“Israeli occupation” is on the lips of everyone from Hamas militants to Harvard students, European protestors to American politicians. It is perhaps the most cited cause for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and some even consider it a moral justification for the shocking brutality that Hamas unleashed on Israeli civilians on October 7. Ten days after the attack, New York state Senator Julia Salazar wrote that “Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza jeopardizes the safety of every person in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The systematic subjugation of Palestinians is the ultimate source of the existential dread that defines daily life for Israelis and Palestinians.”1 Human Rights Watch states, “Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights.”2 So what exactly does “Israeli occupation” mean?

Implicit in the phrase, and often explicit in arguments that invoke it, is the idea that Palestinians have certain rights, which the Israeli government and/or Israeli civilians violate via “occupation.” Of course, Palestinians, like all human beings, have rights. The principle of individual rights holds that all people have the moral prerogative to act on their own judgment to live as they see fit, so long as they don’t violate the equal rights of others. (A person’s rights are violated when others initiate force against him, and rights are protected when a government prohibits the initiation of force against people.)

It’s also true that we should evaluate governments by the extent to which they violate or protect individual rights. To the extent that any government violates rights, it should be condemned. This goes for Israel’s government, as well as for Hamas (which governs Gaza) and the Palestinian Authority (which governs parts of the West Bank).

With this standard of individual rights in mind, we can address the question: What is “Israeli occupation” and in what way, if any, does it violate rights? . . .


1. Julia Salazar, “Julia Salazar: Palestinians Deserve Liberation Because They Are Human,” Jacobin, October 17, 2023, https://jacobin.com/2023/10/julia-salazar-palestinians-liberation-cease-fire-israeli-occupation.

2. “Israel: 50 Years of Occupation Abuses,” Human Rights Watch, June 4, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/04/israel-50-years-occupation-abuses.

3. “Hamas Covenant 1988: The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement,” August 18, 1988, Avalon Project, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp (accessed November 18, 2023).

4. Palestine Liberation Organization: The Original Palestine National Charter (1964), Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-original-palestine-national-charter-1964 (accessed December 6, 2023).

5. Tamar Pileggi, “Khamenei: Israel a ‘Cancerous Tumor’ That ‘Must Be Eradicated,’” Times of Israel, June 4, 2018; Parisa Hafezi, “Iran Lauds Arms Supply to Palestinians against ‘Tumor’ Israel,” Reuters, May 22, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN22Y10K/.

6. “Khamenei Explains ‘Final Solution’ Poster: I Want Israel Destroyed, Not All Jews,” Times of Israel, May 20, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/khamenei-explains-final-solution-poster-i-favor-destroying-israel-not-jews/.

7. Scott Dunn, “It’s Hard to Say You’re Wrong 75 Years after Stealing Someone Else’s Land,” Medium, October 15, 2023, https://scottcdunn.medium.com/its-hard-to-say-you-re-wrong-75-years-after-stealing-someone-else-s-land-18fb0e420648.

8. Moshe Auman, “Land Ownership in Palestine, 1880–1948,” Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, https://lessons.myjli.com/survival/index.php/2017/03/26/land-ownership-in-palestine-1880-1948/ (accessed December 19, 2023).

9. King Abdallah, My Memoirs Completed (London: Longman Group, 1978), 88–89, available at “Myths & Facts—The Mandatory Period,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/myths-and-facts-the-mandatory-period.

10. Sir John Hope Simpson, “Palestine: Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development,” Secretary of State for the Colonies, October 1, 1930, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hope-simpson-report.

11. “Israel Is the Least-Stolen Land,” Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-zionism-land-acknowledgment-stolen-indigenous-11655495920.

12. Declaration of Israel’s Independence 1948, May 14, 1948, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/israel.asp (accessed November 18, 2023); Yoram Shachar, “Jefferson Goes East: The American Origins of the Israeli Declaration of Independence,” Theoretical Inquiries in Law 10, no. 2 (2009), https://www7.tau.ac.il/ojs/index.php/til/article/view/722/681.

13. See Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History: The “New Historians”, 2nd ed. (London: Frank Cass & Co, 2000), 67.

14. “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Law:_Human_Dignity_and_Liberty (accessed November 21, 2023).

15. Dr. Amir Fuchs, “How Many Laws Were Struck Down by the Supreme Court in Israel?,” Israel Democracy Institute, June 22, 2020, https://en.idi.org.il/articles/31874.

16. The Palestinian National Charter: Resolutions of the Palestine National Council July 1–17, 1968, Avalon Project, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/plocov.asp (accessed December 6, 2023).

17. For details on each of these regimes, see Elan Journo, What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (New York: Post Hill Press, 2018), 147–72; for a brief overview of the PLO, see “Palestine Liberation Organization,” Anti-Defamation League, May 18, 2022, https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounder/palestine-liberation-organization-plo.

18. Shari’a and LGBTI Persons, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, March 2021, https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/2021%20Factsheet%20-%20Sharia%20and%20LGBTI.pdf; “Palestine: Torture, Death of Hamas Detainee,” Human Rights Watch, February 15, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/15/palestine-torture-death-hamas-detainee; “The Status of Women in Gaza,” Israeli Defense Force, January 25, 2018, https://www.idf.il/en/mini-sites/the-hamas-terrorist-organization/the-status-of-women-in-gaza/.

19. Regarding the religious motivation of this view, see, for instance, Article 1 of the Hamas Founding Covenant, which states, “The Islamic Resistance Movement [aka Hamas]: The Movement’s programme is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgment in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps.” Hamas Covenant 1988.

20. Adi Cohen, “Go West Bank: Israel Is Using the Housing Crisis to Lure Israelis into Becoming Settlers,” Haaretz, February 15, 2023, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-02-15/ty-article-magazine/.premium/go-west-bank-israels-housing-crisis-plan-turns-even-more-israelis-into-settlers/00000186-545c-de95-a1fe-f65f212f0000.

21. Ayn Rand, “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: Signet, 1984), 33.

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