Israel’s Own Arabs

American liberals are divided over Israel. On the one hand, Israel is a democracy, plunked down in a part of the world where no other democracy has flourished. On the other hand, Israel has been brutal in its treatment of 4 million Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel has turned Gaza into a ghetto, and is meanwhile colonizing the West Bank, using apartheid to control the region’s Arab population. Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians cannot be excused by security concerns.

But putting aside conditions and policies in Occupied Palestine, what about the Arab citizens of Israel, who comprise 20% of Israel’s population? It is sometimes observed that minorities within Israel – whether ethnic, religious or LGBT – are treated much better than minorities in neighboring countries. Israel’s Supreme Court is quite liberal, and quick to strike down most (if not all) of the biased laws that issue from Israel’s legislature. If one had to be a minority in the Middle East, one could do much worse than to be an Arab citizen of Israel proper.

Nonetheless, discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel is significant, widespread and systemic, across all sectors of society. To cite a few examples: Arab schools are severely underfunded compared to Jewish schools. Arabs are badly under-represented in government service. Arabs tend to receive harsher sentences and be denied bail. Arab protesters are occasionally killed by security forces – but not one Jewish protester has been killed in Israel, going back to 1949. While Jews the world over have a right to come to live in Israel with their spouses, and be granted automatic citizenship, the law excludes spouses from occupied Palestine, and several other Muslim-majority countries, which works to discriminate against Arab Israelis. While Jews are given the right to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that they abandoned because of war, Arabs are denied the analogous right to reclaim land anywhere in Israel. Much worse, Israel wont even let Palestinians refugees – who fled Israel during war – return to their own country!

Even in the absence of discrimination, the bare conception of Israel as a “Jewish State” is at odds with the most fundamental principles of liberalism, and an affront to the rule of law. The bedrock of liberal governance is procedural fairness, with laws that are neutral in word and application. A state cannot be committed to the benefit of a specific, identifiable group without undermining the political and civil rights of other groups living within its borders.

This point is not especially contentious – the chief response to it isnt an explanation, but rather an excuse: in light of centuries of oppression, culminating in the Holocaust, a “Jewish State” is needed to provide Jews with a safe haven – a homeland they lacked for millennia. Thus it is that many of Israel’s most discriminatory policies – in immigration and land management – bear directly on the maintenance of Israel’s majority Jewish population. However the best protection from tyranny in the long term – not merely for Jews, but for all people – is liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law. Carving out exceptions to our most precious rules of justice and fairness inevitably makes the world less just and less safe – for everyone.









Imperial Israel

American liberals too readily give Israel a pass on its outrageous human rights abuses, excusing Israeli brutality as a necessity for survival in a volatile region. But the security arguments once relied upon to justify colonization of the West Bank are no longer valid; Israeli policy in the West Bank today is nothing more than naked imperialism – a land grab for its own sake, to the considerable detriment of the land’s native Palestinias.

Israeli occupation of the West Bank does not effect a buffer between hostile states. Israel and Jordan made peace 20 years ago, and have become good neighbors, with relatively open borders and joint economic projects. To the north, Syria’s military is barely able to cope with its own civil war, much less project power beyond itself. Egypt and Israel have enjoyed peace for 35 years. Simply put, there is no conventional military force in the region posing a threat to the state of Israel, neither now nor in the foreseeable future, bordering the West Bank or otherwise.

And yet Israel continues, more aggressively than ever, its colonization of the West Bank. 25 years since Jordan renounced its territorial claims, and 20 years since Jordan and Israel made peace, Israel has tripled its colonial population.

The Field Guide eschews use of the neutral terms “settlement” and “settler” to describe Israeli imperialism in the West Bank and elsewhere. These terms hold a certain romance for Americans, evocative as they are of America’s own Westward Expansion. The analogy could hardly be more inapposite. The West Bank is not some sparsely populated hinterland – it is more densely populated than any US state. Though the West Bank is only the size of Delaware, its Arab population is greater than was America’s Native American population during the 19th century. Thus every inch of Israeli expansion comes necessarily via the theft of land privately held by the region’s centuries-old native Arab population, causing extraordinary misery and economic hardship for a people who were already poor.

Colony and colonist are fitting terms for recently constructed Israeli towns in the West Bank and the Israelis who people them. Imperialism is a fitting term to describe Israeli practices in the West Bank. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Imperialism… is an unequal human and territorial relationship…, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another. “Regressive imperialism” [is] identified with pure conquest, unequivocal exploitation, extermination or reductions of undesired peoples, and settlement of desired peoples into those territories.

As a matter of fact, Israel is the West Bank’s colonial power: delegating some authority to Palestinians for their own limited self-rule; while retaining plenary power for the most important matters – expropriating Palestinian lands without compensation on an ongoing basis, while controlling water rights and Palestinian movements. As a matter of international law, Israel is the military occupier of the West Bank – and the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits an occupying power from transferring people into occupied territory, a practice commonly know as colonization.

Israeli colonization of the West Bank has been extremely aggressive, not just in the number of people Israel has moved into the region (more than 500,000 – of whom more than 300,000 have arrived in the past 20 years), but in the way it’s structured its colonies – as if calculated to maximize the disruption of life for the region’s 2.2 million Palestinians. Israel begins by seizing land – much of which is privately owned by Palestinians – offering no compensation. On that land, it builds a new colony, enclosing it in security walls. Then it builds a highway connecting the colony with Israel itself, and walls in the highway too. Palestinians are not permitted entry into colonies, nor are they permitted to cross – much less use – the highways.

Typically, Palestinians will live in a village, but will own olive orchards a few kilometers away. Many such villages have gone virtually unchanged since the 15th century. Suddenly, a newly constructed wall will cut villagers off from their orchards, destroying their livelihood. Israeli colonists also like to practice a form of economic terrorism: cutting down Palestinian olive orchards, in an attempt to drive them away. As a consequence, West Bank Palestinians are increasingly moving to cities, which have been growing more populous, and are coming more and more to resemble Gaza-like ghettos, isolated from surrounding areas and from other Palestinians cities by Israel’s system of walled colonies and highways. Israel presently controls more than 40% of the West Bank – but that Israeli presence disrupts the economic life of the entire region for Palestinians. The following time-series of images, from Wikipedia, conveys the story most compellingly:

One might hope that Israel would take Gaza as a cautionary tale for the failures of military occupation and oppression. In 47 years since the 6-Day War, Israel has, though its own actions, replaced the military threat once posed by Syria, Jordan and Egypt – with the threat of terrorism arising from 4 million disaffected Palestinians, now in their third and fourth generation of Israeli domination. Like Gaza, the West Bank’s Arab population also has extremely high rates of fertility, poverty and unemployment; and is teeming with youth with few economic prospects and little hope. The area is ripe for a Hamas-, ISIS- or Al Qaeda-style movement to take hold – and if Israel continues its present course, one might regard the rise of violent, fundamentalist Islam in the West Bank to be all but inevitable.











Gaza: An Israeli-Made Ghetto

Gaza today isnt like a ghetto – it is a ghetto: a discrete area, cordoned off, populated by a group Israel deems undesirable, with Israel controlling everything and everyone going in and coming out. Its blockade is so restrictive that it’s devastated the economy and undermined the life and health of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians. Gaza is approximately the size and density of a large US city – about 10% larger than Philadelphia, but with 20% more people – and so must depend on imports for food and other vital goods. The unfortunate residents of Gaza – more than 99% of whom are Sunni Arabs – suffer one of the lowest living standards in the world. Malnutrition is common among Gaza’s many children; shortages of fuel and water are chronic.

This situation is entirely attributable to a blockade so tight that smuggling isnt merely profitable – it’s essential to the life of the region. The more Israel constricts the movement of goods above ground, the more the network of tunnels below proliferate – and once built, they can be used for munitions as readily as for food, medicine, fuel and other ordinary goods. Poverty, unemployment and desperation, along with an extraordinarily large number of young people, has turned Gaza into what Israel feared most: the ideal breeding ground for terrorism. This is why some today suggest that the elimination of Hamas would likely lead to something even worse in its place, akin to Al Qaeda or ISIS.

For 20 years, under Israeli military administration, Gaza was poor, densely populated, but relatively tranquil. Palestinians largely accepted the indignity of Israeli occupation, as Israelis and Palestinians became more and more economically integrated, with tens of thousands of Arabs traveling from Gaza into Israel on work permits every day, and goods moving freely between Israel and the occupied territories.

However Israel never sought to normalize the status of Gaza’s then 1 million (now 1.8 million) Palestinians. In fact, numerous policies only made the occupation more and more harsh, with Israel resorting to Nazi-style “Iron Fist” tactics in the face of any incipient Palestinian unrest or organized resistance. Palestinians were frequently arrested, beaten, subject to collective punishment, and otherwise harassed by their military occupiers. Palestinian lands were seized (20% of all of Gaza), and on them, Israeli colonies were built. (Lacking other prospects, Palestinians supplied the bulk of the labor for the building of those colonies.) The first intifada began in 1987 as a surprise to everyone. It had no leadership – rather, it seemed to coalesce from a common dissatisfaction shared by Palestinians about the unfairness of the conditions that Israel had forced upon them. And so it is that present-day Gaza is the product of failed Israeli policies of apartheid, oppression and colonization.

Israeli tactics today are no less awful. In response to the killing of 3 Israeli teenagers, and (generally non-lethal) rocket attacks out of Gaza, Israel has, in its ongoing incursion into Gaza, killed 1000 Palestinians, of whom up to 900 are civilians, and 200 are children. The massacre will serve only to feed the culture of violence, which has gestated during what will soon be a half-century of Israeli military occupation. Violence is now part of Gaza culture – and a culture cannot be met and destroyed on the battlefield. It took decades for Hamas – and Gaza’s many other political factions with a violent bent – to be born in an environment that Israel created. It will take decades more for them and the culture that sustains them to fade away.

The long term cure will only come through open borders, commerce, economic opportunity and, ultimately, Israeli recognition of an independent Palestinian state in Gaza. Instead of rolling in tanks, Israel, if it wants peace, should be liberalizing trade, and investing in Gaza infrastructure and youth programs. Given Gaza’s high poverty rate, sky-high birth rate, unfathomably high unemployment, and utterly desperate living conditions, the cycle of violence may well continue indefinitely – with every act of Israeli aggression leading only to the alienation of moderates within Gaza, and the strengthening of groups like Hamas, and worse.




Israel: Illiberal Democracy

The reason liberals are divided over Israel is that Israel is a democracy – but it is not liberal. Democracy and liberalism have distinct histories, and people in the West today are fortunate to have the rare opportunity to enjoy both. Israel, relative to its region, is to be commended for at least being democratic. But it does not get a free pass for establishing a colonial system of apartheid, denying equal protection of the law to 2.2 million Arabs living in the West Bank; or turning Gaza into a ghetto for what it deems to be its region’s undesirables.

47 years ago, Israel defeated Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the 1967 6-Day War. By the end of hostilities, Israel had taken territory from all 3 countries, including the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt. Since then, the residents of the West Bank have been subject to Israeli rule, but have never been granted citizenship, allowed to vote, nor have any voice in Israel’s government, which continues to exert enormous control over many aspects of their lives. Arabs and Israelis are not treated equally under the law. Arabs – some of whom are now third and fourth generation subjects of Israeli rule – are excluded from driving on certain roads, have limited rights of movement, and restricted access to water resources in an especially arid region.

Israel seems intent on treating the West Bank as if it were its very own Louisiana Purchase. Like the US, it shows no regard for the region’s indigenous population, from whom it has stolen land in a grand colonization effort. Since the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, Israel’s colonial population in the West Bank has tripled. The problem is not that Israel has stolen land from another country. (Jordan relinquished its claim on the West Bank years ago.) The problem is that about one-third of the land taken by Israeli colonizers is privately owned by Arabs – Israeli “settlements” constitute a theft committed by the state of Israel, to the detriment of one ethnic group, for the benefit of another.

As America did with its Native American population, Israel continues to shutter up West Bank Arabs into a shrinking territory, which every day more closely resembles a system of reservations – while controlling their movements between designated spaces, and denying them access to water. After attempts to colonize Gaza failed (Gaza is too dense, and Hamas is too incorrigible), it was turned into a ghetto, with Israel straining to control everything and everyone that goes into and comes out, severely harming the economic life and health of its inhabitants. In the cycle of violence of Gaza rocket attacks on Israel, and Israeli retaliation, people in Gaza suffer ten times as many casualties, a large fraction of whom are innocent women and children. Such an analysis must also consider the severe impact of Israel’s blockade on Gazan life expectancy and infant mortality.

Pragmatically, Israel remains a close and vital US ally. But no matter the expedience of maintaining a pro-western government in the heart of the middle-east, the US’s long term interest is in the proliferation of liberty, human rights, and the rule of law – not merely democracy. Israel is an unfortunate example of one problem democracies too often succumb to: tyranny of the majority. Liberals are therefore right to continue their criticism of the state of Israel – until Israel follows rule of law, and treats all people subject to its authority equally.



The Field Guide thanks the US State Dept for furnishing invaluable information and insight toward the composition of this article.




A Cynic’s New Suit

While impeaching Bill Clinton over a blowjob remains the gold standard for absurdity and cynicism, the House GOP plan to sue Obama is impressive. This same House GOP that’s now voted 54 times to repeal the ACA will next sue the president for partially delaying its implementation. You cant make this stuff up.

Starting this year, the ACA requires corporations with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance. Obama unilaterally gave a one-year extension, and will not enforce the provision until 2015. This move was sensible because insurance markets should mature more over that time, making compliance less burdensome on companies in what remains a tepid recovery. It’s the sort of legal fix that Congress would have taken care of itself in years passed – but today’s radical GOP would prefer to see the ACA fail, instead of making uncontentious changes to improve it.

And that’s why the GOP is unhappy to see part of its most hated law put on hold. Of course, procedure is important, and Obama’s changing of the law via executive order merits scrutiny. But one cannot help but note that this is a strange executive act for the House GOP to sue over – the irresistible inference being that they couldnt find anything better; and that they think their constituents are too dumb to pick up on the details.

The lawsuit is emblematic of the GOP’s plan to resist the president on every issue, even on issues they agree on. In 2010, e.g., John McCain was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution to establish a deficit reduction task force – Mitch McConnell was an outspoken supporter. After some deliberation, President Obama also came out in support of the resolution. At which point, McCain and McConnell did something rather curious – if by “curious” one means “revolting” – they did an about-face, and with their GOP colleagues, they killed the bill. Never mind that they thought it was good law – good for their constituents, good for the country. As long as Obama supported it, they would not, cynically sacrificing a measure they had previously lauded on the Senate floor.*

Then there’s McConnell’s famous remark that – in the face of the worst economic crisis in 80 years – his number one priority was to make Obama a one-term president. And so obstructionism for its own sake has become the GOP’s highest policy objective. Seemingly unsatisfied with sitting on their hands while one crisis after another passes without legislative action, the House GOP would next see to it that the executive branch also does nothing. Or perhaps Boehner cannot resist making literal the metaphor sometimes used to describe him – as he moves ahead with his empty suit….



* this anecdote is discussed in It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Mann and Ornstein – a fascinating and infuriating read.





Gaza Futility

There is no side to be taken in the ongoing Israeli-Gaza war. Israel has occupied Gaza in varying degrees for 47 years. Since its 2005 pullout, Israeli has maintained a blockade that severely hinders economic life and health in Gaza. Hamas emerged after 20 years of Israeli occupation, during the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. It has since risen to become Gaza’s dominant political group. Hamas are religious extremists, with little skill for governance, and no regard for human life. Perceiving that their popularity increases with Israeli aggression, Hamas deliberately provokes Israeli attacks by firing rockets into Israel from Gaza.

Israel’s ongoing blockade constitutes an act of war. Firing rockets into Israel is the only way that that Hamas, the democratically elected leadership of Gaza, can fight back – Israel has proven unresponsive in negotiations absent the use of force. Israel, for its part, reasonably insists that it needs to control imports into Gaza to keep out materials used for making rockets. If Israel lifted the blockade, one might reasonably expect armaments to flow into Gaza, to be used on Israelis. Hamas, and practically every other political group in Gaza, is intent on lobbing ordinance onto Israelis. It’s a vicious circle: the blockade, intended to reduce rocket attacks, remains itself a justification for such attacks. The rocket attacks, intended in part to retaliate for the blockade, remain itself a justification for the blockade.

A half-century of Israeli occupation came with the usual perks. For 27 years (1967-94), the Israeli military directly administered most government functions. Israel colonized Gaza with 21 settlements, whose combined population only maxed at about 8000. Those settlements nonetheless controlled 20% of all the land in Gaza – leaving more than 1 million Arabs to share the other 80%. Despite international condemnation of their occupation, Israel would have been content to occupy and colonize Gaza indefinitely. It was Palestinian resistance that brought Israel to the bargaining table in the 90s, and drove them out in 2005.

Israel’s differential treatment of Gaza and the West Bank is driven by demography, geography and history. Gaza, with 1.7 million people living in 139 square miles, has the same size and population of 1960 Detroit. The West Bank is fifteen times larger (about the size of Delaware), with an Arab population of 2.1 million; it also encompasses the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, not to mention East Jerusalem. In short, Gaza is 10 times more densely populated than the West Bank, which is therefore much more attractive for Israeli colonization. While Israel has abandoned its Gaza settlements, it continues to expand its colonization of the West Bank, with 500,000 settlers and direct control of 40% of the territory.

Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is too small and too densely populated with Palestinians to be attractive for Israeli colonization. It will for a long time to come be very poor, and very hostile to Israel. The purpose of Israel’s present incursion is political: the Israeli government hopes to convince Israelis that they’re doing their best to end the rocket attacks out of Gaza. Beyond that, it will accomplish nothing. Hostility toward Israel, whether in the form of suicide bombers or rocket attacks, are the consequence of a political movement, which will never be defeated on the battlefield. It took decades of Israeli occupation to create Hamas. It will takes decades more for them to go away. The US should condemn Israel’s invasion of Gaza – not because it’s unjustified, but because it’s futile.







We’re All Socialists

Once you agree that we’re able to identify economic sectors that are neglected by markets, and furthermore accept the government’s role in allocating resources into those sectors, you have subscribed to two of the most important tenets of socialism, and are left to figure out what kind of socialist you want to be.

Some roles of government are so ancient that people take them for granted. No one is regarded as a socialist for asserting that government should build bridges or maintain a fire and police department. However the economic logic of government activity in these areas is not terribly different from the logic behind public education – or public insurance. The distinction between a “capitalist” who supports the government’s role in education, infrastructure and public safety, and a “socialist” who additionally supports the government’s role in insurance is only a matter of degree.

When western societies started pooling resources to collectively educate children in the 18th century, socialism wasnt even a word. All but the most rabid conservatives accept that collecting taxes and spending them to educate children is a proper role for government. (Conservatives get hysterical over the federal government’s role in education.)  Conservative acceptance of public education is as well their tacit acknowledgement of the failure of markets to fulfill the need.

It helps to be reminded of the chasm between “classical” economics and other economic models. Classical economics has it that markets are self-correcting and self-sustaining – that central planners cannot improve on a free market’s allocations. Anyone who accepts public education necessarily rejects classical economics – because if markets could not be improved upon by central planning, then public education would be unnecessary and wasteful – free markets would see to education privately, leaving no need for public schools.

But education markets suffer from several well-known problems. One is access to capital: a five year old cant go to the bank to secure a loan to pay for his education for the next 10 or 20 years. Even if he could, one’s own education is so rife in positive externalities, that it would suffer from chronic underinvestment. (The benefits of your education accrue significantly to other people – if you could somehow capture all of their benefit too, you would be willing to spend a lot more for your own education.) Parents who pay for their child’s education have the same externality problem.

Public education is a big ticket item, dramatically increasing the size of government. In the US, total annual government education spending on all levels will for the first time exceed $1 trillion in 2014. That’s 50% more than the government spends on defense – and almost as much as government spending on healthcare and pensions.

Once you accept our ability to identify failing market sectors, and subscribe in principle to the government’s ability to correct those failures through regulation or outright government provision, you open up the debate as to which market sectors need attention. Beyond education, infrastructure and security, perhaps the next most obvious market failure is insurance – and it’s no coincidence that governments worldwide have been in the insurance business for 150 years.

As conservatives mindlessly rail against government-provided health insurance as socialism, it’s amusing to chide them on their own socialist beliefs. But it’s no less heartening to appreciate the considerable common ground shared by Americans from both ends of the political spectrum.