The intensifying conflict in Syria between rebels and government forces now threatens to involve Israel as well. The risk of a regional confrontation escalated Wednesday, with Israel successfully ending the life of Hamas military commander, Ahmed Jabri. Undoubtedly, some will assign the blame for military involvement on Israel. However loud these accusations are, Israel should maintain possession of both the Golan Heights and the West Bank, as Israel has a biblical, historical, and legal right to both of these so-called territories.
The Jewish connection to the Golan Heights and the West Bank dates back 4,000 years. According to Jewish tradition, the covenant between God and Abraham granted this land to Abraham’s descendants. Regardless of whether one accepts the story of the Abrahamic Covenant as truth, the Jewish people indeed settled the land 3,500 years ago. A portion of the tribe of Manasseh settled the region now known as the Golan Heights; the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah settled the region now known as the West Bank; and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh settled the east of the Jordan River which is now part of Jordan. Secular archeological research verifies the Jewish settlement of these regions. One such piece of evidence is a Hebrew inscription unearthed in a cave west of Hebron, reading, “I am Jehovah thy Lord. I will accept the cities of Judah and I will redeem Jerusalem.” Another example is second century Jewish coins found on the Golan after the 1967 War. Regardless of whether one holds the Hebrew Bible to be divinely inspired, without question the Jewish connection to this region extends far beyond the modern state of Israel.
Of course, modern day Israel and her contemporary neighbors have only existed in present form for a relatively short number of years. After the initial conquest of the land 3,500 years ago, the following empires each in turn controlled the land now known as Israel: Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, Byzantine, Arabs, crusaders, Mamluk, and Ottoman. Following defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the land encompassing present-day Israel, Jordan, and much of Iraq fell under British control. The land encompassing present-day Syria, Lebanon, and northern Iraq fell under French control. Of course, the sovereign nations of Israel, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan did not yet exist. The British issued a Palestine Mandate administering control over the geographic regions of modern-day Israel, Jordan, and the “Palestinian territories.”
In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour issued what is now known as the Balfour Declaration. In part, this declaration expressed the British government’s support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Keep in mind that at this point, the term “Palestine” referred to much more than just the region west of the Jordan River! It also included a large portion of modern day Jordan.
In 1922, the region considered part of the “Jewish homeland” drastically diminished in size as the British designated 80% of “Palestine” to Transjordan, with the remaining 20% remaining for the promised Jewish homeland. After the British relinquished control over the remaining 20% of “Palestine” to the United Nations, the General Assembly of the UN approved a partition plan dividing the Land of Israel between a Jewish state and an Arab state. After Israel declared independence on May 12, 1948, her neighbors declared war on the fledgling Jewish state. The armistice lines following the conflict resulted in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria all occupying land designated by the UN to be a Jewish state and an Arab state. Over the next 18 years, Jordan continued to occupy much of the land now known as the “West Bank” while the Golan remained part of modern Syria. This all changed once again in the Six Day War of 1967 when Israel’s neighbors once again attempted to annihilate her. After a stunning victory in this war, Israel controlled the entire West Bank, Golan Heights, and Sinai Peninsula. Yet again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel’s neighbors attempted to annihilate her. Following the conflict, Israel maintained control of much of the Sinai, the entire West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
After the Yom Kippur War, Israel negotiated a tenuous peace with its neighbors. She returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, reached a disengagement agreement with Syria, and eventually signed a peace treaty with Jordan. However, Israel did annex the Golan Heights and continued to settle the West Bank.
Israel should refuse to undo its annex of the Golan Heights. The region is vital to Israeli security interests. The height advantage allows the Israeli Defense Force to protect the people below who would otherwise be easy prey for hostile forces. Furthermore, maintaining control of the Golan Heights increases the buffer between vital Israeli interests on the Mediterranean coast and Syrian military to nearly 90 kilometers. In addition to security concerns, the territory was part of the ancestral Jewish homeland and was captured lawfully from Syria during the Six Day War.
Israel should also continue efforts to settle the West Bank with industrial, residential, and agricultural environment. The region was also part of the ancestral Jewish homeland and includes “East Jerusalem”, Jewish suburbs, along with Hebron — the burial place of Abraham. Contrary to what many suggest, these settlements are not necessarily illegal. Critics of the settlements often cite UN Resolution 242 when demanding Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. However, U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, one of the drafters of this resolution, explains that this resolution only requires Israel to withdraw from some of the disputed territories. Considering that the Jewish people have already been deprived of establishing a homeland in 80% of the land originally promised under the British Mandate of Palestine, it violates principles of fairness to now exclude Jewish settlement in the heart of their ancestral homeland.
A two-state solution is possible. The United States should support the efforts of those seeking peace, both Israelis and those striving to establish a Palestinian state. However, in our desire to resolve this conflict and provide a better quality of life to the victims in this region, let us not make unfair demands on Israel. While Israel may choose to transfer control of territory or impose restrictions on settlement growth, this should be Israel’s choice to make without the world attempting to guilt her into doing so.