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by Steven Plaut


Anti-Zionists say the Jewish claim to Israel is illegitimate because, before 1948, it had been nearly 1,900 years since Jews exercised sovereignty there - and it is absurd to argue that any group still has rights to land they last governed such a long time ago.

But on what basis do they say the Arabs have a legitimate claim to that same land? On the basis of the claim that the Arabs last exercised sovereignty over that land 1,000 years ago. So, while 1,900 year-old-claims are inadmissible, thousand-year-old claims are indisputable.

It must be emphasized here that even the thousand-year Arab claim is not the same thing as a claim on behalf of "Palestinian Arabs." After all, the last time Palestinian Arabs held sovereignty over Palestine was ... never.

It is true that Arabs once exercised sovereignty over parts or all of historic Palestine. There were small Arab kingdoms in the south of Palestine already in late biblical days; they were important military and political allies of the Jews, who exercised sovereignty back then in the Land of Israel.

After the rise of Islam, Palestine was indeed part of a larger Arab kingdom or caliphate. But that ended in 1071, when Palestine came under the rule of the Suljuk Turks. And that was the last time Palestine had an Arab ruler.

In any case, why does the fact that Palestine once belonged to a larger Arab empire make it "Arab" when it has also been part of larger Roman, Greek, Persian, Turkish and British empires?

Why do anti-Zionists insist a thousand-year claim by Arabs who were never ruled by Palestinian Arabs has legitimacy while a 1,900-year claim by Jews should be rejected outright, even though the United Nations granted Israel sovereignty in 1947? The anti-Zionists say it is because the thousand-year Arab claim is more recent than the older Jewish claim.

But that argument can of course be turned around on anti-Zionists, because if national claims to land become more legitimate the more recent they are, then surely the most legitimate claim of all is that of the Jews to Israel, because the modern Jewish state of Israel is a mere 62 years old!

The other claim by anti-Zionists is that Jews have no rights to the land of Israel because they moved there from other places. Never mind that there always was a Jewish minority living in the land of Israel, even when it was under the sovereignty of Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks or British. Does the fact that Jews moved to the land of Israel from other places disqualify them from exercising sovereignty there?

The claim would be nonsensical even if we were to ignore that fact that most Palestinian Arabs also moved to Palestine from neighboring countries, starting in the late nineteenth century. But more generally, does the fact that a people moves from one locality to another deprive it of its claims to legitimate sovereignty in its new abode? Does this necessitate the conclusion that they need to pack up and leave, as anti-Zionists insist?

If it does, then it goes without saying that the Americans and Canadians must lead the way by returning to their original owners all lands seized from the Indians and the Mexicans and going back whence they came.

For that matter, Mexicans of Spanish ancestry also need to leave. The Anglo-Saxons, meaning the English, will be invited to turn the British isles over to their original Celtic and Druid owners while they return to their own ancestral Saxon homeland in northern Germany and Denmark. The Danes will be asked to move back to their Norwegian and Swedish homelands to make room for the returning Anglo-Saxons.

But that is just a beginning. The Spanish will be called on to leave the Iberian Peninsula they wrongfully occupy and return it to the Celtiberians. Similarly the Portuguese occupiers will leave their lands and return them to the Lusitanians. The Magyars will go back where they came from and leave Hungary to its true owners.

The Australians and New Zealanders will have to end their occupations of lands that do not belong to them. The Thais will leave Thailand. The Bulgarians will return to their Volga homeland and abandon occupied Bulgaria. Anyone speaking Spanish will be expected to end the forced occupation of Latin America.

It goes without saying the French will lose almost all their lands to their rightful owners. The Turks will go back to Mongolia and leave Anatolia altogether, returning it to the Greeks. The Germans will go back to Gotland. The Italians will return the boot to the Etruscans and Greeks.

That leaves the Arabs. First, all of northern Africa, from Mauritania to Egypt and Sudan, will be immediately abandoned by the illegal Arab occupiers and returned to its lawful original Berber, Punic, Greek, and Vandal owners. Occupied Syria and Lebanon must be released at once from the cruel occupation of the Arab imperialists.

Iraq will be returned to the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Southern Arabia will be handed back to the Abyssinians. The Arabs may retain control of the central portion of the Arabian peninsula as their homeland - but not the oil fields.

The Palestinian Arabs will of course have to return the lands they are occupying, turning them over to their legal and rightful owners (the Jews).

And right after all this, Israel will be most happy to implement the road map in full.

Geography and Early History

This comes from MidEast Web for Coexistence

The land variously called Israel and Palestine is a small, (10,000 square miles at present) land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. During its long history its area, population and ownership varied greatly. At present, the State of Israel formally occupies all the land from the Jordan river to the sea, bounded by Egypt in the south, Lebanon in the north, and Jordan in the East. The recognized borders of Israel constitute about 78% of the land. The remainder is divided between land occupied by Israel since the 1967 6-day war and the autonomous regions under the control of the Palestinian autonomy. The Gaza strip occupies an additional 141 square miles south of Israel along the sea coast. The Gaza strip is mostly under the control of the Palestinian authority with small areas occupied by Israeli settlements.

Palestine has been settled continuously for tens of thousands of years. Remains have been found of Homo Erectus, Neanderthal and transitional types between Neanderthal and modern man. Archeologists have found hybrid emmer wheat at Jericho dating from before 8,000 B.C., making it one of the oldest sites of agricultural activity in the world. Amorites, Canaanites, and other Semitic peoples entered the area about 2000 B.C. The area became known as the Land of Canaan.

The Jewish Kingdoms

Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them out of Egypt and into Canaan, where they conquered other tribes and city states. King David conquered Jerusalem about 1000 B.C. and established an Israelite kingdom over much of Canaan including parts of Transjordan, but the kingdom was divided into Judea in the south and Israel in the north following the death of David's son, Solomon. Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish sovereignty and of Jewish worship whenever the Jews execised sovereignty over the country in the subsequent period, up to the Jewish revolt in 133 AD.

The Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 or 721 B.C. The Babylonians conquered Judah in 587 or 586 B.C. destroyed Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, and exiled a large number of Jews. About 50 years later, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylonia. Cyrus allowed a group of Jews from Babylonia to rebuild and settle in Jerusalem. The Persians ruled Palestine, from about 530 to 331 B.C. Alexander the Great then conquered the Persian Empire. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., his generals divided his empire. One of these generals, Seleucus, founded a dynasty that gained control of much of Palestine about 200 B.C. At first, the new rulers, called Seleucids, allowed the practice of Judaism. But later, one of the kings, Antiochus IV, tried to prohibit it. In 167 B.C., the Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabeans and either drove the Seleucids out of Palestine or at least established a large degree of autonomy, forming a kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem. The kingdom received Roman "protection" when Judah Maccabee was made a "friend of the Roman senate and people in 164 B.C.

From Roman to Ottoman Rule

About 61 B.C., Roman troops under Pompei invaded Judah and sacked Jerusalem. The land came under Roman control. The Romans called the area Judea. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in the early years of Roman rule. Roman rulers put down Jewish revolts in about A.D. 70 and A.D. 132. In A.D. 135, the Romans drove the Jews out of Jerusalem. The Romans named the area Palaestina, for Philistia, at about this time. The name Palaestina became Palestine in English. Most of the Jews who continued to practice their religion fled or were forcibly exiled from Palestine, but Jewish communities continued to exist in Galilee, the northernmost part of Palestine. Palestine was governed by the Roman Empire until the A.D. 300's and then by the Byzantine Empire. In time, Christianity spread to most of Palestine. The population consisted of Jewish converts to Christianity and paganism, peoples imported by the Romans and others who had probably inhabited Palestine continuously.

During the A.D. 600's, Muslim Arab armies moved north from Arabia to conquer most of the Middle East, including Palestine. Muslim powers controlled the region until the early 1900's. The rulers allowed Christians and Jews to keep their religions. However, most of the local population gradually accepted Islam and the Arab-Islamic culture of their rulers. Since 1967, Jerusalem became holy to Muslims as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven. The al-Aqsa mosque was built on the site generally regarded as the area of the Jewish temples.

The Seljuk Turks gained control of Jerusalem in 1071. Seljuk rule of Palestine lasted less than 30 years. Christian crusaders from Europe captured Jerusalem in 1099. A great slaughter of the Jewish and Muslim defenders followed, and no Jews were allowed to live in Jerusalem. The crusaders held the city until 1187, when the Muslim ruler Saladin attacked Palestine and took control of Jerusalem.

In the mid-1200's, Mamelukes based in Egypt established an empire that in time included Palestine. Arab Muslims made up most of Palestine's population. Beginning in the late 1300's, Jews from Spain and other Mediterranean lands settled in Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine. The Ottoman Empire defeated the Mamelukes in 1517, and Palestine became part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan invited Jewish fleeing the Catholic inquisition to settle in the Turkish empire, including several cities in Palestine.

In 1798, Napoleon entered Palestine. The war and subsequent misadministration by Egyptian and Ottoman rulers reduced the population of Palestine. Arabs and Jews fled to safer and more prosperous havens. Subsequent reorganization and opening of the Turkish Empire to foreigners restored some order and allowed the beginnings of Jewish settlement under various Zionist and proto-Zionist movements. Both Arab and Jewish population increased. By 1880, about 24,000 Jews were living in Palestine, out of a population of about 400,000.. At about that time, the Ottoman government imposed severe restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase. Jews seeking to colonize Palestine evaded these in various ways.

Beginning in the late 1800's, oppression of Jews in Eastern Europe catalyzed emigration of Jews to Palestine. The Zionist movement became a formal organization in 1897 with the first Zionist congress in Basle, organized by Theodore Herzl. The Zionists wished to establish a "Jewish Homeland" in Palestine under Turkish or German rule. They were not concerned about the Arab population, which they ignored or thought would agree to voluntary transfer to other Arab countries. In any case, they envisioned the population of Palestine by millions of European Jews who would soon form a decisive majority in the land. The Zionists established farm colonies in Palestine at Petah Tikva, Zichron Jacob, Rishon Letzion and elswhere. Later they established the new city of Tel Aviv, north of Jaffa. At the same time, Palestine's Arab population grew rapidly. By 1914, the total population of Palestine stood at about 700,000. About 615,000 were Arabs, and 85,000 were Jews.

During World War I (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austria-Hungary against the Allies. An Ottoman military government ruled Palestine. Britain and France planned to divide the Ottoman holdings in the Middle East among themselves after the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916[1] called for part of Palestine to be under British rule, part to be placed under a joint Allied government, and for Syria and Lebanon to be given to the France. However, Britain also offered to back Arab demands for postwar independence from the Ottomans in return for Arab support for the Allies and seems to have promised the same territories to the Arabs.[2] In 1916, Arabs led by T.E. Lawrence and backed by Sharif Husayn revolted against the Ottomans in the belief that Britain would help establish Arab independence in the Middle East. The Arabs later claimed that Palestine was included in the area promised to them, but the British denied this.

The British Mandate

In 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration.[3] The declaration stated Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. After the war, the League of Nations divided much of the Ottoman Empire into mandated territories. In 1920, Britain received a provisional mandate over Palestine, which would extend west and east of the River Jordan. The mandate,[4] based on the Balfour declaration, was formalized in 1922. The British were to help the Jews build a national home and promote the creation of self-governing institutions. An agency, later called "The Jewish Agency for Palestine" was created to represent Jewish interests in Palestine to the British and to promote Jewish immigration. In 1922, the British declared that the boundary of Palestine would be limited to the area west of the river. The area east of the river, called Transjordan (now Jordan), was made a separate British mandate. In Palestine, the British hoped to establish self-governing institutions, as required by the mandate, but their proposals for such institutions were unacceptable to the Arabs, and so none were created. The Arabs wanted as little as possible to do with the Jews and would not participate in municipal councils, nor even in the Arab Agency that the British wanted to set up. Ormsby-Gore, undersecretary of state for the colonies concluded, "Palestine is largely inhabited by unreasonable people."

The Arabs opposed the idea of a Jewish national home, considering that Palestine was their land. Palestinians felt they were in danger of dispossession by the Zionists, and did not relish living under Jewish rule. Arabs lobbied the American King-Crane commission, in favor of annexation of the Palestine mandate area to Syria, and later formed a national movement to combat the terms of the Mandate. At the instigation of US President Wilson, the King Crane commission had been dispatched to hear the views of the inhabitants. At the commission hearings, Aref Pasha Dajani expressed this opinion about the Jews, "Their history and their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present, they are not wanted...because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody..."

By this time, Zionists had recognized the inevitability of conflict with the Palestinian Arabs. David Ben Gurion, who would lead the Yishuv (the name for the Jewish community in Palestine) and go on to be the first Prime Minister of Israel, told a meeting of the governing body of the Jewish "Yishuv" in 1919 "But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question...We as a nation, want this country to be ours, the Arabs as a nation, want this country to be theirs."

In the spring of 1920, spring of 1921 and summer of 1929, Arab nationalists instigated riots and pogroms against Jews in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa and Haifa. The major instigators were Haj Amin El-Husseini, later Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Arif -El Arif, a prominent Palestinian journalist. The pogroms led to evacuation of the Jewish community of Hebron. About half the 5,000 residents of the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem were forced to flee as well. The violence led to the formation of the Hagana Jewish self-defence organization.

Jewish immigration swelled in the 1930s, driven by persecution in Eastern Europe and Nazi Germany. In 1936 the Arab Revolt led by Haj Amin Al-Husseini broke out. Hundreds of Arabs and Jews were killed. The Husseini family killed both Jews and members of Palestinian Arab families opposed to their hegemony. The British took drastic steps to curtail the riots. Husseini fled to Iraq and then to Nazi Germany, where he subsequently broadcast for the Axis powers and organized SS death squads in Yugoslavia. The Peel and Woodhead[5] commissions of 1937 and 1938 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab one. The commissions recommendations also included voluntary transfer of Arabs and Jews to separate the populations.The Jewish leadership considered the plan but the Arab leadership rejected the plan outright. In response to the riots, the British began limiting immigration and the 1939 White Paper[6] decreed that 15,000 Jews would be allowed to enter Palestine each year for five years. Thereafter, immigration would be subject to Arab approval.

During World War II (1939-1945), many Palestinian Arabs and Jews joined the Allied forces. After the war, the Zionists underground groups, in particular the Irgun and Lehi ("Stern gang") dissident terrorist groups used force to try to drive the British out of Palestine by bombings and by kidnapping and murder of British personnel. The Haganah attempted to bring immigrants from the displaced persons camps in Europe into Palestine illegally. The British found Palestine to be ungovernable and returned the mandate to the United Nations, successor to the League of Nations.

The United Nations Special Commission on Palestine recommended that Palestine be divided into an Arab state and a Jewish state. The commission called for Jerusalem to be put under international control. The UN General Assembly adopted this plan on Nov. 29, 1947 as UN Partition Resolution (GA 181).[7] The Jews accepted the UN decision, but the Arabs rejected it. The Arab league, at the instigation of Haj Amin Al-Husseini, declared a war to rid Palestine of the Jews. Fighting broke out immediately, including ambushes of transportation, a Palestinian attempt to blockade Jewish Jerusalem, riots such as the Haifa refinery riots,[8] and massacres that took place at Gush Etzion and in Deir Yassin.[9] The British did little to stop this fighting, but the scale of hostilites was limited by lack of arms and trained soldiers on both sides.

Modern History

On May 14, 1948, the Jews proclaimed the independent State of Israel, and the British withdrew from Palestine. The next day, neighboring Arab nations attacked Israel. Palestinian attempts to set up a state were blocked by Egypt and Jordan. When the fighting ended in 1949, Israel held territories beyond the boundaries set by the UN plan - a total of 78% of the area west of the Jordan river. The rest of the area assigned to the Arab state was occupied by Egypt and Jordan. Egypt held the Gaza Strip and Jordan held the West Bank. About 700,000 Arabs fled or were driven out of Israel and became refugees in neighboring Arab countries. The Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel. Consequently, the borders of Israel established by the armistice commission never received de jure (legal) international recognition.

The UN arranged a series of cease-fires between the Arabs and the Jews in 1948 and 1949. UN Resolution 194[10] called for cessation of hostilities, return of refugees who wish to live in peace. Though hostilities ceased, the refugee problem was not solved. Negotiations broke down because Israel refused to readmit more than a small number of refugees.

In 1956, the Israelis, with British and French backing, invaded the Sinai Peninsula and closed the Suez canal, in retaliation for a long series of Egyptian border raids and Egyptian closing of the Straits of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Israel subsequently withdrew under pressure from the UN and in particular the United States. Israel obtained guarantees that International waterways would remain open to Israeli shipping from the US, and a UN force was stationed in Sinai.

In the spring of 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and dismissed the UN peace force from the Sinai Peninsula. The United States failed to live up to its guarantees of freedom of the waterways to Israel. Israel attacked the Egyptians beginning on June 5, 1967. The Syrians and Jordanians began shelling Israeli territoriy. By the time the UN cease-fire ended the 1967 war on June 11, Israel had occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel also held Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights. UN resolution

The 1967 war brought about a million Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule. After the war, the fate of the Palestinians came to play a large role in the Arab-Israeli struggle. The Fatah organization (The Movement for Liberation of Palestine) was founded about 1957, and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was founded in 1964. Both had the declared aim of destroying Israel. After the 6-day war, Ahmad Shukairy, who had headed the PLO, was replaced as Chairman by Yasser Arafat, who headed the Fatah. In time, the Palestine Liberation Organization fecame recognized by all the Arab states as the representative of the Palestinian people. Israel strongly opposed the PLO because of its terrorist acts against Jews and because of its charter aims[11] of destroying the state of Israel and forcing the emmigration of Jews who had arrived after 1917.

The Israeli government originally declared that it was ready to return all of the territories except Jerusalem in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbors. However, religious and nationalist groups began agitating for annexation and settlement of areas in the West Bank and Golan heights. An increasing number of settlements were established as it became evident that Arab states would not negotiate with Israel. Settlement expansion became official Israeli policy after the opposition revisionist Likud party came to power in 1977, and continued during the Oslo accords. As of 2001, about 200,000 Israelis had settled in areas of the West Bank and Gaza, and an additional 200,000 were settled in areas of Jerusalem and environs conquered in 1967. About 15,000 Jews were settled in the Golan heights taken from Syria.

A revolt by the PLO against the Jordanian government led to their expulsion from Jordan in 1970. PLO fighters streamed into Lebanon and turned it into a base for attacks on Israel. An Israeli invasion in 1982 resulted in expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon to Tunis.

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched another war against Israel. The Israelis were caught by surprise. Syrians made serious inroads in the Golan and Egyptians crossed the canal and retook a strip of the Sinai peninsula. Israel reconquered the Golan and advanced into Syria. In Sinai, Israeli forces crossed the canal and cut off the entire Egyptian third army. Cease-fires ended most of the fighting within a month. In 1978, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David framework agreements,[12] leading to a Peace treaty[13] in 1979. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

Beginning in 1987, a revolt called the Intifadeh began in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as protests by Arabs swept through the regions. Following the Gulf war, US pressure and favorable international opinion made it possible to convene negotiations toward settlement of the Palestinian problem. In 1993 and 1995, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles[14] and The Oslo Interim Agreement.[15] Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.[16] The peace process with the Palestinians led to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and most cities and towns of the West Bank by early 1996. As the Israelis withdrew, Palestinians took control of these areas. About 97% of the Palestinians in these areas were nominally under Palestinian rule, but the area controlled by the Palestine National Authority amounted to about 8% of the land. In January 1996, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank elected a legislature controlled by the Fatah faction, with Yasser Arafat as Chairman (titled President by the Palestinians) to administer these areas.

Negotiations for a final settlement broke down in July, 2000.[17] Palestinians insisted that refugees should have the right to return to Israel, which would produce an Arab majority in Israel. Israel insisted on annexing key portions of the Palestinian areas and on leaving most settlements intact, and offered only a limited form of Palestinian statehood. Palestinian violence erupted on September 28, 2000, triggered by a visit of Ariel Sharon to the temple mount in Jerusalem, which is also the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque holy to Muslims.


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[2] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopMcMahon.htm

[3] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopmebalfour.htm

[4] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopMandate.htm

[5] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktoppeelmaps.htm

[6] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktop1939.htm

[7] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktop181.htm

[8] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktoprefriots.htm


[10] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktop194.htm

[11] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopplocha.htm

[12] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopCampdavid.htm

[13] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopEgyptIsraelTreaty.htm

[14] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopmeoslodop.htm

[15] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopmeosint.htm

[16] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopIsrajordan.htm

[17] Neat%20Biblical%20Stuff/Arab_Israeli%20Conflict/Documents%20 and%20SettingsdefaultDesktopcampdavid2.htm


Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book "The Scout" is available at He can be contacted at

This was published October 28, 2009 in the Jewish Press


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