The phrase “occupied territories” has come to mean only one particular place in the entire world - namely Gaza and Judea/Samaria (i.e. the West Bank). That phrase is increasingly becoming a battle cry in a rising tide of global anger directed against Israel. Many view this “occupation” as a crime, so heinous that it exceeds all others in the world, and that it justifies the barbaric murder of Jewish men women and children. Few international issues attract so much wide support or generate so much anger. It seems that the nations are evolving into an international angry lynch mob ready to apply increasing punishment to impose their will even if it threatens Israel’s ability to defend itself.
Many people simply assume, without further investigation, that these assertions and accusations must be true because they are so widely held and because an effective refutation is rarely heard. With so much at stake the accusers have a moral obligation to review the facts before taking sides. This article attempts to briefly review the relevant history and to directly challenge the majority view.
Consider two questions: What entitles any group of people to possess any particular tract of land? How can we decide whether Jews or Arabs have the true rights to posses the “occupied territories”?
In the absence of any universally accepted rules, and in general practice among the nations, it usually boils down to who was there first and also right by conquest, especially if the conquest occurred long ago. There are 191 member nations in the U.N. with some having major territorial conflicts of their own, such as India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir. Also within nations there are separatist groups that seek independence, such as Basques in Spain, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, and the Chechens in Russia. To further complicate this question is the appearance and disappearance over time of peoples and of nations. Many peoples of antiquity have long ceased to exist. Also, nations and even empires, come and go over the centuries. During the last century countries such as Iraq and Jordan were established although they never existed before.
With such intense feeling over the “occupied territories” there should at least be some standard against which to determine who is right and who is wrong. In the absence of any universally accepted standard I will set forth my own four criteria before proceeding.
1. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, insofar as possible.
2. Apply the same rules to all nations and all disputes.
3. Keep all promises or else have a compelling reason not to.
4. Respect the vital interests of all sides.
Both Jews and Arabs trace their origins back to Abraham of the Bible. Jews descended through Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Jacob (who was later renamed Israel). Arabs descended through Abraham and Hagar the Egyptian, and through their son Ishmael whose daughter Mahalath also married Esau, the brother of Jacob. Thus Jews and Arabs are actually two branches of the same family which have diverged over the centuries. Both Jews and Arabs come to pray at the tomb of Abraham and Sara who are buried in Hebron. Note that today Jews can pray only with armed Israeli guards present because the Arabs attempt to deny Jews access to the tomb.
The Bible, in the book of Genesis, clearly states that descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will eventually receive their inheritance in the form of the Promised Land, which is later identified to include the general location of present day Israel. But Ishmael and his descendants are also promised an inheritance,
“...for I will make a great nation of him [i.e. Ishmael]” Gen. 21:18.
The very first words in the Bible depict the creation of the world by G-d, Who can therefore assign any land to whomever He chooses. Note that the Jews are assigned only a modest portion of the land in the Middle East, with remaining lands distributed among the other nations. Unlike certain other empires and religions throughout history, the Jews are not promised nor commanded to seize all of the lands in the world, nor to convert all others to their beliefs.
This promise was made at the time of Abraham, about 4,000 years ago and takes further shape in the time of Moses, about 3,300 years ago, where the Jewish People became irrevocably linked to the land of Israel, the “Promised Land.” The Bible assigns this one people to this one specific land and does not do this for any other people. Today there are two billion Christians, plus 14 million Jews, in the world who accept the Five Books of Moses as a pillar of their religion. They all embrace a religion which clearly defines that land as belonging to the Jewish People in perpetuity. Those who deny the validity of this Biblical assignment must then fall back on man-made rules which are subject to constant alteration, disagreement, and conflict.
Historians tell us that at the time of Mohammed, about 1,400 years ago, the Arabs, along with Jews, Christians, and others lived in the Arabian Peninsula. The Quran is the holy book for Islam and is attributed to the prophet Mohammed. The Muslims claim to revere and to follow the teachings of the Quran. It is revealing to compare the frequency of certain key references in the Jewish Bible, the Christian Bible and the Quran as summarized below:
Book / Subject / Number of times mentioned
Jewish Bible / Jerusalem / 669
Jewish Bible / Zion (i.e. Jerusalem or the land) / 154
Christian Bible / Jerusalem / 154
Christian Bible / Zion / 7
Both Jewish and Christian Bibles / Judah or Judea / 877
Both Bibles / Samaria / 123
The Quran / Israel or Israelites / 47
The Quran / Jew or Jewish / 26
The Quran / Christian or Christians / 15
The Quran / Mecca and Medina / 8
The Quran / Jerusalem / Zero!
These numbers provide a telling story. The many references in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles testify to the integral historic connections between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel and also to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Judaism and of the Jewish People. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago under King David. The Quran was written about 1,600 years later. And unexpectedly, the Quran has more references to things Christian and Jewish than to their own two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. This indicates their early awareness of Jewish roots in that region. But most remarkable is the failure of the Quran to mention Jerusalem even once. And with Muslims facing towards Mecca while praying, and not towards Jerusalem, it is clear that Islam has no Quranic connection to either Jerusalem or to the land of Israel and hence no claim to either.
In addition we have Islamic scholars such as Khaleel Mohammed, at San Diego State University, saying that the Quran actually supports the right of Jews to the land of Israel. He cites Sura 5:20, 5:21 in the Quran which are translated as follows:
5:20. Remember Moses said to his people: “O my People ! call in remembrance the favor of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.
5:21. “O my people ! enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned to you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.”
Reference: The Meaning of the Illustrious Qur’an by A. Yusuf Ali
The essence of the Quran’s message is very similar to that in the Jewish Bible. But this Quranic message is evidently not being taught, or not being believed, by certain Muslims. The Quran also never mentions Palestine or Palestinians. We now have the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam, recognizing the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. Those three religious represent half of all humanity.
Two thousand years ago Rome ruled much of the known world. The Jews in the land of Israel (called Judea at that time) were a colony of Rome with their capital in Jerusalem. The Jews revolted against harsh Roman rule and were defeated after a long and brutal war. As punishment the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and renamed that city Aelia Capilolina and renamed the land from Provincia Judea to Provincia Philistia/Palaistina in an attempt to even erase Jewish history. No Arabs were involved in this action. The capital’s name later reverted back to Jerusalem but the name Philistia/Palaistina evolved into Palestine and came to designate only a region, but never a country or a distinct people. This is the origin of the term “Palestine” which is not even an Arabic name.
Over the following centuries that land was overrun multiple times by various armies until about 1517 when that area became part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Four hundred years later in 1917, during WWI the British armies defeated the Turks, and that vast Middle East region, including Palestine, was now the subject for setting new boundaries.
Briefly, England and the victorious allies designated new nations along with establishing new boundaries, such as Iraq and Jordan. Those allies assigned all of Palestine to be a British Mandate to become the Jewish National Home. At international conferences following WWI, boundary issues were settled with Jewish and Arab delegations participating. The Palestine Mandate included all of present day Israel, Jordan, Gaza, the “occupied territories” plus the Golan Heights. The Jews would receive about 45,000 square miles which would be less than 1% of the 5,000,000 square miles assigned to the Arabs.
At the time there was amicable agreement between Emir Feisal and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, representing the Arab and the Zionist delegations respectively.
The League of Nations ratified this agreement making it legally binding under international law. It has never been legally altered or abrogated.
“Under this settlement, the whole of Palestine on both sides of the Jordan was reserved exclusively for the Jewish People as the Jewish National Home, in recognition of their historical connection with that country, dating from the Patriarchal Period ... The Palestine aspect of the global settlement was recorded in three basic documents that led to the founding of the modern State of Israel: ...”
The conventions are cited and they include implementing the Balfour Declaration with commitments by the League of Nations, and the governments of France, England and America.
The British unilaterally detached three fourths of the Palestine Mandate and created Trans Jordan, which was only for Arabs and banned to Jews. The British detached the Golan Heights and transferred that area to French-controlled Syria. They also instigated the local Arabs against the Jews to sabotage the very obligation they were duty bound to implement.
“The British Government repudiated the solemn obligation it undertook to develop Palestine gradually into an independent Jewish state.” ... “The US aided and abetted the British betrayal of the Jewish People by its abject failure to act decisively against the 1939 White Paper [which severely limited Jewish immigration from Nazi controlled Europe into Palestine] despite its own legal obligation to do so under the 1924 treaty. The UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947 illegally recommended the restriction of Jewish legal rights to a truncated part of Palestine.
... “Despite all the subversive actions to smother and destroy Jewish legal rights and title of sovereignty to the entire Land of Israel, they still remain in full force by virtue of the Principle of Acquired Rights and the doctrine of Estoppel that apply in all legal systems of the democratic world.”
Had the Western nations and the Arabs honored their international agreements and obligations there would never have been an Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.
In 1947 the U.N. voted to partition the remaining one-fourth of the original Mandate into a Jewish and an Arab sector. The Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected it. Five Arab armies attacked the re-born State of Israel on the day it declared independence. The U.N. totally failed to support its own resolution. During the subsequent war the boundary changed and, when fighting ceased, the armistice line of 1949 became what is referred to as the lines of pre Six-Day War. That armistice line is NOT a legal border or boundary as some prefer to call it, and there is no geographic, demographic, or legal requirement, for it to become permanent.
At this point designations changed. The term Palestine becomes temporarily moot. In that area there were now Israel and Jordan, and the so-called West Bank was occupied by Jordan while Egypt occupied the Gaza strip. The term “Palestinian” originally referred to Jewish pioneers who were returning to reclaim their historic homeland. Local Arabs were simply called Arabs, and they did not want to be confused with the appellation of “Palestinians” who were the Jews.
In the 1960’s Yasser Arafat and others invented their own Palestine/Palestinian identity. In 1964, three years prior to the Six-Day war, and prior to the “occupied territories”, the PLO had issued its infamous PLO Covenant calling for the destruction of Israel. Upon Israel’s rebirth the terms Palestine and Palestinians were now vacated and the local Arabs now seized that identity for themselves as a political tool to use against Israel. A revealing statement comes from PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein as quoted in the Dutch newspaper Trouw on March 3, 1977. In a moment of candor he admitted:
“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism.”
Their forged identity now matched their covenant which denied Israel‘s right to exist. The Six-Day War provided another excuse to claim a Palestinian territory and a Palestinian People that never existed. Jewish leadership failed to challenge that identity theft which allowed time for that falsehood to acquire legitimacy. Local Arabs were then taught from birth that they were Palestinians who had their “Palestinian” land stolen by the Jews. This falsehood has existed for decades with little challenge. By now it acquired the status of established truth.
A map of the Middle East shows a vast Arab territory of 5 million square miles plus another area of Muslim non-Arab countries that occupy nearly another 5 million square miles. How did all that come about? At the birth of Mohammed the Arabs resided on the Arabian Peninsula and Islam did not yet exist. Mohammed’s legacy was the Quran, the holy book of Islam, plus a militant drive to spread the faith by conversion and by conquest. Except for the Arabian Peninsula, all the Muslim countries of today, both Arab and non-Arab, are the result of that early expansionist drive. In places such as Spain, that expansion was eventually repulsed but most of that conquest remains in force to this day.
We can now view the Middle East with new eyes. It is not Israel but the Arabs who are the true occupiers in the Middle East. Their long possession of conquered lands does not necessarily legitimize their original conquest. The entire Land of Israel itself bears testimony to the presence of two Jewish commonwealths in ancient times, as evidenced by archaeology, with that presence including the Golan Heights, Gaza, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Palestinian claims are totally fabricated. There is no evidence of any prior Palestinian culture, language, religion, coinage, leadership or any other evidence backing their extravagant claims.
But if all that is true how come almost everyone believes that the Jews stole part of “historic Palestine”? This happened over recent decades because of Arab fabrications and the dismal failure of the Jewish leadership to even tell the truth in their own behalf. The Arabs committed a crime in lying against the Jews and the Jews committed a crime in acquiescing in these lies.
A brief word for those Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who are adamant in attacking Israel over the so-called “occupied territories.” The lands beneath their own feet are also occupied territories by this logic. America was colonized after Columbus by foreigners who invited themselves over here. They displaced the native peoples, and slaughtered many of them, mainly in the 1800’s. The Indians ‘traded land for peace’ and received neither. Their reservations house the poorest of all the minorities in this country, with over 300 treaties with the U.S. government still unfulfilled. People who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones, as the saying goes.
This conflict has destroyed many lives in the course of the past century with no end in sight. There is much blame to assign to the major powers and to the Arabs. But it is also time to assign blame to those Jewish leaders who failed, from the start, to stand firm for Jewish rights to the land. They foolishly allowed the big lie to grow and over time to become deeply entrenched in popular thinking and even in the minds of many Jews. To this day these failed leaders cannot bring themselves to speak the simple truth on behalf of their own people. It would be revealing if readers would send this article to those in the U.S. Jewish leadership requesting a reply and see if any of them will be able to respond honestly.