the "occupied territories" - part i

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    The "Occupied Territories" - Part I
    by Rachel Neuwirth
    Oct 27, '04 / 12 Cheshvan 5765

    The phrase "occupied territories" has come to mean only one particular place in the entire world - namely Gaza and Judea/Samaria (i.e., the West Bank). That phrase is increasingly becoming a battle cry in a rising tide of global anger directed against Israel. Many view this "occupation" as a crime, so heinous that it exceeds all others in the world, and that it justifies the barbaric murder of Jewish men women and children. Few international issues attract such wide support or generate so much anger. It seems that the nations are evolving into an international angry lynch mob, ready to apply increasing punishment to impose their will, even if it threatens Israel's ability to defend itself.

    Many people simply assume, without further investigation, that the assertions and accusations against Israel must be true because they are so widely held and because an effective refutation is rarely heard. With so much at stake, the accusers have a moral obligation to review the facts before taking sides. This article attempts to briefly review the relevant history and to directly challenge the majority view.

    Consider two questions: What entitles any group of people to possess any particular tract of land? How can we decide whether Jews or Arabs have the true rights to posses the "occupied territories"?

    In the absence of any universally accepted rules, in general practice among the nations, it usually boils down to who was there first and also the right of conquest, especially if the conquest occurred long ago. There are 191 member nations in the United Nations, with some having major territorial conflicts of their own, such as India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir. Also within many nations there are separatist groups that seek independence, such as the Basques in Spain, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, and the Chechens in Russia. To further complicate this question, there is the appearance and disappearance over time of peoples and of nations. Many peoples of antiquity have long ceased to exist. Also, nations and even empires, come and go over the centuries. During the last century, countries such as Iraq and Jordan were established, although they never existed before.

    With such intense feeling over the "occupied territories", there should at least be some standard against which to determine who is right and who is wrong. In the absence of any universally accepted standard, I will set forth my own four criteria before proceeding.

    1. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, insofar as possible.

    2. Apply the same rules to all nations and all disputes.

    3. Keep all promises or else have a compelling reason not to.

    4. Respect the vital interests of all sides.

    Both Jews and Arabs trace their origins back to Abraham of the Bible. Jews descended through Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Jacob (who was later renamed Israel). Arabs descended through Abraham and Hagar the Egyptian, and through their son Ishmael, whose daughter Mahalath also married Esau, the brother of Jacob. Thus Jews and Arabs are actually two branches of the same family that have diverged over the centuries. Both Jews and Arabs come to pray at the tomb of Abraham and Sara, who are buried in Hebron. Note that today, Jews can pray only with armed Israeli guards present, however, because the Arab attempt to deny Jews access to the tomb.

    The Bible, in the book of Genesis, clearly states that descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will eventually receive their inheritance in the form of the Promised Land, which is later identified to include the general location of present-day Israel. But Ishmael and his descendants are also promised an inheritance:

    "...for I will make a great nation of him [i.e. Ishmael]." - Genesis 21:18

    The very first words in the Bible depict the creation of the world by G-d, Who can therefore assign any land to whomever He chooses. Note that the Jews are assigned only a modest portion of the land in the Middle East, with remaining lands distributed among the other nations. Unlike certain other empires and religions throughout history, the Jews are not promised, nor commanded, to seize all of the lands in the world, nor to convert all others to their beliefs.

    This promise was made at the time of Abraham, about 4,000 years ago, and takes further shape in the time of Moses, about 3,300 years ago, when the Jewish people became irrevocably linked to the land of Israel, the "Promised Land". The Bible assigns this one people to this one specific land and does not do this for any other people. Today, there are two billion Christians, plus 14 million Jews, in the world who accept the Five Books of Moses as a pillar of their religion. They all embrace a religion that clearly defines a certain land as belonging to the Jewish people in perpetuity. Those who deny the validity of this Biblical assignment must then fall back on man-made rules, which are subject to constant alteration, disagreement and conflict.

    Historians tell us that at the time of Mohammed, about 1,400 years ago, the Arabs, along with Jews, Christians and others, lived in the Arabian Peninsula. The Quran is the holy book for Islam and is attributed to the prophet Mohammed. The Muslims claim to revere and to follow the teachings of the Quran. It is revealing to compare the frequency of certain key references in the Jewish Bible, the Christian Bible and the Quran as summarized below:

    Book / Subject / Number of times mentioned

    Jewish Bible / Jerusalem / 669
    Jewish Bible / Zion (i.e., Jerusalem or the Land of Israel) / 154
    Christian Bible / Jerusalem / 154
    Christian Bible / Zion / 7
    Both Jewish and Christian Bibles / Judah or Judea / 877
    Both Bibles / Samaria / 123
    The Quran / Israel or Israelites / 47
    The Quran / Jew or Jewish / 26
    The Quran / Christian or Christians / 15
    The Quran / Mecca and Medina / 8
    The Quran / Jerusalem / Zero!

    These numbers provide a telling story. The many references in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles testify to the integral historic connections between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, as well as to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Judaism and of the Jewish people. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago under King David. The Quran was written about 1,600 years later. And unexpectedly, the Quran has more references to things Christian and Jewish than to their own two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. This indicates their early awareness of Jewish roots in that region. But most remarkable is the failure of the Quran to mention Jerusalem even once. And with Muslims facing towards Mecca while praying, and not towards Jerusalem, it is clear that Islam has no Quranic connection to either Jerusalem or to the Land of Israel and hence, no claim to either.

    In addition, we have Islamic scholars such as Khaleel Mohammed, at San Diego State University, saying that the Quran actually supports the right of Jews to the land of Israel. He cites Sura 5:20, 5:21 in the Quran, which are translated as follows (from The Meaning of the Illustrious Qur'an by A. Yusuf Ali):

    5:20. Remember Moses said to his people: "O my People! call in remembrance the favor of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.

    5:21. "O my people! enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned to you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin."

    The essence of the Quran's message is very similar to that in the Jewish Bible. But this Quranic message is evidently not being taught, or not being believed, by certain Muslims. The Quran also never mentions Palestine or Palestinians. We now have the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam, recognizing the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. Those three religions represent half of all humanity.

    [Part 1 of 2]
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