligent adults who continue to believe this garbage. For a complete and utter demolition of the lies of Dennis Ross, I thoroughly recommend this fantastic destruction by none other than Norman Finkelstein:

You can also check out this piece by Jeremy Pressman:

--On the red herring of Hamas “recognizing” Israel, please read this:

Which brings me to your "what can be done?" question. As a Palestinian, all I could possibly ask from you as an America is to stop interfering in the conflict entirely. My only wish is that you treat Israel like Paraguay and Austria. I have no more intention of converting Americans brainwashed with Zionist propaganda like Jeremy on this thread. I have no intention of making him realize the utter hypocrisy and ignorance of his statements. If you feel that the Zionist project is the greatest thing to happen to humanity, that's good for you. All I ask for is that your government not support it militarily, politically and diplomatically, and in the process dispossess me, destroy my hometown, and murder my family. It’s really not too much to ask. And I only ask it because I know that America’s intervention is truly the root of the problem in this conflict.

This isn't terribly original or controversial. This is what Washington and Jefferson and countless Americans have always specifically called for. As a country, America should simply not take sides in fights in which it has no stake. This is especially important in days like this, when America is the world's only superpower and its intervention in any conflict is destined to tip the balance decisively. By brainwashing a few Americans with dumb propaganda, you end up having the extremists within Israel count on the US’s might to destroy the lives of millions and an entire nation while Americans continue to think that they’re being part of the solution.

MikeL writes:

I second saifedean's recommendation of the Rothbard piece. Very insightful and straight to the point. In short, typical Rothbard.

Thank you for your post, saifedean.

PeaceThroughJustice writes:

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sourcreamus writes:

This exchange shows why the Palestinian side of the debate is so little listened to in America. The pro-Isreali position is articulated with nuance and a respect for the intelligence of the hearer. The Palestianian position is articulated with an off putting stridency makes the arguerer seem like a fanatic. There is no need for conspiracy theories about the Israel lobby, just read the debates.

Questions writes:

If the Israelis buried their weapons and disbanded their military, how long would they exist?

If the Palestinians buried their weapons and disbanded their military, how long would they exist?

When I was young I was taught that Zionists are evil. Only later did I learn that Zionists are people that believe that Israel should exist. So, on one hand you have the Zionists and on the other hand you have those trying to wipe them off the map....

Also, I was rather impressed that a post above managed to put four consecutive "ists" together and use it two times in one sentence: "extremist expansionist colonialist Zionists...most extremist expansionist colonialist Zionists."

Liam McDonald writes:

Patrick Sullivan,

"MikeL, You appear to be woefully ignorant of the history of Palestine. In short, there was nothing there, until the Jews began to migrate there in the late 19th century."

I am very surprised at this comment. It seems to denote that YOU are not ignorant of the history of Palestine but this statement is not true. Though zionists calimed they "Made the dessert bloom" there have been testimonies of many European travellers who described Palestine and comparitively populated and flourishing and was equal among any regional neighbours

And for Saifedean, cases of Ethnic Cleansing have happened on both sides.

This is truly a nationalist conflict with religious overtures used as propoganda from both sides

diana writes:

Like MikeL, I am left to wonder what Caplan meant with points 3 and 4. And about the nature of that reservoir.

Barkley Rossser writes:


Eloquent and you make many reasonable points. I will fuss with some of them, however.

One is that I think one has to deal with the specific proposals that people make and not who they are. So, it is irrelevant who or what Dennis Ross is, what mattered in 2000 was the specific nature of the proposals that Arafat turned down. Sure, they were not ideal, but any deal is going to be a compromise. What was so specifically bad about those proposals? Saying it would have been a "Bantustan" looks a bit much.

Yes, Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing and lots of expulsions. However, most of this was in 1948 after the Arab neighbors of Israel invaded it after it declared independence and after they had refused to accept the Partition plan of 1947, which would have granted Israel a smaller land area (and which Israeli leaders were prepared to accept).

The claim that Israelis are totally bent on the settlements is a bit too much. Settlements have been built because of the unfortunate ability of religious fanatic parties to position themselves into being the swing parties in Israeli politics, becoming the necessary add-ons for any government. Many Isrealis have never supported the settlements, and, of course, Israel shut down the settlements when they withdrew from Gaza, although their blockading of Gaza (not to mention recent invasion) have left life there miserable.

saifedean writes:


Thanks a lot for your response.

I agree with you; this isn't about Ross or any of the individuals. And I do urge you to look at the contours of the actual offer to see exactly how bad it was, and that's why I included the links to the Finkelstein and Pressman pieces. If you do, you will fully realize why Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, himself said "if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well."

In a nutshell: the offer entailed Israel dividing the "state of Palestine" into four Bantustans (Gaza and three chunks of West Bank) that are all surrounded entirely by Israel. Israel would control all borders and airspace and the Palestinians would have no sovereignty. Israel would control the Jordan valley making sure there is no territorial continuity between "Palestine" and Jordan. Israel would get to keep a ton of its settlements. Israel would keep most of East Jerusalem. Israel would maintain control over most of the water in the West Bank (since, conveniently and coincidentally enough, that's where they've placed the settlements). Palestinians would give up on the right of return. And most perversely, Palestinians would agree to sign a statement saying that this is the end of all their claims in the conflict and they will never, ever have any more demands. So not only is it a Bantustan--it is a Bantustan with no possibility of ever evolving into something better. As Finkelstein clearly shows, ALL the concessions in that offer were from the Palestinian side, Israel conceded nothing and offered nothing.

On ethnic cleansing: Actually, and this is a fact you never hear in America, but most of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians happened BEFORE the 1948 war. The ethnic cleansing really started in the 1930's, and went into overdrive in 1947, before the partition plan. By May 15 1948, when the war started, Israel had already expelled more than 300,000 Palestinians and was in the process of expelling another 400,000-500,000 in a few weeks. Again, check out Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Another problem with this is the wrong idea that Arab armies invaded Israel. That's nonsense. All the fighting took place OUTSIDE of the area allotted to Israel under the partition plan. Israel was hell-bent on taking as much of Palestine as it could, and the Arab armies (trained and run by Zionist British generals) were only interested in picking up parts of Palestine for themselves--not in invading Israel, let alone obliterating it. The Arabs and Israel were basically just fighting over who gets to keep what of Palestine. There was as much intention of Jordan obliterating Israel as there was of Israel obliterating Jordan--and the fighting took place neither in Israel nor in Jordan nor in Egypt, but in what was supposed to become Palestine. The British had set Israel up as a colonialist outpost with weapons far more advanced than the British client regimes in the region, which the British also controlled. The war was over details, not anything existential. It was a war in which Britain's favored and more strongly backed colonial project took on other less-favored client regimes of Britain scrapping over the remnants of Palestine. The image of Israel as the brave David taking on the monstrous Goliath is purely the work of fiction--particularly Hollywood's Exodus, a movie which really solidified this rubbish in American brains until today.

Also, Israeli leaders did not accept the partition plan.

I didn't say that Israelis are totally bent on colonialism. I said their government is. And I even offered a public choice argument for why the colonialist minority gets its way on this precisely to illustrate what it isn't "Israelis" who want this colonialism to continue and persist. There is no way you can tell me the government of Israel isn't hell-bent on colonialism: every government since 1967 has completely, unequivocally and relentlessly supported colonialism.

Barkley Rosser writes:


This will be my last comment here, both because this is about to scroll off and also because if we go any further we will get into the land of competing sources about this that and the other thing. I shall only note a couple of things where substantial competing sources disagree with what you say, plus one internal contradiction.

Let me start with the latter. You say that most of the removal of Palestinians was before independence, but then give figures of 300,000 before and 450,000 after. Contradiction even if the numbers are correct.

Many sources say the first attack in late 1947 was by the Arabs, not the Yishuv or Jewish Agency (there not yet being an "Israel").

Most historical sources have it that the first attacks in 1920 and 1929 were by the Arabs on settlers. One can say the settlers should not come in, but why not? Many Jews were killed during the 1936-39 uprisings, and the British agreed to forbid Jewish immigration in the fateful year of 1939 with the Peel Commission.

The British were certainly colonialists, but they were always playing both sides against the middle. They issued the Balfour Declaration but at the same time were promising Sharif Hussein that the Arabs would be consulted about any outcome in Palestine in the MacMahon Correspondence. The Peel Commission put forward the idea of two states and a partition after the 1936-39 uprising, along with the already mentioned banning of Jewish immigration. They were hardly one-sidedly on the side of the Zionists.

Regarding the partition plan, the Jewish Agency supported it, which was the clear predecessor to the later Israeli government, and most reports have a majority of the Jewish population also supporting it. The Irgun, forerunner of today's Likud Party, opposed it. Sources you provide have Ben-Gurion making anti-partition noises in the late 1930s, but he supported it in 1947.

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