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Eretz Israel HaShlema

In his Complete Diaries, Vol. II. p. 711, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, said that the area of the Jewish State stretches: "From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates." The "Brook of Egypt" may be another lesser waterway about 100 miles East of the Nile. Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the UN Special Committee of Enquiry on 9 July 1947: "The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon."

The Revisionist Zionists, an ultra-nationalist Zionist group, openly stated that the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine was impossible without violence and the forcible transfer of the indigenous population. When war broke out between Britain and Germany in 1939, Avraham Stern argued that the British were the main enemy. His "Stern Gang" was a secret Zionist organization that operated in Palestine under the British mandate. It carried out attacks against both the British and the Arabs. The British killed Stern in February 1942. Stern's "National Revival Principles" proclaimed a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates. Later named Lehi, the group was dissolved in 1948. One of the three leaders of the Stern Group was Yitzhak Shamir, who became prime minister in 1983 and whose tenure in the highest office in Israel was second only to Ben Gurion. But Revisionists in later years viewed the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and southern Lebanon in strategic terms, not historic ones. In 1989 Shamir called Syrian leader's Hafiz al-Asad talk on the subject of "from the Nile to the Euphrates" to be "sheer nonsense."

By the end of the 20th Century, Avrom Shmulevic's tiny Bead Artzein (For the Homeland) aspired to a Nile-to-Euphrates Israel, as did Ahavat Israel, but between them these marginal groups numbered no more than a few hundred members.

Eretz Israel does not mean "Greater Israel". Eretz is simply the Hebrew word for "Land". The term Israelis of the right wing would use is "Eretz Israel HaShlema", ie the "whole" or "complete" Land of Israel. This term is not applied by Israelis to the land grant to Abraham, from the Nile to the Euphrates. Nor is it applied to the rather smaller area said to have been occupied by King David or King Solomon. Solomon's kingdom stretched through modern Syria to the banks of the Euphrates, covering and area vastly greater than the modern State of Israel. The western boundry of these kingdom's ran barely further to the west of modern Israel, and thus did not approaching the Nile but did reach near the "Brook of Egypt".

Rather the term Eretz Israel HaShlema is used in practice to apply to to some approximation of the territory of the land occupied by the original twelve tribes, or to the two Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or some fragment of the kingdome of the Macabees. Of course, the boundries of all of these entities are quite speculative, and sources are in deep disagreement on many points.

It is in this Complete Land of Israel ("Eretz Israel HaShlema"), from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, where the Palestinians would be supplanted by settlers. The 1967 Six-Day War was the critical moment. Israel's victory in that war gave it control over the West Bank and emboldened nationalists and messianists to blind themselves to the Palestinians. Soon afterwards a group of citizens joined forces to establish what they called in Hebrew "Tnuat Eretz Yisrael Hashlema," and in English " Land of Israel Movement," ommiting the "Haslema/Whole" part. The movement's founders understood "Eretz Yisrael Hashlema" to apply only to former "Western Palestine." Never did any responsible person call that movement "Greater [Land of] Israel" or call for invading the rest of Jordan or Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.

The settler movement Gush Emunim, founded in 1974, replaced the legal term "State of Israel" with the biblical term "Land of Israel" (Eretz Israel), which justified the settlement of the territories in the name of a special alliance between God and the Chosen People. They consider Zionism a process of cosmic redemption. According to the Gush the advent of the messiah would be delayed if the land were returned to non-Jews. Rahavam Ze'evi, the leader of Ihud Leumi (National Union Party), has advocated the "transfer" -- a polite term, in the opinion of some detractors, for forced expulsion of all Palestinians from Greater Israel. The vast majority of the Israelis who go to live in Hebron follow the ideology of "Eretz Israel Hashlema".

Forcing God's Hand explains the popularity of the Christian element of this End Time doctrine. A Tennessean, Cyrus Scofield, popularized the idea of a Free Rapture, a theology originally imported from England less than 200 years ago. The theology holds that Christians must look to the biblical land of the Jews for their salvation; that the land itself is more important to Christians than the message of Christ. Scofield taught that Christ was held hostage until Jews carried out a preordained plan: they were to leave their native lands, including Russia, Europe, Africa and America, and settle in Palestine. They were to eradicate, with the help of Christians, the most sacred Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, a mosque holy to a billion Muslims around the world; and once Christ returned, the Jews must convert to Christianity. His doctrine, called dispensationalism, was encoded into the Scofield Reference Bible.

But by 2005 public sentiment in Israel seemed to have rejected the ideal of an Israel expanded to biblical proportions (Eretz Yisrael Hashleima). Former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said he had resigned himself to the possibility that realizing Eretz Yisrael Hashlema may not be attainable in this generation. "It is unreasonable to expect too much of one generation," he said. "The curses mentioned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy came true during the Holocaust. That same generation experienced the ingathering of the exiles, fought seven wars and built the Jewish state. Perhaps Eretz Yisrael Hashleima will have to wait."

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:51:45 ZULU