In our very inter-connected world, in any given year many people move from one political jurisdiction to another. Such a move may be motivated by a large number of reasons -- economic (seeking a more prosperous or less expensive life), physical security (seeking to avoid strife and conflict), religious (seeking to be nearer to religious sites or co-religionists), weather, health, etc. Most people who move to another country go by the name of "immigrants" in their new homes, but some go by the name of "settlers." Do you know how to tell the difference?
I know that you probably think this is a silly question. After all, everybody knows that "immigrants" are good, whereas "settlers" are bad. Back in the 1980s, "settlers" was the term applied to whites who lived in apartheid-era South Africa, inspiring the slogan "one settler, one bullet" from their adversaries. Today, the word "settler" is the term used to describe those, mostly Jews, who have moved into the territories (mainly known as East Jerusalem and the West Bank) taken by Israel in the 6 day war of 1967.
On the subject of "immigrants," the United States has approximately 33 million or so of the legal variety, and another estimated 11 million of the "undocumented" (illegal) variety. The combined total of about 44 million is more than 13% of current U.S. population. In the United States, immigrants of the legal variety are entitled to essentially all of the rights and privileges of the native-born (exception: an immigrant cannot vote until becoming a citizen). For purposes of buying or renting property in the United States, even legal residency is not a requirement. Literally anybody can do it. From HG.org:
Unlike many countries that only allow land sales to those with citizenship in the country, the United States treats sales of real estate to foreigners almost the same as sales to citizens. The only limitations are usually imposed by homeowners associations, condominium associations, cooperatives, or other forms of community associations.
And for renters? In my home town of New York, we have a Human Rights Law that protects aspiring tenants from "discrimination" based on "immigration status" -- definitely including the "status" of "illegal." According to DNAInfo here on Thursday, the City is even now investigating a landlord in the Corona neighborhood of Queens who allegedly "illegally harass[ed prospective] tenants" by "post[ing] a sign in his apartment building saying he wouldn't re-sign leases unless tenants showed their immigration papers." Obviously, we mustn't have that. After all, these people are immigrants. We need to treat them as equals in every respect, even the ones in the country illegally.
On the other hand, if we were talking about "settlers" the situation would be very different. Currently I am spending the week in the country of Israel. As we all know, the international community has with near-unanimity condemned the Israeli "settlers." Most famously, back in December the UN Security Council passed a resolution declaring that the Israeli settlements were "a flagrant violation under international law." That resolution became unanimous when the U.S., in the waning days of Obama and Kerry, failed to veto it, as the U.S. had vetoed comparable resolutions in the past.
In preparation for our trip to Israel, our friends suggested that we see a new documentary movie "The Settlers," then recently released and playing in a theater in Greenwich Village. The film was, to say the least, not favorable to the position of the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. Many unhappy Palestinians appeared in the film, saying things like (paraphrase) "these have been our lands for many generations."
But, I kept asking, can't anyone now just buy or rent some land or a house or an apartment and move in? That's the way it works where I come from, and nobody really says a word about it (beyond the general issue for some that the overall level of immigration is too high). In the Borough of Queens, where one of my daughters lives, they say that some 800 languages are spoken -- and everybody seems to be getting along just fine. (Check out this map of Queens showing languages by neighborhood.)
But the film studiously avoided addressing the question of why people can't just buy or rent property and move in as legitimate immigrants. While here in Israel I have tried to investigate the answer to that question. The Israeli view appears to be that almost all of the settlements are on land that either (1) was legitimately purchased from a prior Palestinian owner, or (2) was unoccupied land that had no prior registered owner, and therefore was owned by the state and is OK for anyone to occupy and then seek legitimate status. There have been a few notable cases where land was acquired illegally (generally from someone who fraudulently claimed to be the owner, but did not have proper title), and in those cases the settlements have been forcibly removed.
So the question is, should the Israeli government forcibly prevent anyone who is not a Palestinian Arab from moving into the disputed territories (East Jerusalem and the West Bank)? The argument most commonly advanced for the pro side of that question is that doing so would assist the "peace process," by leaving clean boundaries to enable negotiators to divide up territories for a prospective "two state solution." Maybe. But to favor that, you would have to believe that the "two state solution" is actually going to happen imminently, and also that, once implemented, a two state situation with clean ethnic and religious separation between the states would be stable and successful. I don't believe either of those things.
Why does the same principle that applies to the United States and Europe, and calls for us to accept large numbers of immigrants of all cultures and religions on an ongoing basis, and allow them to live among us wherever they choose, not also apply to the Palestinians and, for that matter, to everyone else? No reason that I can see.
Meanwhile, the prosperity in modern-day Israel is quite remarkable. In almost every respect -- appearance, architecture, prosperity, climate -- the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa are remarkably comparable to the big coastal cities of California like Los Angeles and San Diego. Here is a picture of Tel Aviv from a raised spot along the Mediterranean coast:
Yes, that first (domed) building in the foreground is a mosque. And here is a picture of Haifa from a high spot (the Bahai garden on Mount Carmel) overlooking the town:
In my naivety I would think that the Palestinians would want to get with the program that seems to be working so well, but that is not their current agenda.