As pressure to reach a peace agreement mounts, strong voices urge Israel to relinquish the land that has borne the name and history of the Jewish people for four millennia.
Chaim Weizman, the first President of Israel, was once asked, “Why don’t you just accept the offer to establish a Jewish State in Uganda?” He answered, “That’s like me asking why you drove 50 miles to see your mother when there are so many other nice old ladies so much closer to your home.”
The Land of Israel is the Jewish National Homeland. The history, faith, religion, culture, and identity of the Jewish people has been, is, and forevermore will be, tied to this land which bears their name, from its ancient name of Judea, to its modern name of Israel.
The Jewish nation lived and worshipped as a free and sovereign nation in the Land of Israel, from the time Joshua re-entered the land with the Israelites, until the Babylonians destroyed the holy Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Seventy years later, the Jews rebuilt this Temple, which then stood for centuries until the Romans destroyed it in the year 70 CE. The Temple Mount in the holy city of Jerusalem remains the holiest place within Judaism, and unto this day, every Jew turns towards the Temple Mount to pray.
Throughout the centuries, many conquerors tried to incorporate the Land of Israel into their own empires: the Babylonian empire, Persian and Greco-Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab Caliphates, Turkish, Crusader, Ayyubid, Mameluke, and Ottoman.
But despite these attempts, Israel remained the country of the Jewish people, where they have lived continuously since ancient times; and Jerusalem has served as the capital of only one nation: the Jewish nation.
Through every banishment and forced exile, the Jewish people looked to their ancient homeland, prayed to return to their land, included the mention of Israel and Jerusalem in daily prayers, and imbued each life-cycle celebration and festival gathering with the yearning for Shivat Tzion, for a return to the land of their ancestors.
Wherever a Jew was, his heart was always in Jerusalem. When he sat by the waters of Babylon, he wept as he remembered Zion. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. May my tongue cleave to its palate… if I put not Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Psalm 137). From Spain in the 12th century, Yehuda HaLevi cried “Libi B’Mizrach, Va’Ani b’sof ha’Ma’arav;” “My heart is in the east, though I am at the ends of the west.”
In the modern era, the historical and religious rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel were codified in international law at the San Remo Conference of 1920, a meeting of the Allied Powers of WWI to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. At this conference, a binding agreement was enacted between these world powers “to reconstitute the ancient Jewish State within its historic borders.”
At the same time, Arab national entities were designated for other areas of the former Ottoman Empire. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and ultimately, Jordan were all established out of what had been provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
For the Jewish National Homeland, this international forum in San Remo allocated all the land that is between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, as well as, the land that currently comprises the country of Jordan, along with the Golan Heights, and Gaza. They allocated these regions of the former Ottoman Empire for the Jewish homeland in recognition of the fact that these were the areas where the Jewish people lived, where the history of the Jewish nation took place, and where the prophets of Israel delivered their message.
In these regions, we find Hebron which was the first capital of Israel, burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Israel. Here we also find Bethlehem, the city where the Matriarch Rachel is buried, where Jews visited and prayed through the centuries. In 1830 the Turks issued a royal decree recognizing Jewish rights at this Jewish holy site. The governor of Damascus instructed the Mufti of Jerusalem that “the tomb of esteemed Rachel…they (the Jews) are accustomed to visit it from ancient days; and no one is permitted to prevent them or oppose them (from doing) this.”
Shechem was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It is the city where Joseph is buried. Shiloh, the city of Priests, housed the holy Tabernacle before it was brought to Jerusalem. We read of Joshua in Jericho, Amos in Tekoa, Jeremiah in Anatot, and Jacob in Beit El. These regions of Shomron (Samaria) and Yehuda (Judea) constitute the Jewish spiritual heartland which is steeped in Jewish history dating back to Biblical times.
The word “mandate” means trust. As stated in Article 6 of the Mandate, the British were entrusted with assuring the “close settlement of the Jews on the land.” This was in keeping with a unanimous vote of the League of Nations which wanted to restore the Jewish people to their native land, thereby correcting an historical injustice. The British affirmed the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, stating unequivocally that the Jewish nation was in this land “as of right and not on sufferance.”
The British, nonetheless, went on to violate their obligations under these binding acts of international law by giving 77% of the lands allocated exclusively for the Jewish homeland, to create the Arab country of Jordan, or Transjordan, as it was initially called. The British gave away these areas that were steeped in Jewish history, areas where the tribes of Israel had made their homes, thereby leaving only the land that was between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River for the Jewish National Homeland. The Jewish right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea remains enshrined in international law to this day.
Additional attempts to wrest the Jewish homeland away from the Jewish people have continued throughout the decades since San Remo. And we are seeing the current rendition today, as once again, pressure is being brought to bear on the Jewish nation to forfeit its legacy in order to appease those who reject her right to exist.
The Peel Commission advanced another such attempt. In 1937, it proposed a partition of the 23% of remaining Mandate land, after the British withheld 77% of the Mandate to create Transjordan. The Arabs rejected the proposal of the Peel Commission, just as they would reject every proposal that included a Jewish state within any borders. Instead, the Arab Bludan Conference, in September of 1937, proposed a boycott of “all Jewish goods and activities,” a tactic often used to criminalize the Jewish presence in the region. It is a tactic that is being utilized against the State of Israel again today.
The Partition Plan was yet another attempt to wrest away from the Jewish people additional portions of the Jewish homeland. Ironically, this November 29, 1947, vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations on Resolution 181 which, similar to the Peel Commission, tried to partition the remaining 23% of the land allocated for the Jewish homeland, has often, erroneously been viewed as the legal basis for the modern State of Israel. In fact, this Partition Resolution, which reserved for the Jewish State only 17% of the original Mandate, in illegal abrogation of Jewish rights to this land, was true to its name: it was yet one more attempt to subdivide the Land of Israel in order to appease those who have repeatedly rejected the right to sovereignty and self-determination for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland.
The San Remo Conference along with various treaties following World War I succeeded in establishing independent countries sought by the Arab nationalists: the country of Iraq gained full independence in 1932, the country of Lebanon was established in 1943, and the country of Syria attained their independence in 1946. Nonetheless, when the modern State of Israel similarly exercised its sovereign right and formally declared statehood in 1948, the Arab armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq immediately attacked the nascent state. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League announced: “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history…”
Then, in 1949, when the Armistice Demarcation Lines were drawn, this line, which is commonly called “The Green Line,” and which many today attempt to reinvent and claim as borders – namely, so called “’67 borders” – was rejected vehemently by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt as delineating any type of border. The Armistice agreement with Egypt stated,
“The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary…”
The Armistice agreement with Jordan included the following statement:
“The provisions of this article shall not be interpreted as prejudicing, in any sense, an ultimate political settlement between the Parties to this Agreement. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in Articles v and vi of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”
And Syria was adamant that there be no misunderstanding, stating,
“It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.”
These agreements were emphatic in ensuring that the Armistice line would not be considered a formal boundary, once again, rejecting a Jewish state within any borders.
Whether by further subdivision of the land, or through boycotts to criminalize the Jewish State, these tactics stem from the ongoing rejection of the Jewish people’s right to sovereignty and self-determination in their ancestral homeland. And while much attention is focused on the years of 1948 and 1967 as the lynchpins for strife in the region, in fact, attempts to rid the land of the Jewish people, as well as, violent attacks on Jews, were as clear before these dates as they were after these dates.
There was the Hebron massacre of 1929, when Arabs slaughtered their Jewish neighbors who had resided in Hebron for, literally, thousands of years. There was no “Green Line” at this time; there was no modern State of Israel at this time.
In 1938, in Tiberius, terrorists went from house to house killing parents and children. Again, there was no “Green Line,” no Jewish State.
In 1954, in Scorpion’s Pass (Maale Akrabim), 11 men and women were murdered as their omnibus travelling from Eilat to Beersheba was attacked. This was long before the 6 Day War of 1967.
In 1956, in Shafrir, terrorists fired on a synagogue full of children and teenagers.
In 1972, Israeli Olympic athletes were killed in Munich, Germany.
In 1974, schoolchildren on a field trip from Tzfat were executed in Ma’alot in northern Israel:
Time’s David Halevy was among the first to enter. “…The movement of stretchers seemed endless.” The carnage, once the shooting ended, included 17 teen-agers dead and 70 wounded. (Time Magazine; Monday, May. 27, 1974).
On June 1, 2001, a terrorist detonated a bomb while standing in a crowd of mostly teenagers outside a discotheque in Tel Aviv. Twenty one people were killed and 120 were wounded.
Year after year, there have been terrorist incidents, too numerous to mention here.
The message has been consistent: it is the absolute rejection of the right of the Jewish people to security, to self-determination, and to peace.
The right of the Jewish people to live in their historic homeland of Israel was rejected before 1948, and after the reestablishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948; before 1967, and after 1967, when, besieged by hostile Arab armies, Israel recovered those lands that had been internationally mandated and guaranteed to the Jewish people at San Remo; and this basic right is still being denied today.
In fact, after the war in 1967, Israel attempted to make peace with her neighbors. But, similar to every previous rejection of a Jewish state within any borders, the Arabs rejected Israel’s desire to negotiate peace, and instead, issued the “The Three No’s” of Khartoum, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. This resolution prompted Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban to declare, “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.”
Had the neighboring countries and peoples ever offered Israel any kind of reciprocity, any acknowledgement of the rights of the Jewish nation to a sovereign state in her ancestral homeland; any recognition that the Jews, like the Arabs, were entitled to self–determination in their own homeland carved out of the vanquished Ottoman Empire; had they welcomed, or at least, tolerated, the Jewish people’s right to their sliver of the Middle East, the right to one Jewish state amidst 21 Arab states – there would be peace.