For the past 48 years, the world has been obsessed with Israel’s settlement in the West Bank, charging that it is an “illegal occupation.” The people who rally behind these charges do so, however, out of either ignorance or denial of the history of the Land of Israel/Palestine, with a single goal in mind to discredit and delegitimize the State of Israel, or even to eliminate it altogether.
In order to demonstrate the falsehood of such accusations, let me focus on three issues: The basis for the Jewish people’s claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; the world’s relentless focus on Israel while simultaneously ignoring the long occupation history by many nations around the world; and, the reasons for Israel’s presence in the West Bank in the first place.
Let’s tackle these issues in turn.
While there are some archaeological findings that hint at, but that so far have defied certainty, concerning the biblical story of the Exodus (e.g., the Merneptah stele, the tomb painting of Rekhmire, and a few surviving documents such as the Brooklyn, the Leiden 348 Apiru, and the Ipuwer papyri), there is an abundance of evidence that in approximately 1200 BCE, a very large group of people moved from the East Bank of the Jordan River to its West Bank. This evidence includes, among other things, a new system of water cisterns, terrace farming, and new types and colors of pottery, all of which didn’t exist in that area prior to this massive migration. What is especially significant about it, however, is that its timeframe neatly corresponds to the accounts in the biblical book of Joshua about the Israelites’ settlement in that land.
From that time to our day, i.e., for the past 3200 years, in spite of three major exiles from the land (by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans) there has never been a time when the Israelites or their Jewish descendants did not inhabit that land.
The evidence for the long Jewish settlement in Israel/Palestine is overwhelming: From ancient shards and seals with old Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions to the text of the Mesha stele, the revolt by the Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples (of which the remaining Western Wall is a famous reminder), the fight over Masada, the testimony of Flavius Josephus, the canonization of the Hebrew Bible, the compilation of the Mishnah and of the Jerusalem Talmud, the 10th-century invention of the Hebrew vowel and cantillation systems in Tiberias, the 16th-century mystic and legalistic writings in Safed, the 18th-century founding of the Hurvah synagogue in Jerusalem, and the re-settlement of that land by the early Zionists, to mention just a dozen of examples out of hundreds.
To wit, a recent publication affirms my point: Researchers and cartographers Amir and Ilan Reiner have produced 50 maps that cover the last 3,000 years of Israel, proving that Jews living in the Land of Israel is not some recent development.
For the record, I am not a politician or an activist, and when it comes to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, I am neither messianic nor utopian. As much as I am inspired by the Bible and admire it, I believe that it’s best for the Jewish people to base their legitimate claims to that land on facts, rather than on a biblical theology of a “Promised Land for the Jews,” with which much of the world may disagree.
This is why I do not see as effective the claims made by Tsipi Hotovely, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, that the Land of Israel was a God-given gift to the Jews, even if millions of people believe it to be true.
I am, however, a student of Jewish history, and although Israeli archaeologist Amichai Mazar (referenced in Life in Biblical Israel by P.J. King and L.E. Stager) wrote that, “[t]he interpretation of archaeological data and its association with the biblical text may in many cases be a matter of subjective judgment”, note that the evidence for the long Jewish settlement in Israel/Palestine listed above does not rely on biblical theology, nor does it include imagined items or subjective judgment. Rather, it is based on well-documented historical facts.
Furthermore, the aforementioned Israelites’ possession of the land of Israel is so old that both the Bible and the Qur’an acknowledge it. And while the Natives in the Americas and in Australia (to pick just two examples) are still living in their former lands as people dominated by others, none of the ancient people that inhabited Canaan 3200 years ago are still around to claim that land as theirs: Nowadays there are no proofs of living descendants of Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites or Jebusites (cf. Joshua 3:10); they aren’t mentioned in any contemporary atlas or study of world demographics, nor have they representatives in any world organization.
The fact is that they have long, long ago vanished into oblivion while the Jewish people are still here, with half of its population restored to its ancient homeland.
There are some who claim that the contemporary Palestinian Arabs are the descendants of the biblical Philistines (people who originated in the Greek isles and who settled on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea northeast of the Sinai Peninsula at about the same time the ancient Israelites moved from the East Bank of the Jordan River to its West Bank).
Such claims, however, face two major problems: First, no one has been able to prove beyond a doubt any continuity – whether ethnic, religious, linguistic, or cultural – between the ancient Philistines and the contemporary Palestinians and, second, even if this were possible, the West Bank, i.e., the main focus here, was never settled nor ruled by the ancient Philistines. In other words, while the Jews can easily trace their roots to the Land of Israel to as far back as Joshua’s time, no Muslim can convincingly trace his/her origins to either those ancient biblical people or to that land.
Part II of this article can be found here.
Part III of this article can be found here.
Part IV of this article can be found here.
Part V of this article can be found here.
Part VI of this article can be found here.