Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Synopsis

This volume addresses a number of philosophical problems that arise in consideration of the century-old conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Consisting of essays by fifteen contributors (including both Israeli and Palestinian philosophers) and a detailed introduction by the editor, it deals with rights to land, sovereignty, self-determination, the existence and legitimacy of states, cultural prejudice, national identity, intercommunal violence, and the relevance of religious claims to normative disputes. The discussion of these general topics is interwoven with a look at the more particular issues of anti-Semitism, Zionism, Palestinian nationalism, the Israeli occupation, the Intifada, and possible solutions to the conflict. In addition to being the first anthology in English devoted to the philosophical issues engendered by this conflict, the book also presents differing (and often opposed) perspectives and includes contributions from Israeli Jews as well as from Palestinian Arabs. Many of the contributors have had firsthand experience with this conflict, and some are actively involved in related political activities.

Excerpt

The conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs has endured for a century. It centers on control of territory and, as common in such disputes, is characterized by conquest, destruction, and revenge, with all the animosity and sorrow that these actions bring. Because the land in question is terra sancta to three major religions, the conflict evokes powerful passions involving identity, honor, and the propriety of cultural claims. That its disputants employ sophisticated arguments and armaments, that they are willing to combat not only each other but rival voices within their own ranks, and that decades of international diplomacy have failed to produce a satisfactory solution, render it what Martin Buber called "one of the most difficult political problems of our time, perhaps the most difficult of them all" (Mendes-Flohr 1983, 202). Marked by a series of surprising achievements, deceptions, and atrocities in which each side has underestimated the tenacity and resourcefulness of the other, it also guarantees fascinating study.

The conflict is partly fueled by rival normative claims that challenge our philosophical thinking. When does a community have a right to govern or possess a certain territory? Under what conditions are peoples entitled to self-determination? Are religious claims and affiliations relevant in resolving political disputes over territory? Do political institutions, states, or resistance organizations have moral legitimacy? Is a state ever entitled to territorial expansion and conquest of foreign territory? Is violent resistance to occupation ever justified? Under what conditions and in what modes?

Those who accord no place to normative assertion outside the bounds of positive law may find philosophical debate on these questions hopelessly inconclusive. Yet every system of law emerges from an underlying level of normative thinking that differs from legal adjudication and interpretation. Such basic philosophical reflection need not be viewed as having access to a separate system of "natural law" standing in competition to existing legal codes. Its conjectures are the creatures of our thinking, informed by our accumulated experience. Through them legal provisions are appraised and statutory changes recommended. No legal system is the final word about how humans and societies ought to behave, and to restrict normative thought to enactments would immunize positive law from rational evaluation.

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