The Economics of Palestine
The Palestine Year Book.
New York, The Zionist Organization of America, 5707-1946. 658 pp. $3.75.
This is an uncommonly interesting year book. Instead of the usual compilation of facts assembled by a routine staff, without warmth or light, we have here a series of articles prepared by distinguished scholars and leaders of the Zionists, together with the year’s important political documents relating to Palestine. The writers and editors have had the good sense to let the situation speak for itself. Only in rare instances do they yield to their burning indignation over the inhumanity of British policy.
It is good to have this general material readily available, although it adds little to what we all know. We all know that two of the most uncompromising forces in the world are struggling with locked horns over Palestine: British imperialism and Zionism. British policy is solidly planted on the principle that Palestine belongs to the local Arab population, and no concessions can be made to the Jews except by consent of the Arabs. The Zionists stand squarely on the Balfour Declaration, justified, they feel, by the failure of the British government through many years to repudiate their interpretation. Their position is that the “homeland in Palestine” means a Jewish national state including the whole of Palestine. Neither side is willing, at this writing, to publicly offer any compromise.
Everything that can be said in support of either the British or the Zionist position has been said so often that any comment here would be waste of time and space.
What is most interesting in the Yearbook are the chapters bearing upon social and economic conditions in Palestine and in the surrounding Arab world. We are presented with a picture of Arab life within Palestine, and in Iraq and Syria. It is everywhere essentially a tribal life, with nothing to correspond with Western conceptions of organic nationalism. The fellaheen do not participate in political activity as individuals, but only as agglutinations of endogamous groups. The small minority of landowners, officials, and intellectuals may talk in terms of political parties, national sovereignty. It is only talk. British policy insists on Arab consent to the immigration of Jews and their acquisition of land. There is no Arab organ that can give or withhold consent except the autocrats of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordania, and Syria, who have a voice only by British imperialist courtesy.
The Arab communities of Palestine are prevailingly rural. By hard work and abstemiousness they manage to get a meager living out of the soil. The men may indeed supplement their income by jobs on construction, transportation, or in the factories. The women remain at home, bearing children. The Palestinian Arabs have the highest birth rate in the world, fifty per thousand of the population. Their death rate is high, sixteen to nineteen per thousand. But the net increase is such that the non-Jewish population, mostly Moslem, now 1,256,000, will be 2,500,000 in twenty years, and 5,000,000 in forty years. While we debate endlessly the immigration of 100,000 Jews, the Arab population increases 4,000 a month. What are the prospects of the Jews establishing and maintaining a majority? At best, their natural increase is equal to one-half that of the Arabs.
How large a population can the land of Palestine support? The Yearbook presents an excellent brief account of the project for a Jordan River Authority and accepts the conclusion that the full utilization of the Jordan valley and adjacent drainage areas for reclamation and power will provide farms, industry, and security for at least 4,000,000 Jewish refugees in addition to the 1,800,000 Arabs and Jews already in Palestine and Transjordan.
One who has followed reclamation experience knows that only a city-bred optimist could expect a Jordan Valley Authority to work its magic in less than forty years. But at the end of forty years there will be 5,000,000 Arabs, even if there were no Arab immigration from Syria and Iraq.
All economic forecasts are suspect, but the worst forecasts available are those pertaining to Palestinian agriculture and its capacity for sustaining population. Robert Nathan and his associates take the agricultural population as a coefficient of the total potential population. In advanced economies, if 15 per cent of the total employed are engaged in agriculture, the needs of the general population can be adequately supplied. Taking 15 per cent as a coefficient, a huge population can be maintained in Palestine if all land capable of irrigation is reclaimed.
But such a calculation has no relation to reality. In a vast and diversified area like the United States, 15 per cent of the working population, with abundant land and mechanical equipment, can supply the population with all the food and fiber it needs. In Java 85 per cent of the workers, engaged in agriculture, barely succeed in supplying the other 15 per cent. Palestinian agriculture is weak in the production of staple foods. It can produce marvelous citrus fruits. It could produce superb winter vegetables. But these are speculations on the West European markets.
A Jordan Valley Authority could indeed open up 750,000 acres of productive land. The engineers calculate that the cost could be covered by a water rate of $29 an acre annually. No staple crop can pay such a water rate, and luxury products lean precariously on the world markets.
It is wiser to base all calculations of potential population capacity on industrial possibilities. Palestinian industry expanded rapidly in the war years, supplying the British armies in the Near East. It has made its readjustment to peacetime conditions, and there is no problem of unemployment among either the Jews or the Arabs. There is no assignable limit to the further expansion of industry. As compared with Western industrial countries Palestine is at a disadvantage in respect to cost of raw materials, fuel, power, and transportation. These disadvantages can be compensated by the development of a higher order of skill, superior salesmanship, and lower wages. And with the expansion of the industrial population, markets can be found for an increasing population in fruit and truck gardening, which alone can afford the high cost of land and irrigation.
Only the incorrigibly rational will try seriously to puzzle out the actual economic status of the Zionist program. In every Palestinian economic equation there are undefinable factors of religion and politics. We are told that the average price of farm land is twenty-nine Palestine pounds per dunam. As the pound now stands at an inflated value, we may reduce the twenty-nine pounds to $75.
This means $300 an acre. No ordinary agriculture will carry such a land value, but Palestinian agriculture does not need to carry it. Jews abroad supply the purchase money with no expectation of any return on it. So, also, the Jewish farmers in Palestine make only the barest living. But they take as the major part of their reward the privilege of delving in the sacred soil of Palestine.
So long as the struggle with the British and the Arabs continues, the Jews of Palestine can count on the support of non-economic forces. But once a modus vivendi has been attained, will money from abroad continue to pour in? Will industrial workers and farmers be content with a low standard of living? For any other contingent of the world population the answer would be in the negative. But no one will wisely forecast the behavior of such a group as the Zionists, whose religious and national faith has burned deeply into their being.
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The Palestine Year Book
Must-Reads from Magazine
Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
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The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.
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Convenience, wrote Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a tyrant. It makes our lives easier and more enjoyable, but everything comes with a price tag. We may not recognize that which we are sacrificing in the pursuit of convenience, but we are sacrificing nonetheless.
The instant gratification associated with on-demand society has made America’s shared cultural moments a thing of the past. The explosion of online shopping has eliminated the time consumers wasted traveling from store to store, but physical retail is dying as a result. The modern public square and the daily human interactions that it encouraged will disappear along with it. Machine learning has the power to introduce a “more compassionate social contract” and reduce physical risk associated with workplace hazards or lifestyle choices. But risk is just another word for freedom and, in the pursuit of convenience, we risk sacrificing our independence along with our hardships.
“We’re really reinventing the traditional insurance model with our vitality program,” said Marianne Harrison, the CEO of one of North America’s largest life insurers, John Hancock, in a recent appearance on CNBC. The beaming insurance executive boasted of her firm’s effort to marry a “technology-based wellness program” with an “insurance product.” That’s a loaded way of saying that this American insurer is soon going to charge based on the real-time monitoring of your daily activities. Behavior-based insurance will track the health data of policyholders through wearable devices or smartphones and distribute rewards based on individual choices. You don’t have to wear a tracking device to participate in this program—at least, not yet. Harrison assured skeptics that they could also dole out rewards to policyholders who take simple steps like reading preapproved literature, the consumption of which they presumably track.
This innovation is optional today, but the savings it yields for both consumer and insurer guarantee that it will soon become a standard feature of the insurance landscape. Your freedom to eat poorly, use tobacco products, drink alcohol, or perform any number of physical activities that include varying levels of risk are not limited. You’ll just have to pay for them. And if Democratic policymakers succeed in nationalizing the private health insurance industry under the auspices of Medicare-for-all or single-payer or whatever other euphemisms they apply to the public confiscation of private property, these “tools” will only become more pervasive.
A similar rationale—the primacy of collective health—can be applied to any number of activities that invite unnecessary risk that technology can mitigate. Foremost among these is the terribly dangerous American habit of driving a car.
In 2017, there were over 40,000 automobile-related fatalities. This was the second consecutive year in which the roads were that deadly and, if observers who attribute this rate of fatal traffic accidents to an increase in smartphone ownership are correct, there will not be a decline anytime soon. A 2015 study purported to show that replacing manual vehicles with autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems could eliminate up to 90 percent of all fatal accidents and save as many as 300,000 American lives each decade. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the option to own a driverless vehicle becomes a mandate with a hefty financial penalty imposed on those who opt out.
“[T]he threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend,” wrote National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Presently, the car transports its diver to wherever they’d like to go, whether there are roads to facilitate the journey or not. In a driverless world, as Cooke noted, the driver becomes a mere occupant. They must essentially ask the car for permission to transit from point A to point B, and the whole process is monitored and logged by some unseen authorities. Furthermore, that transit could ostensibly be subject to the veto of state or federal authorities with the push of a button. That seems a steep price to pay for a little convenience and the promise of safety.
The pursuit of convenience, as Professor Wu explained, has resulted in remarkable social leveling. We enjoy more time today for “self-cultivation,” once only the province of the wealthy and aristocratic, than at any point in history. And yet, we cannot know true liberty without hardship. “The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity,” Wu concluded.
There is more to celebrate in the technological revolutions of the last quarter-century than there is to lament. But in the pursuit of convenience, we’ve begun to make spontaneity irrational. In life, the rewards associated with experience are commensurate with that which is ventured. In a future in which the world’s sharp edges are bubble-wrapped, your life may exceed today’s average statistical length. But can you really call it living?