This land is my land, this land is your land. Whose land is this anyway?
Events over the past few weeks both in Israel and at the United Nations warrant a review of three distinct concepts that seem to be alternatively ignored, refuted and merged: heritage, property and sovereignty in the holy land. They are each distinct concepts.
Jews have a connection to the holy land that not only surpasses any other people in regards to that land, it surpasses other people’s ties to their homelands, as the Jewish connection combines both history and religion.
History: While Italian-Americans may feel a connection to Italy as their ancestors came from there some generations ago, there are very few people on the planet that have a widely accepted history in a land that extends back 3700 years.
Starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and extending for 1800 years, the majority of Jews on the planet lived in the holy land. During different periods they were self-governing while in others they were ruled by foreign powers that had control of the region as part of a broader kingdom. Only the Jews ruled the holy land as a distinct entity.
Religion: While some religions have holy sites like the Vatican, or a holy city like Medina, only the Jews have a holy LAND, in which the entirety of the land is viewed as a divine promise from God. For the last 2000 years, wherever Jews were in the world, they prayed facing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Yet despite the glaringly obvious ties of Jews to the entirety of the holy land, various entities – including many Arab countries and the United Nations – have sought to distance Jews from the holy land. The Arabs have declared themselves as the true indigenous people in the land, even though the introduction of Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula occurred 2000 years after the Jews were in the land. Further, many of today’s “Palestinian Arabs” arrived from elsewhere in the Middle East like Iraq and Egypt during the 1920s and 1930s, after the start of the British Mandate.
The arguments that the Jews do not have a deep connection to the entirety of the holy land is an absurdity and insulting. And it does nothing to advance peace.
While Jews around the world are deeply connected to the holy land, such bonds do not give them title to any property. Should someone – Jew or non-Jew – want to own land, they can go through the process of taking out a checkbook and buying a home. This is the same basic rule that applies anywhere in the world, such as an Italian-American owning property in Rome.
Despite the clear and obvious distinction between property ownership and heritage, some people in Israel have felt no compunction in seizing lands that are owned by Arabs east of the Green Line (EGL)/West Bank, on the premise that the land was promised to the Jews. That’s an absurdity.
While international law in the San Remo Agreement (1920) and the Palestine Mandate (1922) clearly recognized the Jewish heritage in the holy land, it only sought to give Jews priority to settle in STATE LANDS, not private property. That is why new communities in EGL like Maale Adumim are completely legitimate, since none of the city was built on private property. However, legalizing the theft of private property in outposts has no legal or moral basis.
A third distinction is sovereignty – that is, what country rules the land. An individual Arab can own a house in Beer Sheva which is ruled by the Jewish State, and a Jew should be able to own a home in EGL, even if it becomes part of a new Palestinian State. The government that administers the land should be completely distinct from who lives in the land.
Unfortunately, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), that is principally only true for Israel.
Most of the countries in MENA are almost completely Muslim and/or Arab. There is little tolerance in those countries for non-Muslims and non-Arabs.
The trend of creating Arab and Muslim-only areas has continued with Israel’s acquiescence, as demonstrated by the Jewish State’s removal of all Jews from the Sinai Peninsula (1982) and the Gaza Strip (2005). This has led to a presumption that Jews would once again be removed from EGL in a future peace deal. Should such an anti-Semitic condition be part of a peace deal, the notion that there is actually peace between the parties is laughable.
Jews have a connection to the holy land that surpasses any other people, and it is a major motivation for millions of Jews moving there, including both to Israel and EGL/West Bank. The UN and Arab countries are completely wrong in challenging the Jewish ties to their holy land.
Arabs that have demonstrated property rights must be respected as neighbors. Israel is wrong to take land that is privately owned, unless it is for a clear defensive purpose.
And the ultimate sovereignty of the disputed EGL/West Bank is a matter for the two sides to work out. Neither Jewish heritage nor Arab and Jewish property rights should be the defining considerations in determing sovereignty, but a thoughtful approach designed to improve the chance of a lasting peace for the people in the holy land.
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