No Country Has a "Right to Exist" the contrary, countries require permission to exist — from those they govern

In the weeks since 2,500 Hamas militants went on a murder and kidnapping rampage in southern Israel, a wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations has erupted across the United States and around the world. These displays have only grown in size and number as Israel’s military responds by punishing the entire, densely-packed population of Gaza with a blockade on food, water and medicine, a devastating bombing campaign and now a ground invasion.

While no mass protest is free of people with bigotry and amoral stances, proponents of Israel have been far too quick to accuse pro-Palestinian protesters of antisemitism. One of the most common of such false accusations rests on a false premise — namely, that it’s inherently antisemitic or genocidal to question Israel’s “right to exist.”

That premise is false for a number of reasons, the most salient of which is this: No country has a “right to exist.”

After all, what is a country — or, in more precise terminology, a state — other than a political arrangement? And why would any political arrangement be deemed as having “rights,” much less a supposed right to never be altered or cancelled?

While definitions vary, Murray Rothbard best distilled the state in his classic long essay, “Anatomy of the State.” Rothbard wrote: “The state is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area.”

Whether the associated flag of the state in question has a Star of David, stars and stripes, or a hammer and sickle, the suggestion that it’s immoral to propose that such a monopoly be rearranged or replaced is preposterous on its face. Over the broad sweep of history, the norm is not states existing in perpetuity. Rather, history is the story of never-ending rearrangements of these many monopolies on the use of force and violence.

Did the Soviet Union have a “right to exist”? What about Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia or the Ottoman Empire? Are we all culpably-silent bystanders to some kind of ongoing injustice as long as those bygone states are not reconstituted ?

Rather than having a right to exist, each state — from Israel to Ukraine to the United States — must have permission to exist. As expressed in the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

To embrace that fundamental principle is to acknowledge that the State of Israel — a political entity — can only justly continue imposing its monopoly on the use of force and violence if it has the consent of those it governs.

And who does Israel govern? For all the talk of a two-state solution, and maps depicting the West Bank and Gaza as something somehow separate, the fact is that the State of Israel rules everything “between the river and the sea,” to invoke a contentious phrase we’ll revisit shortly.

“Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, one state controls the entry and exit of people and goods, oversees security, and has the capacity to impose its decisions, laws, and policies on millions of people without their consent,” wrote Michael Barnett, Nathan Brown, Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami in Foreign Affairs. Their April essay presciently warned that “a storm is gathering in Israel and Palestine that demands an urgent response.”

The population across that Israel-ruled territory includes 7.5 million Jews and 7.5 Arab Israelis and Palestinians, with each group subject to different treatment.

West Bank Palestinians endure restrictions on their movements, from checkpoints to segregated highways. The State of Israel frequently demolishes Palestinian homes and businesses for lack of permits that are extraordinarily difficult to secure. Palestinians endure ongoing harassment and under-reported acts of vandalism, agricultural destruction and violence perpetrated by settlers who operate under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In neighborhoods such as East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinians are frequently evicted from their homes under a complex law that perversely declares them to be “absentees” even if they’ve lived in their house for decades. In one infamous video of such an eviction, an obese Jewish settler tells a distraught Palestinian homeowner, “If I don’t steal it, someone else is gonna steal it.”

Meanwhile, Gaza is widely labelled “the world’s largest open-air prison.” Though Israel withdrew forces and settlers from the 25-mile long strip in 2005, it’s continued to control the territory from the outside, in a way that creates a miserable existence for 2 million inhabitants in one of the world’s most dense population centers.

Controlling Gaza’s air, sea and land borders, the State of Israel imposes an ongoing, economic blockade that fluctuates in intensity. Individuals are only granted travel permits under narrow circumstances. Israel does not allow Gaza to operate an airport or seaport, and imports and exports via road are tightly restricted. Egypt has compounded the situation with its own restrictions and periodic border closures.

The result is economic devastation: The pre-Oct 7 unemployment rate was over 46%, per capita income only about 25% of the West Bank’s level, and 65% of Gaza residents were below the poverty line.

Given the reality of life for Palestinians in this de facto single state that includes Gaza and the West Bank, it’s understandable that many would call for an entirely new system of government between the river and the sea. As the Declaration of Independence asserts, when “any form of government becomes destructive” of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”

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