Jewish Claim to the Land: Arab-Israeli Conflict Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Jewish Claim to the Land

I have heard a lot of anti-Israel sentiment from my friends who support the Palestinians. A good client of mine questions the validity of Israel’s existence, saying: “How do you justify inhabiting an already populated land through force? How can you contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and then inflict such suffering on the Arabs?” Some of these people say they respect Judaism, but question why it is acceptable to "steal" land from a people and keep it yourself.

I am not attacking Israel, just trying to investigate the issue. Do the Jews have a valid claim on Israel? From the times of Abraham and Moses, how many years was the land ours? I could also use some info on the history of U.N. declarations, etc. Thank you.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Jewish people are not stealing anything. They were granted the Land of Israel by God, as is stated in Genesis 15:7 and 21:12.

In fact, the very first thing that God said to Abraham was: "Go from your land of your birth… to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation" (Genesis 12:1). When Abraham and Sarah got to Israel, God promised them, "To your descendants have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River." In God's eyes the deal was considered set in stone, which is why He said "I have given this land" in the past tense, as if the thing were already done and impossible to undo. (Genesis 15:18, Rashi)

Why did God promise to give Israel to the Jews? Why didn't God give them Uganda or Argentina instead?

Because Israel has a special holiness that other lands do not have. Even from before the giving of the Torah, Jerusalem and Israel had taken on great religious significance. The Talmud says that creation began in Jerusalem, and the world radiated outward from this place. Great religious leaders always lived there, such as Malchitzedek (Genesis 14:15). It is there that the patriarch Isaac was bound for sacrifice, and it is there that his son Jacob dreamt of the ladder ascending to heaven.

This inherent holiness is described in the Talmud, which says, "Even the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise."

The first words that Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, writes on the first verse in Genesis, is to ask why the Torah begins with the Creation account, and not from the first mitzvah (which is to sanctify the new month)? Rashi explains that the purpose of the Creation story is to establish God’s ownership over the world, in order to justify Jewish possession of the Land of Israel. The land belongs to God. He can give it to whomever He wants, and take it away from whomever He wants. God gave it to the Jews.

Although Abraham knew that God had given him the land, he nevertheless chose peaceful measures and paid exorbitant amounts for a field in Hebron (Genesis 23:4, Rashi). This became the Jewish holy site, the Tomb of the patriarchs, 4,000 years ago. Similarly, Jacob purchased Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and King David bought Jerusalem (2-Samuel 24:24). Note that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for more than twice as many centuries as Islam has even existed!

In our time, the Jews have returned to the Land of Israel on the grounds that their ancestors not only bought this land, but were promised it by God. Moreover, the League of Nations was aware of what your friend claims, and yet they declared Israel to be the homeland of the Jewish people in 1922. The United Nations did the same in 1947. And yet the Jewish claim to the land is far deeper than any political vote by the nations of the world.

There are no simple solutions to complex problems, especially when religious beliefs and national identities are at stake. But only through an objective understanding of history, can we hope to arrive at a just and lasting solution.

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