LAND WITHOUT A NAME
by Rabbi Dov B. Fischer
May 26, 2002
The recent landslide vote of the Israeli Likud party, completely rejecting an Arab country west of the Jordan River, reflects the mindset of the largest political party in Israel today. There is good reason for that position - the land of Judea and Samaria, birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, does not necessarily belong to the Arab Islamic world.
It is instructive that the Arab world does not even have a name for the land. Think about it. "Palestine" is a name that the ancient Romans gave the Land of Israel after that now-vanished empire destroyed the last breaths of Jewish freedom in the Holy Land in 135. The Romans renamed the cities and the land to excise all memory of the stubborn Jewish patriots who had defied the empire from within the Holy Land. So, Jerusalem became Aelonia Capitolina, Shechem became Naples (Naples later became Nablus), and the country itself was renamed "Palestine" for the Biblical people who preceded the Jews - the Philistines.
For all the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, long after Arabs invaded the area to conquer at the point of a sword, the land of Judea and Samaria never became an Arab territorial entity. By the 20th century, with the rise of political Zionism and the establishment by the League of Nations of a "Palestine Mandate," administered by Britain, the Jews still were the "Palestinians." Thus, the predecessor of the Jerusalem Post was called the Palestine Post, the predecessor of the United Jewish Appeal was the United Palestine Appeal and even the American support group for Menachem Begin's nationalist Irgun underground called itself the American League for a Free Palestine. It sounded right to 1960s film viewers when Ari ben Canaan, Paul Newman's character in Exodus, spoke of a Jewish yearning for "Palestine." That's not ancient history; it was still that way during the Kennedy years.
The Arabs have names for countries like Syria, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Libya and Kuwait. They even have two countries named Yemen. Yet through all of recorded time they never have had a name for the lands of Judea and Samaria. "The West Bank"? Such a name describes Jersey City, lying on that bank of the Hudson. Santa Monica, perhaps, is a more elegant bank, east of the Pacific. And we may note Louisville, reposing on the south bank of the majestic Ohio River. These are cities, not countries. "The West Bank"?
In 1964, when the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded, it was eponymously created to liberate "Palestine" - namely, the country of Israel - from Haifa to Tel Aviv to the Negev. The Palestine Liberation Organization had no interest in the occupied part of the Kingdom of Jordan that lay west of the Jordan River. PLO terrorists did not murder Jordanian children, as they did Israelis. They did not hijack Jordanian airplanes. They did not murder Jordanian Olympians. They had no interest in the land without a name. To this day, the logo of each and every Palestinian "activist" group, groups ranging from Hamas to Islamic Jihad to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to Fatah, all depict the map of a "Palestine" that is identical to Israel - not the "West Bank."
For many of the places that Yasser Arafat covets in Samaria and Judea, he uses the names of the Hebrew Bible. He claims Hebron (Genesis 23). He claims Bethlehem (Genesis 35). He claims Jericho (Joshua 5). His people burned down the Tomb of Joseph (Joshua 24). Yet he cannot use the Hebrew Bible's names for the land that the Christian Scriptures (Matthew 1), no less than the Torah, calls Judea - because it would sound ridiculous complaining that "the Jews have stolen Judea from the Arabs." Almost as silly as suicide bombers in Hamas calling themselves "good Samaritans."
There never - ever - has been an Arab Palestine west of the Jordan River. From 1948-1967, while Jordan's King Hussein illegally occupied the region in a temporary land grab that both the Arab and the non-Arab world rejected, no "Palestinian Arab" nation was created there. The city of Jerusalem was not elevated to any status or import. Rather, the land became desirable only after Israel liberated East Jerusalem and established itself in Judea and Samaria, while fighting for its life in 1967. Indeed, as the Samaria-based Jenin refugee camp illustrates, Arabs encamped in the heart of Judea and Samaria still regard themselves as "refugees." Judea and Samaria is not their home and their UNRWA refugee camp proclaims it. They do not want the "West Bank" for a homeland - they want a different "Palestine": Tel Aviv and Haifa.
There are now 200,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria, and another 200,000 Jews living in "Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem." They are not leaving any sooner than will the descendants of the Americanos who squatted on the Californios' land during the era of the 1849 Gold Rush. The Treaty of Guadaloupe-Hidalgo helped make the squatting in California irreversible. The Battle of the Alamo helped make the squatting in Texas irreversible. Both California and Texas came into being because brave and hearty American settlers created "illegal settlements" on "occupied land." Eventually, those illegal settlements became states in the American Union. In the same way, the Likud Party Central Committee has reaffirmed that Judea and Samaria constitute the patrimonial heartland of a people that has no less right to be there than did the settlers hailing from Europe who planted themselves in Crawford, Texas.
The Likud Central Committee vote is a harbinger of a Jewish nation that is taking its patrimony off the chopping block. Perhaps Chairman Arafat should look to the Kingdom of Jordan for the land of his "Palestine." That country, itself an historically recent creation, is built on 78 percent of the "Palestine Mandate." At least 1,700,000 Palestinian Arabs live in Jordan, more than in any other country. The queen is a Palestinian Arab. And the majority of all Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs. Why shouldn't King Abdullah offer territorial compromise, taking a risk for peace and making a gesture towards the queen? Yasser Arafat told US President Bill Clinton in September 1999 that he has proof there never was a Jewish Temple on the Jerusalem Temple Mount. Maybe it is time to apprise Arafat that, when he tells Americans there never were Jews at the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, he is denying not one but both prongs of the American nation's Judeo-Christian heritage.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, a senior civil-litigation attorney and public-affairs commentator in Los Angeles, is author of General Sharon's War Against Time Magazine. Rabbi Fischer also is National Vice President of the Zionist Organization of America and scholar-in-residence at Congregation Kol Simcha of Calabasas, California.
This article originally appeared on May 23, 2002 in National Review Online.