Ending the ‘Occupation’ myth

NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 10 2014: Anti-Israel Rally in Brooklyn (Shutterstock)
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 10 2014: Anti-Israel Rally in Brooklyn (Shutterstock)

The scope of the myth of Israel as an occupying power over Palestinian land is far-reaching and few know the historical truths. In order to start an Israeli-Palestinian peace process from an informed frame of reference, it is important to debunk the myth that Israel is an illegitimate colonial “occupier” and to clarify that “Palestine” is a geographical area, not a nationality.

Legal Establishment of Israel Under the British Mandate

International law dating from WWI shows that the Jews were given authority to return to their homeland and establish it within all of the borders of the British Mandate for Palestine. This included the land not only “from the River to the Sea,” but also the land of Jordan. The initial peace Treaty of Versailles was followed by other treaties, which, among other work, partitioned the Ottoman Empire. To that end, the major powers met at San Remo and resolved to entrust

the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers. The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on the 8th [2nd] November, 1917, by the British Government [the Balfour Declaration], and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people….

San Remo Resolution, April 25, 1920

This resolution was formalized in the Treaty of Sèvres (replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, with the same resolution) and adopted unanimously by the League of Nations, whose member countries recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstitutingtheir national home in that country.”  The British were given the Mandate for Palestine, which included the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and what is now Jordan.

The San Remo Conference, Treaty of Sèvres, Treaty of Lausanne and League of Nations granted no nation or people land in any part of Palestine other than the Jewish people.  Moreover, Article 5 of the Mandate provided that “The Mandatory shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign Power.” The intent of keeping Palestine inviolate for the Jewish homeland is clear.

Yes, Even Judea and Samaria

At the time of the British Mandate for Palestine, there were no independent Arab nations. Political rights to self-determination for Arabs were guaranteed by the League of Nations in the French Mandate, which included Syria and Lebanon and another British Mandate over Iraq. There have been no subsequent treaties with regard to Judea and Samaria; these regions are still part of the territories over which the Jewish national home can be re-established. Article 6 of the Mandate specifically provides that “The Administration of Palestine … shall facilitate Jewish immigration … and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land.” The Mandate thus granted Jews the right to settle anywhere in Palestine, the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a right unaltered by international law and valid today. Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and all of Jerusalem are legal.

No Legal Change Since

Since then, Israel’s undeniable right to establish homes in the West Bank have not been changed by the U.N. or any actions of Jordan. U.N. Resolution 242 (partition plan of November 29, 1967) was a recommendation that was never accepted by the Arabs. Judea and Samaria have also never been part of Jordan. The “borders” established in 1967 were not meant to be permanent borders but were the cease-fire lines between Israeli and Jordanian armies at the end of the 1967 War and the1948 War of Independence.

Occupation Refers to a State — But Palestine Never Was and Is Not a State

As to the notion that “Palestine” is somehow the name of a wrongfully dispossessed indigenous people, “Palestina” was the name chosen by the Romans to replace “Judea” to eliminate Jewish sovereignty after Judea’s failed revolts in the first century. Historical and political documents of the early 20th century speak of the Jews and Arabs of Palestine, not the Jews and the Palestinians. (Before 1948, Jews used the word “Palestine” for Jewish organizations: The Jerusalem Post, founded in 1932, was The Palestine Post until 1948; Bank Leumi L’Israel, incorporated in 1902, was the “Anglo-Palestine Company” until 1948; the Jewish Agency – assisting Jewish settlement since 1929 – was the Jewish Agency for Palestine; and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) was formed in 1939 as a merger of the United Palestine Appeal and a part of the Joint Distribution Committee.)

Moreover, Arabs outside of Palestine have always viewed the “Palestinians” as part of the larger pan-Arab nation, not as having a separate identity, and they did not establish a “Palestinian” state in 1947 when the UN recommended the partition of Palestine into “an Arab and a Jewish state” (notably, not a “Palestinian” state). “Palestine” as an idea for an Arab people was created only in 1964, when the PLO was formed to “liberate” Palestine through armed struggle.

In contrast, Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and has been continuously for over 3,000 years as evidenced not only in hundreds of references throughout the Bible but also in countless archeological relics and existing structures throughout the region, including Judea and Samaria (an area that the PLO first began calling the “West Bank” in 1950). “Palestinians” are Arabs who moved to what is now Israel mostly in the 20th century.

Any negotiators attempting to create a fair and lasting peace should take account of the present realities, but must also be accurately informed of the past. They must acknowledge that whereas most countries have been created by invasion and conquest, Israel was created by international law and thus has more claims to legitimacy than most countries in the world. As Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, of the Jewish Agency for Palestinestated to the UN in 1947,

 …the Balfour Declaration implied that the whole of Palestine, including Transjordan, should ultimately become a Jewish state. Transjordan had, nevertheless, been severed from Palestine in 1922 … subsequently… set up as an Arab kingdom. [To propose that]… a second Arab state.. be carved out of the remainder of Palestine, with the result that the Jewish National Home would represent less than one eighth of the territory originally set aside for it [is unjust]. Such a sacrifice should not be asked of the Jewish people.

About the Author
Karen Hurvitz is a Boston-based lawyer and on the board of American Friends of LIBI.
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