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The Historical and Legal Rights of the Jews to the Land of Israel

September 20, 2005
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The problem with basing ownership of the Land solely upon a biblical claim is that not all people believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and an even greater number of people in the world do not believe the Bible to be inerrant truth.  I, therefore, will look at the second and third methods. Establishing the Jews as a nation and tracing their history in the territory in question are the only ways to prove their historical and legal claims to the Land as a nation-state.

A nation can be defined as a culturally homogeneous group of people, larger than a single tribe or community, who share in common a language, institutions, religion, and historical experience. They regard themselves, or are regarded by others, as sharing some common identity, to which certain norms and behavior are usually attributed. The Hebrew language survived during the nearly 2,000 years that the Jews were dispersed throughout the world, maintaining their religion, religious institutions, and historical experience.

A nation-state is found to have certain characteristics, including recognized boundaries; an ongoing presence; economic activity and an organized economy; social engineering, such as education; transportation systems; public services and police power; and sovereignty while maintaining external recognition.

It is generally agreed that Israel has economic activity and an organized economy. Israel has social engineering with public education, public transportation, and a democratic government. The only space for argument is whether Israel has a history of its people living here on an ongoing basis with internationally recognized boundaries, sovereignty, and external recognition.

Early Jewish History

History dates the Queen of Sheba’s reign to the 10th century BC, and modern scholars have speculated that a link between Judea and an ancient African queen led to the emergence of Judaism in Ethiopia. This clearly demonstrates a presence of Jews in the current boundaries of Israel in the 10th century BC. The Romans then conquered the Land and Israel had no homeland, although Jews were still allowed to live here. They were driven from the Land in two dispersions: one in AD 70 and the other in AD 135. But there was always a Jewish presence in the Land.

How did Rome get a right to the Land? They obtained it by right of conquest. The validity of the right of conquest is an essential foundation of world order and should be respected. The reality is that the world does, in fact, accommodate itself to conquests after they occur. All over the world, the international community recognizes borders that were fixed by conquest at some point or another. If you will not accept sovereignties that are founded on force, you will reject the political legitimacy of approximately half the world.

The history of geographic Israel shows many changes of hands in rulership. The Jews conquered it from the Canaanites. The Romans conquered it from the last Jewish kingdom. The Byzantines inherited it from the Romans. The Abbasids conquered it from the Byzantines. The Seljuks conquered it from the Abbasids. The Fatimids conquered it from the Seljuks. The Crusaders conquered it from Fatimids. The Mamluks conquered it from the Crusaders. The Turks conquered it from the Mamluks, and the British took it from the Turks in 1917. The British title derives from the surrender of this Land by Ottoman Turkey.

Marvin R. Wilson states on page 12 of Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith,

“The Hebrews were located geographically in the ancient Middle East, and during most of their long history were under the sovereignty of powers greater than themselves. Yet, remarkably, they were the only one of those peoples to succeed in maintaining themselves through the centuries as a culture.”

Modern History

The British government issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, in which it viewed favorably “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” In 1922, Britain was granted a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a partition plan, dividing Palestine into two sovereign states: one Jewish and the other Arab.

The Jews had been in these areas for many years. Jewish settlement in the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip existed and was expressly recognized as legitimate in the mandate adopted by the League of Nations. Some Jewish settlements, such as the one in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule. Israeli settlements were established on sites that were home to Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people’s deep historic and religious connection with the Land.

The homeland that Britain said it would set aside consisted of all of what is now Israel and all of what was then the nation of Jordan—the whole thing. The purpose of the mandate was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the mandate provided for “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, there were attempts to rid the area of Jews by Arabs who wanted the Land. Arabs virtually wiped out the Jewish population of Hebron in 1929. In 1936, the resettled Jewish community was again driven from Hebron. It was through right of conquest that the Arabs tried to reestablish control of the Land.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was approved on Friday, May 14, 1948, several hours before the British mandate came to an end. Almost immediately, there was an invasion of the new state by the Arab countries surrounding her. Egypt captured the Gaza Strip, and Jordan captured Judea and Samaria. Recognition of Egypt’s and Jordan’s right to these areas was only given by Britain and Afghanistan. All other UN nations saw this occupation as illegal, as the Arabs had refused the land offered in the 1947 UN partition plan.

The partition lines were obliterated, and most of the West Bank area was annexed by Jordan, an annexation only Britain and Pakistan recognized. The offer of a Palestinian state within the current borders of Israel was turned down by the Palestinian Arabs. They even sought to have the total Land taken over by Syria. This indicated that the Palestinian Arabs were not a separate Arab people group.

Current Borders

Let’s turn to the recognition of the current borders. The establishment of Israel in 1948 is in keeping with the development of territory into nation-states. The borders of the partitioned territory were set in 1947 by the UN. Various wars since that time (the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War) have decided the current borders. UN Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from all the territories gained as a result of the 1967 war, as the Arab regimes claim. Instead, the resolution deliberately restricts itself to calling for Israel’s withdrawal from “territories” while recognizing her right to live within secure and recognized boundaries. Moreover, that withdrawal only refers to the withdrawal of a military presence and not the surrender of land. By declining to call upon Israel to withdraw to the prewar lines, the Security Council recognized that the previous borders were indefensible and that, at the very least, Israel would be justified in retaining those parts of the territories necessary to establish secure borders.

Several nations directly involved in the 1967 and 1973 wars have made treaties with Israel recognizing the current borders. In 1979, Egypt made peace with Israel. The terms of the treaty required both countries to stop all hostile activity and demilitarize the Sinai Peninsula. Israel withdrew from Sinai, giving up military bases, settlements, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as the Sinai oil fields. A permanent international border was established between the two countries, and a process of normalization began. Gaza was accepted as part of Israel. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, establishing the international boundary between the two states as the Jordan River. The late Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote, “The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] confirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.”

Thus, all the requirements of a nation-state have been met. Israel is a culturally homogeneous group, larger than a single tribe or community, whose people share in common a language, institutions, religion, and historical experience. They share some common identity, to which certain norms and behavior are usually attributed. They maintain a historical presence in an area and live within internationally recognized borders, accepted not only by the UN, but also by nations and groups with which there have been military conflicts over borders. Israel provides a democratic government responsible for offering transportation, education, and public welfare services. All of these factors are ratified by treaties in keeping with international law.

There is no question as to the historical and legal rights of all of Israel—including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—as a sovereign, unified nation.

By Richard Bristol, PhD  Isarael Operations Director

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