Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
[ Palestinian national movement ] [ Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem ]

Land ownership by Palestinians in Israel

Edward Said writes that only Jews benefit from the institutions of the State of Israel and at the expense of Israeli Arabs. Yet Israeli Palestinians have the same medical, pension, and education benefits as Israeli Jews, far beyond what any Arab country offers Palestinians. Whatever advantages Israeli Jews enjoy may be paid for by Israeli private funds. Nothing happens for Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinians, who pay lower taxes than Israeli Jews and are exempt from the army service. Arabs are only fifteen percent in Israel, generally underproductive, and cannot subsidize Jews.

Edward Said specifies only Israeli land ownership, which is not a state institution in any regular sense of the word. Land of Israel is technically controlled by a non-government fund controlled by Jews entitled to set its own rules[1] and free to refuse to lease land to non-Jews. Further, the owners hold many Arab farms in perpetual possession, while Israeli Jews generally lease the land. Since Arabs are not taxed in Israel and often enjoy ownership of vacant land, the Arab disadvantage seems slight. Americans don’t sell the White House to Japanese investors, and for Jews there is something bigger in the ownership of the Land of Israel.

The Jewish National Fund, the private trustee of Israeli land, was not set up to deprive Arabs but to benefit Jews. During its hundred year history, the Jewish National Fund developed more than 250,000 acres of previously useless Palestinian land, planted 220 million trees, and built many reservoirs. Jews from all over the world donate to the Jewish National Fund, letting it buy unclaimed land in Palestine and develop it. Why should the Jewish Naitonal Fund benefit Arabs? The Jewish National Fund is not conquering Palestinian land or getting it free from the Israeli government but buys the land. Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, though Jews did not control Palestine, they bought massively and without incident. The Jewish National Fund did not force Palestinians to sell the land, though some Arabs have alleged extortion. Israel is almost[2] unique in that she bought more arable land than she conquered or obtained through international legal arrangements.

Israel does not routinely apply the doctrine of eminent domain. Private land ownership in Israel trumps public designs. Palestinians own many vacant lots in major cities of Israel, and the Israeli government does not foreclose, even though they destroy neighborhood Israeli property values. Palestinians must not want land in Israel, since they refuse to develop lots the Israeli goernment allocated to Muslims even in Jerusalem. No one who knows the Israeli legal system can believe unlawful restrictions impede construction on Arab land. The Israeli courts that acquitted a Nazi criminal for lack of firm evidence and which locked the Jerusalem city administration into a years-long battle over the Armenian quarter of the Old City would defend any lawful Palestinian claims. There is not a single instance of a Palestinian being dispossessed of a piece of land in Israel to which he had legal title. Even unchartered land under cultivation is assigned to Israeli Palestinian villages in perpetual lease.

One cannot argue that the Palestinians, like the American Indians, have no concept of private ownership of land. Sharia permits private land ownership, and Islamic state ownership was introduced to replace bureaucrats’ wages with lease assignments, essentially tax farming. Letting the Palestinian land fall out of cultivation was not due to sharing it; Arabs often give up farming for herding.

Muslim countries have denied land ownership to Jews since the time of the Prophet, so it is not self-evident why Israelis should not reciprocate.

[1] Nothing in liberal doctrine justifies forbidding private entities to discriminate on ethnic grounds. If a dog’s owner might sell it into good hands, not just anyone, why refuse a house owner a similar right of choosing a buyer on whatever grounds? If a charity might benefit orphans, but not widows, why disallow charity for Black orphans only? People donate money to churches, benefiting only Christians, but cannot donate to charities benefiting only Christians. If people could bequest to anyone, why not to any group? Charities circumvent this hypocrisy—prohibiting people from favoring those whom they want to favor at no expense to others—through custom-tailored review policies. Jewish Trust Fund is not land monopolist, and should be able to set its preferences as any private entity.

[2] William Penn insisted that, although the king of England gave him all of Pennsylvania, nonetheless the land had to be bought from the Indians at a fair price.