Samuel Edward Konkin III
Palestine: Liberty and justice
For thirty years the conflict raging in the Middle East between Arabs and Israelis has been viewed on tribal partisan grounds. You were either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, and in the latter case, anti-Israel was assumed to be a thin camouflage for "anti-Semitic." With the onset of the 1970s and thanks to the "New" Left, one could be "pro-Arab" rather than just anti-Israel, but the tribalism was expanded, not reduced. Now it was the Arab/Marxist/anti-imperialist tribe against the Israeli/capitalist/Western Democracy camp. Then came the Energy "Crisis" and the division was further muddled by petro-plutocrats lining up with Arabs who were clearly not Marxist and not terribly anti-imperialist.
In other issues of international importance, from World War II to Viet Nam, there was a sense of morality: to which side in a foreign conflict belonged justice? For which side did you cheer in expectation of increased liberty? Not so in Palestine; it was and largely still is assumed we are talking about raw survival: if Israel loses, the Jews will be exterminated (again?); if Israel wins, it might be generous and dole a little noblesse oblige to the losing Arabs. Heads they win, tails they win.
There has been a third view of "plague on both your houses," but few of any ideology or intellect or religious commitment have attempted to assess the Palestinian Question (however posed) in terms of maximizing justice. The defenders of Israel will cry "aggressor" at surrounding Arab states rattling their sabres at the Israeli state, but revert to amoral technical discussion when Israeli border expansion or internal treatment of non-Jews comes up.
To find the fourth position of evaluation of historical causation of the present Palestinian situation combined with a determination not to increase the injustice by intervention, one has to look beyond the Left/Right, Zionist/anti-Semitic speeches. As early as the late 1960s, Murray N. Rothbard called exactly for that in his publication Libertarian Forum at the very beginning of the modern libertarian movement.
Revisionism on the World Wars, Korea, and Viet Nam, was integral to libertarianism from its inception; a 1960s' Rarnpart journal of Robert LeFevre's devoted to Revisionism and spotlighting James J. Martin became a treasured classic to the thousands of students who poured into the movement in 1969 and subsequent years. But since those few libertarians who had not come from the pro-Israel conservative Right had come from the equally pro-Israel Liberal Left (Ayn "Rand," a source of many proto-libertarians, is and was strongly proIsrael), Rothbard's staunchly Revisionist views on Palestine clapped like a thunderbolt across still-infant libertarian consciousness. For a decade, Rothbard and Martin, and the most radical libertarian Revisionists they inspired -- Roy Childs, Leonard Liggio, Joseph Castrovinci and Ron Hamowy -- battled to win primacy for the Revisionist-isolationist view over the limited-government, Whig-imperialist view of the exconservative apologists (most prominently John Hospers and his coterie).
Bit by bit the Revisionists prevailed on World War II, the Cold War, the Progressive era, and perhaps most easily, Southeast Asia. The Middle East issue was the hardest to win -- and by that token the most important victory. Ten years after Rothbard's thunderbolt, the ex-Randist Society for Individual Liberty (SIL) published the first hesitant editorials in their Individual Liberty calling for isolationist anti-war activism against U.S. policy in the Middle East based on a tentative Revisionist historical outlook. Finally, Roy Childs, who had ascended to the editorship of Libertarian Review after its takeover by Koch's foundation, the crucial bridge and centrist publication between the Libertarian Left and Right, published Bill Birmingham's exhaustive review of Edward W. Said's The Question of Palestine. Victory!
The radical Revisionists have prevailed. Consider Birmingham's rhetoric (p40):
The problem, I think, is that the thinking of anti-Palestinian libertarians suffers from a common defect that manifests itself in their view of foreign affairs. The people who think the
Palestinians "want to drive the Jews into the sea" are generally those who believed -- and perhaps still believe -- that the U.S. was "defending freedom" in Vietnam or Iran. In all these cases, the facts about the oppressed people in question were and are easy to find, but they were ignored or denied -mainly, in my opinion, because of an unwillingness to believe that these non-Western people could have genuine grievances that libertarians could support. The sometimes reactionary and obtuse letters LR has received in response to its articles on Iran and the Middle East seem prime examples of this.
The Question of Palestine is especially valuable to libertarians because it deals not so much with facts about Palestine (though it includes them in abundance) as with attitudes: the kind of attitudes libertarians have to shuck off if they are ever to effectively relate to the people of the Third World. I would like to see American libertarians, for example, demand the U.S. end its support for Israel -- not because it is a drain on the Treasury, or because it could embroil us in war, although those are perfectly good reasons, but because it enables Israel to murder and oppress the Palestinian people. I would like to see American libertarians put aside their conservatism, and their xenophobia, and their terror of being somehow contaminated by "leftist" issues and learn to say, with the Egyptian student demonstrators of the early seventies: We are all Palestinians.
The corner has been turned. Where the Liberal establishment and the social-democrat Left abandoned moral philosophy to defend Israeli imperialism and Euro-Arnerican support with a mixture of unsubstantiated guilt over the German "Holocaust" and pragmatic defense of "Western interests" (i.e. corporate Liberal-owned petroleum interests), the Libertarians moved in with their individual rights absolutism.
Among the States in the world, Palestine won a 142-7 vote in the United Nations, with the entire Common Market abstaining, establishing the right of Palestinians to territory from Israel -- Palestinian land, from which they were thrown off by the Israeli State.
With the world's States and multi-national corporations abandoning the pro-Israeli position, only the American State shores up the Israeli r6gime. Internally in Israel, the opposition party is moving towards more compromise even as the governing hard-line coalition disintegrates. And now, in the United States, support for Palestinian liberation moves into ascendancy, and the libertarian movement is the bellwether.
The Old Right remnant of the anti-World War 11 struggle, the New Left remnants of national liberation struggles of the 1960s, and the pro-Arab special interests are now joined by radical libertarians, the more moderate respectable libertarians (such as LP presidential candidate Ed Clark) and next the border-line libertarian sympathizers of the civil-liberties reform Liberals and free-enterprise conservatives.
There remains a residue of fear from the guilt-by-association tactics of pro-Israel interventionists, strong enough to motivate Editor Childs to prevent the reprinting of Birmingham's article in this JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL REVIEW. (But take heart, Libertarian Review is now running only three years behind New Libertarian which freely runs ads for IHR.) Notwithstanding, the historical review is worth historiographical review, and one can always refer to the original: "The Revolution That Will Be," Bill Birmingham, p36, Libertarian Review, June 1980, Volume 9, No. 6, $1.50, from 1620 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, Ca 94111.
What Birmingham states, with quotes backing him from Said's book and other sources, is that an indigenous population of Arabs, self-aware as Palestinians (Filastin Arabiyah, p38), were held in thrall by the Ottoman Empire, then the British who turned the territory over to the Zionist movement after extensive terrorism by such groups as Irgun Zvai Leumi (led by Mehachem Begin and Geula Cohen, the latter being the source of the Knesset resolution making Jerusalem Israel's capital). Arabs were slaughtered, their homes burned, and the rest driven off without recompense as deliberate policy. Thus was the Israeli State founded -- as all others were -- by murder, conquest, and pillage.
Birmingham documents the overt, deep, anti-Arab racism of early Zionists such as Chaim Weizmann (later president of Israel), quotes pro-genocidal passages from the diaries of Zionist leaders, and blatant expressions by those leaders of expropriation -- not liberation -- of Palestinian territory. He has a devastating quote that Said dug up from Moshe Dayan: (p 3 7):
We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state there. In considerable areas of the country (the total area was about 6 percent -- ES) we bought the lands from the Arabs (or more properly, from their feudal overlords -- BB), Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not know even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal (Dayan's own village) arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat -- in the place of Jibra, (Kibbutz) Sarid -- in the place of Haneifs and Kefar Yehosua -- in the place of Tell Shaman. There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population. (Emphasis added.)
To a libertarian, the use of "socialism" to rationalize statist oppression is particularly telling. Birmingham unerringly mines Said for this nugget:
Another pillar of Zionism was the "conquest of labor," also known as "Jewish socialism." This was a systematic boycott of the Arab economy, and especially of Arab laborers. There is nothing wrong with voluntary boycotts, but there was nothing voluntary about the conquest of labor. "We stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there," confesses David Hacohen, former head of the Jewish trade union Histradrut. His minions would also "pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes," and even "attack Jewish housewives in the market and smash the Arab eggs they bought."
And Birmingham does not neglect the "holocaust" in Israel -- of Palestinians, atrocities such as the massacre of 250 men, women and children of Deir Yassin. "Out of about 950,000 Arabs who had lived in what became the new, enlarged Israel, some 780,000 were refugees, giving the new state a solid Jewish majority and all their abandoned property, to which the Israeli government promptly helped itself. It was as President Chaim Weizman put it, "a miraculous simplification of our tasks."
The Arabs remaining in Palestine were segregated and treated like Blacks in South Africa. Arab books, such as Sabri Jiryi's The Arabs In Israel, were suppressed and the author deported. Children's books treating Arabs like Julius Streicher's books treated Jews, were supported and spread.
If there is any flaw in Birmingham's review, it is perhaps in discussing the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nascent State and thus potentially oppressive. Nonetheless, a good deal of the popular description of the PLO as terrorists without popular support belongs with Belgian-baby eating propaganda and worthy of a lot of solid Revisionst exposé.
Birmingham feels there's still a ways to go:
Unfortunately there are too many libertarians, even though they claim to be the keepers of the classical liberal tradition, who seem quite willing to support the Palestinian cause, or even to acknowledge its justice. True, it is extremely unpopular, and the truth about it well concealed, but obstacles don't stop libertarians from taking equally unpopular and hard to prove positions on a score of domestic issues. Besides, as Dr. Said points out, most of the facts about Palestine and Zionism are readily available; the problem is to connect them, "and see them not as they are hidden, but as they are ignored or denied " (p 40).
But with his review, and the signal of a major victory for justice and liberty in the minds of libertarian intellectuals -and American intellectuals in general -- success for Palestinian Revisionism -- and Palestinian liberation -- is that much closer.