June 17, 2024
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The Jewish People And the Palestinian Arabs

Judea, Samaria and Gaza

For many years, members of the diplomatic corps and the media have focused on Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which represents about 4% of the former British Palestine Mandate, as if the future of peace in the region depended on its disposition, according to Paul S. Riebenfeld, a political scientist and international jurist.

During the Mandate (1920-1948), Judea, Samaria and Gaza were the official names of these areas, designated “Districts,” Riebenfeld said. They were used by the Arab and Jewish population, the Mandate administration, the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, and mentioned in the Report of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1947. These are not archaic or antiquated terms, even though they are biblical names, as the media delights in constantly repeating. Using the names Judea, Samaria and Gaza, Riebenfeld adds, was the natural result of the historical link expressed in the reconstitution of Palestine conveyed in the preamble of the British Mandate: “Recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

The term “West Bank,” Riebenfeld noted, originated in 1950 when Jordan illegally annexed Judea and Samaria to differentiate it from the East Bank, which is Jordan. The Arab states and the U.S. did not recognize the annexation; only Britain and Pakistan did.

Justification for Establishing a Jewish State in the Land of Israel

The Allies justified the right of the Jews to establish the Jewish National Home in Palestine because of the historical connection of the Jewish people with the land of Israel. Though the Allies granted several powers to the British Mandatory Government, the Allies did not give the Jews the right to a national home in Palestine [emphasis added]. This is an important distinction, especially when Israel’s adversaries claim the League of Nations, or the U.N. granted Palestine to the Jewish People. They did not. Israel’s enemies argue that since the international community conferred the rights of the Jews to Israel, the U.N. can just as easily rescind their rights at any time, asserts Douglas Feith, an attorney who served as a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council Staff during the Reagan Administration.

Feith points out the Mandate does not include a clause granting the Allies or the League permission to give the Jews a right to a state or homeland in Palestine. Instead, the Mandate recognizes preexisting Jewish rights, stemming from “the Jewish historical connection with Palestine.” Those drafting the Mandate purposely used the term “reconstituting” to define the creation of the Jewish national home in Palestine. The British government wanted to make sure that although the Allies gained specific rights because of their military victory, they did not claim that the Jewish people’s rights in Palestine emanated from their rights.

According to international law, Feith opined, the victorious Allies were justified in disposing of Palestine as they wished. Instead, Britain and the League went out of their way to ensure that their “legislative” decision in favor of the Jewish national home was consistent with Jewish claims of historical links to the land of Israel. They wanted to make clear that the law on Palestine had a distinct and unequivocal moral and historical foundation.

British Understood the Importance Of Palestine to the Jews

The British understood the importance of Palestine to the Jews and the enormous contributions they had made to mankind on this land. After examining 12 centuries of Jewish history, the Palestine Royal Commission concluded: “The history of Jewish Palestine … had been enacted for the most part in a country about the size of Wales; but it constitutes one of the great chapters in the story of man-kind. By two primary achievements—the development of the first crude worship of Jehovah into a highly spiritual monotheism, and the embodiment of this faith and of the social and political ideals it inspired in immortal prose and poetry—the gift of Hebraism in ancient Palestine to the modern world must rank with the gifts of ancient Greece and Rome. Christians, moreover, cannot forget that Jesus was a Jew who lived on Jewish soil and founded His gospel on a basis of Jewish life and thought.”

With regards to the history of the Arabs, the Commission found, “In the twelve centuries or more that have passed since the Arab conquest, Palestine has virtually dropped out of history. … In economics as in politics Palestine lay outside the mainstream of the world’s life. In the realm of thought, in science or in letters, it made no contribution to modern civilization. Its last state was worse than its first.”

A Final Note

Speaking in the House of Lords on June 27, 1923, Lord Alfred Milner, having declared himself a strong supporter of pro-Arab policy, who looked forward to an Arab Federation, said: “Palestine can never be regarded as a country on the same footing as the other Arab countries. You cannot ignore all history and tradition in the matter. You cannot ignore the fact that this is the cradle of two of the great religions of the world. It is a sacred land to the Arabs, but it is also a sacred land to the Jews and the Christians; and the future of Palestine cannot possibly be left to be determined by the temporary impressions and feelings of the Arab majority in the country of the present day.”


Alex Grobman is senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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