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During the seventh century Arab armies conquered most of the Middle East, including the land now variously called Israel, Palestine and the Holy Land (some 10,000 square miles). This area, including Jerusalem, became part of the Ottoman Empire and was largely under Muslim control until the early 1900’s. Significantly, Jerusalem became holy to Muslims as the site where tradition says Mohammed ascended to heaven (although some claim he never set foot in Jerusalem). Over this period most of the population gradually accepted Islam and so by the mid 19th century the area was occupied by some 400,000 Muslims, 75,000 Christians and 25,000 Jews [World Vision].
Despite the strong Muslim presence, by the early 20th century the land was a mix of many peoples representing some 50 languages [1911 Encyclopedia Britannica]. According to historian Richard Hartmann, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 these communities were ‘ethnologically a chaos of all the possible human combinations’, and so did not share a common Arab identity. They included Balkans, Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Germans, Afghans, Bosnians, Sudanese, Algerians and others. The land was not a ‘country’ and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries [Prof. Bernard Lewis].
No Historical “Palestinian People”
This strong ethnic mix meant there was no distinctive Palestinian people at the start of the 20th century (although there were stirrings for nationalism in response to Zionism). So it is not surprising that, historically, there is no language known as Palestinian, or any Palestinian culture distinct from that of all the Arabs in the area, link:
There is no authoritative text on Palestinian history [Eyen Edward Said, graduate of Harvard & Princeton, former member of the Palestine National Council]
By 1917 there were 690,000 Arabs (Christian and Muslim) and 59,000 Jews in Palestine, link, but still no identifiable ‘Palestinian People’. Even the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine didn’t recognize the existence of a ‘Palestinian people’ since they were not an ethnic group. Instead the Mandate referred to the local Arab population as “existing non-Jewish communities”.
No Historical “Palestinian Land”
Is ‘Palestine’ a historic land? Is it legitimate to use the term ‘Palestine’ for the area we now call Israel? Where did the term come from?
To answer this we first observe that the Hebrews entered the Land of Israel, specifically Canaan, under Joshua c1450 BC (Jos 6). This area was gradually extended by Israel’s kings (Saul, David and Solomon) but still excluded ‘Philistia’ (the land of the Philistines), a narrow coastal strip including Gaza. The Philistines were an Aegean people more closely related to Greeks than to Arabs. Linguistically, the term ‘Palestine’ originated from the Greek word pronounced Palaistina, which is derived from the Hebrew word pronounced pel-eh-sheth, meaning ‘land of the Philistines’. Historically then, the term ‘Palestine’ only applied to the narrow coastal strip of land occupied by the Philistines, and Philistia itself did not survive the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar II c600 BC.
However, that was not the end of the matter and this land definition of Palestine was later expanded by the Romans. In the 2nd century AD, the Romans renamed Judea as ‘Palaestina’ in an attempt, some say, to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel. In fact, it is claimed that the Roman Emperor Hadrian began using the term ‘Palestine’ for the whole Land of Israel, and unfortunately this term has prevailed over the centuries. For example, under the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the term ‘Palestine’ was used as a general term to describe the land south of Syria, and it was applied to the territory placed under the 1922 British Mandate. But, as already mentioned, according to historian Professor Bernard Lewis, even at the start of the 20th century, “the land was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries”, link.
So since there was no historic “Land of Palestine” there can be no legitimate Arab claim to such a land spanning large parts of modern Israel. Even Arab leaders themselves have admitted to this in the past:
There is no such country as Palestine
[Arab leader A.B. Abdul Hadi, 1937]
There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not
[Arab Prof Philip Hitti (Princeton University), 1946]
Palestine does not exist at all
[Ahmed Shkari (PLO founder), 1956]
The Rise of a “Palestinian People” – the Effect of Zionism
The term ‘Palestine’ seems to have come to prominence after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when shortly after this the British were given a ‘Palestine Mandate’, link. Is was really only after WWI that we find the emergence of Palestinian nationalism and an identifiable ‘Palestinian People’ [James Gelvin][Rashid Khalidi]. Some see this as a response to the threat posed by Zionism, when waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine between 1919 and 1939, link. Certainly, it is only when Israel started to blossom mid-20th century that we see a ‘Palestinian People’ emerge. Prior to Zionism, there was no need for the Arabs of Palestine to focus on Palestinian identity. They were citizens of the Ottoman Empire and identified themselves as Arabs, not Palestinians, link.
Post 1948: Nur Masalha, a Palestinian academic, admits that is was the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 which brought about “the crystallisation of a distinct Palestinian identity”. It is interesting to note that, by 1948, a substantial portion of the ‘Palestinian People’ resident in Palestine Mandate territory originated, not from that territory, but rather from the surrounding Arab lands of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt! It is claimed they came for the jobs provided by newly established Zionist industry and agriculture.
The designation “Palestinian” was more actively embraced around 1964, with the forming of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). This fact has even been admitted by the PLO:
The Palestinian people does not exist … there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people [Zahir Muhsein, PLO, March, 1977]
There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not [Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian, 1946]
It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them … they did not exist [Golda Meir, Prime Minister, 1969]
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Land Partitioning
1917: Under the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain supported the creation of a Jewish home in Palestine, without violating the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities. Initially the mandate defined ‘Palestine’ as spanning both west and east of the Jordan.
1922: The British Mandate was formalized in 1922 and this redefined the boundary of Palestine as west of the river Jordan, including Judea and Samaria (an area now called the West Bank). The area east of the Jordan was called ‘Transjordan’, which subsequently became Jordan. The Arab communities wanted as little to do with the mandate as possible.
1920’s: During the late 1920’s Jewish immigration and investment benefited the indigenous people and Arab standard of living in the area increased.
1937-38: The Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937 and 1938 recommended partitioning Palestine into a small Jewish state and a large Arab state, but this was rejected by the Arab leadership (which included Saudi Arabia).
1947: Nearly half the land of Palestine was owned by Arabs, nearly half was “Crown Lands”, and about 8% was owned by Jews. In 1947 a UN Special Commission on Palestine recommended that this area be divided equally, with open borders, into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Jerusalem was to be ‘internationalized’. The UN General Assembly adopted this plan as UN Resolution 181. The Jews accepted the UN resolution but the Arabs rejected it.
1948-49: The Jews proclaimed an independent State of Israel (the right to self-determination is guaranteed in international law) and the British withdrew from Palestine. Immediately, the Arab nations (notably the Egyptian and Syrian armies) invaded Israel, and it was during this war that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was formed. At the end of the war Israel held territory beyond the boundaries set by the UN plan (approximately 78% of the area west of the Jordan) and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, Jordan holding east Jerusalem. Egypt held Gaza and Jordan held the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
The Green Line:
The Arab countries refused to sign a permanent peace treaty with Israel and so the 1947 UN Commission proposals never received legal international recognition. Instead, Israel’s (temporary) borders were re-established along the so-called ‘Green Line’ of the 1949 UN armistice agreements. This is a line excluding Israel from the West Bank and Gaza (Fig.1). The fact that these borders were not recognised by Arab states (since they refused to recognise Israel) underscores Israel’s legal case for the West Bank.
Israel is constantly accused of living on ‘occupied land’. The fact is, according to International Law this is a total misrepresentation of the legal status of Israel. The 1949 UN armistice borders (the ‘Green Line’) have never received international recognition and were not recognized by Arab states, which continued to refuse to recognize Israel:
The armistice agreements of 1949 … did not purport to establish definitive boundaries [Prof Judge Schwebel, former President of the International Court of Justice]
The armistice lines were intended to be temporary … this, or course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time … did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory [Arthur Goldberg (one drafter of UN Resolution 242)]
1967: In the Six-Day War of June 5–10, 1967, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (and later Iraq) attacked Israel. Their goal was “to wipe Israel off the map”. Israel defeated the attack even though the Arab armies had huge superiority in armour, aircraft and troops. After the war Israel held the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Gaza, the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. Some 1 million Arabs and all parts of Palestine were now under Israeli rule. It is interesting to note that the area controlled by Israel after this war was the same area allotted to Israel for Jewish settlement under the 1922 Palestine Mandate.
Initially, the Israeli government declared that it was ready to return all of the territories except Jerusalem in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbors. However, due to pressures within Israel, and the fact that Arab states would not negotiate with Israel, an increasing number of settlements were established on the West Bank.
Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the international community has claimed that Israel is “occupying Palestinian land”. But in international law, a territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state is declared terra nullius, and sovereignty over such territory can be legally acquired through occupation. This is the case of the West Bank and Gaza; neither have been legally recognized states. The State of Israel follows this legality, stating: “Occupied territories are territories captured in war from an established and recognized sovereign. As the West Bank and Gaza Strip were not under the legitimate and recognized sovereignty of any state prior to the Six-Day War, they should not be considered occupied territories … Israel’s presence in the (disputed) territories is not illegal”, link. In fact, in the 1967 war, Israel simply took back Palestine Mandate land that was taken from her by war in 1948-49.
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Post-1948: Refugees
1948-49: Many Palestinians evacuated their homes under direction from Arab armies, hoping to return soon after the inevitable Arab victory, link. In fact, in many towns the leaders of the Arab communities had already left, link. So at this time over 700,000 Arabs fled to neighbouring Arab countries and became refugees. Palestinians now refer to this people displacement as the “Nakba”, which is Arabic for catastrophe! But what is not publicized is the corresponding Jewish displacement. At the time of the Nakba over 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Muslim countries after their property was confiscated. And all the Jewish inhabitants of East Jerusalem were expelled by occupying Jordanian forces (before 1948 Jews lived in the old city and the eastern sector, link).
Repatriation: Israel offered to repatriate 100,000 Arab refugees in April 1949 but this was rejected. And in 1952 the UN offered $200m for the refugees but this was also rejected by Arab governments.
The Palestinian Refugee Problem
As mentioned, the 1948-49 Arab invasion of the fledgling Jewish state initiated a long-term Palestinian refugee problem, starting with the exile of some 700,000 Arabs from Israel. The problem continues today. The video is shocking isn’t it? Palestinians and their families are still suffering. Since 2000, it is claimed that Israeli soldiers have killed more than 1,400 Palestinian children, link. Israel has imposed severe restriction on Palestinian movement. Many Palestinians have suffered multiple forced displacements, having lost their homes and livelihoods more than once – typical months see over 60 Palestinian homes and other structures demolished (including wells). To help combat this, Israelis, Palestinians and international volunteers work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, ICAHD, to rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by Israel.
Most sectors of the economy are in decline and 80% of factories are shut in Gaza, link. Since the conflict is mainly over loss of land, link, Palestinian agriculture suffers from numerous problems, including blockades to exportation of produce and confiscation and destruction of wells. In 2017, over 30% of Palestinians were living below the poverty line, link, and youth unemployment was over 40%, link. On the other hand, due to added benefits, it is claimed that Palestinians are quick to leave their Palestinian employers and work for Israelis, link.
Water Restrictions – Who’s to Blame? Palestinian farmers in the Jordan Valley face restrictions on access to water and electricity networks, link. But Israel claims much of this is self-inflicted. Israel is abiding by the 1995 Oslo II Accord and supplying agreed water quantities, link, link. It is up to the Palestinians to maintain water networks, utilize wastewater, improve existing supplies and drill new wells. Israel claims that water is often used as a political weapon, and so authorized wells are not dug and leaks are not repaired. The Palestinian Authority is using water as a (political) weapon against the State of Israel [Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, Feb 2014, link].
Palestinian Suffering – a Political Tool?
Is all this suffering because of a militant Arab leadership? Is the Arab leadership failing the Palestinians, link?
Out of tens of millions of refugees in those years, the only people who remain refugees are the ‘Palestinians’. Why? Some argue that it is as a result of a conscious decision by the Arab countries to perpetuate their situation. The refugees exist as an ever-present source of outrage and the situation is used by the Arab nations as leverage in negotiations with the West, link. It seems Palestinians remain refugees by Arab choice since no Arab state apart from Jordan grants Palestinians citizenship, link.
Clearly, the refugee problem stemmed directly from the sudden Arab declaration of war on the emergent Jewish state, and today it can be argued that the problem is perpetuated by Arab countries themselves! It is widely acknowledged that to implement the “right of return”, link of huge numbers of refugees would eliminate the Jewish right to self-determination, as in a Jewish State, link.
An expectation that Israel has to deal with Arab refugees that were created by the war in 1948 that the Arabs started against Israel was preposterous. [Netanyahu, 2015]
Arab nations argue: “No Zionism – no Palestinian refugee problem” whilst Zionist’s reply “No war – no Palestinian refugee problem”.
The Legal Position: Israel’s Legal Borders
According to the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, the Jews could settle anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. The Mandate did not grant any national political rights to Arabs, but Article 2 did safeguard the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race or religion. In 1946 the Mandate was transferred over to the UN, and Article 80 of the UN Charter implicitly recognizes the ‘Mandate for Palestine’ of the League of Nations. Moreover, as a direct result of Article 80, the UN cannot transfer these rights over any part of Palestine (vested as they are in the Jewish People) to any non-Jewish entity, such as the Palestinian Authority.
The Mandate is therefore the last legally binding document regarding the West Bank and Gaza, and so Jewish settlements in these areas are fully protected by Article 80. Sadly, this legal fact is often ignored by the UN.
No Two-State Solution:
The Arab Leadership doesn’t Want One
Prime Minister Netanyahu has called on the Palestinian leadership to return to negotiations:
I remain committed to the idea that the only way we can achieve a lasting peace is through the concept of two states for two peoples [Netanyahu, May 31, 2015].
What seems to be a reasonable pre-condition to peace talks is Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state:
The Palestinians must abandon their refusal to recognise the right of the Jewish people to their national state [Benjamin Netanyahu]
But according to a recent poll, only 34% of Palestinians accept two states for two peoples as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [Stanley Greenberg face-to-face survey of 1,010 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and Gaza Strip]. Sixty-six percent said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state, link. This reflects the PA leadership position:
We will never accept a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital [Mahmoud Abbas, May, 2011]
The militant Arab leadership aims to form an Islamic caliphate covering all of Israel – including all of Jerusalem! To quote:
The capital of the Caliphate – the capital of the United States of the Arabs – will be Jerusalem [Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, 2012]
So what’s new? The Arab leadership rejected a two-state solution as far back as 1947 (see UN Partition Plan). Clearly, the western world is not reading from the same page as the Palestinians when it pushes for a two-state solution!
The Revised Hamas Charter is no Help
Whilst the 2017 revised Hamas Charter appears to slightly soften the Palestinian approach to Israel, the underlying goal remains essentially the same as the 1988 Charter. One report claims, link:
Hamas will not give up on any part of the land of Palestine no matter the reasons, circumstances or pressures, and no matter how long the occupation remains. Hamas rejects any alternative to completely liberating Palestine from the river to the sea.
It is claimed that the new document formally endorses the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with Jerusalem as its capital. The charter reasserts calls for armed resistance toward a “complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea”, link.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Spiritual
You may be surprised at this since it’s not how the world sees it. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not what is seems. On the surface it is seen as a political or ideological struggle, but its roots are long-standing and spiritual. In all the historical conflicts against Israel, right up to present-day, it is important to recognize that they are driven by unseen spiritual forces. There is a spiritual war against God’s chosen people, Israel, and aggressive nations and leaders are simply Satan’s pawns. As the Bible puts it:
When the Dragon (Satan) saw he’d been thrown to earth, he went after the Woman (Israel) who had given birth to the Man-Child (Jesus) (Revelation 12.13)
Israel is central to God’s plan or timeline for the world, but the plan is not recognized by the world. The Bible says the unbelieving world is blind to the truth and the nations believe a lie. In particular, the Arab leadership incite their people to war against Israel with the ultimate aim of the elimination the Jewish state.
The Biblical Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The God of Israel is expressly against a two state solution and those who attempt such a division of the land should note God’s warning:
I will enter into judgement with them … on behalf of My people Israel … they have divided up My land (Joel 3.2)
The only lasting and perfect solution is to be found in the Bible. The Bible instructs the people of Israel how they should treat foreigners (non-Jews). Old Testament Israel was commanded to love foreigners (Deut 10.19) and to let them live normal lives amongst them:
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong … (he) … shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself
This instruction is timeless and applies now and to future Israel in the Millennial Age. During the Millennium the land is divided up amongst the tribes of Israel and the stranger amongst them is also allotted an inheritance:
And they (strangers) shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel
So how does this instruction apply to Palestinians today? It seems in 1989 Ariel Sharon wanted to put this injunction into practice:
From my childhood, I have believed Jews and Arabs can live together, and I believe now they should live together. All the rights to this country, to the land of Israel – especially Judea and Samaria – are Jewish … but everyone who lives in the country should have all the rights of the country.
[Ariel Sharon, TIME, April 1989]
The Spiritual Root of All Conflicts with Israel
Yes – there is a root cause, a single principal cause, and it is not political or ideological. To find it we highlight a little biblical history, when the people of Israel (the twelve tribes) rebelled against God. After repeated prophetic warnings, all twelve tribes were eventually scattered throughout the nations (Deut 4.27). Scattering was complete around 586 BC, although a remnant returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the place of Jesus’ dedication. Here we have a clear answer to our question – the root cause of all conflicts with Israel is related to Jesus:
the dragon (Satan) … persecuted the woman (Israel) who gave birth to the male child (Jesus)
This clearly correlates Israel’s conflicts/persecutions with the spiritual entity Satan. Why? According to the Bible, Israel is God’s chosen witness and servant in the world, and through Israel came the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Isa 43.10, Gen 22.18, Gal 3.16). So Satan hates God’s witness (Jews) and all true followers of Jesus (Christians).
The Arab Nations
Some see today’s Arab-Israeli, and more locally the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be rooted in biblical history, namely in Esau and the Amalekites, link. Others say the root-cause of today’s conflict can be traced back to Abraham’s time and to human fallibility. They site disputes between Jacob and Esau, and in particular between Isaac and Ishmael. But the Bible doesn’t stress a long-term conflict between Israelite and Ishmael’s descendants. In fact, God blesses Ishmael and makes his descendants (the Arabs) ‘a great nation’ (Gen 17.19-21)!
So according the the Bible the Arab nations themselves are not the problem. Rather, as we have just seen, the root-cause of the Arab-Israeli/Israeli-Palestinian conflict is actually a battle between spiritual powers, and this manifests itself as a conflict between truth (as revealed in God’s word the Bible) and error (as perpetuated by Satanic deception). So who are the earthly players in this spiritual battle?
Who Wages the Battle between Truth and Error?
The battle is seen in the persecution of Israel. The timeline of Jewish persecution after Christ’s birth is well documented, link, as for example in the 15th century expulsion of Jews from much of Europe, and in the 20th century Nazi holocaust. Today the persecution is carried out via political and media bias against Israel, link, and also through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the latter context it is important to distinguish between Arabs and Muslims. Before the arrival of Islam the Arabs were either pagan or followed Judaism or Christianity. But from about 620 AD Islam unified many of the Arabs, using military might (as today) when people wouldn’t convert willingly. Today, most, but not all Arabs are Muslim, whilst only some 18% of Muslims are Arab.
It was only when Islam took over the Arabic nations from the 7th century that the earthly players in the spiritual battle were identified. The truth is God’s truth handed down by the prophets of God’s people, Israel – truth was handed to the Jews. The error is manifested in international politics, the international media and especially in the erroneous ideology of political Islam, link, link, that is, forms of Islam pursuing political objectives. The aggression of political Islam (and therefore Arabic nations) towards the Jews is driven for example by some hadiths (collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad):
The hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say: ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him’
(Sahih Bukhari 4.52.177)
Politically, in recent years this conflict has been fueled partly by a combination of so-called Zionism (returning Jews with a vision for Zion or Jerusalem), and repeated Arab refusal to recognize Israel, or even a two-state solution. So we must recognize that today’s Arab-Israeli / Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a spiritual battle, and politics, the media, and particularly the ideology of political Islam are vehicles for the practical expression of this battle. Sadly, it is the ideology of militant Islamic leaders that leads to the suffering of the Palestinian people. More …