Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

On February 26, 2015, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed in the New York Times called “The Human Stain” that was more than flawed- it was wrong; it was more than anti-Israel, it was anti-Semitic.

Among the many incorrect and racist statements were his claims that the “West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” were Arab. Here are some quick thoughts about his statement that “nibbling of Arab land is just plain wrong.

Judean Desert down to the Jordan Valley


The west bank of the Jordan and eastern Jerusalem are not part of the Arabian Peninsula. That landmass is located east of Israel. The borders of the region are surrounded by water on three sides (the peninsula) and the northwestern edge of Saudi Arabia is the land border.

The countries that constitute the Arab land in addition to Saudi Arabia are: Oman; Kuwait; UAE; Bahrain; Qatar; and Yemen. The Arabian Plate on which the peninsula rests includes parts of southern Jordan and southern Iraq.

Neither the Arabian Peninsula nor the Arabian plate cross the Jordan River, hence there is no geographical basis for referring to any land west of the Jordan as “Arab Land.”


The “Arab Nation” spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th and 8th centuries when Muslim invasion of neighboring lands brought Islam and Arabs to those areas. Those Muslim conquests brought Arabs to southern Spain called Andalusia. No one refers to Spain as Arab land today.


The Arab countries formed a “League of Arab States” which includes 22 countries. That group is political in nature and does not speak to the actual people and culture of the countries. For example, Syria was suspended from the League in 2011 due to its civil war. Palestine was admitted as a member in 1945 (the entire British Mandate of Palestine which includes Israel today) even though it was not an independent country.

To refer to the west bank of the Jordan as “Arab” because Palestine is a member state would also mean that Israel is an Arab state. Is that part of Kristof’s real message? Does he feel that Israel is not a valid entity and is occupying “Arab land”?

Ruby all Israel  29 (1)
Binyamin Region

Government Sovereignty

A “Land” is distinguishable from lowercase “land” in that one conveys sovereignty and ownership. The land on the west bank of the Jordan River is disputed land without independent sovereignty. Israel administers the land after Jordan attacked Israel in 1967 and subsequently lost the territory. Jordan gave up all claims to the land in 1988, including “East Jerusalem”. “Arab East Jerusalem” in capital letters makes no sense in any interpretation as sovereignty and administration belongs to Israel (albeit not recognized in much of the world) but the eastern part of the city is also not recognized, nor under sovereignty of Arabs, nor part of the Arab peninsula, and is 40% Jewish.

While many Palestinian Arabs claim the west bank of the Jordan as part of a future state and “East Jerusalem” as such state’s capital, the rule of the land is still in negotiations. As of this date, the land is much more Israeli than it is Palestinian.


Liberals and progressives typically argue that no land should be the exclusive right of a single racial or religious group. No one refers to “White Selma” where only whites can live or “Black Harlem” where only blacks should be permitted to live.

While people refer to the Islamic State of Iran, Iran claims that it welcomes people of all faiths. Israel, the Jewish State, is 25% non-Jewish. Turkey, which is a secular Islamic state, is mostly non-Arab but has many Arabs living in the country.

Not only is the west bank of the Jordan not “Arab”, but the suggestion that it should be limited only to Arabs is racist and anti-Semitic. That policy was put into place under the Jordanian Arabs that attacked Israel in 1948 and expelled all of the Jews from the area including the eastern part of Jerusalem, counter the Fourth Geneva Convention.

South of Bethlehem

Private Property

Land ultimately falls into two categories: private land and public land. Private land changes hands with the owner and is not considered to belong forever to a particular religion or people. One day it may be owned by an Arab, the next day by a Jew and the next by a WASP.

Public lands are administered by the government. As discussed above, the west bank of the Jordan is administered by Israel. The eastern part of Jerusalem was annexed by Israel decades ago.

Therefore neither the west bank of the Jordan River nor “East Jerusalem” can be considered “Arab land.”


For 400 years the Ottomans ruled Palestine and allowed Jews to live everywhere without restriction. They lived in Jericho and Jerusalem and throughout the region. The Ottomans welcomed the Yemenite Jews who founded Silwan in the eastern part of Jerusalem just outside the city walls in 1881 – in what Kristof terms “Arab East Jerusalem.

The international community gave the British the Mandate to govern Palestine in 1922, in which it specifically stated that the entire mandate – including Kristof’s “Arab West Bank” – “shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes” (Article 6). The mandate further stated in Article 15 “No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. No person shall be excluded from Palestine on the sole ground of his religious belief”.

Silwan, in the eastern part of Jerusalem, founded by Yemenite Jews in 1881

Countering the Bible

As detailed above, there is no basis for naming places “Arab West Bank” or “Arab East Jerusalem”.   To claim that any land inherently belongs to a single group is a direct lift from the Old Testament in which God gives the land of Canaan to the Jews. Jews have always considered the entire land holy for that reason. Modern claims that part of that land is inherently Arab (and not Jewish) is done to specifically counter the Bible and any Jewish claim to the land.

Of course, the Jewish faith that asserts that the land is holy has nothing to do with sovereignty or private ownership. Jews have always considered the land holy, even in 1400 when they had no sovereignty, and Jews today who do not own land in Israel. The land is holy to Jews, which motivates many Jews to move there.

Kristof’s claim that this specific land (the “West Bank” which didn’t even exist as an entity or term until recently) is Arab is meant to directly confront the Jewish belief that the land was given to Jews by God. Just as the Times never uses the Jewish terminology of “Judea and Samaria” to remove Jewish connection to this land, Kristof attempts to sever the Jewish connection by stating it is inherently “Arab”. It is wrong in fact and intention.

Jews have always and will always consider Judea and Samaria/ the west Bank of the Jordan as holy regardless of its sovereignty, or the religion and ethnicity of a person living in a house on the land. Such sentiments do not preclude any type of peace deal.

Kristof wrote that The 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank — not even counting those in Arab East Jerusalem — impede any Middle East peace and stain Israel’s image,” can only be viewed as an obstacle to peace for racists that want a Jew-free state.

Attacking the Jewish faith is not a path to peace. Antisemitic calls for banning Jews from anywhere – let alone places they consider holy and lived in for thousands of years – is disgraceful.  The “Human Stain” is Kristof’s and those that share such sentiments.

64 thoughts on “Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

  1. I respectfully question your leap to labeling the Nicholas Kristoff op-ed (“The Human Stain,” NYT, February 26, 2015) as anti-Semitic: I have read the piece carefully and find no expression of racist anti-Jewish sentiment. While both criticizing and lauding aspects and actions of Israel and some Israelis, Kristoff does not generalize to all Israel, Israelis, or more importantly to all Jews, implicitly or explicitly justifying or promulgating the hating of Jews.
    While it is painful to read criticism of Israel and Israelis, we owe it to ourselves to remain open to those criticisms, self-reflective and honest in our analysis.
    Such well thought and well written criticism is an opportunity for critique, much as your article (sans author attribution) attempts; though while it does list important historical facts relevant to the claims on the land, your article misses or fails to address many of the moralistic points essential to Kristoff’s article. (The complexity of the political arguments go beyond the scope of either the Kristoff piece or your rebuttal, in my opinion). Geopolitical discussion aside, the literary allusion (the novel by Philip Roth) implied by title of the Kristoff piece draws focus to the paradox of the oppressed becoming an oppressor, albeit unwillingly or unconsciously.
    We have always taken great pride in the great successes of the State of Israel, including it’s unique position as a representative democracy (despite imperfections of all such states, as they are) and very importantly for it’s credo of seeking justice based on morality and humanity, which (much like our own USA) becomes increasingly under question in the stresses of war, defense and terrorism. In such instance, finding fault is not a fatal flaw; rather it is an opportunity and integral process to profoundly recommit and exemplify our ideals.
    We do ourselves, Israelis, Jews or the State of Israel no good when we close our ears to coherent criticism; we forfeit our credibility in the presence of the very real power and ever-presence of global antisemitism when we mislabel any such criticism.
    Let’s not use antisemitism as a below the belt response to comments undeserving of that label.


    • The article explains that there is no basis for calling the area “Arab land” – based on geography, politics or current sovereignty. Land doesn’t inherently “belong” to any religion or ethnic group anywhere in the world. The only land/people to have such a historical connection are the Jews based on the Bible which describes this very same piece of land as God’s gift to the Jews. To specifically call this same land “Arab land” is an attempt to negate the Jewish Bible – therefore an attack on Judaism itself, not just Israeli policies.
      Secondly, to state that Jews have no right to live there, and all attacks and deaths are solely the cause of Jews living on “Arab land” compounds the anti-Semitic charge. If one party of any conflict ceases to exist there is no conflict by definition. One could similarly remove all Arabs and there would be no conflict. However, Israel does not practice ethnic cleansing from the region the way Kristof suggests. It has 25% non-Jews in Israel. It banned the Kach party that maintained that Israel should use ethnic discrimination policies. The Arab population growth in the eastern part of Jerusalem since reunification in 1967 has dwarfed the Jewish population growth. Etc. Reinstituting the racist policy of clearing out Jews, as was the policy of the Jordanian Arabs when they attacked Israel in 1948 and annexed the land (which was never globally recognized) which was against the Fourth Geneva Convention, is a racist and anti-Semitic suggestion.


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  9. I don’t know about Christoff , but Your thesis is full of nonsense. You ignore what You don’t like and You bring historical reference that has complete irrelevancy. Your basic thesis is Jews get it all, Arab are entitled of nothing, and the rest is just clothing to cover that up.
    Israel is a Jewish state, it’s public land is perceived as Jewish land and Israel’s policy is just that.
    No Arab Settlements were established in Israel since 1948, except 7 towns in The Negev for the Bedouin, under arrangement to replace a vast amount of land previously owned by those tribes.
    So, in practical terms, and maybe not in legal terms, there is Jewish Land. The criticism against the settlers is not based a debatable legal status, but upon the political meaning of those – the attempt to Judify maximum land – public and private land – and to deny any rights to Arabs.
    The political rational Behind the state of Israel is to be a Jewish state. To be such without denying human and civil rights of the Arabs , forces Israel to a choice – to withdraw from 95-100% of the west bank, or to escalate a war in which Israel would expel all the Arabs from these territories. There is another option of changing key elements in the state of Israel, and giving citizenship to all the Palestinians in Israeli administered territories. It seems the writer of this Blog supports the policy of the Israeli government, which is making none of this choices, but carving up a slow way to achieve some sort of ethnic cleansing of the west bank – bringing more and more Jewish settlers, refusal of peace negotiations, ignoring settler crimes against Palestinians, military rule over the Palestinians, refusal to return Private land belonging to Palestinians, military rule in general.
    The long run of this policy is that Arabs would just give up any chance of prosperity and freedom in the west bank, so they would immigrate elsewhere.
    The varsity of this policy does show on the legal lens. An Arab is not entitled to demand from Israel the home and property he lost during past wars. The justification is the National rights of the Jewish people – Jews won the war, and their group rights are higher than private property claims, But Jews are entitled to demand a return of private property taken by Arabs as a consequence of wars, and Israeli courts give Jewish private claims higher status, national Arab interests. This is the basic Israeli strategy – Jews has national and private rights, while Arabs has only private rights, and they are easily ignored. The only way to change that is that Israel must recognize of it’s own will Arab national rights, accepting the notion of Arab land, next to Jewish land. This concept is not a racist right to live in the land only if you are part of the group, but accepting who’s national interests would rule the administration policy of that land.
    This concept does not have to mean dispossession of Jewish private property, but it does forces them to accept that the national interests regarding these parts of the land would not be Jewish interests. They would be Arab of joint Jewish Arab interests.


    • You placed your own assumptions of the author’s intent that are simply not part of the article in any manner. The article doesn’t suggest a peace deal is a good or bad idea. It does not attempt to formulate a plan- which you did to create a false argument to make your point.
      The article simply states that there is no basis for calling the land “Arab land.” It is considered “Holy land” by three faiths and the many billions of other people on the planet just think of it as “land”. Private land can be Arab or Jewish. Public state lands that are in Israel are part of the Jewish State. Area A is Palestinian Authority land whose goal is to be Arab and Muslim. Area C is Israeli-controlled land which is about 20% Jewish and 80% Arab, but the ruling authority is Israel


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