Words matter. Terrorist mastermind Yasir Arafat’s extraordinary durability in creating a Palestinian state upon mounting corpses has been fashioned upon a prior linguistic victory. Ironically, all language describing an Israeli “occupation” in this area conveniently overlooks the entire history of the territories, especially the unwitting manner in which these lands first fell into Israel’s hands after the overtly genocidal Arab aggression in 1967.
Contrary to widely disseminated but wholly erroneous allegations, a sovereign state of Palestine did not exist before 1967 or 1948. Nor was a state of Palestine ever promised by authoritative UN Security Council Resolution 242. Indeed, a state of Palestine has never existed.
Even as a nonstate legal entity, ‘Palestine’ ceased to exist in 1948, when Great Britain relinquished its League of Nations mandate. When, therefore, during the 1948-49 War of Independence, Judea/Samaria (the “West Bank”) and Gaza came under flagrantly illegal control of Jordan and Egypt respectively, these aggressions did not put an end to an already-existing state or to an ongoing trust territory. What these aggressions did accomplish was the effective prevention, sui generis, of an Arab state of Palestine. It cannot be said often enough, in this connection, that the original hopes for Palestine were dashed NOT by the new Jewish state or by its supporters, but by the extant Arab states, especially Jordan and Egypt.
Let us return, for a moment, to an earlier history. From the Biblical Period (ca. 1350 BCE to 586 BCE) to the British Mandate (1918 – 1948), the land named by the Romans after the ancient Philistines was controlled only by non-‘Palestinian’ elements. Significantly, however, a continuous chain of Jewish possession of the land was legally recognized after World War I, at the San Remo Peace Conference of April 1920. There, a binding treaty was signed in which Great Britain was given mandatory authority over “Palestine” (the area had been ruled by the Ottoman Turks since 1516) to prepare it to become the “national home for the Jewish People.”
Palestine, according to the Treaty, comprised territories encompassing what are now the states of Jordan and Israel, including Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Present day Israel, including Judea, Samaria and Gaza, comprises only 22 percent of Palestine as defined and ratified at the San Remo Peace Conference.
In 1922, Great Britain unilaterally and without any lawful authority split off 78 percent of the lands promised to the Jews – all of Palestine east of the Jordan River ? and gave it to Abdullah, the non- Palestinian son of the Sharif of Mecca. Eastern Palestine now took the name ‘Transjordan,’ which it retained until April 1949, when it was renamed as Jordan. From the moment of its creation, Transjordan was closed to all Jewish migration and settlement, a clear betrayal of the British promise in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and a patent contravention of its Mandatory obligations under international law. On July 20, 1951, a Palestinian Arab assassinated King Abdullah for the latter’s hostility to Palestinian aspirations and concerns. Regarding Jordan and these aspirations, King Hussein – 19 years later, during September 1970 – brutally murdered ten thousand defenseless Palestinians under his jurisdiction. Now THAT was an occupation.
Several years prior to Abdullah’s killing, in 1947, the newly-formed United Nations, rather than designate the entire land west of the Jordan River as the long-promised Jewish national homeland, enacted a second partition. Curiously, because this second fission again gave total advantage to Arab interests, Jewish leaders accepted the painful judgment while the Arab states did not. On May 15, 1948, exactly 24 hours after the State of Israel came into existence, Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, declared to a tiny new country founded upon the ashes of the Holocaust: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.” This unambiguously genocidal declaration, of course, has been at the very heart of ALL subsequent Arab orientations toward Israel, including those of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah.
In 1967, almost 20 years after Israel’s entry into the community of states, the Jewish state, as a result of its stunning military victory over Arab aggressor states, gained unintended control over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Although the idea of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war is enshrined in the UN Charter, there existed NO authoritative sovereign to whom the territories could be “returned.” Israel could hardly have been expected to transfer the territories back to Jordan and Egypt, which had exercised unauthorized and substantially cruel control since the Arab-initiated war of “extermination” in 1948-49.
Moreover, the idea of Palestinian “self-determination” had only just begun to emerge after the Six Day War, and had not even been codified in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which was adopted on November 22, 1967. For their part, the Arab states convened a summit in Khartoum in August 1967, concluding: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it….” Significantly, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed three years earlier, in 1964, before there were any Israel- “occupied” territories. Just what was it then, that the PLO sought to “liberate” between 1964 and 1967?
These have been the essential historic reasons why the territories have not been “occupied” by Israel. Other valid reasons stem from Israel’s incontrovertible legal right to security and self-defense. Because transformation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza into an Arab state of Palestine would threaten the very existence of Israel, the Jewish state, among other valid reasons, is under NO obligation to relinquish control. Such relinquishment, which is now planned for Gaza, is at least partially the result of Jerusalem’s own ongoing failure to understand pertinent international law – a system of rules and principles that has acknowledged millennia of Jewish stewardship over Jewish land.
International law is not a suicide pact. Anyone who takes the trouble to look at a map of the region will discover that Israel and the territories, comprising an area less than half the size of San Bernadino County in California (or one-half the size of Lake Michigan), cannot afford to yield its already minimal strategic depth. The fact that it has long been prepared to yield so much for “peace,” in plain defiance of its own survival needs, is due largely to many years of linguistic surrender. This capitulation in the realm of language, accepting contrived enemy characterizations of Jewish territory as “occupied,” has led Israel to its current plan for “disengagement” from Gaza.
Should this plan be carried out according to Prime Minister Sharon’s wishes, it will only be a matter of time before Judea and Samaria are also carved out of the still-living body of Israel. If that happens, “Palestine” will soon become a new launching point for war and terror, and, palpably, it will be the citizens of Israel who quickly learn the real meaning of “occupation.”
Copyright (c) 2004, The Jewish Press. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with military affairs and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs Columnist for The Jewish Press.