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Judea and Samaria

In the Six Day War of June 1967, Israel preempted an anticipated attack by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan by launching a ground and air strike through the Sinai region of Egypt, the Golan Heights of Syria, and beyond the West Bank of the Jordan River in Jordan. The territory that Israel gained in this war established new northern, southern, and eastern borders for the country, but this territory would also be the focus of Middle Eastern dispute for years to come.

President Lyndon Johnson, at the time preoccupied with the war in Vietnam, made a crucial judgment that there should be no return to the status quo ante. Instead, the United States would support Israel in holding the newly occupied territories until the Arab states were prepared to recognize Israel and make peace. This stand was endorsed broadly by the international community with the acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 in November 1967. While the resolution stopped short of calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory and for full peace treaties, it was understood at the time, and subsequently, as calling for an exchange of "land for peace."

A skilled orator and debater, Menachem Begin was the first Israeli Prime Minister to refer to the West Bank region of the Jordan River by the Biblical names, Judea and Samaria - the former south of Jerusalem, the later north of Jerusalem. The Likud campaign platform had insisted on the rights of Jews to settle in any part of their occupied territories. It also called for negotiating a comprehensive framework for peace in the region rather than a step-by-step approach. Begin was greatly influenced by the ideas of Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky.

"Enhanced security" is an important argument of the annexationists. However, in their polemics on the disposition of the territories, they have tended to emphasize the argument of historical legitimacy. This camp has a tradition of more ideological thinking with respect to the subject of national security and national identity than its opponents, and Israel's moral and legal right to all of The Land of Israel has long been its fundamental platform.

The State of Israel represented the culmination of two thousand years of struggle by the Jewish people to return to its historic homeland. The historical foundation of the Jewish claimt to Palestine was one of the major reasons for the international acceptance of that claim. However, the locus classicus of Jewish history is not Tel Aviv or Haifa but the cities of Hebron, Shiloh, Bethel, Shechem (Nablus), Bethlehem -- and, of course, Jerusalem. Tel Aviv is Israel's largest city, but it was created in an area that was generally under the control of the Philistines during the Biblical period, as was the whole coastal plain to the south, including what is now the Gaza Strip.

When the British government was given authority over Palestine under the League of Nations Mandate after the First World War, the area compassed Transjordan as well, the western part of which also has extensive associations with the history of the Israelite tribes. In 1922 Transjordan was separated from western Palestine in order to create a territory for Emir Abdullah, Britain's client. The partition, which represented an arbitrary division of an area that had been homogeneous in Biblical times, disappointed the Zionists but was accepted by most of them as still providing adequate scope for the fulfillment of national objectives. The significant exception was the Revisionist Party, whose slogan was "Both Banks" -- that is, a Jewish state encompassing both East and West Banks of the Jordan. Initially, however, even Jabotinsky, the major Revisionist personality, accepted the partition. Before the Six Day War the fierut Party, the core of the annexationist group, continued to maintain a claim on both banks of the Jordan, a platform that dated back to the origins of the Revisionist Party in the 1920s.

The refusal of the Arabs to accept partiticn in 1947-1948 and the Arab invasion of Palestine in order to destroy Israel was regarded by the Israelis as freeing them from any obligation to observe the UN-decreed buundaries, and they proceeded to secure as much of Palestine as they could. However, the Armistice lines put East Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip outside of Israeli control.

Thus, the results of the Six Day War seemed to represent almost "a heaven-sent gift, the wholly unexpected completion of the tasks of 1948 and the healing of the wound in Israel's collective memory. It was not surprising that there was almost an imiediate movement to pressure the government not to yield any of the captured territories -- especially the West Bank, with its profound historical associations. If the basis for the creation of the State of Israel was the history of the Jewish people and its millennial yearning to return to Zion, what greater historical tie could there be than to the West Bank? If Israel wag justified by that historical tie, was not the annexation of the West Bank after the Six Day War justified a fortiori by that tie?

Only against this background can one understand what at first sight appears so surprising and paradoxical, that many in Israel so quickly began to think of the captured territories as intrinsically part of Israel. Many foreigners think the issue is whether Israel is prepared to give up Arab territories in exchange for peace. Israel's problem is whether she can give up Jewish territory in exchange for peace.

Although a minority of the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are drawn there for "ideological" reasons, it should be clearly explained that the Israeli government employed a variety of material incentives given only to Jews, but to Jews from all countries of the world in order to induce them to settle in the occupied territories.

At last there was really little new under the West Bank sun. Generations come and go - settlers, lawbreakers, yeshiva students, soldiers who guard them and get treated contemptuously, teachers drawing salaries from taxpayers, settlers' sons and grandchildren who do whatever they like. Palestinian generations, meanwhile, also come and go as the settlers, their children and grandchildren rampage and plunder unhindered in a state that has seemingly given up.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:52:03 ZULU