This Land Is Whose Land?

A flurry of media reports from the recent Warsaw Conference cited the optimism of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, regarding prospects for Middle East peace. His highly touted plan will be revealed after the forthcoming Israeli elections. Its focus will inevitably be “land for peace,” the hackneyed cliché that has floated through the United Nations, diplomatic circles and the media ever since Israel’s triumphant return in the Six Day War to the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

Within that miraculous week, Israel had recovered the sacred geographical sources of its ancient Jewish heritage: the Old City of Jerusalem with its revered holy sites — the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; and Judea and Samaria, including Hebron, burial site of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people and King David’s capital city before relocating his throne to Jerusalem.

The following spring several dozen Jews, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger, returned to Hebron to celebrate Passover in their ancient holy city. Then, 50 years after the horrific Arab massacre of 1929 that destroyed the millennia-old Jewish community, a group of women and children from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba climbed ladders to enter Beit Hadassah, the former medical clinic in the center of the old Jewish Quarter. The excited children sang v’shavu banim l’gvulam, God’s promise that the children of Israel would return to their homeland. Miriam Levinger, whose family members were murdered in Auschwitz, announced: “Hebron will no longer be Judenrein.”

Following an Arab massacre of Jews returning to Beit Hadassah from Shabbat prayer in Machpelah, the Israeli government finally accepted a Jewish presence in Hebron. In time, with violent outbursts along the way (by both Arabs and Jews), groups of settlers returned to other ancient Jewish sites in Judea and Samaria, known since 1948 as Jordan’s West Bank (which, according to international law, Jordan had illegally occupied). By now 139 settlements are home to 450,000 Israelis whose numbers slowly, but steadily, increase.

Prominent legal experts have defended Israel’s right, under international law, to build settlements. Professor Eugene Rostow, author of UN Security Council Resolution 242 after the Six Day War, noted that Jewish settlers have not been “deported” or “transferred” to their new location, the prerequisite (following Nazi atrocities) for a violation of international law. Indeed, Rostow asserted, Jews have the same right to settle in Judea and Samaria “as they have in Haifa.”

Furthermore, Resolution 242 requires Israel, at an appropriate time, to withdraw “from territories,” not from “the” territories or “all” the territories – crucial, and hardly accidental, wording. Indeed, the only illegal occupier of Judea and Samaria, according to International Court of Justice President Stephen M. Schwebel, was the Kingdom of Jordan between 1949-1967, an action recognized solely by England and Pakistan.

International law ever since the Balfour Declaration (1917) supports these conclusions. The Declaration called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” (Palestinians had yet to be invented.) The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (1922) reserved the entire area west of the Jordan River for “close settlement by Jews.” That provision was subsequently incorporated in Article 80 of the U.N. Charter (1945). The Kingdom of Jordan was never recognized as the legitimate sovereign power in Judea and Samaria, its “West Bank.”

It is inconceivable that any government of Israel would attempt to expel nearly half a million Jews from their ancient homeland for a Palestinian state. For security reasons no less than millennia of Jewish history, Israel is hardly likely to expose itself to precarious borders that would invite the presence of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Saudi Arabian intelligence chief recently told Israeli TV that recognition from the Arab world depends upon Israel’s withdrawal from “occupied” Arab territory. But Israel occupies no land that is not its own – as the Hebrew Bible, ancient Jewish history, and modern international law decisively affirm.

Palestinians in Judea and Samaria – and in Jordan, where they constitute 70 per cent of its population of 9 million Arabs – need to focus their attention east, not west, of the Jordan River. There a homeland, and a Palestinian state, await them – in Palestine.

About the Author
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009). His new book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, will be published in February by Academic Studies Press.