"Background Of Middle East Conflict"*
By Bill Evers
retrieved from The Libertarian Forum VOLUME VI, NO. 2 FEBRUARY, 1974
Suppose a war breaks out between Ruritania and Walldavia, two hypothetical states which we shall use for purposes of analysis. In determining war guilt, it is not enough to know merely who fired the first shot or who crossed what line first.
Instead an in-depth historical inquiry is necessary. If the Ruritanians have in the past conquered and subdued or dispossessed half of the Walldavian people, that does make a difference when one is trying to determine war guilt.
The political roots of the present-day conflict in the Middle East go back to the World War I era. At that time, officials of the British Empire promised in somewhat vague terms a homeland in Palestine for organized Zionism and promised national independence in the Middle East to Arab nationalist leaders.
Without in any way acknowledging the rightfulness of British imperialist meddling, we can distinguish between these promises by noting that the Arabs were struggling to throw off the foreign rule of the Ottoman Turks and to achieve national self-determination, whereas the Zionists were foreigners laying claim to the land the Arabs were living on.
Promises Never Kept
In any case, the British never fulfilled either promise. Britain and her allies divided up the land of the old Ottoman Empire, and Britain took control of Palestine.
Several surveys covering land tenure in British Palestine in the late 1940s just before the formation of the State of Israel show that Arabs owned 49 percent of the land in Palestine; Jews, six percent; government land and land owned in common by Arab and Jewish villages, six percent. The rest was desert, some of which was the regular pasturage of Bedouin tribes. Included in the category of government land by these surveys was territory claimed by Ottoman sultans and their successors, but occupied for generations by thousands of Arab peasants who claimed the equivalent of freehold tenure.
Of further importance is the fact that the Zionist Jews bought most of their land from feudal landlords, whose claims to the land originated in conquest, not in cultivation.
A. Granott, an Israeli land expert whose writings are quoted by both Palestinians and Zionists, notes that "no less than 90.6 percent of all (Jewish) acquisitions were of land which formerly belonged to large landowners, while from fellaheen (Arab farmers) only 9.4 percent was purchased."
The study "Land Ownership in Palestine, 1880-1948," published by the Office of the Premier of the State of Israel, also states that "most of the Jewish land purchases involved large tracts belonging to absentee-owners."
Thus, an additional question of justice arises because of the feudal system in early twentieth-century Palestine. According to the libertarian theory of justice, a feudal landlord is not the legitimate owner of land; instead, the land belongs to his bondsman who has been homesteading it. Thus the Zionist settlers obtained a clear and just title only in cases in which previously unowned land was homesteaded or in which land was bought from native Palestinians.
One of the justifications often given for Israeli seizure of Arab houses and farmlands after the formation of the State of Israel is that the Arabs fled after having been ordered to leave by the radio broadcasts of the Arab political leadership.
However, subsequent scholarly examination of the monitoring transcripts kept by the British Broadcasting Corporation and the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency shows no evidence that orders to leave were broadcast and shows that some exhortations not to evacuate were broadcast.
Apparently the confusion of battle and fear of the terrorism of some Zionist military organizations like the Irgun group prompted departures. Nonetheless, even if it could be shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Arab people of Palestine had been ordered to leave, this does not alter the legitimacy of their title to the land.
There is now some increased consciousness among Israeli intellectuals of the fact that they live on stolen land. During the summer of 1972, members of the literary intelligentsia argued that the Israeli government should permit the Arab inhabitants of the villages of Ikrit and Berem to return to the homes from which 25 years before they had been expelled, in a supposedly temporary evacuation.
Israeli Premier Golda Meir told these intellectuals that restoring the rights of these pro-Israeli Arabs would set a dangerous precedent. The New York Times said the Israeli press reported her fearing that all sorts of claims might be put forward, by hundreds of thousands of refugees of the 1948 war.
Although the territory controlled by the Israeli government has expanded considerably over the years, Israel's might does not make her right. One can only hope that eventually justice will prevail and that the Palestinian Arab refugees will once again be masters in their own homes.
*Reprinted From The Stanford Daily, Oct. 10, 1973.