Sunday, March 13, 2011

The 5 and the 500

A horrific terror attack occurred in a West Bank settlement this weekend, with five Jews (including an infant child) stabbed to death. The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the attack, which was the first after a long period of calm in the area.

In response (in addition to seeking out the perpetrators), the Israeli government has approved 500 new West Bank settlement units, after a long official lull period. The Interior Minister urged Israel to build 1000 new settlement units for every person killed.

It's impossible to give an analogy for how stupid this is without being inordinately offensive to the victims of the Itamar attack, so I won't try. Suffice to say, the terrorist threat Israel faces is serious, and requires a serious response. Building new settlements betrays a fundamental lack of seriousness that typifies the utter incompetence of the Netanyahu government. I'm honestly unsure if there has ever been an Israeli government that's been worse for Israel and Palestine than Netanyahu's.


Atlanta Roofing said...
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N. Friedman said...


While I do not generally support the building of settlements, at least on land which is contemplated to be ceded, I think you are mistaken. If, as you think, settlements are what is at issue in the dispute, then there does need to be a penalty for killing innocent people.

Another thing. Fayyad did not condemn the attack. What you quote to says that his government rejects violence including what occurred. Condemnation is a stronger objection. In fact, the Israeli government more or less condemned what you called a condemnation, saying it was far too little a statement. On this point, the Israeli government is correct and your statement amounts to reinventing what was actually stated.

In my view, words matter in this dispute. Condemnations which are not condemnations amount to speaking two views, one to the US - where many gullible people take half statements as condemnations - while, within the PA's territory, the audience hears that violence is, at this juncture, not in the national interest.

N. Friedman said...

I do see that Abbas has now issued a less ambiguous statement, which is a good thing.

chingona said...

N. Friedman,

The appropriate penalty for killing innocent people is to find the killer/s and bring him/them to justice.

Building settlements that will only make a final resolution more difficult and painful to achieve does not punish the killers, and depending on where they get built, they punish Palestinians who did nothing wrong.

If you believe in collective punishment, then these murders also are justified as exacting a price on the settlers.

N. Friedman said...


Your contention seems to be that the massacre of a family is merely a police matter while the building of a settlement is a political matter. In fact, both are political acts and making believe otherwise is a moral mistake of the first order.

Treating the massacre as a mere police matter will simply encourage more massacres because there will be no serious political penalty. Perhaps you have noticed a willingness of the two sides to die for their causes. Those who committed the massacre are unlikely to think they committed a crime (and punishing them for their crime is unlikely to change the mind of the killer(s) or their compatriots or, for that matter, their enemies); the killers, instead, most likely think they performed an heroic act on behalf of their people and alleged homeland. And, it is highly likely that a great many, if not most, Palestinian Arabs would agree, just as polling has shown is the case over the course of more than a decade.

You, however, are free to disagree.

David Schraub said...

That doesn't actually answer Chingona's contention which is (a) building more settlements is cutting off one's nose to spite someone else's face and (b) criminal acts get punished by criminal law, not collective punishment. The assertion that these murders were "political" is true, but nonresponsive -- "political" isn't some totemic word which warrants otherwise unjustified collective punishment. If anything, the "political" nature of the crime makes point "a" more salient, not less.

If this crime is a crime, one punishes the criminals as criminals. If this is "politics" and we can't be distracted by normal principles of criminal retribution, then the proper response is the normal principles of political justice, which means no new settlements and a reinvigoration of peace talks -- same as always -- because murdering five Jewish settlers, horrific as it is, doesn't change the basic principles of political justice operational here. One can't, as NF does, opportunistically dart in and out of the "criminal" frame -- applied the logic of criminal retribution but (mis)using "politics" as an excuse for detaching it from the limits on just retributive action.

I note also that NF's stated "general" lack of support for the building of settlements is apparently at such a high level of generality that it isn't actually visible to the naked eye. Like certain subatomic particles, it is theoretically said to exist, but one needs an awfully powerful and finely calibrated instrument to measure its effects.

N. Friedman said...


My general opposition to settlements is just that, general, as in, I do not support the project to settle the territories captured. That does not mean there are no exceptions. There are.

The main exception I make concerns land that, by all of the negotiations to date, are slated to remain under Israel's control. Hence, I see nothing wrong in settling people in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem - something which meets President Clinton's ideas for settling the dispute.

You claim that I have not responded to Chingona's comment. I do not agree with you. I think that killing Israeli civilians is a form of collective punishment - note the 20,000 people who attended the funeral. Moreover, killing people is a permanent. Building homes is not. Homes can be built and torn down. The dead do not return.

Hence, in the scheme of things, building home may perhaps make settlement more difficult - although I doubt it, since I think there is no settlement anytime soon -, it is, however, a non-violent response, not punishment, and calling it collective punishment is morally wrong.

N. Friedman said...

Better than "response," I think the word "penalty," as in making the Palestinian project to create a Judenrein more difficult.

Bruce said...

I'm straddling a bit on this issue but I guess in the long-term it probably doesn't help to build 500 new units. So I guess I agree with you, and as I become less agitated by the brutality of what occurred, I'm fairly certain I'll regret this response of the Israeli government.

But David, you talk about new settlements being built, and that is not the case. There are 500 units being built in existing settlements and, with the exception of I think 40 or so being built in Ariel (which I think is the most difficult settlement to deal with because of where it's located), they are being built in areas that will remain a part of Israel. I think this is a fair point.

chingona said...

Moreover, killing people is a permanent. Building homes is not. Homes can be built and torn down. The dead do not return.

Right. Good thing I didn't say they were the same or "morally equivalent." is, however, a non-violent response, not punishment, and calling it collective punishment is morally wrong.

I said "depending on where they are built." Some politicians have called for the village where the killer or killers came from to be raised, its inhabitants expelled and a settlement put there.

I agree a peace agreement anytime soon is unlikely, so it's all a bit abstract, but building more settlements is the path to a one-state solution. If you think taking one more step down that path will exact a political penalty from the Palestinians, well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "... building more settlements is the path to a one-state solution."

In response, I am going to quote famed Israeli historian Benny Morris - a man of the left, by the way, but who, after this interview, came to be hated by Anti-Israel bigots - from a January 2004 interview:

The bombing of the buses and restaurants really shook me. They made me understand the depth of the hatred for us. They made me understand that the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jewish existence here is taking us to the brink of destruction. I don't see the suicide bombings as isolated acts. They express the deep will of the Palestinian people. That is what the majority of the Palestinians want. They want what happened to the bus to happen to all of us.

Moreover: "Revenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture. Therefore, the people we are fighting and the society that sends them have no moral inhibitions. If it obtains chemical or biological or atomic weapons, it will use them. If it is able, it will also commit genocide."

When I read someone say, arrest the perpetrators, given the above quoted material, I think I am dealing with someone who has lost the ability to think or is consciously ignorant. I, for one, do not like violence. I, for one, do not know whether building more homes in response to violence will send the right message. However, I know for a fact that arresting the perpetrators sends the wrong message.

As for whether building homes leads to a one state solution, I quote Morris in a written follow up to the noted interview: ""Unfortunately, the destruction of Israel and the right of return of the refugees have become a key component of Palestinian identity, and as long as this component does not vanish, there is no possibility of an historic compromise. And without a compromise that is based on two states, in the end, only one state will remain here - either a Jewish one without a large Arab minority, or an Arab one with a Jewish minority that will continuously dwindle until it disappears ..."

Anonymous said...

Your entire response is a complete non sequitur.

I have absolutely no doubt that there are people on the Palestinian side - perhaps many of them - who want to undo '48 and who hate Jews. (Psst ... there also are Jews who hate Arabs and want to remove them from greater Judea and Samaria and have no problem killing them in pursuit of that goal.)

Here's the thing: This is not the first nor will it be the last horrific, personal murder that occurs in this conflict. Yes, it exists in a political context, but it does not fundamentally change the political context.

If settlements are a bad idea in general, they are still a bad idea. If settlements are fine, they're still fine. It makes no sense, whatsoever, to say building new settlements exacts a political penalty on the Palestinians for these killings. The Israeli government has supported the settlement project in the face of lots of terrorism and in the face of no terrorism. Fighting back - whether by justifiable or non-justifiable means - has not stopped the settlements and cooperation has not stopped the settlements. In what sense would continued settlement expansion - a continuation of the STATUS QUO - be interpreted as a political penalty by the Palestinians, such that the people among them who are inclined to commit these sort of acts would stop and re-think them?

Frankly, when I hear someone say that more settlements is somehow a good response to this, but who claims to not support the settlement project in general, I wonder if *I* am dealing with someone who has lost the ability to think. It only makes sense if you support the settlement project anyway.

I'm not quite sure what your point is by including the second Morris quote. That you don't think we will have a two-state solution? I increasingly fear that we won't, and that's going to be bad for everybody but much worse for one group. Are you suggesting that because we won't get a two-state solution anyway, you'd rather the Jews expel the Palestinians than the other way around? What?

chingona said...

The above comment is me, though I'm sure you figured that out.

N. Friedman said...

Erica (or whatever your name really is),

You write: "In what sense would continued settlement expansion - a continuation of the STATUS QUO - be interpreted as a political penalty by the Palestinians, such that the people among them who are inclined to commit these sort of acts would stop and re-think them?"

I think that the Israelis are speaking of accelerating settlement activity, not continuing the status quo. However, you make a good point and I shall consider it. It may be, given that any non-violent response will be meaningless, that violence is the only available response.

Your comment that there are Israelis who hate Arabs misses the point made by Morris. His point is that Palestinian Arabs define themselves by their hatred of Jews. Which is to say, their nationalism is defined by its hatred and opposition to Jews and Israel. That is simply not the case for Zionism or all that many Israelis.

Regarding settlement, I made my point already. However, to amplify so there is no confusion, I do not think settling human beings where they would like to live is immoral. People, absent political necessity, ought be allowed to live wherever they want. So, while I do not support the settlement of the territories captured by Israel, generally speaking (because it is an impractical project), I do not think it an immoral project. I do, at the same time, think that a great deal - present company excepted - of the opposition to it is immoral, as it is not directed towards practical issues but towards objecting to Jews qua Jews.

Regarding your last point, Morris thinks that it is not possible to settle the dispute, given the political views held by the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs. He thinks that the "suicide" kamikazes who blew up Israeli buses express the actual moral view of the average Palestinian Arab.

David Schraub said...

In a different thread, I told NF to knock off citing to Benny Morris for sweeping racist judgments of "Arab culture". That wasn't reposted in this thread, so I understand why he would feel compelled to do so in lieu of Erica's comment.

So even though it was an honest error, "Erica (or whatever your name really is)" was sufficiently dickish that I nearly deleted it anyway. Anyway, now that we're all clear, that's the last time I clear a comment that makes racist generalizations about Arab culture tout court (the defense that it is just generalizations about "tribalism" is unavailing, as you're clearly making specified claims about Arab nationalism, not all nationalisms [which would include Jewish nationalism]).

And while "absent political necessity" is a loophole large enough to drive a truck through, I'm sure there are a ton of Palestinians and descendants who would love to have an honest chat about the principle that "People ... ought be allowed to live wherever they want."

N. Friedman said...


Your view is that one cannot speak about Arab tribalism as a phenomena, notwithstanding the fact that enumerable writers who hold Arab in high esteem have written about individuals Arab tribes, noting exactly the same thing that famed historian Benny Morris noted. Think T.E. Lawrence. He was rather friendly with various individual - in fact, enamored of individual - Arab tribes and noted differences among those tribes, some to his liking and some which he found troubling. To your way of thinking, he was a racist, even though he was certainly not but, instead, was as great a friend as the Arab world has ever had among Europeans of his time.

My view is that your view amounts to saying that the serious study of a given society is a racist endeavor. I'll call your view Saidism gone amuck. I think your way of thinking will serve you poorly.

N. Friedman said...

"absent political necessity"

It was intended to be broad because I believe that humans, as individuals, have rights. You, quite obviously, do not believe such to be the case. That Palestinian Arabs do not like that right is no different, in my mind, from saying that Arizonans do not like the presence among them of immigrants from Mexico. I certainly know what you think of those who object to immigration to the US. Do not Arabs have the same rules of what is right and wrong as other humans? I guess not, in your view.

David Schraub said...

T.E. Lawrence? You're joking. I asked my girlfriend (an anthropologist) whether T.E. Lawrence was considered a credible voice in the field, and she just looked at me like I was an idiot.

We don't evaluate racism by whether or not the view is held by a person with warm fuzzy feelings towards the group in question. Telling me that a viewpoint is non-racist because T.E. Lawrence thought it and he was besties with Arab people is such spectacularly lazy logic I'm embarrassed to see it on my blog even in the comments, because it indicates that my blog is written at a literary level comprehensible to someone capable of forming that thought.

And then to say that this is indicative of an unwillingness to be "serious" is like the famous "no education is complete without us", "us" being Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, etc.. It's an abject corruption of what serious scholarly inquiry is, the persistent mythos that racist simpletons are really bold truth-sayers silenced by the PC police, while actual experts are no match for our favorite (nearly-century dead) pop culture icons. Gag me.

chingona said...

I'm sure there are a ton of Palestinians and descendants who would love to have an honest chat about the principle that "People ... ought be allowed to live wherever they want."


Given that you find Palestinian attachment to the "right of return" to be such a deal breaker, "letting people live where they want" is a pretty interesting way to justify the settlements.

Maybe I like my neighbor's house better than my own. That doesn't give me the right to move into their living room.

N. Friedman said...

In two parts:


You seem to think that Lawrence's involvement with Arabs was knowing some of them. Obviously, you know little about him.

In fact, he wrote important scholarly work including about the Arab architecture; he helped make archeological finds in the Arab regions of great significance, having been selected for the project because of his scholarship; he wrote one of the greatest autobiographies of the 20th Century - some say it is the greatest; his translation of The Odyssey is still popular; he wrote other well known works as well; he worked hand in glove with various Arab tribes; he fought, laying his life on the line, for those Arab tribes; he spent long periods of time with those tribes, making lifelong friends; he worked tirelessly - and against his government's preferences - to create a unified Arab state (along with, by the way, a Jewish state) out of those tribes - the failure of his project was something that haunted him for the rest of his life; he personally negotiated the deal struck between Emir Feisal and Weizmann; he was a military genius of the first order (whose military strategies and tactics are still examined and used by military commanders to this day), theories he developed to support Arabs who, he noted, lived in tribes. Sheikh Hamoudi of Aleppo noted, on Lawrence's passing, "I am counted brave, the bravest of my tribe; my heart was iron, but his was steel." My suggestion is that you read a biography of Lawrence. Try Michael Korda's book, Hero. In this case, you are making a fool of yourself.

N. Friedman said...

Part II

Does your friend really think that the Arab regions are not filled with tribes? There are many books about tribalism in the Arab world and the writers are not any more likely to be racist than you.

Nothing I quoted by Morris was remotely racist. His statement about tribalism - which follows the exact logic set forth by Fromm (who you do not find problematic) - was anything but racist. Your comment that Fromm spoke generally does not hunt, given that the general, if it is true, must apply to particular instances. My suggestion is that you read, with care, Plato's work, The Parmenides. Take a look at the discussion involving his theory of ideas participating even in things like "hair." The point: if a theory is true in general, you can discuss it in particular. Hence, notwithstanding what you write, one can write about tribalism among Arabs without also, at the same time, noting tribalism among other groups (e.g. Jews, Germans, Italians, etc., etc.). To deny that is to say, I shall tie an intellectual straitjacket around me because some hypersensitive fools, people unwilling to look at evidence, might be offended.

In the 1930's, it was a commonplace in America to think that singling out Germany, with its Nazism, as an evil ideology was wrong. Such view was popular on college campuses. I do not see how it is wrong to single out the genocidal tendencies among certain Arabs. If you think that racist, then so be it. I think you are making the same mistake made by notables at the Ivy League schools back then.

N. Friedman said...


I think Arabs have the same rights, as humans, as Jews. Absent political necessity, they ought have the right to live wherever they want. So, I do not understand your point.

Necessity and right are twin, interrelated concepts. Rights exist but necessity often makes exercising those rights impossible or impractical.

Again, I think you are not following my point.

chingona said...

Your comment that there are Israelis who hate Arabs misses the point made by Morris. His point is that Palestinian Arabs define themselves by their hatred of Jews. Which is to say, their nationalism is defined by its hatred and opposition to Jews and Israel. That is simply not the case for Zionism or all that many Israelis.

I'm sure that is of great comfort to the families of Baruch Goldstein's victims.

And I'm sure the settlers who turned his grave into a shrine and who sing his praises as they march past Arab homes in Hebron are motivated by some high and pure sentiment about their attachment to the land of their ancestors, nothing so base as hatred.

N. Friedman said...


Do you think that Baruch Goldberg was typical among Israelis? Did his view represent the view of the majority? You certainly know that is not the case.

I should also note: your comment is called a logic fallacy. Which is to say, Jews could want to kill off all Arabs. That would not effect the truth of the proposition that Palestinian Arab nationalism defines itself by its hatred of Jews and Israel.

N. Friedman said...


One other point. Wikipedia seems to think there are Arab tribes. In fact, it has multiple articles listing the tribes in different Arab regions. NPR - which is very sensitive to such things - has discussed Arab tribes, most recently in discussions on All Things Considered and on Morning Edition about the current uprisings across the Arab regions. There are literally hundreds of books on the topic. Yet, you think this is politically and racially charged. It is not. You are simply mistaken.

I, for one, find your comments about Arab tribes to be shocking. We are speaking about something which is not even remotely controversial - something that Arabs speak and write about openly. To you, we have touched on something racially charged.

Ignorance is bliss. It is also a way of creating a cocoon around ideas which are not well considered.