A Horror

June 1, 2010

The trade embargo against the people of Gaza is itself a crime, and the incompetence and avoidable deadly violence of the Israeli authorities in dealing with the aid flotilla are further arguments that it should be lifted.

Searching for weapons is one thing, but embargoing trade and aid altogether is another. How can the Israeli authorities expect peace from people who, in the end, feel that they have nothing to lose? Free the trade with Gaza and let the people there work, produce, and flourish. Let them trade with Israelis. Search for weapons, but do so with intelligence, not rank incompetence that results in the spilling of blood.

Once again, the Israeli authorities have shown that, when a trap is set, they are quite willing to step into it. A bad policy coupled with utter stupidity and incompetence will prove disastrous for everyone. Perhaps the Israeli authorities may learn something from what happened. I hope so.

There is a great deal of evidence that freeing trade creates or supports peace. The Israeli authorities should consult it.

Dan Griswold on “Peace on Earth? Try Free Trade among Men

Jagdish Bhagwati on free trade and peace

Some updates:

These articles are well worth reading, to give a sense of what is included in the embargo, which goes far beyond the quite justified interdiction of weapons and war material:

CBS: “Israel’s Gaza Blockade Baffles Both Sides
Wall Street Journal:Gaza Blockade Hampers Private-Sector Economy

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles N. Steele June 1, 2010 at 1:40 am

Tom — are you serious? Had the Israelis simply sunk these ships they’d have been justified. This was an attempt by Hamas sympathizers and western leftists to open Gaza’s borders.

Open the borders, and these will come in:


It’s already happening to the north:

I’d rather see ships full of Hamas sympathizers intercepted than the bloodbath they are working to perpetrate:

How in heavens name can the Israelis promote free trade in Gaza when it is governed by militant thugs who have sworn to annihilate them?

Tom G. Palmer June 1, 2010 at 2:15 am

Yes, I’m quite serious. The Israeli authorities are justified in forbidding and searching for weapons that will be used against them, but the total embargo is completely unacceptable and, for the Israelis, self-defeating. All they are creating now is hatred. Yes, there are many who would hate them regardless of what they would do, but there would be fewer who would hate them if there were fewer reasons for resentment. So long as people see no benefits from co-existence, they will support annihilation. If you want people to abandon those sworn to annihilation, give them some reason to do so. At present there is virtually no economic activity in Gaza. They subsist on handouts. They can’t work. They can’t travel. They can’t improve their lot. Their young people see no hope for the future. Do you expect that to be fertile ground for peace?

The incompetence of the Israeli authorities (whichever were involved in this disastrous bloodshed) should lead to a reevaluation of Israeli policies, in any case. The bloodshed is terrible and avoidable. It gave the enemies of Israel new martyrs and a new cause. There’s got to be a better way for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Keep the weapons out. But let people improve their situation through trade. Give them reason to support peace.

Tom Palmer June 1, 2010 at 2:35 am

I should also point out that my view is not based on pie-in-the-sky dreaminess, but on an appeal to incentives. It’s hard-headedness, not idealistic dreaming for peace and harmony. I’m by no means against such dreaming, by the way; it’s just that prescriptions based on ideals and dreams need to be rooted in reality and in a realistic understanding of incentives, trade-offs, and costs. I think that my approach is rooted in reality and that the approach of the supporters of the embargo is not.

Ariel Giladi June 1, 2010 at 3:27 am

The Embargo against Gaza set by my incompetent, inept government has number of goals. First and foremost, to prevent smuggle of weapons, mostly missiles, that were being used against the southern cities in Israel. The second is to topple the Hamas government- recognized as terror organization by both the EU and the US. The third is to pressure … See MoreHamas to free the IDF soldier being kept in captivity for few years now.
The most important objective, to prevent smuggle of weapons to terrorists, may run counter to free trade. For example, Lebanon enjoy free trade with Iran and Syria- that’s why and how Hezbollah posses long missiles the cover most of Israel.
That being said, I do think that Israel must lift off the blockade and allow more goods to enter Gaza. Pressuring the Gaza population has failed to curb the support in the Hamas regime. Besides, since Israel initiate, allow and encourage the entrance of humanitarian aid and specific goods, while the rest come from the immense network of underground tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt’s Rafah, the Embargo is not efficient. And last we forget, Egypt closes her board with Gaza just as Israel does (Cairo also wish to bring down this extreme, fundamentalist, Taliban like, regime, that risks her secular government)- but all the international criticism target Israel.
As you, I believe that the embargo is wrong and should be lifted- both morally and interest wise. It cannot bring conciliation, only aggravate hatred. However, “Free trade” is not a magic solution- Israel must control the import to Gaza, for self defense reasons. Just imagine Texas being bombarded by Mexico on a daily basis, Southern Israel suffered it for years. A state first commitment is the security of her population.

Tom Palmer June 1, 2010 at 3:33 am

I agree. Free trade does not mean “free trade” of murder implements. The Israeli authorities cerainly have the right to inspect for weapons that would be used agains them, but not to forbid trade entirely.

Nathalie I. Vogel June 1, 2010 at 6:06 am

Where is Alan Gura when one needs him?…NV

DavidBernstein June 1, 2010 at 7:28 am

Tom, you do realize that Israel offered to transfer all the aid in the flotilla to Gaza, after inspection in the Israeli port of Ashdod? And was refused?

As for improving the situation through trade: when Israel has allowed trade in the past, Hamas stole concrete for construction to make cement bunkers, stole steel for missiles, etc.

And among the important reasons that trade is completely cut off is that every time Israel has opened the civilian (Erez) crossing between Gaza and Israel, Hamas has sent suicide bombers to blow up the crossing. You can look it up on Google.

Ultimately, what you’re arguing is that a blockade is never, ever justified. It may be unwise or even immoral in any given circumstance, but you haven’t made the specific case here, you’ve just responding with ideology.

MicroBalrog June 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

REmember that the Israeli Navy offered, several times, to transfer the goods aboard the ship to Gaza, both before and during the confrontation. Aid gets into Gaza freely except for certain kinds of products (lathes and metals of certain grades, AFAIK, and weapons of course).

Ejigga June 1, 2010 at 10:09 am

didn’t this happen in international waters (like 75 miles off any coast)? Why is this not declared an act of piracy?

Alan Gura June 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Haha Natalie… I was enjoying a nice Memorial Day weekend…

Free trade is a great policy for nations at peace. These parties, Israel and Hamas, are at war. Was there free trade between the US and Japan in World War 2?

Yet Tom is onto something. A short time ago, there WAS free trade, including the free movement of labor, between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Consequently, the Palestinians enjoyed a much greater degree of wealth than they do today. How did the free trade end, Tom? Who ended it? Who perpetuates the lack of trade today? What about the Arab boycott? What about the PA’s recently announced boycott?

What about Israel’s trade policies more generally? What do those look like? How about the trade amongst Israel and the two Arab nations with whom it has signed peace treaties, what does that look like?

By all means, yes, let’s do compare Israel’s commitment to “free trade” to that of its neighbors.

Charles N. Steele June 1, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Tom, would you have suggested free trade with Nazi Germany to Churchill, so long as no weapons were traded?

Tom Palmer June 2, 2010 at 12:03 am

Sorry I was traveling and not able to get to these.

I’m not making a moral equivalence claim between the Israelis and Hamas, or even between the Israeli soldiers and the people on the boat who attacked them. The current disaster is a mix of a bad policy with incompetence that resulted in avoidable deaths. And Israel is paying a dear price for that combination right now.

David, I’m not responding with ideology. You are. This blockade is not working, is it? Is there any increased likelihood of peace because of this policy? It isn’t working and Israel should review it and try something else. Like, maybe abandon imposing military socialism on the Palestinians and maybe, just maybe, letting some old-fashioned free market incentives work to lessen hostility. The Gazans are currently living off of handouts from abroad. There’s no work, because they can’t trade anything. Just what do you think that is doing? Is it improving the situation?

I’m aware that the Hamas authorities blow up just about everything they can. They’re not interested in peace; that’s been well established. But your policy just writes off the whole population and pushes them squarely into the Hamas camp.

You should look to that other great successful blockade, the one that got rid of Castro in Cuba. It worked so well. Why not emulate that one? Oh, wait….

Charles, the Nazis and the Brits were nations entirely at war, with each side seeking to conquer the other. That does not describe the situation between Gaza and Israel. (Yes, I know that Hamas wants that, but Israel says it doesn’t.) The situation is rather different. The longer-term safety of the people in the region requires peace between Palestinians and Israelis. How to create that? The blockade is not contributing to peace. It is making it even less likely. And the recent events have set back the prospects for peace terribly. Why circle the wagons when the policy is such a disaster? Why not do what open societies are best at, which is to reevaluate and reconsider, and try something different, something more likely to increase, rather than reduce, the prospects for peace?

Vincent Wong June 2, 2010 at 2:59 am

No free market/free trade in Gaza?

Does this mean that everything on this page is a lie?

Noooooooooooo, Tom G Palmer…….. tell us it ain’t so!

Alan Gura June 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Tom, how are Hamas and Israel not at war?

Anyway, here is your free trade update for the day:

Hamas REJECTS flotilla aid!

Apparently they wanted it delivered by those nice jihadists on the boat.

Tim Starr June 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm

There is no “total blockade,” Tom. Israel allows about 15 tons of aid into Gaza each week. They just don’t allow uninspected _shipping_ into Gaza, because if they do that then Hamas will get missiles into Gaza that are too big to be smuggled through their tunnels from Egypt, and turn Gaza into one big launchpad for ground-to-ground anti-personnel missiles, just as Hezbollah has done with Lebanon.

Charles N. Steele June 3, 2010 at 12:23 am

Tom, your characterization of the situation is completely wrong.

Hamas is the government of Gaza. It was expressly founded for the purpose of eliminating Israel and killing Jews. Hamas continues to endorse both goals. They are the indeed the equivalent of Nazis for Israel.

Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005.

In 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas gained political power.

In 2007 Hamas staged a violent coup and ejected the Fatah government from Gaza. Since then, Hamas has purged Fatah supporters by assassination and terror. Hamas also turned Gaza into a firebase from which thousands of missiles have been fired into Israel, mostly at civilian targets. The missiles have included Katyushas and Grads — not simply home-built stuff.

It was only after the Hamas takeover that Israel imposed its embargo (which is also imposed by Egypt).

The flotilla is financed and staffed by supporters of Hamas. The objective is to open shipping to Gaza, not to relieve suffering of Palestinians.

I fully agree with you that Israel needs to find a way to win hearts and minds of Palestinians. But it is crucial that Iran, Syria, and their lackeys in “FreeGaza” and IHH not open a shipping route.

Tom G. Palmer June 3, 2010 at 2:42 am

Dear Friends,

I would like to see someone defend the control of trade by the Israeli military, which bans coffee, margarine, jam, and vinegar from entering Gaza and which makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the people of Gaza to produce wealth, which is one reason they subsist on handouts. Do you think that people who work for a living will be more likely, or less likely, than people who are sitting around all day waiting for a handout to be resentful toward Israel?

The blockade is not only to keep out military items. Or does anyone really think that coffee and jam are military items? The blockade is a disaster. It isn’t working. It is immoral. Wake up.


LB June 3, 2010 at 4:58 am

If Hamas are as bad as many commenters here think they are (and they are), then the alleviation of suffering of the ordinary folk in Gaza is hardly likely to come any time soon due to any actions by Hamas. But no worries, I’m sure banning the importation of instant coffee (but not facial scrubs) will topple Hamas soon enough.

Nathalie I. VOGEL June 3, 2010 at 5:50 am

Tom, opening another argumentative frontline does not work here. We are not discussing this. We are discussing the sole fact that every time the borders have been open, murderous attacks have ensued. It is not coffee or margarine that are dangerous. But the fact that going through the deliveries requires a tremendous load of work, because as you know, these people hide all types of devices in their alleged “margarine and coffee” deliveries. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/news.aspx/134235

Rebecca June 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm

This man said it well in the comment section: “How in heavens name can the Israelis promote free trade in Gaza when it is governed by militant thugs who have sworn to annihilate them?”

I just learned from the blog you’ve shared with me that lifting the embargo and allowing more free trade would, in an ideal world, probably work to generate more … See Morepeaceful feelings between these two warring peoples…but that’s when dealing with a people who hasn’t wanted to destroy you your entire existence.

Anti-semitism has been rampant in much of the Islamic world since the beginning of Islam (I’m learning about it right now in James Michener’s historical fictional novel, The Source, so I’m not making this up). Since the Palestinian people, themselves, have been exposed to multi-generational hate-filled propaganda about the Jews, this is a really hard, deeply rooted belief that they would have to try and reverse if they (or someone else) wanted to.

They also have an oppressive, inhumane governing body ruling over them and every time the regime turns over, it doesn’t get any better. If there’s hope for the Palestinians, I believe it must lie in instating a governing body that holds a completely different stance on their religion than is currently held by them (a benign, good one). It is the non-radical Muslims who tell us that groups like Hamas have misinterpreted their Koran. If that’s so, where are those Muslims who wish to take charge of the Palestinian nation and do right for their people by using the correctly interpreted doctrines? It would be nice to see them go charging in and take over the bad guys by storm but I don’t see this happening.

To me, there’s no controversy here. I would agree that the embargo should be lifted if Hamas would not insist on bombing Israel continuously for 8 years and if the Palestinians would have accepted the infinite land offers from the Israelis millennia ago (and stuck with the agreements)–but they always say no. Israel is dealing with people who have it in for them, as it was written in their charter to “Destroy Israel” (that was only removed somewhat recently, during Arafat’s time, because they wanted to hide that fact).


Janet Neilson June 3, 2010 at 3:26 pm

The sad truth is that there is no easy fix for the situation in Gaza, but it doesn’t follow that the status quo is the only course of action. When looking at next steps to take one ought to ask “Would this be better or worse compared to what we are doing?” and not simply “Would this constitute a solution without any problems?” The latter rarely exists.

To be clear: there is absolutely no excuse for the hateful and violent actions taken by Hamas and its supporters in Israel and Palestine. That said, it seems that a policy favouring entrenchment of the blockade is one that will preserve an environment in which generations of Palestinians grow up with no prospect to improve their lots in life and resent Israel for its role – fertile ground for those who wish to recruit and encourage extremists.

While Nathalie and David are almost certainly right to say that if trade were opened up there would be attacks , digging in and dealing with those attacks while taking a firm stand in favour of allowing peaceful Palestinians to regain their independence and interact with their Israeli neighbours has a chance of creating a culture of mutual respect and interdependence between the people in Israel and Palestine.

It seems obvious that Hamas’ prospects for new recruits would be hurt (though not eliminated) by giving Palestinians a chance to see Israelis as trading partners and neighbours rather than simply military oppressors. Such a long-term gain seems worth the short term cost of changing policy – especially since the current policy is problematic, to say the least.

It would be foolish to claim that this would lead to an end to the difficulties in Gaza, but it has a chance to alleviate the terrible human cost of current policies and help to “win the hearts and minds of Palestinians.” Under the status quo I see no chance for either.

Charles N. Steele June 3, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Tom, you are usually one of the most perceptive people I know (I often recommend you writings and your blog). But one this one you are way off target.

This flotilla is about opening a line of unchecked shipping to Hamas. You yourself have stated here that “[t]he Israeli authorities certainly have the right to inspect for weapons that would be used agains them, but not to forbid trade entirely.” How were they to do this in this case, without intercepting the ships and forcing their way on? The Israelis had even promised that if the ships went instead to Ashdod, humanitarian supplies they carried would be forwarded on to Gaza. That was not good enough for “FreeGaza.” Take a close look at who comprises “Free Gaza” and IHH and you’ll understand why.

Why are you expecting us to defend every detail of Israel’s policies wrt Gaza? I actually don’t support many of Israel’s policies, and for a very long time have thought they should try winning Palestinian hearts and minds, but that’s irrelevant here. This is about Israel’s arch enemies opening a route to ship heavy weapons to Hamas. If this happens, Gaza will be Iran’s southern firebase. That would be an utter catastrophe, not just for Israel, but for the entire world.

While you are entirely correct that Israel should (and must) treat Palestinians much better, on this issue you are entirely mistaken.

Tom G. Palmer June 4, 2010 at 3:58 am

There are a lot of threads here. Let me summarize my position.

1. The government of Israel has the legitimate right to keep weapons and the materials for making weapons from entering Gaza and the hands of the genocidal Hamas regime.

2. It is both immoral and foolish for the government of Israel to ban coffee (etc., etc., etc.) and the foundations for economic productivity and to demand, instead, that the residents of Gaza live off of handouts. It is not another argumentative front; it is part of the utter craziness of the Israeli government’s policy. Central planning of an economy by military power doesn’t work; it denies people the possibility of peaceful cooperation; and it breeds dependency and bitter, bitter resentment.

3. The boarding of the vessels was ordered by idiots, who should have known what was waiting for the commandos. Even I could have told them that abseiling a few unarmed commandos onto a ship would lead to them being attacked by the zealots on the ship. How more stupid could the authorities have been? A more peaceful solution, using traditional boarding tactics (and, say, tear gas), within the territorial waters of Israel or the territorial waters of Gaza, would have avoided the quite avoidable deaths of the flotilla crews. It would also have avoided an international disaster.

I am puzzled by the eagerness to defend even the most stupid of Israeli policies on the part of some people. It is, as far as I can tell, pure self-destructiveness.

Nathalie Vogel June 4, 2010 at 7:51 am

Têtu comme un teuton, mais c’est probablement le charme. I give up. NV

JoshK June 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm


1. If you agree that Israel is entitled to keep out weapons and materials that can be used for weapons generations then the government has to stop and search everything.

2. Once the government is stopping and searching you will have lots of stuff excluded that doesn’t need to be. But, what government bureaucrat is going to take a risk and let in something that turns out to be a problem? If it turns out that fishing rods can be used to make trip-wires for bombs, then you are the one to get fired. It’s a lot easier to just say no. That’s not much different then the FDA here – no bureaucrat wants to get caught approving something that will later come back and bite them.

I’m sure there are plenty of people in Gaza, Egypt, and Israel who also influence the embargo, not much unlike our US sugar industry. All of this is to be expected once the government starts deciding what comes in or out.

As long as the Gazzans are backing a government dedicated to the destruction of Israel there can’t really be a change here. Israel would love an open market, especially one that would be a good bridge to other Arab countries.

3. If Israel dropped a ton of tear-gas on the boats and then boarded that would be portrayed poorly as well. There’s really no smooth solution there; anything would be messy.

Charles N. Steele June 4, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Tom: You aren’t making sense. You argue that the Israelis have the right to stop genocidal Hamas from getting weapons. Yet stopping these ships was stupid policy? Then you believe the Israelis should have sunk all of the ships? Cleared the decks with machinegun fire before landing? (They *did* use flash grenades.) I do not know what other alternative there was, beyond letting Iran establish a port in Gaza, as Netanyahu aptly phrased it. *That* would be suicidal, not stupid.

But note there was resistance on only one of the six ships. The Israeli plan seems to have not worked so badly, for the most part. I agree that equipping the commandoes with paintball guns was foolish; they should have been carrying full auto weapons, but this does nothing to support your claim that the Israelis are engaging in unnecessary violence and committing a “horror.”

You keep talking about banning coffee and such. Why? It’s not relevant to this issue. The flotilla isn’t about improving trade between Israel and Gaza, it’s about opening a free port in Gaza for shipping that won’t be checked. This is what Free Gaza says, not just me. Once this is open, what do you think will happen, both to Israelis and Gazans; you think they’ll be better off with all out war?

If you are puzzled by the spectacle of so many of your supporters disagreeing with you here, well *I’m* puzzled that you’re taking the same position as Pat Buchanan and various Rockwellites. They would happily see Israel destroyed, and you certainly would not. So your position makes no sense to me.

IMO you blundered into this. Your opposition to many aspects of Israeli policy towards Palestinians (on which I agree with you) has become confused with this FreeGaza attempt to open Gaza to Iranian weapons. You ought to disentangle and reverse your position on the Israeli raid. It’s important, because Ahmadenijad & co. are trying to make this into a propaganda victory — Israel as the world’s #1 rogue state; world action to follow.

Charles N. Steele June 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

One other point: whatever else we say about the blockade, it is not so clear it hasn’t worked — between it and Cast Lead, rocket attacks from Gaza have substantially declined. Correlation isn’t causation, I know, but when Hamas broke open the border with Egypt, foreign rockets came in — including those of Chinese and Iranian manufacture.


MicroBalrog June 4, 2010 at 11:50 pm

> Yet stopping these ships was stupid policy? Then you believe the Israelis >should have sunk all of the ships? Cleared the decks with machinegun fire >before landing? (They *did* use flash grenades.)

Use tear gas. Lots of tear gas. Dropped from helicopters. Like the head of Israel’s YaMaM (Special Police Unit) suggested.

Charles N. Steele June 5, 2010 at 1:55 am

The passengers on the Mavi Marmara had gas masks, in some of the footage IDF made available.

Nathalie I. Vogel June 5, 2010 at 3:01 am

Charles, they had gas masks? why would these freedom loving http://islamineurope.blogspot.com/2010/06/netherlands-dutch-hamas-leader-one-of.html
peace activistst http://globalmbreport.org/?p=3096
on this “love boat” have masks? NV

MicroBalrog June 5, 2010 at 10:38 am

Some of them no doubt did, but such a thing would have limited the resistance of MOST of them. Again, this isn’t some anti-semite solution, it’s the solution ISRAELI security experts suggested.

kevin bjornson June 11, 2010 at 3:09 am

Mr. Palmer has this mostly right. There was rank incompetence; and more: subservient obedience born of fear of loss of aid from America.

According to this report:

(in case that breaks)

“Israeli intelligence community had informed the White House that the flotilla contained scores of Turks trained in weapons and hand-to-hand combat. ”

“President Barack Obama stopped Israel from using anti-riot gear [including tear gas] to prevent a Turkish-sponsored flotilla from breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip. “

Juliana Geran Pilon June 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Tom, you’ve been thoroughly out-argued. I had thought you had a better grasp of the real world.

Tom Palmer June 12, 2010 at 6:58 am

You’ll have to tell me how, Juliana. I don’t consider myself outargued. There are people in Israel who have advanced the same positions, to wit,

1. The actions of abseiling unarmed commandos on to a ship was stupid. Really stupid. (Israelis, it turns out, make mistakes, too.) The killing of the flotilla members was avoidable; had a more intelligent boarding-and-searching policy been adopted, those people would be alive and walking around now, rather than dead and serving as martyrs and symbols for the most extreme of Israel’s enemies. Do you think that I was outargued on that point?

2. Stopping weapons and weapons components is reasonable and even obligatory, and that entails searching shipments. Do you think that I was outargued on that point?

3. Banning trade in jam, coffee, margarine, etc., etc., and making it virtually impossible for the people of Gaza to produce wealth, meaning that they must live off of handouts from abroad, is a form of collective humiliation that is both criminal and counterproductive, because it will produce bitter resentment, whereas allowing trade is more likely to engage people in thoughts of peaceful cooperation, rather than revenge. And really, how many embargoes of that sort ever have worked? (I can think of one: the sports embargo on South Africa, which humiliated enough of the white elites to cause them to abandon apartheid; that is in contrast to the so-very-successful embargo against Cuba.) Do you think I was outargued on that point?

Making assertions and providing arguments are two different matters. The embargo policy is bad and should be replaced with one that keeps out weapons, not jam or building materials. And whoever ordered the abseiling of unarmed commandos from a helicopter on to the deck of a ship like that should be sacked and replaced by someone wiser and more experienced.

Walker June 12, 2010 at 10:07 am

I don’t understand this whole thread. Tom wrote in the beginning that Israel should search ships for weapons, and should also allow free trade in non-lethal products in order to encourage work and enterprise in Gaza. And he also said that the way the boarding of the ship was carried out was not well handled. He didn’t say “open the borders.”

And no one seems to be responding to his actual argument. Do the commenters defend the ban on, among other things, cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, French fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks, empty flowerpots and toys? Do they defend the ban on exports from Gaza? Or are commenters responding to an argument that Tom didn’t make, but that they ASSUME any critic of Israeli policy is “really” making?

Juliana Geran Pilon June 15, 2010 at 8:48 am

Tom, I will address each of your points in turn:

” 1. The actions of abseiling unarmed commandos on to a ship was stupid. Really stupid. (Israelis, it turns out, make mistakes, too.) The killing of the flotilla members was avoidable; had a more intelligent boarding-and-searching policy been adopted, those people would be alive and walking around now, rather than dead and serving as martyrs and symbols for the most extreme of Israel’s enemies. Do you think that I was outargued on that point?”
Yes. Charles Steele is exactly right: “Had the Israelis simply sunk these ships they’d have been justified.” You say that the Israelis could have employed “a more intelligent boarding-and-searching policy,” yet you offer no such policy. They landed armed with paint guns — pistols holstered — and immediately were viciously attacked. You surely don’t believe, do you, that “a more intelligent policy” would have been met by anything different?

” 2. Stopping weapons and weapons components is reasonable and even obligatory, and that entails searching shipments. Do you think that I was outargued on that point?”
Absolutely. David Bernstein asked you: “Tom, you do realize that Israel offered to transfer all the aid in the flotilla to Gaza, after inspection in the Israeli port of Ashdod? And was refused?” Obviously, the delivery of “aid” was a cover for the real objective — to create an international incident. Alan Gura provided the website that illustrates that Hamas REJECTS flotilla aid. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/…..nians.aid/ Alan’s next comment is: “Apparently, [Hamas] wanted it delivered by those nice jihadists on the boat.” And on that point, Charles Steele is absolutely correct: “it is crucial that Iran, Syria, and their lackeys in ‘Free Gaza’ and IHH not open a shipping route.”
“3. Banning trade in jam, coffee, margarine, etc., etc., and making it virtually impossible for the people of Gaza to produce wealth, meaning that they must live off of handouts from abroad, is a form of collective humiliation that is both criminal and counterproductive, because it will produce bitter resentment, whereas allowing trade is more likely to engage people in thoughts of peaceful cooperation, rather than revenge. And really, how many embargoes of that sort ever have worked? (I can think of one: the sports embargo on South Africa, which humiliated enough of the white elites to cause them to abandon apartheid; that is in contrast to the so-very-successful embargo against Cuba.) Do you think I was outargued on that point?”

You were, again. Nathalie Vogel hit the nail on the head: “We are discussing the sole fact that every time the borders have been open, murderous attacks have ensued. It is not coffee or margarine that are dangerous… as you know, these people hide all types of devices in their alleged ‘margarine and coffee deliveries.'” As for your contention that “allowing trade is more likely to engage people in thoughts of peaceful cooperation, rather than revenge,” I agree — under normal circumstances. But as Alan Gura said, “Free trade is a great policy for nations at peace. These parties, Israel and Hamas, are at war. Was there free trade between the US and Japan in World War 2?” Conditions in Gaza will not change as long as Hamas — dedicated to the destruction of Israel — continues to rule there with an iron fist. If you really want to help the people of Gaza, you should direct your fire at Hamas and its enablers, not Israel, which is simply defending itself.
Finally: “Making assertions and providing arguments are two different matters.”
Indeed. And once arguments have been provided, it is important to take them seriously. ?

Tom G. Palmer June 15, 2010 at 9:16 am

Sadly, it seems that careful reading is not one of your strong points, Juliana.

1. I did not “offer no such policy.” I suggested using tear gas to clear the deck of a hostile ship before dangling soldiers with their paintball guns. That “policy” would have been a lot smarter than the idiotic decision to land people one-by-one onto the deck of a ship carrying hostile people, especially after it seems that Hamas TV had broadcast promises of violent resistance. So I did offer a serious policy short of sinking the boat and one that would have probably avoided killing nine people. Your refusal to recognize a blunder as a blunder is an indication of a mental block. This was a blunder pure and simple. Sinking the vessels would have been cold blooded murder. I expect better of the Israeli authorities.

2. It seems that you do not realize that Hamas won a victory. They set a trap, and the Israeli authorities stepped into it. And because of the blunder you refuse to recognize, despite its quite obvious nature, Hamas realized their objective. Israel suffered a very real and very serious blow. They [Hamas] may want fully open borders with no inspection, but they should not — and will not — get that until the rocket attacks stop. That’s obvious. So the realized objective was to portray the Israelis as monsters. This redounded 100% to their benefit. You refuse to admit that and you also refuse to admit that the blockade is not merely to keep out weapons. Why is that difficult to admit? It’s quite obvious. The Israeli authorities insist on keeping out civilian goods of no military value in order to demoralize the Gazans and to destroy their economy. Well, the evidence is that it has shattered their economy, wiped out the merchants, and strengthened Hamas. Had the flotilla been diverted to Ashdod, theIsraeli military would have weeded out, not merely weapons (it turns out there were none, but the Israeli authorities had every right to search for them), but spice and coffee and margarine and school notebooks and chickens and so on. Doing that is both immoral and self-defeating.

3. Why do you insinuate that I call for “open borders”? I have not called for “open borders,” but I do call for allowing trade in non-military material, which is now quite strictly restricted. (Indeed, trade is almost impossible; it’s the transfer of free handouts, which you may recall are designed to make people dependent. An old saying should suggest to you the foolishness of discouraging productive economic activity: “Idle hands are the devil’s tools.” Think about it.) Trade is not only a great policy for nations at peace, but for nations that are hostile, as well. You see, it tends to reduce hostility. The blockade/embargo has increased, not decreased, hostility to Israel. As the Wall Street Journal article noted:

“Hamas can get what it needs, including weapons and cash, via elaborate smuggling tunnels to Egypt. And Hamas’s public resistance to the blockade boosts its popularity here.

The blockade has also decimated Gaza’s private sector, key to weaning the territory from its dependence on imports and aid. The merchant class here has long provided a chunk of Gaza’s employment, and it is one of the few sectors that fostered constructive contact with Israel, through trade.”

To conclude, it seems that you did not read my post and think about my points; you reacted blindly to a criticism of an uncriticizable state. You inferred or insinuated statements I did not make. You did not pay attention to statements I did make. And you reacted, rather than thought, which is unbecoming of a serious thinker.

Brian Miller June 15, 2010 at 2:37 pm

It’s depressing to see how Tom’s embrace of basic small-government principles has been roundly criticized by the supposed “small government” movement in this country.

Here are the facts:

1. The “war” will not end if the cycle of economic and military violence is perpetuated.

2. When Israel embraces an “anything goes” mentality vis-a-vis Gaza, it cannot complain when its opponents do the same.

3. The only way that the recruitment of Palestinians into the war will end is ensuring the domestic economy of Palestine is strong enough to make war unappealing.

4. If Israel continues on its present course of “Mad Dog diplomacy,” it will further isolate itself and jeopardize its own continued survival (which is heavily dependent on outsiders, for better or for worse).

5. Every single commentator who supports draconian military involvement (including the execution of the unarmed individuals on the Turkish flotilla) is a de-facto pro-big-government advocate. They should not lament the explosion of big government programs, from Obamacare to warrantless wiretapping to income redistribution when they themselves have created a climate of big government excess in areas that benefit them the most.

Tom’s core point is strikingly valid, yet ignored by people who have a passionate stake in one side or the other of this conflict — government will not solve this problem any more than it has solved any other. As usual, it makes things worse. That it’s the Israeli government versus Hamas doesn’t change this simple fact. If free trade, voluntary association and free market economics are not allowed to take root, the conflict will continue escalating — resulting in greater casualties and the destruction of both Palestine and Israel.

Angela Keaton June 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Confounded here as to why anyone finds Dr. Palmer’s straight forward application of Bastiat’s principle (“When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.”) controversial.

Granted there are minds far sharper than mine in this thread (e.g, Alan, Kevin) but it’s easy to tell who is being reasonable here
when one side is calling for sinking ships and the impoverishment of women and children and the other side is for productivity, prosperity and peace.

Pete Eyre June 15, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I’ll preface my comment by saying I’m no scholar like some of y’all that have already weighed-in but what should be clear to anyone who purports to stand for individual rights is that the situation Tom outlined is not ideal and the common denominator here and in all the other instances of such massive rights-violations is belief in the existence of the nation-state or some arbitrary authority.

Rather than allowing yourself to align with one of the two gangs (the Israeli State or Hamas) that claim control over others in this situation or in other situations mentioned (e.g. England or Nazi Germany) I’d argue that it’d be more effective and moral to advocate that no one – no matter their silly title or costume – has the right to initiate violence against another individual.

Rationalizing the violent actions of a gang based on man-made legislation or claims of “national sovereignty” over a piece of dirt and those who happened to be born there only perpetuates the problems I’d hope all of us here seek to eliminate.

For more, I’d encourage you to check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntaryism

Tom W. June 16, 2010 at 2:40 am

I am reluctant to dive into this, but I concur with the points Tom has made as well as Angela’s followup.

The blockade and other harsh measures only serve to increase resentment and radicalize the populace. It’s so clear to me that by restoring trade and labor exchanges, the incentive to become militant would be much less. It is the best way to peace, and would also be the best way of subverting Hamas – just as lifting the Cuba embargo would be the best way of subverting the Communist Party in Cuba. Also, Hamas never won a majority of votes in the Palestinian elections – just a plurality. Such is the nature of government – winner take all. Once in power, they consolidated it and these bullies now hold the monopoly of force within Gaza. Why push more people into their corner?

Gaza has a very high birth rate, and the children are ripe for radical indoctrination, which will happen if the blockade and economic strangulation continue.

I encourage you to read about Charles Schumer’s justification of the Gazan blockade:


Charles N. Steele June 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

You libertarian defenders of “Free Gaza” ought to look at facts, rather than than just randomly invoke libertarian principles. Free Gaza has explicitly stated that the objective is to open free shipping to Gaza (point 2 of their “Points of Unity”) and that only Palestinians will control entry & exit (point 3). Anyone who pays any attention at all to the Middle east understands that this leads to shipping of heavy weapons to Hamas, by Iran.

Hamas is explicitly founded on the principles of exterminating Israel, replacing it with a dictatorial Islamic state, and killing Jews. Iranian politicians, not limited to Ahmadenijad, have explicitly stated the objective of eliminating Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state.

Free Gaza really gives the game away by its call for Palestinian “right of return” in Israel. This is essentially a call for elimination of Israel. I gather

Whether you like, dislike, or hate Israel, or don’t care one way or another — you are blind if you don’t see that the flotilla movement is about eliminating Israel. Free Gaza is a “private” organization that is working for the delegitimization and destruction of Israel, not a two-state solution.

Angela: This is not a dispute about whether free trade or self-sufficiency is more economically productive. This is about Israel faced with a government — Hamas — that is dedicated to destroying Israel, butchering Jews, and imposing an Islamic dictatorship. You grossly misquote Bastiat. He never suggested terrorists should have free access to weapons as a principle of free trade.

Pete: It is good to declare the principle that no one has the right to initiate force. But how do you implement this principle? The Free Gaza movement is supporting terrorists who are bent of genocide. And Israel and Hamas are not equivalent “gangs.” You’ve paid no attention to the Middle East, and especially Israeli politics and Palestinian politics, if you think so. Keep in mind that Israel withdrew from Gaza, leaving it is Palestinian control, with no embargo until the Hamas terrorists took over.

Brian Miller: your points are primarily invective, not facts. Israel pursues “mad dog diplomacy,” those of us who argue with Tom are “supporters of big government,” Israel pursues “anything goes,” (clearly an untruth on your part). Your point 3 makes sense, but how does shipping heavy weapons to Hamas help Palestinians build a successful economy? Your final paragraph invoking free trade and economic growth as superior to protectionism shows you have no understanding of what I, Nathalie, et al. are discussing.

Tom P: You’ve indeed been utterly outargued. You are sidestepping nearly every point we’re making. You say that open borders and unchecked shipping are not reasonable, but that is exactly what Free Gaza and IHH are explicitly calling for, and what the flotilla was trying to achieve. You insist that the way the flotilla was stopped was an obvious blunder, and that it should have been done differently. Neither you nor I are qualified to give expert opinion on how to intercept ships, and I won’t debate military tactics with you. But it is hardly obvious that there were easy alternatives.

Ultimately all of you supporters of Free Gaza ought to realize that this is not a debate about free trade, but about whether Iran should be able to arm Hamas with heavy weapons. It is shocking to me that the international community didn’t intercede to stop the flotilla; this is a “private” organization making war.

Tom G. Palmer June 17, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I’ve been trying to respond on and off while doing a lot of things and traveling across three continents a couple of times. I’m currently in Atlanta for a FEE seminar and under the gun to finish a few projects. So I’ll try to sit down and review these issues on Saturday or Sunday.

What’s most striking is that I’ve seen really very little argument, but a lot of assumptions that if you think that policy X is wrong, you must agree with the whole agenda of Group Y that seeks to overturn X, or perhaps be a supporter of Group Y. That doesn’t follow, but it seems the core assumption of those who are unwilling to let pass even rather mild criticisms of a policy that is both unjust and self-defeating.

In any case, the issues are important enough that I will print these all out over the weekend, re-read and think about them, and then set fingers to keyboard.

George June 18, 2010 at 11:51 am
Charles N. Steele June 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Tom, *you* are the one falling into the trap. There’s no way at all Israel can allow shipping to Gaza. You should read the Hamas Charter. These flotillas are designed to open unchecked shipping to Gaza, NOT to help Palestinian civilians or promote free trade. I think no one has accused you of supporting Free Gaza, the IHH, or the Turkish and Iranian govts agenda — rather, you and those posting in agreement with you seem completely oblivious to what is happening.

Iranian ships are now en route to Gaza, and Hezbollah is assembling a its own flotilla. Every bit of this, starting with Free Gaza, has been a provocation to delegitimize and destroy Israel, on behalf of Islamists. *That*, not the deaths of a few thugs who attacked the Israelis boarding the Mavi Marmara, is the horror.

Tom G. Palmer June 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Finished several lectures, now writing fundraising documents, and finishing up three reports on trips and meetings, but I will do my best to get to these tonight!

mikehell August 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I’m just wondering. Is Hamas or Hezbollah justified in stopping Israeli shipping to check for weapons? If not, why not?

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