On the Israeli Palestinian Conflict: A Conversation with Elan Journo

Elan Journo is a Senior Fellow and Director of Policy Research at the Ayn Rand Institute (“ARI”). Journo regularly writes and speaks for ARI; he is a senior editor and regular contributor at ARI’s online publication New Ideal. Journo specializes in the application of ethical egoism to foreign policy. Journo frequently writes on foreign policy issues in the Middle East and American foreign policy. He is the co-author of Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond with Onkar Ghate. He is also the author of Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism and, most recently, What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. His articles have appeared in outlets ranging from Middle East Quarterly to The Hill and the Los Angeles Times. Journo holds a BA in philosophy from King’s College, London, and an MA in diplomacy from SOAS, University of London.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Paul Taske: To start, can you provide some background about how you became interested in foreign affairs and specifically the conflict between Israel and Palestine?

Elan Journo: I would say the turning-point for me was 9-11. Before 9-11, I was interested in all kinds of issues ranging from business ethics to cultural-political trends, but 9-11 really focused my curiosity to understanding how that event came about. And what took me from 9-11 to writing a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was that I realized that the two were ideologically related. There are fundamental commonalities between the two in the sense that the Islamist movement, which seeks to impose Islam as a totalitarian political system everywhere, is embodied in groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and what those groups advocate has effectively become the dominant ideology motivating the Palestinian Movement.

The Palestinian movement is a political endeavor, distinct from the Palestinian people, which has had different phases throughout its existence. It began as a conflict between Arab states neighboring the newly formed state of Israel. Most recently, the Palestinian Movement’s central ideology shifted from primarily a nationalist Palestinian identity to an ideological Islamist character. This is embodied primarily through the Hamas faction which came to prominence in the past twenty years and came to power in parts of the Palestinian territory about ten years ago.

So, for me, it was a progression of trying to understand the Islamist movement generally in response to 9-11, its origins and motives, and then tracing that ripple effect throughout the region which reconfigured the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

PT: You’ve recently written a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The book’s title is What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Two questions come to mind when I read that title; first, what is justice; and, second, why is justice important when evaluating this issue?

EJ: It is easier to start with the second question. I think most serious people who are invested, interested, or connected to this debate tend to frame this issue in moral terms and specifically in terms of justice. We hear that justice means siding with Palestine. “Justice for Palestine” is a slogan commonly heard across the country in different campus or activist groups. It is often seen as a moral blemish that Israel isn’t doing justice to the Palestinians and is doing injustice in various ways. If you turn to the other side of the conflict, people who side with Israel will argue around that issue and try to make a case that Israel has some other moral grounding on its side. So, the whole debate outside of the conflict-zone is framed in terms of justice. So, it’s an ideal place to begin because both sides claim that their side is on the side of justice. This provides an excellent opportunity to ask what is at stake in this conflict and to ask what justice actually means. I don’t agree with the conception of justice on either side, but I think it is right and necessary to think about any conflict and apply moral principles to it. The primary principle to apply in this case is, I think, justice.

A word about what I think “Justice” means. I think just about every normative principle is controversial when you dig into it. I think the same is true for the principle of justice. In everyday usage we mean doing right by people or giving them what they deserve. Now, those are helpful up to a point, but when you want to think about this issue in depth you have to ask, “By what standard?” and “How do you evaluate?” and “What does it look like to present evidence?” There needs to be a common understanding of what the principle of justice actually means. What I argue in my book is that people have a right to be concerned about who has justice on their side in this conflict. But a common problem is that people’s conception of how justice applies is wrong.

Specifically, too many people think that if you happen to be the weaker side materially, if you are the more suffering side, if your side can show greater anguish, poverty, and weakness then, in some sense, justice has to be on your side. That’s a common view in our culture—we root for the underdog in many contexts. What I suggest is that this is not really a helpful conception of justice because you can find underdogs that are not good and are, actually, really bad. So the amount of suffering, weakness, or material impoverishment you can show cannot be measures of whether one side is in the right or not because there is no correlation in reality between those [characteristics] and being in the right. I argue that justice here means evaluating both adversaries by the same standards and applying objective moral principles to both sides. Then we must evaluate who lives up to those standards. The principles I suggest are, I think, things most people can agree on. These principles are: (1) a society that enables people to live and thrive; and (2) a society that enables each of us to live and make our own decisions and pursue our own goals which enables people to succeed and achieve their own conception of a good life. When you extrapolate these requirements to a society, it means a society that is growing, developing, and becoming healthier and stronger. I think of these as objective moral principles, meaning that they are true for all people, at all times, and in all places. Justice means applying this standard to both sides and asking which of the adversaries is creating, has created, or would create a society where people are able to live free, individuals can make their own decisions, and would have the most opportunity to succeed when doing so. Justice, from the perspective of outsiders, means we should stand with whoever is on the side of freedom because freedom is the principle that unites these characteristics of a good society. We should root for a society that is fostering freedom and supporting it as best we can identify.

I would also put it this way: there are different conceptions of justice, some religious, some secular, but a common thread is the orientation toward something other than the individual or other than freedom. My argument is that a proper conception of justice and its application here requires looking at what kind of society is best for the individual and this standard must be applied to both adversaries. This combination of having an objective standard and applying it uniformly to both sides is the project of my book.

PT: What other salient differences are there between your approach to this conflict and others who have approached this issue?

EJ: Let’s start with the “pro-Israel” side. I put “pro-Israel” in scare quotes for the moment because I don’t think it’s always clear what this view amounts to. One view you hear, primarily from evangelical Christians, is that God said that the realization of the Jews on their own homeland and the creation of Israel is right, there are multiple references to this in the Bible, and you better stand on the side God told you to. So, if you support Israel you are doing God’s will; if you’re opposing Israel you’re defying God and you’re in the wrong. Now, you have to believe in the underlying religious perspective to find that view plausible. Even if you put that aside, there are real questions about this conception of justice. If God is the arbiter of justice, what do we do if there are hard cases? Could it be that both sides have some legitimate claims and some illegitimate claims? How do we sort that out? What if the side God told you to be on has done bad things, how are you supposed evaluate that? Is it defeating, inconsequential, or somewhere in the middle? Personally, I don’t know what footnote in the Bible that is explained in. Accordingly, the religious explanation really isn’t a helpful way to think about the issue.

Another common “pro-Israel” view, which I certainly don’t agree with, is that we must support Israel because it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Now, it’s not wrong if you mean that you can’t point to other liberal democracies in the Middle East. I add the qualifier of “liberal democracy” because many countries in the Middle East have features of democratic governance. For example, the Iranian regime—which is a totalitarian Islamic regime—has held elections and continues to hold regular elections. Does that mean Iran is in the same category as Israel? There is something distinctive about Israel, but it’s not right to think of it in terms of democracy. I argue that the difference is a wider secular principle of individual freedom.

Now, if we look at the pro-Palestinian perspective, and again there are different positions here, but if we take the salient one, one issue that comes up is that the pro-Palestinians are in favor of justice for Palestinians—and so am I! But where we differ is that I make a sharp distinction between individuals who identify as Palestinians and the Palestinian Movement. The two overlap but are distinguishable. The Palestinian Movement is defined by a set of ideas and political goals and you have to evaluate that separately from individual Palestinians. What often happens is that many people who take the pro-Palestinian side blend the two together. They have sympathy for Palestinians who suffered actual or claimed wrongs—which need to be identified and, where actual wrongs exist, addressed. But, this gets blended with the goals and motives of the Palestinian movement.

One problem with the Palestinian Movement—I argue, and think the evidence shows— is it has not lived up to its claim of trying to right past wrongs.[2] The whole argument for the Palestinian Movement is that it is fighting to undo injustices done to that community. But what you see is that you cannot be for justice to individual Palestinians and support the goals of the Palestinian Movement because the Palestinian Movement has led to dictatorial and authoritarian governance or political regimes. There is an inner tension here of wanting to do justice by people who have been wronged, but the solution cannot be encouraging and supporting a movement that would magnify those wrongs, institutionalize them, make them worse, and under no reasonable definition of “improvement” actually improve or rectify those problems.

Another view worth distinguishing mine from is that of seeking a “middle-path.” The prevailing form of this view, especially in Washington among both Democrats and Republicans, is to find a compromise between the two sides. Typically, this is encapsulated in the “Two-State Solution” where Israel gets to keep its state and the Palestinians get a new one and both live side-by-side in peace. There is a lot to say about this, but the key difference between it and my view is that view, in effect, jettisons any conception of justice and says “We get that both sides have claims. We don’t want to get into that. We just want a practical solution.” But you cannot reach a practical solution in defiance of justice. You cannot abandon moral principles and hope to find practical solutions. The whole argument of the book is that only by taking justice seriously can you reach practical solutions that solve the key issues in the conflict.

Overall, the key differences between my book and other views is that my book is pro-justice, pro-individual, secular, and takes morality seriously.

PT: You’ve mentioned that we need to look at the different alleged grievances when evaluating this conflict. In the book you lay out four principal grievances: dispossession of land, the right of return; occupations/settlements; and minority rights of Palestinians. I would like to touch on two of those if that’s alright.

EJ: Sure.

PT: Let’s start with the right of return. What is the basis for this grievance and how should we evaluate it?

EJ: As an overall point about the grievances you mentioned, I want to say that I chose those issues because they are “the big ones.” These are the hard cases and have been the sticking points during disagreements. Although other issues may be important to address, you can’t solve those derivative issues without addressing these more difficult ones first.

Now, you wanted to start with the right of return. Return for whom? And why? And in what situations? The short summary is that when Israel declared its independence in the 1940s, there was a two-front war against it led by neighboring Arab countries. At the same time, internally there was an uprising supported and directed, in large part, by those neighboring countries against the whole idea of Israel becoming an independent state. At the time, the United Nations voted for what was called the Partition Plan. The Partition Plan called for the creation of two states—one for the Jews and the other for the Arabs which were primarily Muslim. The Israeli side accepted that deal, but the Arab side, including the neighboring Arab regimes, opposed it. The two-front war I mentioned was the result. The goal of the war was to grab the land for the enlargement of those Arab states. Internally, there was a mixture of motives, but a main one was that there were leaders who did not want to share borders with a Jewish population. These leaders were not simply opposed to the proposed borders, but to the very idea of there being a border at all.

As a result of the war, hundreds of thousands of what we now think of as Palestinians left their homes and became refugees. Estimates range in terms of how many of them there were at the time. The upper estimate is around 760,000 people. These people moved to different parts, some ended up in Lebanon, many in Jordan, and others elsewhere. The right of return is basically the claim that the population of refugees from that conflict have a moral claim to return and reclaim their land, houses, and property they left behind as a result of the war.

There’s a lot to say about the right of return claim. One is that becoming a refugee is something that often happens in war. Sometimes you get to go back, but not always, and sometimes there’s nothing to go back to—either because the house or property has been destroyed or it has been put to other use. I don’t think the “right of return” is an obvious moral claim. I think it is good if you can go back, but sometimes there is nothing to go back to and you wouldn’t want to go back. But I think the fundamental question is: “Who should you be most angry at?” In this case, if you look at the way this conflict arose, the side that instigated or initiated it was the neighboring Arab regimes and the leadership within the Palestine territory who opposed the creation of Israel and sought to liquidate it—which was a term that was commonly used. They are the ones that caused the war that led to people wanting to flee the battlefront for their own safety. In my view, you have to hold these leaders and regimes primarily accountable for the creation of this refugee population.

Now, there are related questions to look at because part of the claim is that Israel had a master plan to push as many Arabs out of the land as possible to make room for the Jews to build their state. This is part of a claim sometimes presented as ethnic cleansing. I don’t think the historical evidence supports this view.

Another claim is that Israeli forces, when fighting against invading armies, deliberately cleared out villages when there was no military reason to do so. In a military context, you sometimes have to clear territory so you don’t have a potentially hostile population at your flank. That means, for example, a village has to be cleared out and people end up becoming refugees. That, I think, did happen. I don’t think the evidence shows that this was a deliberate policy uniformly exercised. I think it was an ad hoc military policy where when the military found it necessary to clear a village, they did. Could there be cases where it was wrong or unnecessary for them to clear out a village and it was just done out of spite? There might be cases like that. And if you can demonstrate that this was a wrongful clearing of a village then there would certainly be a claim to return. But it’s really difficult to piece together the facts today, more than seventy years from the time of the conflict. I think your readers will be familiar with the principle of the statute of limitations. In many cases, even as much as we want justice to be fully realized we cannot do it because so much time has passed. We can’t get all the data, all the facts, all the evidence. There is no way to be objective about what to do in that context. And you cannot visit upon someone living today the guilt for something they didn’t do just because they now live on a piece of land that you used to own 70 years ago—if you were alive back then.

So, there’s a limitation on how much you can demonstrate objectively about actual wrongs that are current in this context and what you might do about them today. Now, there are things you could have done in the past, but time has worn on. I think the primary thing is that we must recognize where the primary culpability lies — and that is with the armies that initiated the conflict. They created the conditions that led the majority of the refugees to become refugees. Then, if you peel back and look at the more nuanced cases, there could be cases of wrongful eviction for example, but it’s really hard to rectify them now with the passage of time.

A final thought I would add, and this is an important point for thinking about the right of return, is that I mentioned the upper estimate for the number of refugees as a result of the 1948 war was around 760,000. The Palestinian Movement and the United Nations [Refugee Welfare Agency] that helps oversee their well-being, have an unusual way of calculating this group of refugees.[3] It’s a difficult thing to calculate refugees and to define them. But in this case, it’s compounded by what I think is a politicization the issue. The UN’s definition includes descendants of people who were alive at the time of the conflict through the male bloodline. So, if you’re a male and your father was a refugee then you are, and your son will be, and his son, and so on. Based on this metric we have gone from 760,000 refugees 70 years ago—even factoring in human mortality—to about five million today.

PT: That’s quite an increase.

EJ: It’s approximately six times larger. It is a deliberate kind of calculation. The Palestinian Movement’s conception of a right of return is unconditional—meaning it doesn’t matter whether you were for the invading armies or against them. That’s a material issue in my view. If you were on [the side of the invading armies] you were part of the problem and I don’t see why you would have a claim. But if you were an innocent victim, and if you think that Israel is a better place to live and that is why you want to go back, then that’s a different story. [The Palestinian Movement] doesn’t recognize any of those distinctions. They want all five million (which is a growing number) of those people to come back to places that either have become developed in other ways or where there is nothing for them to come back to.

PT: Why does the Palestinian Movement subscribe to an unlimited right of return?

EJ: It is commonly described as a way to demographically change Israel’s character. Israel’s total population right now is eight million. Now what then happens when you bring five million more refugees in? And this isn’t just a population of people who are upset; they have been inculcated by the Palestinian Movement with a profound hatred, not toward the Arab countries that initiated the war and caused their plight fundamentally, but toward Israel. Even if you take seriously some of the wrongs Israel committed during the war, those pale in comparison to the level of hostility that many people in this population harbor toward Israel and they don’t have anything like the same hostility toward the actual initiators of the war. How does that end well? How does a right of return really rectify their wrong? I don’t think it would. How many of those five million people really were alive and, in a strict definition of refugee, really are refugees from that period?

PT: Can you use a different example to illustrate what an unlimited right of return would look like?

EJ: The analogy I often give is to think of the largest refugee crisis in the twentieth century, in terms of the number of people displaced, which is World War II.

When I was growing up, I knew someone whose grandparents were Polish refugees. They lost everything and fled for their lives. After the war, they had nothing to go back to and no one was interested in helping them out. What would it look like if [my friend’s] parents and he were also considered refugees? You started with two refugees but now you have five. His parents weren’t born in Poland; he wasn’t born in Poland. And his children would become refugees and they certainly weren’t born in Poland. Now you have this weird situation where someone who is three generations removed from the incident, and was not materially affected by it, is counted as a refugee? Should his daughter, born in 2008, be considered a refugee from World War II? When we trace out the same logic for other conflicts it starts to sound really strange. Should she be fighting the Polish government to get her great-grandparent’s factory restored? I don’t know how that makes sense, and that is essentially the prevalent view on the Palestinian right of return. It is no longer about thinking of the individual Palestinians with legitimate grievances about property or how to rectify that at the time; it’s about treating the Palestinian community as a collective ever-growing population of victims.

PT: Let’s turn to another issue you focus on, the occupation and settlements by Israelis on Palestinian land.

EJ: This is another very complicated grievance because the scope of the occupation, its timeframe, how it has changed, which territories it includes, etc. are not things commonly agreed upon.

A big point of disagreement about the occupation is what it refers to. One of the broadest claims you hear from some people in the Palestinian Movement is that every inch of Historical Palestine that is not ruled by Palestinian-Arabs is occupied. This means that even the parts of the territory that were, under the UN Partition Plan, going to become Israel versus the other parts, which were going to become a Palestinian state, all of it is Palestinian and any part that is not Palestinian is thereby occupied. In effect, it is a repudiation of the legitimacy of there being any other country in the territory besides Palestine. Basically, under this conception, the sheer existence of Israel with any borders or sovereign territory is wrong.

Another claim is that any Israeli territory beyond the original 1948 borders is illegitimate. In 1967, there was another major war. Israel ended up controlling territory that we now describe as the West Bank,[4] the Gaza Strip,[5] and the Golan Heights.[6] So, post 1967, some people make the claim that those are all occupied territories and Israel has no claim to them.

Proponents of this view often say that Israel, as a real democracy, has to abide by international law and give up these territories. It’s a real question what international law means and how to think about it. My view is that it is essentially customary. It is not the same kind of thing as the Constitution or the laws within a country. International law is basically agreements among nations. However, we recognize that some laws can be morally right, and some can be morally wrong. For instance, I think we can all agree that laws against murder are morally right. And, of course, there were laws on the books during the Jim Crow era enforcing legal segregation, and those were legal but abhorrent and grossly immoral. There are different examples you can give, but I think the important point to make is that you need to separate out what is morally right and morally wrong from something’s legality. The same applies to international law. You can have international law that recognizes things that are morally right to do and also international law that recognized things that are morally not right to do. I don’t see looking at occupation from the perspective of international law as very helpful. Because the primary issue is that the territories Israel took hold of after the 1967 war were not accidentally taken. They happened to be the ones from which enemy forces were attacking it.

[Each of these territories was] a point of incredible military vulnerability [for Israel]. This was a war of self-defense; the territories were taken not only in retaliation against aggression but for the sake of self-defense. That is a perspective to take on the occupation that I think is not sufficiently understood or appreciated. I think it calls into question people’s embrace of international law as a kind of out of context dogma. When international law is embraced without context or rational justification, that’s not good for anybody and it gives international law a bad name. This is not to dismiss all principles of international law. I think some of them are legitimate, or at least can be. But as applied here, I don’t think it’s the right way to think about the occupation.

Now, I should add that I don’t think Israel’s arguments for retaining these territories are always very good ones. But Israel’s primary defense amounts to claiming exceptions to certain international law doctrines. My view is, rather than relying on international law, Israel should argue that it has the moral right to defend itself and that includes retaining territory used in aggression against it.

PT: So, how is the issue of occupation different from settlements?

EJ: Really these issues go together. This is a grievance with many sub-grievances under it. The settlement claim boils down to the fact that that Israel controls territories that properly belong to Palestinians and, so long as Israel is developing this territory through building houses and business, it’s creating irreversible facts on the ground that prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state. Let me just unpack it a bit while noting that in the book I talk about it in more detail than I can during this conversation.

As with the term “occupation,” the term “settlement” is actually very confusing because it refers to a host of things that are quite different and you need to evaluate each one differently. Settlements do not refer to a uniform phenomenon. The result is that some settlements are, I think, defensible, rational, moral, and legal. Others are not morally defensible, are an afront to the rule of law, and should not exist. It is important to distinguish these different types of settlements. You can’t take justice seriously and treat things indiscriminately when serious distinctions really apply. I don’t think that it’s right to think of this territory as universally belonging to Palestinians as a collective. I think it is legitimate for Israel to hold on to territories for its self-defense and then to make productive use of them by encouraging people to develop houses, businesses, and other buildings on them. Where things get murky, and where the problems really get compounded, is that some of the land within these territories didn’t have clear ownership while others did. In many cases the owners we expropriated as a matter of Israeli law. You have to think about whether that is legitimate or not, in the same way as we have to consider whether eminent domain expropriation is legitimate in the United States.

One further complication, which illustrates an example of settlements I view as illegitimate, immoral, and affronts to the rule of law, are the bands of Israeli religionists. These extremists believe they have a right to any land they think of as “Political Israel.” They break Israeli law by squatting on land that is known to belong to Palestinian farmers and land owners who use that land. The property rights of the Palestinians are well-documented. Yet, these religionists squat on the land, bring in a few caravans, build a few shacks and call it a settlement on a hillside and demand Israeli police protection for their new “community.” Their goal is to have the Israeli government decree the land belongs to the new “community” rather than the original property owners. Their use of government power to take land away from its proper owners is indefensible and, to the extent that it happens, must be opposed. There are laws in Israel to combat this problem. But the wrong here is not to the Palestinian collective as an undifferentiated group. The moral wrong is done to the particular land-owners whose property rights are being violated. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of my book’s argument. We need to think with an individual-first perspective rather than a collective-first perspective. Wrongs are done to individuals and they are righted in the name of individuals not in the name of collectives. So, while there’s a lot more to say about settlements and occupation, the key for me is that the vocabulary built around this issue works to muddle it. Before you can even talk about the issue, you have to spend a half hour just unpacking what these terms mean, how to think about them, how to apply the principle of justice, the principle of property rights—which is an individual right.

PT: You mentioned the importance of viewing these grievances as grievances of individuals rather than of some collective or group. With that in mind, could you share your overall evaluation of this conflict?

EJ: The argument I present in my book is a secular, individualist-first perspective, that takes morality seriously—particularly the principle of justice. The outcome, in my view, is that when we use this principle of justice—recognize that a good society is one that enables individuals to live according to their judgment and exercise their freedom to pursue their goals, and when that standard is applied to both sides—what you find is that Israel stands out in the region as an outlier because its defining feature is that it recognizes and protects individual freedom. The common denominator among the other regimes in the region is some form of tyranny. Other regimes are variations on the theme of authoritarianism whether it be monarchy, strong-man authoritarian, military dictatorship, or theocracy. In relation to other countries in the region, I think this is what makes Israel stand out as a country that deserves our support. Now, if you apply that same standard to the Palestinian Movement, what you see is that it is a would-be dictatorship looking for territory. To the extent that it has ever had territory to build a state, it built a dictatorial and authoritarian regime. Now, under Hamas in the Gaza Strip, they are moving toward a theocratic model because Hamas is an Islamist or Jihadist group.

So, when you apply these standards to both sides, what you find is that the conflict is between a basically free society (as free as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, or the United States), with many flaws, shortcomings, and moral failings—but on the same level as the failings or shortcomings in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, or the United States. On the other side there is a political movement divided between theocrats and quasi-secular authoritarians. The Palestinian Movement really is a destructive force in the region. One of the worst things it has done is claim the mantle of “freedom-fighter” movement and one that rectifies injustice. Whereas what it actually does is destroy freedom in Israel and the freedom of the people under its own dominion by inflicting and magnifying injustices. In that respect, it’s on the wrong side of this conflict.

PT: With that in mind, what principle should inform the perspective of outsiders or onlookers in this conflict?

EJ: The principle that should inform our perspective as outsiders, and particularly the American audience, is that we should stand for the ideal that is at the root of our society: individual freedom. We should support everyone who is for that principle, everyone who tries to realize it and prizes it. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it means siding with Israel to the extent and for as long as it is a free society. It also means siding against the Palestinian Movement precisely because it is hostile to freedom. But we should also stand with Palestinians who are for freedom, and everyone in the region who is for freedom. We should also stand against their oppressors, which means standing against the monarchs, theocrats, and dictators in the region. This really gives us a sharp way of distinguishing who we are for. We are not for Israel because we are for Jews, we are not for Israel because we are for democracy, we are for Israel because we recognize its ability and considerable success in realizing the principle of freedom.

Where we find Palestinians who want a better life, we should support them against their leadership. And there are people in Egypt, thousands of them went into the squares of Cairo eight years ago in the Arab Spring and many of them actually wanted a freer society. We should side with them rather than the leaders who ended up getting our blessing. There are dissidents sitting in jails across the Middle East who look up to us as a free society and they deserve our support. The argument I make is that we should be for freedom and freedom seekers everywhere including in Israel, amongst the Palestinians, and elsewhere in the region, and against those who are against freedom.

PT: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

EJ: In addition to echoing my recognition of how controversial this issue is from before we started, I would say in closing that although it’s difficult for people to step away from their emotional reaction to the conflict, it really is important that they do that and not be moved primarily by emotion. Emotional reactions, as powerful and important as they are, don’t give us enough information in order to reach considered moral judgments. Leaving ourselves guided just by emotion is to abandon the tool we need to evaluate this conflict—our rational faculty. That’s really the goal of my book. I want to show people that they shouldn’t deny what they feel about the conflict. But I want to encourage them to reflect reflect on it, question it, consider different perspectives, and inform themselves about the particulars that make any kind of rational judgment possible. That’s really the perspective I would encourage everyone to take in thinking about this. The book is intended to provide that kind of perspective so people can reach their own view. They might end up disagreeing with me, but at least they will have encountered evidence that presents a coherent, secular, individualist perspective that takes morality seriously.

PT; Excellent, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about this, Elan.

EJ: My pleasure, thanks for inviting me to chat.

  1. See Kimmerling and Migdal, Palestinians, 229-230; Walker and Gowers, Arafat: The Biography, 66; Shemesh, Palestinian Entity, 135, 140; Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War, 79-80; Rex Brynen, “PLO Policy in Lebanon: and Lessons,” Journal of Palestine Studies 18, no. 2 (1989): 56; David Shipler, “Lebanese Tell of Anguish of Living Under the PLO.,” New York Times, Jul. 25. 1982, nytimes.com/1982/07/25/world/Lebanese-tell-of-anguish-of-living-under-plo.html.
  2. See “Palestinian Refugees,” UNRWA, unrwa.org/palestine-refugees.
  3. Territory which borders Jordan.
  4. Southern territory bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt.
  5. Northeast territory bordering Syria.

 

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