by Kimberly Troup
What about the Palestinians? Don’t they have rights to own land and live in their ancestral homeland?
To answer this question, we have to go back in history. The people who are currently called “Palestinian” are not the same people who were called “Palestinian” a century ago.
The area was called the Land of Israel or Judea (a place belonging to Jews) from Biblical times until 135 AD, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judea to Syria Palaestina, a brilliant PR stunt to sever the Jewish people’s connection to the region. This was done following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. For most of the period between 135 AD and May 15, 1948, the area was referred to as Palestine or the Land of Israel. From the second Century until the 19th Century, this area called “Palestine” was conquered, captured, sacked, pillaged, and burned by a multitude of empirical armies. But not one of these Empires sought to establish a state of their own in Palestine, nor did they establish their capital in Jerusalem or anywhere else in “Palestine.” The last Empire that controlled “Palestine” was the Ottoman Empire, which fell in 1919 following the First World War. At the conclusion of that war, the victorious allies carved up the entire Middle East, granting independence to some and creating mandates in some of the other areas. Great Britain was awarded the Mandate for Palestine.
The language of the Balfour Declaration, promising the establishment of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine and close Jewish settlement throughout the area, was incorporated in the Mandate’s foundational document. While the mandate applied to the entire area of Palestine, representing all of Israel and Jordan as we know these countries today, in 1923, the British violated the original purpose of the mandate by separating 76% of the Mandatory territory to create Jordan, giving it to the Hashemite family from the Hejaz area of Arabia, which rules the country to this day.
Since the First Century there has always been a remnant of Jews who continued to live in their ancient homeland. For part of this time, they were few and scattered, the vast majority of Jews having been exiled and forced to leave the area by the Romans. And yet there remained a handful of Jews who stayed in the land. When the British controlled Palestine, the Jews there referred to themselves as “Palestinian”. The Arabs did not recognize a separate national identity for those Arabs living in Palestine and they referred to themselves simply as Arabs, as did the Arabs of much of the Middle East. They saw themselves as part of the Greater Arab Nation that dominated most of the Middle East. Many Arabs immigrated to Palestine following the First Jewish Aliyah (coming home) that took place from 1882 – 1903. Jews came home to “Palestine” mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe because the pogroms and persecution were so intense that they had been driven from their homes and forced to flee. Why did they choose to settle in the Ottoman Empire? Because for over 2,000 years, since their ancestors had been driven from Jerusalem and Judea by the Roman armies, the Jewish people have prayed three times a day, every day, to return to the Land promised to them by God. God answered that prayer and when the time was right the Jews started to come home.
They came home to a land that was desolate, absolutely barren. For centuries, bloodshed and fighting had swarmed over this small piece of land, decimating all natural resources and beauty. Yet, they did not give up hope. They were so happy to fulfill the dream of hundreds of generations to return to this land. They immediately began to tend the land. They planted crops, sanitized water, built homes, and drained swamps. What did they need to accomplish this incredible task? They needed willing hands and strong backs, and both Arabs and Jews sought these new jobs. And thus began the Arab immigration to this area. There were jobs available, money to be made, life to be improved. So the Arabs followed the Jews into “Palestine” and began to work. They moved here from all the surrounding countries, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Arabia. They came because they could find work and feed their families.
On May 14, 1948 the British Mandate for Palestine ended, and the Jewish nation of Israel was born. Overnight, everyone Jewish who was “Palestinian” became “Israeli.” In time, many Arabs became “Israeli” as well. The term “Palestinian” was not used again until 1964, when Yasser Arafat organized the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is interesting to note, that in 1964, Jordan controlled all of the area that is referred to as the “West Bank” or the “Israeli Occupied Territories”. The occupation that the PLO referred to then was Israel within the pre-67 borders, for the PLO from the beginning refused to accept the existence of Israel within any boundaries.
It wasn’t until the miraculous Six-Day War in 1967 when Jordan attacked Israel from the Old City of Jerusalem and the hills of Judea and Samaria which it controlled, that Israel responded to those attacks and liberated the area. God performed a miracle, and the heart of Biblical Israel was once again under Jewish control. For the first time in over 2,000 years the ruling power in Judea and Samaria was once again Jewish, their capital is Jerusalem, and Jews have continued to come home to their ancient homeland from the four corners of the earth.
Today there are people who call themselves “Palestinian” who have co-opted the ancestral homeland of another people, the Jews! Their heritage consists of hatred, bloodshed, murder, and terrorism as its core value. Generations of Palestinians have been raised hating the Jewish “occupiers”. They have been raised with a value system that exalts the murder of innocents and twists the truth into lies.
Today the Palestinian people do not always have it easy. However, their hardships could be done away with if they laid down their weapons against Israel. If they stopped trying to kill and destroy at every opportunity, if they chose to live like neighbors should. There is more than enough land in Israel for everyone. As tiny as the Land of Israel is, there is room for all. Jews value human life and dignity, freedom and democracy. They want their Arab/Palestinian “neighbors” to live a good life, to have jobs, and education. To raise their families, attend Mosque and celebrate their holy days. The Jew’s greatest desire is to live in peace with their Arab neighbors.
Today, there are road-blocks, there are security checks, there are Israeli army patrols, and there is a security fence/wall. Sometimes these security issues cause difficulties for the Palestinians and sometimes for the Israelis as well. But they are all vitally necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. And the people of Israel are living in a place where they are under attack from without and from within. Given the choice between suicide or an effective army, the Israelis will always choose to defend themselves. Because they will always choose life.
Director, US Office