Logic vs. Larry Derfner

Some victims of Palestinian terrorism

Some victims of Palestinian terrorism

Larry Derfner, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, has published an article in his personal blog which argues, simply, that Palestinian terrorism against Israel is justified.

Unlike many pro-terrorism writers who prefer to make their points by appeal to emotion, Derfner presents his immoral conclusion as the result of an apparently rational argument.

As a logician, I see myself as a bullsh*t detective. I do my job by exposing unstated assumptions, as well as analyzing inferences for validity, finding hidden equivocations, etc. Sometimes just exposing the skeleton of the argument is enough to show its unsoundness.

Here is Derfner’s blog post, and here is his argument as I paraphrase it:

1) ‘The occupation’ is unjust and is seriously harming the Palestinians.

2) Israel will not end the occupation on its own.

3) A nation “living under hostile rule” has a right of self-defense.

4) Palestinian terrorism is therefore justified.

Right now, I am inviting Derfner to respond. Did I read you right, Larry? If not, please tell me which of the above propositions you do not accept. I’m not asking you to respond to my whole post — I know you would have plenty to say. I just want to know if I understand you correctly.

Let’s take these propositions one at a time.

1) ‘The occupation’ is unjust and is seriously harming the Palestinians. To begin with, the concept of ‘the occupation’ is loaded with unstated assumptions. It includes the idea that the 1949 armistice line is a border, and to the east of it is a national entity that belongs to another people, which Israel is occupying. It assumes that Jewish settlements there are illegitimate.

All of the above is a political construction which is by no means beyond question — and many of us question it. The 1949 armistice lines were accepted by no one as borders, and the right of Jews to settle in the area between the river and the sea granted by the Mandate hasn’t been renounced, although it was denied during the 1948-1967 period. Although Israel may make an agreement with the Palestinian Arabs to evacuate some of this area — which is at most ‘disputed’, not occupied — so that  a Palestinian state free of Jews may be created in return for recognition and appropriate security guarantees, this hasn’t happened yet (and it isn’t Israel that is preventing it).

So is the presence of Israeli settlements and IDF soldiers in this area ‘unjust’? If you accept that there is nothing illegitimate about Jews living there, and note the historical record of Arab terrorism and pogroms against Jews, from the Hevron massacre to the Fogel murders, then it’s hard to see the injustice of an IDF presence there, or the security fence, checkpoints, etc. Consider also the danger to Israelis west of the armistice line that emanates from the Arab population to the east, and it’s hard to call these things ‘unjust’.

Does this presence ‘harm’ the Palestinians? Probably the opposite if you count things like infant mortality and standard of living — compare them to Arabs living in nearby Egypt, Jordan and Syria — but I will grant that they are harmed psychically by the frustration of their desire to have a state (we’ll leave aside the racist nature of the state that they want).

Yes, the security measures are onerous, and even ‘harmful’ to some extent. But they are in direct proportion to terrorism, and the Palestinians can control them by controlling terrorism.

It is also fundamentally dishonest of Derfner to use the word ‘occupation’ to mean ‘occupation of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem’, when the Palestinians use it to refer to any Jewish state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. For one thing, Derfner implies that a withdrawal to the Green Line would satisfy the Arabs. Probably the major part of the Palestinians’ psychic pain comes from their narrative of the loss of pre-1967 Israel, not the Israeli presence in the territories. Does Derfner want us to end that ‘occupation’?

2) Israel will not end the occupation on its own. It is true that Israel will not evacuate Judea and Samaria unilaterally. The unstated assumption is that this is simply a ‘land grab’. Leaving aside the argument that it is racist for the Arabs to insist that Jews may not live there, there are good strategic reasons against a unilateral withdrawal without effective security guarantees. It’s not as if Arab intentions are somehow hidden — even the ‘moderate’ Fatah has made it clear that it considers all of ‘historical Palestine’ its property, and that violent ‘resistance to occupation’ is justified as a means to  recover it.

Even apart from the historical rights of the Jewish people, a unilateral withdrawal would be suicidal for the Jewish state.

Could this change? Certainly, if the Palestinian authority were prepared to negotiate in good faith on terms and with guarantees that claims against Israel for territory or ‘right of return’ would end. Unless this happens, it is the fault of the Palestinians, not Israel, that there is no Palestinian state.

3) A nation “living under hostile rule” has a right of self-defense. This proposition is based on an understanding of ‘hostile rule’, that does not in any way fit the reality.  The analogy is to the situation of Nazi-occupied Poland, in which a foreign power marched into another country, killed its citizens, and established a dictatorial rule for the purpose of exploitation. I realize that these are the exact terms that are used by Palestinians and their supporters, but with all due respect it is complete nonsense.

Zionist settlers came to Ottoman Palestine, did not displace Arab residents, and indeed improved conditions there for all residents, Arab and Jew. They were met by racist and violent resistance to their presence culminating in a war (1948) that was described by Arab leaders as an attempt to kill or expel Jews from Arab land. Later, in 1967, the Arabs yet again fought a war intended to be the end of the Jews in the region, and again they were prevented from committing the genocide that their leaders called for.

Keep in mind that the Arabs initiated the 1967 war and there was no national claimant to the territories more rightful than Israel. Who would it be? The Ottoman Empire? Britain? Jordan? No ‘Palestinian’ entity had ever existed.

So Jewish control of the territories is hardly a ‘hostile rule’ in the same sense as the occupation of Poland, and does not confer a right of self-defense. The hostility, ironically, is primarily on the Arab side!

4) Palestinian terrorism is therefore justified. This proposition is morally abhorrent. The nature of Palestinian terrorism — vicious attacks against the noncombatant population, with special emphasis on children — is of a kind that is never justified, since it is aimed at third parties. The Palestinians choose these targets not only because they are vulnerable, but also because the particular psycho-social disorder that affects them makes cruelty necessary to ‘even the score’. This form of violence is sanctioned, applauded, encouraged and often ordered by the Palestinian leadership.

Israeli actions against Palestinians are for most part defensive or retaliatory, where retaliation attempts to target perpetrators of terrorism with minimal collateral damage.

This proposition would not follow from proposition 3) even if it did imply a right of self-defense in this case, which it doesn’t. Clearly there are ways to ‘resist occupation’ which don’t require firing anti-tank missiles at school buses.


To sum up the logical case,

Derfner describes the present situation in an ahistorical and dishonest way.

He blames Israel, when it should be clear that the Palestinians’ lack of a state is due to their refusal to give up the idea that they must possess all of historical Palestine.

He makes a false analogy between the Israeli presence in the territories — which is based on historical rights and legitimate security considerations — and a hostile occupation, and claims that the right of self-defense that would apply in the latter case applies in the former as well.

And finally, he makes a completely unsound leap from a right of self-defense — which doesn’t exist in this case anyway — to a justification of vicious terrorism against noncombatants.

Update [26 Aug 1133 PDT]: Derfner has apologized for his post and taken it down. But he’s still wrong.

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2 Responses to “Logic vs. Larry Derfner”

  1. mrzee says:

    How can the presence if the IDF in Judea and Samaria be unjust when it was agreed to by the Palestinian Authority.

    Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the IDF is not only allowed, but REQUIRED to be in Area B and Area C to provide security. He knows darn well that Abu Mazen’s security is provided by the IDF when he’s travelling through those areas.

    How can it even be called “occupation” when the PA has agreed to it?

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    It’s hard to believe that Derfner would say that terror attacks upon Israeli civilians are ‘morally justified’. If he wrote this he has shown himself to be outrageously immoral and most certainly not qualified to write for an Israeli Zionist newspaper.