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Posts tagged Tim Starr

Collectivism and Compensation

Let’s suppose, arguendo, that there exist some individual Palestinians who had identifiable parcels of land in Israel, or in the Occupied Territories, stolen from them, during the 1948 war, or the 1967 war and the occupation that followed it. Considered as a matter of justice — without any claims as to how far the hypothetical represents reality, or bears on the best way to solve the diplomatic conflicts between the state of Israel and its various rival states and quasi-states — should those Palestinians be able to demand that their old parcels of land be returned to them? And if they do, and the parcels aren’t returned on their demand, are they justified in using proportional violence, or designating others to use proportional violence on their behalf, to evict the trespassing occupants currently on their land? In comments at No Treason, Stefan suggested that they would be, and Tim Starr dissented:

Assuming for the sake of argument that some of the land in Israel actually was stolen from individual Palestinians in the Israeli War of Independence (there was absolutely no general policy to do so, see Efraim Karsh’s Fabricating Israeli History on this), I would disagree with Stefan that this fact actually would justify forcible removal of the Israelis from that land and its return to its Palestinian owners.

For one thing, compensation in lieu of returning the property may be more appropriate. Also, is there no statute of limitations for land theft? Furthermore, a good many Jews used to live in Islamic countries that expelled them and confiscated their property — how come that is never brought up by those who want land returned to Palestinians by Israel? Do those Jews not have the right to have their property returned, or to receive compensation for it? Also, what about compensation to the families of all the Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism?

In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East which HAS returned land that it had conquered. Israel returned the Sinai Desert to Egypt as part of its peace treaty with Sadat, and returned land to Jordan as part of its peace treaty with Jordan. Israel also relinquished control of southern Lebanon and the Gaza strip, even though it faced a serious increase in the scale and frequenty of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas as a result. Israel has also inflicted ethnic cleansing upon itself twice, once when it returned the Sinai and again when it relinquished Gaza, making sure those territories were nice and judenrein when the Islamo-Nazis took them over.

Israel has also offered tens of billions of dollars in compensation to the Palestinians for any injustices they might have suffered at Israeli hands, but the Palestinians have never offered any compensation to Israel for killing Israeli civilians as a means of achieving Palestinian political goals.

Instead, each of these concessions has been taken as a sign of weakness. Israeli land for peace deals w/ compensation have been taken as invitation to Intifadeh; Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza have been taken as invitations to rocket attacks from the territory Israel de-occupied.

In short, Israel has bent over backwards for peace in the Middle East, and the Islamo-Nazis and their international sympathizers on the commie-left and nazi-right have merely replied to each effort by saying that Israel wasn’t bending over far enough.

Comment by Tim Starr — 2/7/2006 @ Feb 07, 06 | 4:58 pm

I objected to the details of Starr’s claims — arguing that there was no reason to suggest that either the perpetrators or disinterested third parties had a right to determine whether land or some pile of money was the appropriate form of compensation for the theft, and that that is properly left up to the victims to decide. And further that Starr’s attempts to dismiss or dicker down the claims of these hypothetical Palestinian victims of land theft on the basis of later terrorism committed by other Palestinians against Israelis, amounted to nothing more than a change of subject, and an exercise in shameless tribal collectivism from beginning to end.

Starr objected to my objections; this is rapidly spiralling way out of the range of the comments space at a [No Treason post][] intended primarily to point out a historical gaffe in an article on Ireland and Ulster at LewRockwell.com. So I bring it here. Here’s Starr’s response to my first objection:

While I agree that it is not primarily up to the beneficiaries because of their obvious conflict of interest, I disagree that it is primarily up to the victims. Victims are usually biased in their own favor, so they also have a conflict of interest.

Disinterested third parties are precisely who ought to be the judge of such things, which is why arbitration by such parties is advocated by anarcho-capitalists like David Friedman and myself. The way that disinterested third-party arbitrators know what the best remedy is for such offenses is by hearing the evidence on all sides of a case.

There’s a perfectly good reason why (genuinely) disinterested third parties should serve as arbiters in disputes in a free society. People in a dispute may be mistaken, or dishonest, about the facts as to whether or not they are victims of aggression (so disinterested third parties may come to the right verdict where the disputants wouldn’t). That’s fine; three cheers for disinterested arbiters. But there’s no question as to the verdict here, or as to proportionality: we’re presuming (arguendo) that the individual Palestinians in question are, and can prove to honest arbiters that they are, victims of land theft.

The question is about the appropriate form of compensation. There may, again, be a place for disinterested mediators if you think that someone is mistaken, or dishonest, about the level or kind of compensation that would be fit for the injury — suppose I knocked a baseball through your window, and you demanded $1,000,000 compensatory damages because of the sentimental value you attached to it. But this is not a case like that. If I steal something from you, then the presumption is that the best kind of compensation is the return of what I stole (plus whatever damages I may owe for the duration of the theft). There are ways that the presumption can be overridden in favor of some equivalent level of compensation paid out in some other good: if the item is fungible without a loss in value to you — suppose I stole $500 from you and you didn’t care whether you got back the specific bills I took from you, or some other bills, or a check — or if the item is no longer distinctly identifiable — suppose I stole a chunk that you took from the Berlin Wall and added it to my collection of indistinguishable Berlin Wall chunks — or if the item itself can’t be returned without inflicting a disproportionate burden on me above and beyond the loss of the stolen good — suppose I stole a bottle of pills from you that I need to take in order to survive, but that you value for purely sentimental reasons. But we’re not looking at a case like that here. There’s no question of proportionality: if you steal my land, then losing the stolen land is not a disproportionate burden to bear. We’re supposing that the parcels of land are identifiable by the specific victims. And if the victims were willing to take the money as compensation instead of the land, then there wouldn’t be any issue at all: they’d just take the money.

So the only question at hand is: which of two proportional forms of compensation — getting your own land back or getting money back in return for your land — is the better form of compensation for a proven victim of land theft? Starr seems to suggest that disinterested third parties have a right to set terms not only as to the verdict, and as to the limits of proportionality in compensation, but also as to which of these two forms of proportional compensation the victim can demand. I reject this completely, because the aim of justice here is restoration, and I reject the notion that third party arbiters can overrule the victim’s own judgment about what best restores them to their proper state as long as the judgment is within the bounds of proportionality. I reject it for roughly for the same reasons that I reject the confiscation of property through eminent domain, even if monetary compensation is paid after the fact. If the monetary compensation offered isn’t enough to make the victim freely turn over her legitimate demands to her own land, then it isn’t enough to satisfy the just demand that she be put back into her own.

So let me suggest to Starr that there are only three possible grounds here on which you could suggest that anybody other than the victims themselves has a right to impose terms as to whether or not individual Palestinian victims of land theft can demand their own land back, or get some other appropriate form of compensation. (1) You could claim that getting the land back is (potentially, at least) disproportionate compensation for having the land stolen from you. But why? Or (2) you could claim that, even though the land is within the range of proportionate compensation, disinterested third parties have reliable epistemic access to the real worth of the land to the victim, independent of, and even overruling, the victim’s own judgment as manifest in her decision not to accept the money as satisfactory compensation. If so, then you could just pay them out the equivalent of the real worth of the land in money, and even if the victim wouldn’t agree that that’s satisfactory, you’d know that that pays off the debt. But how would you know this? (And are you willing to excuse eminent domain seizures on the same grounds?) Or (3) you could argue that the worth to the victim is just irrelevant to the appropriate level of compensation, even if it falls within the bounds of proportionality. But why? What else would you use to determine the injury? What the land is worth to somebody else? Why should the victim care about that? Why should we?

Finally, I should note that this is all in response to Stefan’s hypothetical claim that where there are individual victims of Palestinian land theft, they are justified in using proportional force (or having others use proportional force on their behalf) to make the current inhabitants vacate the stolen land that they are occupying. Whatever form of compensation might be the appropriate outcome of a fair arbitration process, it is important to note that there simply is not a fair arbitration process in existence, and there is absolutely no credible reason to suggest that the Israeli government — whatever its merits — or the governments of various world powers — whatever their merits — or the govenments of the world assembled in the United Nations — whatever their merits — constitute a disinterested third party in this dispute. Given the lack of a substantial arbitration process to participate in, the rights of self-defense revert to their original holders: the aggrieved. So I don’t see how this answered Stefan’s point at all.

In response to my charge of tribalism, Starr replies:

As for my alleged collectivism, where are the Palestinians who are merely innocent victims of Israel, who have never supported any anti-Israeli terrorism? Where is the Palestinian peace faction? Where is the Palestinian support for the legitimate rights of Israelis to live in peace in at least some of the land of Israel? Where can these Palestinians be found, either within the occupied territories themselves or elsewhere, outside the control of either Israel, Hamas, or any of the Arab governments of the world? If there are any such Palestinians, they are so few as to be virtually non-existent and completely irrelevant to this subject.

But what are you asking for? (1) A list of individual Palestinians who have never directly participated in terrorist operations against peaceful Israelis, or (2) a list of individual Palestinians who have never said or believed that terrorism against peaceful Israelis is justified? In either case (a) there are plenty, and (b) it’s bloody well irrelevant, for reasons I’ll mention below. But if (2) is all you mean, this is a plain demand for tyranny; the suggestion would be simply that Palestinians can be robbed of their land — or rather the robbery of their land can be retroactively justified or excused — by the fact that, after the fact, they came to have evil thoughts. Evil thoughts don’t justify violent force, either before or after the fact. The initiation of violence does.

Starr continues:

Rad Geek also seems to have missed the relevance of Arab/Palestinian offenses against Israelis to the question of Israeli offenses against the Palestinians. The relevance is that the compensation claims tend to cancel each other out and, to the extent that Palestinian offenses against Israelis have been worse than Israeli offenses against Palestinians, it is the Palestinians who have an outstanding debt of compensation which they owe to Israel.

But this is overtly tribalist rot. Israel does not owe a goddamned thing to Palestinians, and Palestinians (let alone Arab/Palestinians, whatever the hell that is intended to mean) don’t owe a goddamned thing to Israel. Ambiguous-collectives do not offend, do not owe, and do not compensate, because they do not act at all.

The question is whether individual Palestinians, not participants in an Arab/Palestinian hive mind, have actionable claims against individual Israelis, not cells in the corporate body of Israel. Suppose we’re talking about someone who was actually materially involved in terrorism against innocent Israelis. If X has land stolen from her by Y, and then X goes on to do unjustified violence to Z — who, by your stipulation is an innocent who had nothing to do with the theft — then that does not cancel out Y‘s obligations to restore X‘s property. Even if Y and Z and happen to be members of the same ethnic group, or subjects claimed by the same self-proclaimed tribal collective-bargaining agent. What it does is create a new obligation that X has to Z. It may be the case, under some imaginable set of circumstances that that obligation from X to Z should be paid to Z out of the compensation that Y pays X. But it certainly provides no justification whatsoever for Y to be left in possession of property that she (ex hypothesi) stole and never did anything to earn. Now let’s suppose that we are talking about a Palestinian who hasn’t ever been materially involved in terrorism against innocent Israelis. Then what happened is that W has a claim to land stolen from her by Y and X unjustifiably attacked Z, where W and X both happen to be Arab/Palestinians (whatever that means) and Y and Z both happen to be Israelis. But it ought to be obvious that in that case X‘s attack on Z has no effect at all on Y‘s obligations towards X. No matter what the tribal affiliations, or citizenship status, of W, X, Y, and Z happen to be.

Starr, however, has made no attempts at all to pick out victims and perpetrators as individuals, or to sort out the individual obligations that those people have towards each other. He has only recited the evils committed by some ill-defined grouping of the heads of Arab states and self-appointed “representatives” or “defenders” of the Palestinians as a people, have committed, and then (attributing responsibility for those crimes to the ambiguous-collective of Palestinians or Arab/Palestinians and identifying the victim as the ambiguous collective of Israel), suggested that this somehow has some bearing on the compensation that is owed between individual Palestinians individual Israelis. That’s why I accused Starr’s comment of being an exercise in tribal collectivism. And why I stand by that charge in light of his clarifications.

As for the peace process, like Stefan, I’m not interested (here) in solving the diplomatic conflict between the state of Israel and the quasi-state in the Palestinian Authority, or between Israel and its various rival states in the region. I’m interested only in determining what it is that justice requires for individual Palestinians and individual Israelis, and have mentioned no other topic. And in that connection I couldn’t possibly be motivated to care a whit about the claims of the PLO, Fatah, Yasser Arafat (!) or the Arab League (!!) to speak for and serve as representatives of, leaders of, or collective-bargaining agents for, all Palestinians everywhere.

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