To the Editors:
There is a fundamental distinction between tyranny and freedom, between being forced to do what you do not want to do and being allowed to do what you want to do. Yet, Avishai Margalit, in the article “The Israeli Settlers” [NYR, September 20], calls this distinction “sophistry.”
The context is the accusation Margalit makes against Israeli settlers in the West Bank that they somehow violate the international law prohibition against transfer or deportation of civilian populations to occupied territories. Yet, these settlers were neither transferred or deported. They all settled of their own free will. If the settlers commit no crime by acting freely, then those who guarantee that freedom also commit no crime.
It is, of course, legitimate to assert, as a matter of public policy, that people should be prevented, in some ways, from being free to do what they want. But that is far different from an assertion that freedom violates international law.
It is Margalit who engages in sophistry by equating tyranny with freedom. Indeed, his illogic goes so far as to equate the Israeli respect for the freedom of the West Bank settlers to the real Nazi tyranny of forced transfer and deportation of civilian populations during World War II. It is this sort of nonsense that makes peace in the Middle East so hard to achieve.
Avishai Margalit replies:
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) as well as the Convention as a whole has among other things two clear aims:
(A) To protect populations, either conquered or conquering, from being forced by the conquering power to resettle against their will.
(B) To protect the territory of the conquered population from being permanently colonized by the conqueror.
Aim A and aim B are independent of each other. They are meant to protect different interests of different populations. There is no question that the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were not forced to settle there. They were indeed induced to settle by successive governments’ lavish incentives; but tempting incentives do not constitute coercion. There is also no question that the settlements were built as permanent settlements by the conquering—or occupying—power.
To ignore aim B because aim A does not apply is sophistry.
November 1, 2001