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by Yechiel Leiter


1. Wasn't the State of Israel built on land belonging to the Palestinian people?

"Palestine" is a Roman name, not an Arab one. The area called "Palestine" was first given that name by the Romans in 135 C.E. For a thousand years before this, the land had been called Israel or Judea, the land of the Jews. After occupying Judea and exiling the Jews from their home, the Roman victors changed the name from "Judea" to "Palaestina"[1]

The new name had no relation to any existing people: the Philistines and Canaanites had vanished centuries earlier, and there were not yet any Arab inhabitants. The intention of the Roman occupiers was to sever the bond of the Jewish people to its homeland, a bond recognized by Rome and by all other nations.

But in their prayers, three times every day, the Jewish people the world over continued recalling their bond to the land to which they dreamed of returning: "Eretz Yisrael," the Land of Israel. The Jews viewed their life outside of Israel as an abnormal situation known as "Galut" (Exile).

There never was a historic "Palestinian" nation.

Over the centuries, those who called the land Palestine never associated it with a distinct Palestinian nation; never in history has there been a state of Palestine. Up to and during the British Mandate for Palestine {which also contained what is now known as Jordan}[ii], the term "Palestinians" referred to all residents of the area, Moslem, Christian and Jew.[iii]

Identity papers and passports issued by the British to Jews and Christians called them Palestinians.[iv] Jewish organizations incorporated the word: the Jewish Agency for Palestine; the Jewish Palestine Post newspaper, now the Jerusalem Post; the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra, now the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; and the Anglo-Palestine Bank. In contrast, the Arab residents rejected the designation, viewing themselves as part of a greater Arab people or as southern Syrians.[v]

The idea that there ever was a "Palestinian" people attached to the land of Palestine first gained prominence in the 1960's, when the Arab states founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to fight Israel. Since then, some Arab writers have claimed that this Palestinian people can be traced back to the Philistines, the Jebusites, the Canaanites, and other ancient tribes -- tribes which disappeared without a trace over twenty centuries ago, more than 500 years before the Arabs first invaded Palestine in the year 632 C.E.

Was a Palestinian nation created in our times?

Some argue that a new Palestinian Arab "nation" came into existence as a reaction to Zionism, the Jewish national movement which founded the State of Israel. By this argument, the Palestinian nation is only thirty or forty years old, with no claim to nationhood other than its opposition to another people. Such a claim speaks of dubious intentions.

Moreover, the claim of a new Palestinian Arab nation to a homeland must be examined in the context of what was historically the land of Palestine/Israel. Of the original Palestine Mandate, 78% is already an Arab state, the overwhelming majority, approximately 70%, of whose residents are Palestin­ian Arabs: the Kingdom of Jordan.

2. Aren't "Judea and Samaria" new names intended to create a false Jewish connection to the Arab West Bank?

The term "West Bank" was invented in 1950.

Actually, the reverse is true. Just as the land of Israel was renamed "Palestine" to obscure Jewish ties to the land, so the historic names "Judea" and "Samaria" were replaced with "the West Bank" to conceal the Jewish historical connection to these regions.

The term "the West Bank" was invented by the Arab King Abdullah of Jordan to refer to the land his army occupied in its 1948 invasion of Israel. His goal was to legitimize his occupation (and 1950 annexation)[vi] of Judea and Samaria by implying that the West Bank and the East Bank of the Jordan River both belonged to his country: Jordan.

"Judea" and "Samaria" in modern times.

Until the Jordanian occupation, the only names ever used for these areas were "Judea" and "Samaria." They were used by the British government and the United Nations.[vii]

"Judea" and "Samaria" are historical names.

The names "Judea" and "Samaria" have been in continuous use for over 3,000 years. Judea is the land Jews come from. It was named for Judah, the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob, whose descendants lived in the area 3,200 years ago. Samaria was the heartland of northern Israel, containing the national and religious centers for 400 years.[viii]

Judea and Samaria were the scene of almost all significant events in the ancient history of the Jewish people: where Abraham founded monotheism, where Joseph was sold into slavery, where Joshua distributed the land, where the prophetess Deborah led the nation, where Hannah made her passionate plea for offspring, where Samuel the prophet was born and lived, where David founded his kingdom, where Elijah served as prophet, where the Maccabees fought against the Greeks, and where the second Jewish revolt was defeated by the Romans. Hardly any of the Bible's famous stories take place outside of Judea and Samaria.

3. Isn't it Israel's responsibility to rehabilitate the refugees?

In 1948, after the Arab invasion of the new State of Israel, there were two refugee problems in the Middle East:

Jewish refugees absorbed by Israel.

Jewish refugees fleeing oppression in Arab states and post-Holocaust Europe were given shelter and absorbed by Israel. Tiny Israel, then with a population of only 600,000 Jews, absorbed 580,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands and nearly 600,000 from Europe in less than four years.

Arab refugees caused by the Arab invasion of Israel.

The Arab refugee problem was a result of the Arab invasion of the new Jewish state. The vast majority of Arab refugees in 1948 were not expelled. Some were encouraged by the Arab states to make way for the invading Arab armies. Others simply left early on to avoid the war. In either case, they were confident they would return within weeks, after the Arab armies had vanquished the Jews[ix].

Before the war, 810,000 Arabs lived in what would become Israel. Since 160,000 were there after the war, no more than 650,000 Arabs could possibly have become refugees. In 1948, the UN Mediator on Palestine estimated the refugee population at 472,000[x] -- far less than the number of Jewish refugees. Yet these refugees were never absorbed by the Arab states. Of the fifty million refugees worldwide in the late 1940's, the Arabs of Palestine were the only ones not absorbed by their own people.

Arab states refused to absorb refugees.

Emil Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine, said in 1948, ''The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab States in opposing partition [of the land] and the [creation of a] Jewish State. The Arab States agreed upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem."[xi]

But rather than absorb the refugees, Arab states confined them to camps in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, with the intention of using them to turn world opinion against Israel.[xii]

A 1977 UN resolution, pushed through by the Arab states and third world countries, forbids Israel from moving the refugees into permanent housing. The PLO has even forbidden Gaza residents from moving into existing apartment buildings Israel had built for the refugees before the UN resolution.[xiii]

Had Arab states absorbed Arab refugees as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees, there would be no refugee problem today. To ask Israel to absorb and rehabilitate both the Jewish and Arab refugees from 1948 is unfair and impractical. The Arab states must take some responsibility for a refugee problem they created.

4. Doesn't Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza violate international law?

Right of Jews to settle Yesha recognized by international law. The right of Jews to live in all the land west of the Jordan River to build a "Jewish National Home" there was recognized at the Versailles Conference of 1919 by the Allies -- including an Arab delegation which was working in coordination with the Jewish delegation. The Jewish claim to this land was incorporated into the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922.[xiv]

Indeed, Jews lived freely in Yesha until 1948 when they were massacred and expelled by invading Jordanian troops. Yet although they were forced out, the legal right of Jews to live there has never been revoked by any international authority.

On the contrary, Professor Eugene Rostow has written that the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine remains in effect in Yesha as a "sacred trust of civilization." Israel is therefore responsible for carrying out the main objective of the Mandate: establishing a Jewish National Home in Yesha and allowing Jews to live there.[xv]

Israel is required to administer Yesha by international law.[xvi]

The mistaken idea that Israeli control over Yesha is illegal is based on a misreading of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which speaks of "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war." In fact, Israel is legally required to administer Yesha by international law and by Resolution 242.

Israel acquired Yesha in 1967 in a defensive war against Arab aggression. Throughout history, when victims of military attacks successfully defend themselves by acquiring territory, the territory is awarded to the victim in the eventual peace treaty. This is why Germany lost territory after both World War I and World War II, for example.

Until a treaty is signed, the defending nation is legally obliged to administer the captured territory. As Israel's Arab neighbors (except Egypt) refuse to make peace with Israel, Israel is under legal obligation to administer Yesha -- an obligation almost universally recognized by experts on international law.

Even Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from Yesha, even in exchange for peace. The resolution was worded to require withdrawal "from territories," but not necessarily from all territories captured in 1967. The resolution also does not say that Israel must give territory to each of its neighbors. The only criterion for eventual boundaries is that they be "secure" -- and Yesha is crucial to Israel's security.

Some argue that Israel's administration of Yesha is subject to the Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits the administrator from moving its own population into captured foreign territory. But the Geneva Convention applies only to land which had previously been part of a different sovereign state. Yesha was part of the Palestine Mandate, whose stated legal purpose was the creation of a Jewish National Home.

5. Why should Jews care about Gaza?

Ancient Jewish ties to Gaza.[xvii]

The Jewish connection to Gaza goes back over 3,000 years. The Bible[xviii] mentions Gaza as being inhabited by the Israelite tribe of Judah.

A significant Jewish community first arose in Gaza during the first and second centuries B.C.E. By the third century C.E., the Jewish community was flourishing; an elegant synagogue from this period was excavated in 1870.ln the 324 C.E., the Roman emperor Constantine tried to impose Christianity on the Jews of Gaza, but his efforts were repulsed.

Between the sixth and tenth centuries, Jews from North Africa made religious pilgrimages to Gaza, as they were prohibited from coming to Jerusalem. Travelers' accounts from the Middle Ages testify to Gaza's significance as a bustling port with many Jewish residents. Gaza's Jewish community grew further after 1492 due to the arrival of Jewish refugees who had been expelled from Spain.

In 1799, Napoleon laid siege to Gaza and its Jewish community sought refuge elsewhere. Jews began to return to Gaza in the 1880's. By 1914 they had a Hebrew school and a bank. Then, during the First World War, the Jews of Gaza were expelled, some of them deported. Jews returned to Gaza after the war, but were once again forced out by Arab violence in 1929. Kibbutz Kfar Darom was established in the area in 1946, but was destroyed during the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948.

Since 1967, 21 Jewish communities were established in Gaza. In 2005, these communities were destroyed, and the 8,500 Jewish residents were expelled from their homes under then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan.

6. What's so important about the Golan Heights?

Thousands of years of Jewish history.

Jews first moved to the Golan Heights when the Israelites entered the land of Israel nearly 3,300 years ago. Half of the tribe of Menashe moved to the region, then known as Bashan, and established a city called Golan.[xix]

Under the rule of King Herod in the first century B.C.E., Jewish communi­ties flourished throughout the Golan. This began a period of about 700 years of continuous Jewish population there, lasting until the invasion of Arab conquerors. The ruins of 25 synagogues from this period have been un­earthed.[xx]

It is no surprise, then, that the early Zionists at the end of the nineteenth century saw the Golan as an integral part of the Jewish homeland. Zionist groups purchased and lived on land in several parts of the Golan.[xxi]

The Golan was captured by Syria during Israel's 1948 War of Indepen­dence, but was liberated by Israel on June 10, 1967. Within a month, a group of Israelis established Kibbutz Merom Golan.[xxii] Today, 18,000 Jews live in 32 communities on the Golan.

Withdrawal would threaten Israel's security.[xxiii]

Israel's current border on the Golan Heights is easily defensible. The southern line is defended by the Yarmuk and Rokad river basins, and the eastern line is formed by a chain of mountains from Tel Saki in the south to Mount Hermon in the north. This high ground makes it easy to spot and respond to Syrian military activity.

There are only two weak points in this defense line. Thus, when Syria invaded the Golan with over a thousand tanks in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, two Israeli army brigades were enough to hold off the Syrian forces until reinforcements could arrive.

If Israel withdrew its forces even a mile back from the mountaintops (the Golan Heights are about ten miles wide), it would lose this advantage due to the many passageways through the mountains.

Were Israel to withdraw from the entire Golan, Syrian troops could once again shell Israeli villages around the Sea of Galilee, as they did before 1967. Even if the Golan were demilitarized, the Syrian army could quickly sweep through the relatively level ground from Damascus to the Golan, while the Israeli army would have to climb back up the steep cliffs on the west side of the Heights.

Source of water.

The Golan Heights hold the critical head-waters of the Jordan River which supply more than one third of Israel's fresh water needs. These waters flow into Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) which supplies large parts of Israel via the National Water Carrier. A diversion of these headwaters has the potential of crippling Israel's fresh water system. That is precisely what Syria attempted in 1964 when the Golan was under Syrian control. Israel was then forced into a military operation to destroy the Syrian damming project. Coupled with a withdrawal in Judea and Samaria, Israel would be surrendering 65% of its water resources to Arab control, putting the country at their mercy.


[i] Samuel Katz, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, Bantam Books, New York, 1973, p. 87. Israel Eldad, The Jewish Revolution: Jewish Statehood, tr. Hannah Schmorak, Shengold Publishers, Inc., New York, 1971, p.102.

[ii] Mitchell G. Bard and Joel Himelfarb, Myths and Facts: A Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Near East Report, 1992, p. 5:

According to the Peel Commission, appointed by the British Government to investigate the cause of the 1936 Arab riots, "the field in which the Jewish National Home was to be established was understood, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, to be the whole of historic Palestine, including Transjordan."

[iii] This is clear from United Nations sources. In the first U.N. yearbook, which records the debates and decisions of the United Nations, the Arabs of Yesha are always called the "Palestinian Arabs;" the term "Palestinian population" clearly refers to both Arabs and Jews (pp. 276-304). The first reference to a "Palestinian people" in a U.N. yearbook is in 1961 (p. 157).

[v] Eldad, p. 106.

[vi] Bard and Himelfarb, p. 4. Palestine was viewed primarily as part of Syria, which was considered to include all of what today is Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

[vii] Raphael Israeli, Palestinians Between Israel and Jordan: Squaring the Triangle, Praeger Publications, New York, 1991, p. 7.

[viii] The first references to Judea and Samaria as "the West Bank" in a United Nations yearbook appear in 1967, after the Six-Day War (pp. 201,211).

Further information is provided in Sara M. Averick and Steven J. Rosen, The Importance of the "West Bank" and Gaza to Israel's Security, AIPAC Papers on U.S.-Israel Relations #11, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, 1985, p. 1 (footnote):

"Indeed, these terms were used exclusively in the British Mandatory Government's 1946 publication, A Survey of Pales­tine.... In [the United Nations'] deliberations and documentation at the time of partition (e.g., U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (11), Part 11 (A), 29 November 1947), the terms Judea and Samaria were used."

[ix] Martin Gilbert, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps, Fourth Edition, Redwood Press Ltd., Great Britain, 1984, p. 48-49.

[x] Bard and Himelfarb, pp. 122-125.

[xi] Bard and Himelfarb, p. 120.

[xii] Beirut Daily Telegraph, September 6, 1948, as quoted in Katz, p. 22. 13. Bard and Himelfarb, pp. 141-142.

[xiii] General Assembly Resolution 32/90 C of 13 December 1977.

[xiv] David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East 1914-1922, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989, p. 403. As cited in Benjamin Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the world, Bantam Books, 1993, pp. 3, 49.

[xv] Cited by Julius Stone, Israel and Palestine: Assault on the Law of Nations, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1981, pp. 121-123.

[xvi] For more information on the legal issues discussed on this page, please see the following sources:

Eugene Rostow, "Palestinian Self-Determination: possible Futures for the Unallocated Territories of the Palestine Mandate," 5 Yale Studies in World Public Order 147, 156 (1979). S. Schwebel, What Weight to Conquest?, 64 Am. J. Int'l L. 344(1970).

Yehuda Z. Blum, The Missing Reversioner: Reflections on the Status of Judea and Samaria, 3 Israel L. Rev. 279 (1968).

Yehuda Z. Blum, Secure Boundaries and Middle East Peace: In the Light of International Law and Practice, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law / Institute for Legislative Research and Comparative Law, Jerusalem, 1971.

Prosper Weil, "Le Reglementterritorial dans la resolution du 22 novembre 1967," Les Nouveaux Cahiers, Hiver 1970, pp. 4-8.

Meir Shamgar, "The Observance of International Law in the Administered Territories," Israel Yearbook on Human Rights, Y. Dinstein (ed.), 1971.

Julius Stone, "Behind the Cease-Fire Lines: Israel's Administra­tion in Gaza and the West Bank," Of Law and Man: Essays in honor of Haim H. Cohn, S. Shoham (ed.), 1971, pp. 79-107.

Brigadier-General Dov Shefi, "The Reports of the U.N. Special Committees on Israeli Practices in the Territories -- A Survey and Evaluation," Military Government in the Territories Occupied by Israel, 1967-1980: The Legal Aspects, Meir Shamgar (ed.), vol. I, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law / Harry Sacher Institute for Legislative Research and Comparative Law, Jerusalem, 1982, pp. 313-320.

[xvii] Haggai Huberman, Jews in Gaza, Center for the Heritage of Gaza Jews, Gaza.

[xviii] Joshua 15:45-48, Judges 1:18.

[xix] Deuteronomy 5:43, Joshua 13:29-31.

[xx] Irit Zaharoni, ed., Israel: Roots and Routes, tr. Rachel Rowen, MOD Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1990, pp. 158-162.

[xxi] Efraim Orni and Elisha Efrat, Geography of Israel, fourth revised edition, Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1980, pp. 426-7.

[xxii] Orni and Efrat, p. 430.

[xxiii] More information on these issues can be found in an article by Mark Langfan, "Golan Crucial for Israeli Security," Security Affairs, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, October 1992, pp. 4-5.

Yechiel Leiter is director of One Jerusalem and founding chairman of the One Israel fund.

This article was published May 10, 2007 in Arutz-Sheva -- -- Thanks are due Anthony Rose for sending this in. (


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