Israel’s Right to the Land
By Ron Matsen
It is amazing to watch the world-wide media moguls and how they will generally spin every crisis in the Middle East so that it appears that the trail of culpability always leads back to the policies and practices of the current State of Israel. The delegitimization of Israel seems to be on everyone’s agenda. Why is this?
Identifying the Problem
By the start of 1990, more than 50% of the United Nations Security Council resolutions were aimed at Israel and more that 60% of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions were involving Israel. As of 2013, Israel had been condemned in 45 resolutions by United Nations Human Rights Council (more than all nations of the world combined).
In October 2003, an unpublished European Commission poll of 7,500 key Europeans said that Israel is “the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran.” The survey of 500 people “from each of the EU’s member nations included a list of 15 countries with the question, ‘tell me if in your opinion it presents or not a threat to peace in the world’. Israel was reportedly picked by 59 per cent of those interviewed.”
On December 23, 2016 the 15-member UN Security Council voted 14 to 0 to pass Resolution 2334, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention. This resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel must stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. “Occupying power?”
To the untrained eye, it would appear that the primary problem of the world is centered squarely on the State of Israel; and therefore, the principle purpose of the United Nations governing body is to correct and control this tiny nation. To understand the confusion, you need to understand the context of this prickly political problem.
Entering the Promised Land
From my point of view, a Biblical perspective is the best place to start. The Biblical scholar Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum says, “There are eight covenants declared by God in the Bible. Six of the eight are unconditional: the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.”
The Abrahamic Covenant states:
“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
This covenant has been challenged by the world from its inception and is now manifested with the world-wide epidemic of antisemitism.
Later, after Abram came back from his victory over the armies at Kadesh we read:
“In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
The confirmation of this promise by God was done in such a way that it rendered the covenant unconditional. The entirety of Genesis 15:1–21 gives a more detailed description of many provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant as well as defining the exact borders. Later God adds physical circumcision as the token or sign of this covenant. Again the emphasis of Genesis 17:1–21 is on the token of the covenant: physical circumcision on the eighth day of a boy’s life. Just as the rainbow was the token of the Noahic Covenant, so circumcision is the token of the Abrahamic Covenant.
The Land Covenant found in Scripture is God’s promise to restore Israel to their promised land. God told Israel that He would scatter Israel if they disobeyed Him but then promised to restore them to their land.
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: and the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee. And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day. And the LORD thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the LORD will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers: If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.”
The substance of this Land Covenant is firmly rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant in that it assures Israel of God’s commitment to keeping His promise despite their performance. This covenant has so far been fulfilled twice; first after the Babylonian Captivity and subsequent rebuilding of Jerusalem under Cyrus the Great, and the second after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the rebirth of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948.
To appreciate the issue of the Land of Israel, we need to look at the acquisition and occupation of the land by the people of Israel. Abraham was promised that land “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” After Moses lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, Joshua lead the nation into the Promised Land.
Although they did not take possession of all the inheritance they could under the promise given to Abraham, each of the twelve tribes were assigned a portion of the land they concurred as an everlasting land-lease from God.
Under the rule of King David, Israel expanded its borders to include portions of Syria and modern-day Lebanon but by the end of the rule of Hezekiah, Israel was reduced to a fraction of its original size.
Enduring a History of Servitude
In the history of the world no other people-group have been able to maintain their identity, heritage, and sense of national destiny like the Israelites. From circa 587 B.C. to A.D. 1948 the Nation of Israel has been a vasal state which had to suffer under the constant rule of foreign governments. First, they were carried away by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar.
Then, after the conquering of Babylon by Cyrus the Great, Israel was ruled by the Medo-Persian Empire. The Persian Empire was good to the Jews and helped them return to their homeland and rebuild both their Temple and Jerusalem.
Alexander the Great became Israel’s next ruler as the Greek Empire replaced the Persians.
The mighty Roman Empire swallowed up the western portion of the Greek Empire and were the rulers of Israel at the time of Jesus Christ. When the Jews rebelled in A.D. 66 the Roman General Titus besieged Jerusalem and by A.D. 70 the Romans had breached its wall, killed an estimated 1 million people, and the Jewish Temple was destroyed down to the ground as predicted by Jesus Christ.
After the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt (A.D. 132–135) the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed. Under orders from the Roman emperor Hadrian “the Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen. Jews were sold into slavery and many were transported to Egypt. Judean settlements were not rebuilt. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and the Jews were forbidden to live there. They were permitted to enter only on the 9th of Av to mourn their losses in the revolt. Hadrian changed the country’s name from Judea to Syria Palestina.”
The Roman Empire morphed into the Byzantine Empire which ultimately lost control of the Land of Israel to the emerging expansion of Islam during the times of the Crusades.
The territorial expansion of Islam gave rise to the Caliphate form of government through the Muslim world. For the few Jews living under these warlords, life was difficult as they were seen as nothing better than second class citizens.
By the 16th Century, the warring factions of Islam were consolidated into the Ottoman Empire. Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the Land of Israel was divided into four districts and attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. At the outset of the Ottoman era, an estimated 1,000 Jewish families lived in the Promised Land. The land experienced orderly government which brought improvements and stimulated Jewish immigration until the death of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1566.
On May 19, 1916, during the Great War (WW1), a secret meeting was held between Great Britain and France resulting in the Sykes-Picot Agreement; by which most of the Arab lands under the rule of the Ottoman Empire were to be divided into British and French spheres of influence at the conclusion of war. The stage was set for the future discussions of a homeland for the Jews.
This lead to the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. It was a statement of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” It was made in a letter from Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, Second Baron Rothschild (of Tring), a leader of British Jewry. In April of 1920, at San Remo, Italy, the victorious Allies confirmed the pledge contained in the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.
The first partition of Palestine took place in 1922, when the British government excluded Transjordan from the area to which the provisions of the Balfour Declaration would apply. In the following years, many different commissions were formed and ideas explored; in an attempt to resolve the problems associated with the establishment of a Jewish home land, but they all ended in failure one way or another. This would lead to 26 years of frustration for the British, Jews and Muslims alike.
Establishing a Nation in a Day
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion publicly pronounced the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The State of Israel was officially declared after the end of the 6-months civil war whereby the United Nations voted to partition the land between Jews and Arabs. The area defined by the U.N. was not contiguous and left this new Jewish state with scarcely defendable boarders. Nonetheless, Israel continued to survive and even prosper for the next 20 years.
After defeating the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq in the 6-Day War of 1967, Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. This surprise victory over these Arab nations was a shock to the whole world as they had expected that the State of Israel would have been wiped out by the superior forces of their Muslim neighbors. Israel now had a defensible buffer zone around their homeland. In 1972, Egypt and Syria would once again attack Israel only this time it would be on Yom Kippur (the most holy day in Israel). Although Israel was victorious once again, it paid a very heavy price for being caught by surprise.
On September 17, 1978, United States president Jimmy Carter brokered the Camp David Accords which were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin thus ending a “state of war” between Egypt and Israel which had existed since 1948.
Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai, and Egypt promised to establish normal diplomatic relations between the two countries and opened the Suez Canal to Israeli ships (which until then had been banned from the waterway). This glimmer of hope for Israel would fade with the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat on October 6, 1981.
In 2003, it was called the “Roadmap for Peace.” It proposed the partitioning of the land of Israel into a Two-State Solution. In a speech on June 24, 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush said that this proposal would provide a plan for lasting peace in the region.
Once again it was sold as a “Land for Peace” deal. Israel would be giving up land gained during their previous wars with Egypt and Jordan for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State; and Israel would finally have a secure homeland for the Jews. Sadly, no enduring peace resulted from this accord. Just the constant moving of the proverbial goal post by those who plan to remove Israel a piece at a time.
Recognizing the Obvious
In 1995, during the President Bill Clinton administration, the U.S. Congress passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and requiring the president to move the American embassy to the city. Previous U.S. leaders have invoked waivers, permitted under the law, to avoid starting that process; but on February 24, 2018, President Donald Trump announced that his administration will officially move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by May.
Trump’s announcement effectively recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered that the embassy be moved. The embassy will first be set up in an existing US facility in West Jerusalem and is planned to open in May, in order to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel declaring its independence. Jerusalem has long been considered a subject of final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as both claim the city as their capital. Several other nations are planning on following the example of the United States by moving their embassies to Jerusalem and thereby recognizing Israel’s right to The Promised Land.
For Christians, we should rejoice with Israel in this momentous occasion, and thank God for keeping His promises concerning the Land of Israel. There will be at least one more “gathering of Israel to the Promised Land” but that’s another story for another time.