Israel Report

December 2002         

The Truth About "Occupation"

By Dr. Sally Zerker - December 16, 2002
"Occupation," "occupiers," "occupied land": these words are the Palestinians' refrain, repeated incessantly by Palestinian propagandists as justification for their killing of Israeli women, children, old folks, recruits, as well as many visitors to Israel. I think it's time to get it straight, once and for all, about this whole notion of occupation, about who are the occupiers of the land of Israel and the West Bank (more correctly called Judea and Samaria), and who are the occupied.

For a start, it is Jews who are the extant aboriginal people of the territory that includes Israel, Judea and Samaria, and some of present-day Jordan. And it is the Arabs who are the invaders, conquerors and occupiers.

There were Canaanites who inhabited the land before the Jews settled there, but they are long gone. Amazingly, the Jewish people didn't vanish, despite Jew-hatred, pogroms, and massacres of Jews recurring through history. What defines Jewish indigenousness is the consistency of modern Jews with their ancestors of thousands of years ago. They live in a country with the same name as that which existed in 1312 B.C.E. Today's Israelis speak the same language that was spoken by Jews in that land more than 3000 years ago. They chant from the same Bible their ancestors used millennia past. Their Jewish law presently is derived from that found in their Talmud. Their Temple, which was destroyed twice, by invaders, can be archaeologically located in its original site in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was founded by their biblical King David, which still stands as the centre of Jewish sovereignty, as it did when King David ruled the Jews. In reality, the Jewish people established a distinct civilization in their ancient homeland 3700 years ago, and the roots of that civilization is still much of the source of Jewish life in Israel.

On the other hand, there were no Moslems until 2000 years after Jews had already settled in Israel, because Islam was the religion that Mohammed founded (he died in 632 BCE). And Arabs, who are the ethnic peoples out of the Arabian peninsula, hadn't come to the region through their conquests until after Mohammed's death. No independent Arab or Palestinian state has ever existed in the region, which the Romans renamed Palaestina in the second century, after crushing the last Jewish revolt. When the Arabs did conquer and occupy parts of the land, they did so as occupiers of previously settled territories by Jews.

Well, never mind about ancient history and claims, some might say, what rights have modern Jews to land that had been owned and settled by Arabs, who were recently expelled by Jewish conquest? But here we have yet another set of falsehoods emanating out of a number of misguided assumptions.

First, it is not true that Jewish life was abolished by a series of conquerors - Roman, Arab, Crusaders - over the centuries. Jews retained and rebuilt communities in Jerusalem, Tiberius, Rafah, Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa, Caesarea, Safed and elsewhere. Years before the Zionist migrations began in the 1870s, Jews lived continuously over time throughout the land of Israel.

Secondly, if one looks at the period when Jews began to immigrate to the region in large numbers in 1882, there were fewer than 250,000 Arabs living in the region, and the majority of these had arrived in recent decades. According to many observers and authorities, the vast majority of the Arab population in the early decades of the twentieth century was comparative newcomers, either late immigrants or descendants of persons who had immigrated into the territory in the previous seventy years. The name Palestine, a throwback to Roman usage, was adopted by the British during their period of mandated authority, in an attempt to blunt the connection of Jews with the land that was historical Israel.

Thirdly, the lands that are usually characterized by the media and other observers as "occupied," that is, those in the West Bank and Gaza, are in no legal sense occupied by Israelis, no more nor less than they are occupied by Palestinians. For example, those residents of the new Palestinian cities (in no sense are they camps), that now house four generations of so-called Palestinian refugees, could be branded as occupiers on the same basis that new Jewish settlements in the West Bank are so designated. The reality is that the West Bank and Gaza lands are unassigned lands, not awarded by the British as they had done with their creation of Jordan and Iraq post-WWI, nor designated by the United Nations which had offered these lands and more to the Palestinians in 1947 (UN Resolution 181, "Partition"), but which the Palestinians rejected.

Fourth, when Palestinians accuse Israel of being "occupiers" of the West Bank and Gaza land, let's examine how these territories came under the control of Israel. It is the direct result of Arab attacks on Israel in 1967: Israel not only repulsed the attacks but managed to overtake areas from which the attacks emanated. To make a comparison, Germany lost a large territory to Poland after the Germans were defeated in World War II, and yet no one now claims that Poland is occupying German land. Israel's position vis-a-vis these conquered lands is consistent with the historical record everywhere, including Canada in relation to Quebec.

Finally, we need to understand the Palestinians' own words and claims. They make no bones about the fact that what they regard as Israeli "occupation" is not merely that of the West Bank and Gaza, but that of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well. If one wants to look at the "root cause" of a conflict that is by now more than half a century old, it is the refusal by Palestinians and Arabs generally to accept not only the reality of the existence of a Jewish state, which is difficult to deny, but to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish homeland. If, and only if, the Arabs finally come to recognize Jewish peoplehood, which includes Jews' right to live as a people among the nations of peoples, will peace be possible between Jews and Arabs.

Dr. Sally Zerker is a CIJR Academic Fellow, an economist and a retired York University professor.

Source - CIJR - Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.

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